A recollection of events experienced in the U.S. Army in World War II by a civilian turned soldier.
Every civilian who had ever served in the armed forces of his country is entitled to record his experiences for recollection in his old age. Those recollections may also be of some interest to his children, grandchildren, or other hapless victims who innocently allude to the great war.
These, then are some of the experiences of one soldier, encompassing a period of over 4 1/2 years in the U.S. Army Infantry, during World War II. My service commenced in June 1941, about 6 months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and lasted until January 1946, about 6 months after the Japanese surrender.
During that period of service I held every grade from Private to Captain, and concluded that Private was the best. As long as the private remains neat and obeys orders, life can be simple. He has only himself and his own actions to account for. Once he advances in rank and assumes command of and responsibility for others, his life becomes more stressful--with more demands on his time and tranquility.
Thirteen weeks of basic training, in a newly opened Infantry Training Center, was my first assignment. This was Camp Wolters, located about 50 miles west of Ft. Worth, Texas.
It was in the summer of 1941 that I was inducted into the army and the U.S. was not yet at war with Germany and Japan.
Professional soldiers--sergeants and other non-commissioned officers from the regular army--were on hand to meet the buses arriving daily, bearing masses of us confused civilians. In the ensuing 13 weeks, they were to turn us into trained, disciplined, hard-fighting infantrymen, ready to destroy all enemy we encountered.
Good luck to them!
Our 13 weeks of basic training consisted of calisthenics, close order frill, hikes, learning the infantry weapons, and firing them on the ranges. We simulated attacking an enemy, and defending against an enemy attack.
Of course we did our share of "KP" (rising at 4:00 am to help in the kitchen washing dishes, peeling potatoes, etc.) and latrine duty (keeping the restrooms and showers spotless).
We were issued 1903 British Enfield rifles from World War I. We were required to keep them scrupulously clean. And we learned the "Manual of Arms" using those rifles.
In the evening, on a rotating basis, some of us received passes to visit the nearby town of Mineral Wells. Some of my best friends were a group of guys from Milwaukee--about 5 or 6 of them. They were of German ancestry and loved to drink beer. So, in a restaurant or bar, each of us would order a round of beer. When there were 5 of us, each would receive 5 bottles of beer during the evening. I really didn't care for beer and had a hard time keeping up with the others.
Did you know that infantry company's First Sergeant has the amazing power to assemble 200 soldiers into ranks, simply by blowing his whistle while standing outside in the company street? It's true! Sometimes his shrill whistle call is accompanied by his shouts of "Move it!", "Get out here!", "On the double!" He might even add a bit of profanity for emphasis.
The sound of the whistle causes a flurry of activity inside the barracks or tents. Playing cards are gathered up, cigarettes are extinguished, radios turned off, and most bunks receive a final tug to smooth wrinkles from the covering blankets. The barracks are quickly vacated as each soldier grabs his hat or helmet and whatever else is ordered for that day (rifle, field pack, etc.)
The men scramble to take their places in the formation - out in the company street where the sergeant is waiting. Every man knows the exact position where he must stand in the ranks. At attention - until ordered otherwise by the First Sergeant.
All this from a couple of toots on a whistle.
After 13 weeks of basic training, the trainees received individual orders to join permanent army units at various locations around the country. All said their goodbyes and left to join their new units.
Some of the trainees, including me, were ordered to remain as part of the permanent cadre. I was assigned to a Regimental Headquarters staff, where I performed a variety of tasks. The sole function of Camp Wolters was to turn civilians into trained Infantry soldiers.
I played my small part in that great endeavor and, from time to time, received promotions in rank for my efforts--Corporal, Sergeant, Staff Sergeant.
One day, the Captain (in charge of the headquarters personnel) called me into his office. He asked whether I had ever considered applying for Officers Candidate School--to become an officer. At the time, I was perfectly satisfied to retain my rank of Staff Sergeant and remain on the cadre of Camp Wolters.
I replied that I had given it some thought but didn't care to apply at that time. The Captain's steely eyes bored into mine as he held out the application form and said, :FILL IT OUT!"
I was to become an "officer and a gentleman"-like it or not.
My transfer from Texas to Georgia was by rail and the train was filled with soldiers reporting to Ft. Benning and to other posts in the East.
The passenger cars used by the railroad defy description. They were old and decrepit, having been resurrected from the railroad "graveyards" where they were retired perhaps 20 years previously. The seats were hard and uncomfortable. Paint on the walls had dried and curled up, leaving the wood weathered and gray.
But this was war! Uncle Sam had called into service every piece of railroad equipment that could be found. Old passenger and freight cars were now shuttling troops and war supplies from coast to coast.
Wolfhounds 2/27th 25th Inf. Division 3/67 – 3/68
Cu Chi, South Vietnam
"In war, there are no unwounded soldiers” Jose’ Narosky
When I was a child, I played war with my friends mimicking the actions of our military heroes on television and in the movies, wishing that someday I could become just like them fighting the enemies of this country. Also, when I was young, it was said that you should “be careful of what you wish for, because it may come true”. And it did.
I received my draft notice in 1966 while I was attending Kent State University on a baseball scholarship. Though I had a deferment because of being in college, I decided to accept the notice and for the next two years I would be the property of good old Uncle Sam. This would be followed by four years of inactive reserves for a total of six years of total service in the United States Army. Basic Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky was hard, but I did what I was told and received the honor of being the outstanding recruit in our training cycle. I was assigned the infantry designation, 11B, and went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for my advanced training, was married in December of 1966 and left for duty in Vietnam March of 1967. This was the beginning of the longest year of my life. I like to say that when I went to Vietnam I was 19 years old and when I returned a year later I was 40 years old.
Fortunately, I was assigned to the “Wolfhounds”, the 2nd Battalion 27th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division, located in Cu Chi, South Vietnam. This was a battle hardened group of men whose average age was around 20-21 year old. I was further assigned to the S3, operations section, of the unit and rotated in and out of the field of operation via helicopter. We operated in the swamp and lowland area and I logged around 150 combat assaults into that area during my tour of duty. Though we were involved in firefights and clashes with the enemy, we did more chasing and searching for them than anything. When they thought they had the superiority in numbers, or if they had a sniper or two to leave behind to harass us, this was when conflicts erupted. We had many causalities from the heat, disease, infections, scorpion and insect stings and bites which resulted in shortages of men within the companies. But we continued with our operations no matter what the strength of our unit was.
Many times we performed med-caps, where the medics, aided sometimes by a doctor, would set up a first aid station in a village and treat the villagers for many different ailments. During one of these med-caps I was involved in an interaction with some children that took me home, at least in my mind for a few moments. I saw a few children playing and decided to try something. I somehow came across some dry paper, sat down in the middle of them and began folding the paper into the shape of an airplane. I did this slowly to get their attention and they came over to me and watched intently each and every movement I made. Upon completion, I threw it in the air hoping that it would fly, because I wasn’t known for building great paper airplanes, and it glided for a while and landed a short distance away. One of the children ran and got it returning it to me. I asked if they would like to try to make one, communicating the best I could, and gave each of them a piece of paper and together we folded and flew them. That night I thought of home more than usual, and thanked God for allowing me and my family to grow up in a land of plenty and freedoms for all. I often wonder how many of those children are still alive; if any.
I lost some close friends and in particular one man, Captain Charles A. Springer, was one that affected me the most. He was the captain of the S3 waiting for assignment to a line unit. I remember the day he was killed after being assigned to a line company, “B” Company, and something was ripped out of me that day which I knew could never be replaced. He left behind a wife and 7 year old son on the day that he left us in November of 1967. I have gotten to know his son since then and now that young man is 59 years old.
My most vivid memory of Vietnam is the odor of that country that hit me as I got off the plane and boarded a bus to be taken for assignment. There was no sewage system, and coupling that with the rotting vegetation and human waste, made for a smell that you will never forget. My most vivid battle was the Tet Offensive of 1968, when we were flown into Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, which was full of fires from the attack by the North Vietnamese. I had about 45 days until I was to return home, and at that time I didn’t believe that was going to happen. The main thing that kept me going was the overpowering desire to see my wife and family and nothing was going to keep me from that.
I was one of the fortunate ones to return home in one piece, but as the quote I mentioned in the beginning, it is true that there are no unwounded soldiers in war. Some of the scars show, but more are hidden deep within. We had no idea what PTSD was at the time and most readjusted to the way of life that they had left a year ago, but be assured deep within the soldier who has seen combat are wounds that will never heal.
My Grandfather was in WWI, a doughboy in the Marines; My Father was a Machinist 1st Class in the U.S. Navy on board an LST in WWII; I had uncles who also served in WWII; two of my Brothers served in the Marines, friends of my youth served and many never returned from Vietnam. I guess you can say I have a military history. We all did what we had to do, and some paid for our freedom that we enjoy with their lives. Our hope is that we will never have to serve again, but ours’ is an open-ended contract in that if called on, and we are able to answer the call, we will return to be beside one another to protect this nation and to preserve the freedoms that have been paid for by the heroes of the past who are no longer with us. May God bless and protect us and the United States.
This is my stepfather, Vernon Earl Handwerg. He was born in Columbia Station, Ohio, on August 26, 1913, and passed away on August 1, 1983. I only knew him for about 16 years, but he was a wonderful addition to my life and the best thing that ever happened to my Mom. I knew he had been in the Army at one time but only because of a few pictures and brief snippets of conversation he shared with my husband, Lou, also an Army (Vietnam) veteran. Clearly, it was not a subject he was comfortable discussing or anxious to relive. How I wish he would have been able to tell us what he experienced.
He graduated as a 1stLieutenant from the Medical Administrative Corps Officer Candidate School at Camp Barkeley, Texas on December 29, 1943 and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge on January 9, 1945. His physical injuries impacted his ability to write with his right hand, forcing him to learn how to function as a lefty, but he never complained. The Army classified him as 70% disabled and at the time of his death, he was receiving $193 per month for that disability. I noticed that he constantly dealt with pain, numbness and circulation issues in his arm, but I suspect the internal demons he fought inside were far worse than those I could see.
After he and my mother had both passed, it fell to Lou and me to go through the remnants of their lives, which was both the hardest as well as the most touching thing we have ever had to do. Finding his Purple Heart, his Bronze Star and, the most emotional discovery of all, his Bible, helped me fill in some of the blanks as to his unwavering sacrifice and love for his country. This is surely something we will share with our two grandsons. They have a great-grandpa to be proud of, and they need to know what he accomplished and the consequences he paid for the rest of his life.
My name is Pete Litz and I was born in Sweden in 1940. Prior to my coming to the United States, I served in the Submarine Branch of the Swedish Navy. When I immigrated to the United States, in 1961 at the age of 21, I knew that I would be required to do military service, so because I had already served in the Navy in Sweden, I went to the Naval Recruiter and presented to him my background from previous service in submarines, stating that it was my wish to enlist in the Navy and serve on nuclear powered submarines. His reply surprised me as he laughed and said that I would be unable to serve on nuclear subs, due to the fact that I would be unable to get the confidential clearances required, but that he would be glad to apply the knowledge I had to the conventional submarines and sign me up for that service. My reply to him was that I was unable to go that direction because I got seasick on the conventional subs as they spent more time on the water and I was more interested in being under the water. When I realized that wasn’t possible I left and went to the Army Recruiter.
The Army asked what I would like to do in the service and where I would like to serve. My answer was that my interest was in Heavy Equipment and that I would like to serve in Europe. Don’t know why he asked because it was told me that if I were to join the only position available to me was the infantry. Though this wasn’t my first choice I did join the Army and upon my enlistment, and also because I spoke German, I was sent to Germany and served in the Military Police where I was an interpreter for the Unit Police. My time in the service was spent being stationed in Mannheim, Baumholder and Mainz. With the war in Vietnam escalating, I was place on an active stand-by list to go there should I be needed, but because I was coming to an end of my tour in the military I was never called upon for transfer to the War. Time went by quickly and after serving exactly 3 years I received my United States Naturalized Citizenship Papers on my 24th birthday. This date also marked the conclusion of my military service and I was given an honorable discharge and entered civilian life.
I was proud to have served in the United States Army and because of this service felt as though I had earned my status as a United States Citizen.
PFC Peter Litz
8th Infantry Division
1961 – 1964
Chaplain W. Carter Tucker
U.S. Army, Lt. Col., Retired
Recently my wife, Sue, and I decided to make a trip to the state of Georgia to take in the sights and visit a few locations suggested by friends. Stone Mountain, Callaway Gardens and miles of beautiful scenery were wonderful; however, that part of the trip could not begin to compare with what we enjoyed most during this journey through such a charming state.
While we were planning our vacation, I mentioned to Sue that my Chaplain from my tour in Vietnam lived in Hartwell, Georgia, so we added Chaplain Tucker to our list of destinations. This was the best decision we made on this week long excursion to Georgia. After contacting him and setting a time for our arrival, my mind became cluttered with thoughts of him, and my heart beat a little faster in anticipation of seeing this gentleman who meant so much to all who served in that war and knew him. He was such an important part of us and was truly the description of what a “Combat Chaplain” was meant to be.
Chaplain Tucker, full name Walter Carter Tucker, was born in Monticello, Arkansas. He lived on a farm for the first 18 years of his life and attended elementary school in a two-room building. He graduated from Drew High School in 1950. He joined the Navy during the Korean War and served in submarines. Upon completion of his service enlistment, he attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, preparing for his ministry. He received graduate degrees from Southwestern Seminary, Ball State and Long Island Universities, and his main areas of pastoral ministry were in three churches located in Arkansas: El Dorado, Melbourne and Dumas.
In 1966, Chaplain Tucker entered the U.S. Army and served two tours in Vietnam, of which his first tour was with the 2nd/27th Wolfhounds of the 25th Infantry Division -- my unit. Upon meeting him, I immediately felt close to him, and so did others. We were all mostly 19 years of age, and he filled the void of a father that we all missed.
Sue and I arrived at his home around 2:30 on October 11th, and this was the beginning of a 3-hour visit we will never forget. His home was a modest farm house built in 1904, and he seemed to have a few acres to go with it. He was as I had remembered him: calm, stoic and kind, welcoming us to his home and hugging both of us. Our eyes met, and I had to fight to hold back tears of joy. Soon we were sitting and reminiscing about the time spent in Vietnam and those who were no longer with us. He told me he had performed memorial services for over 93 ‘Hounds (as he called us). His journals and records of that time were totally in order, and he had the names and dates of each soldier he presided over. Amazingly, he could recall details about each one. Among all his many stories, one in particular stands out in my mind. There had been a casualty due to “friendly fire”, and the soldier who shot his comrade came to Chaplain Tucker for comfort and advice. Even after all these years, it brought tears for him to talk about it.
His photo album was large and included letters, pictures, and other items. It was then he told me that the time he spent with us was the most important year of his life. Ministering to these soldiers was what he was meant to do.
We were joined by one of his sons, Paul, and Paul’s wife Emily. Pictures of his family were throughout his home, and his family was an obvious source of great pride. But one very important person that wasn’t there was his wife of 62 years: Pauline. Brain cancer ended her life in 2017. I questioned myself as to why I didn’t go visit him earlier so I could have met this wonderful woman who, with Chaplain Tucker, had hosted over 30 tours to the Holy Land and traveled to 40 countries serving as volunteer missionaries in more than half of them.
He retired from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel and served in the Arkansas Baptist State Convention as Director of Chaplains. He now ministers and counsels a group of 30 recovering alcoholics/addicts whom he entertained with a ribeye cookout at his home the day after we visited. He is planning to return to the Holy Land leading another tour next year for a group of 30-35 people.
This is the man I remember, and a man who, at the age of 87, is still going strong. I am looking forward to seeing him again very soon as we have much more to discuss, and I personally need to be in his presence for his support. God bless you Chaplain Tucker.
Local optometrists share love of country, profession
By Karen Chaney, Murphy Monitor
In addition to their affinity for sushi, Murphy residents Suzi Ferenczhalmy and Lindsay Denton were surprised to discover they have some significant commonalities. Not only are they both optometrists, they are both Air Force veterans married to Air Force veterans.
These women share a love of county and optometry, and they work for the same company. Ferenczhalmy works at Eye Center of Murphy, located at 213 N. Murphy Rd. in Murphy. Denton works at Wylie Eye Center, located in downtown Wylie.
The military journey for Ferenczhalmy began while she was interning at an Air Force base in Florida. She liked it so much she enlisted in 2000 - serving three years at the Pentagon and three years at Andrews Air Force Base (in Maryland).
“I was asked to interview to be the White House medical unit’s optometrist,” she said. “I went to the White House for two days a month for two-and-a-half years doing eye exams.”
Ferenczhalmy was the optometrist for President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, his wife Lynne Cheyney and anyone who worked at the White House.
The eye doctor was on duty in a hospital in the Pentagon during the terrorist attack. After the plane crashed into the Pentagon, Ferenczhalmy helped get people out of the building.
“There was a lot of chaos and a lot of watching the building burn. Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of survivors,” she said.
Ferenczhalmy received an Army commendation medal for her service.
While in college, Denton’s decision to join the military was prompted by financial reasons.
Faced with out of state tuition during her second year of optometry school, Denton started looking for a way to reduce her debt. She said the Air Force offered a scholarship program that would pay for her third and fourth year of optometry school in return for three years of active duty.
She applied for, and received, the scholarship. Denton enlisted in 2005 and began active duty in 2007.
“I grew up as an Air Force brat,” she said. “I knew the lifestyle.”
While serving in the military, Denton went on two MEDRETEs (Medical Readiness Training Exercises) missions. The original plan of the mission was for military doctors to provide basic medical care to remote areas. In Denton’s case, one mission was to Southern Peru.
Two weeks before Denton and the team were set to depart, a large earthquake hit south of Lima. The original mission quickly changed to providing medical care in an earthquake relief effort.
“We went from a very predictable trip to a lot of unpredictable situations,” Denton said. “It turned out to be a great experience, but a little scary as well. There were still aftershocks and frightened people.”
The biggest memory, said Denton, was caring for patients outside on a playground.
“I had my eye chart hung up on a soccer goal,” she said.
While serving their country, both veterans said they never felt like they were treated differently from their male counterparts.
They were pleased with the maternity care they received while in the military. Denton had her first child and Ferenczhalmy had her first two children while on active duty. (The Dentons now have two children and the Ferenczhalmys have three children.)
Ferenczhalmy opted to separate from the military when she was nearing the end of her D.C. deployment. Her husband had already separated from the military three years prior. She was concerned that Fred, a software engineer, might have difficulty finding a career wherever she was deployed to in the future.
Denton and her husband Nathan, an Air Force pilot, were stationed in different locations during the first three years of their marriage.
Nathan was in the process of being assigned overseas when she decided to separate from the military to simplify matters for her family.
“We had just had our first child,” she said. “I knew that I could be an optometrist anywhere, but he couldn’t be an F16 pilot anywhere.”
Both doctors said they are grateful for their experience in the military and believe their experience strengthened traits of flexibility and efficiency in both their personal and professional lives.
Ferenczhalmy said, “If hadn’t joined the Air Force, I would probably still be in Michigan, where I was born, for the rest of my life. Joining the military allowed me to branch out and enjoy other opportunities.”
This article was originally published in the Jan. 23, 2020 edition of the Murphy Monitor.
Dr. Suzi Ferenczhalmy (left) and Dr. Lindsay Denton in front of the large selection of glasses available at Eye Center of Murphy.
Denton military: Nathan and Lindsay Denton at Lindsay’s COT (Commissioned Officer Training) graduation in 2007. Nathan was stationed at Laughlin AFB (Del Rio, TX) and Lindsay was about to start working at Goodfellow AFB (San Angelo, TX).
Ferenczhalmy military: Fred and Suzi Ferenczhalmy on Suzi’s commissioning day.
My dad Wayne L. Hall received a distinguished Unit Badge GO #71 1st Armed. Div. On April of 43 - 1st Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster GO # 14 1st Armed. Div. July 1944 Good Conduct Ribbon, American Defense European, African Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon And W/1 Silver Battle Star. He was in The Tunisian, Algeria-French Moroccan, Naples-Foggia, Rome Arno Po Valley and a No. of Apennines Campaigns. He received 6 Overseas Service Stars and a Bronze Battle Star. This is what a citation said that was given to him from the Commanding General Of the 1st Armored Division. Company******* Regiment; First Lieutenant Mervin G. Sneath, Commanding, is cited for the outstanding performance of duty on******* 1943, in the vicinity of******Tunisia. When his organization was assigned the mission of dislodging an enemy force from an observation post on the heights of*******, THE OFFICERS AND MEN Of Company *** Displayed great skill and bravery while making the attack over very difficult terrain in the face of strong enemy fire. By determined effort and desire to close with the enemy this force succeeded in reaching the hostile positions after a full days struggle, naturalizing enemy machine guns and capturing two officers and 50 men. By this brilliant action, the enemy was deprived of an important position commanding the**** valley. The courage, devotion to duty, and initiative of the officers and men of their organization reflect the highest credit upon the command and the finest traditions of our Army. By command of Brig. General Robinett; It says I certify that T/4 Wayne L. Hall was a member of the organization. THIS WAS MY DAD MY HERO AND MY BEST FRIEND! I miss you Dad. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE! Larry Hall
Prior to graduating from high school in May,1963 I began looking for a job. I wanted to have a job to go to upon graduating. Work was hard to find, most employers wanted someone with job experience. After several attempts to find work a friend suggested we join the Navy on the Buddy Plan. It sounded great to me so we went to the Navy recruiter and filled out the paper work. Since I was only 17 at the time, I had to get my parents to give me permission to join and sign for me. During the short time between us filling out the paperwork my friend did something to disqualify him from going into the Navy. Since I had already joined, I went anyway. A few days after graduating I left for boot camp in San Diego, California where after 8 weeks of marching, more marching and a few classes I was ready to go on to my first assignment. After some interviews and tests, I was sent a sonar school to serve on a submarine. During this time, I was given leave to fly home for two weeks and upon returning my ears were injured from the quick descent the airplane made while landing. I was unable to finish sonar school and was then reassigned to the USS St. Clair County LST 1096 in September 1963.
Aboard Ship Navy Duty
The ship's schedule was altered, and the annual deployments took us only to the mid-Pacific, where we participated in amphibious exercises and conducted cargo operations for Service Force, Pacific. An overhaul and refresher training occupied most of 1964.
In January 1965, the LST resumed WestPac operations. Only briefly deployed, we departed our home port to participate in a west coast operation and ended by carrying marines and their equipment via Hawaii to Okinawa. In May, after a visit to Japan, we returned to San Diego. From mid-August to November, we retraced the itinerary we had followed from January to May. Then, through the end of the year, we remained on the west coast.
The LST sailed west again in January 1966; and, late in February, commenced logistic support duty for combat operations in her third war. After a stop at Okinawa, we offloaded miscellaneous cargo, vehicles, and personnel at Chu Lai, Vietnam then proceeded to Subic Bay, Philippines. We briefly remained there for upkeep and loading before returning to Vietnam to operate as a unit of TF 76 in that embattled country's coastal waters.
In March, we offloaded ammunition cargo at Da Nang, Vietnam; took on vehicles at Qui Nhon, Vietnam; and transported them to Vung Tau, Vietnam. In March we moved up to Saigon; and, later returned to Vung Tau, where we navigated the Mekon and Bassac River to deliver cargo at Can Tho. There, we discharged cargo and loaded damaged vehicles which we carried to Saigon. After another run to Can Tho, we returned to the Philippines for availability; and, in June, resumed operations in Vietnam. Through that month, we shuttled cargo between Chu Lai and Da Nang. In July, the LST underwent repairs in the Philippines.
I left ship on July 22, 1966 (my 21st birthday) and was sent to San Francisco, California where I was discharged 4 days later.
My father, Harry William Diamond, was the 4th child born in a family of 9 children of which only one other was a male. He was a good person, good student and played all sports while in high school. His family worked hard to scrape out a living and his father was not one to shy away from work having entered the coal mines of Pennsylvania at the age of 12. My grandmother was the stabilizing factor in the family and the one to go to when needing assistance or a good home-cooked meal. Many would say they were poor, but they worshiped God, never turned anyone away who needed their help and were true patriots.
My father joined the Navy just prior to his graduating from high school and was assigned the position of Bow Door Operator of an LST (Landing Ship, Tank). He told me that during the war his ship had been torpedoed on two different occasions, and that each time it had to be taken to different ports for repairs. He also said that he witnessed many things during his time in the service to include being in a typhoon in the Pacific. He said that the waves were so high that the swells caused him to lose sight of a battleship. But additionally he told me that being involved in the landing at Iwo Jima was by far the worst thing that he had ever seen.
According to my aunt, the family didn’t hear from him for many weeks then found out he had been in San Diego in the hospital for 3 weeks after his return from overseas. She said one day their phone rang and it was my dad speaking softly. He said that he had shut down, physically, and was recovering from the war. His ship had been hit and his shipmates had gotten him up to the top deck for treatment. He was covered in oil, and he said all he could think of was home. His ship was towed to San Diego and there he was treated for his injuries. Then, he told them he was tired and had to get some sleep. Later when he returned home he told his family “War was Hell” and talked of the killings on Iwo Jima that he had witnessed from his ship. His father wanted to ask him some questions, but my dad said he didn’t want to talk about it now. Then he wanted to talk to his mom, alone, and my aunt told me she had overheard them talking and that my father had said to her over and over “Oh, Mom…Oh, Mom….” He, and many others with him, witnessed carnage that can never be removed but instead will remain with them until they were called Home. Death and destruction surrounded them and it didn’t matter from what walk of life you came, it was the same for all. This was the foundation that was laid for the “Greatest Generation”. This was why they worked so hard for the betterment of their families. This was why they were Patriots and why they would not accept anything but victory over their enemies.
Growing up, my father would never talk to me about the War, but when I left for Vietnam, he mentioned to me that I should “listen to the Old-Timers, they got old for a reason”. Best advice I ever received. I kept my mouth shut and did listen and learn from those who had served before me. In my heart my father will always be there repeating those words and I will forever be grateful. I also want to thank God for giving me the best DAD!!!!
World War I was a horrific war with the use of poison gas, trench warfare and other gruesome weapons causing millions of casualties by both the Axis and the Allied Powers. Though the war began in Europe in 1914, the United States was able to remain out of it until April 6, 1917, joining the fight on the side of the European Allies until the end; November 11, 1918. My grandfather, Frank Ralston, born in Lonaconing Maryland, was one of the “Doughboys” as they were called, and enlisted in the Marine Corp in 1917, but like many who have served said nothing of his contributions to the war effort. He also said nothing of his age, as he was 15 or so when he joined. He had no birth certificate so really couldn’t prove his age. He was an infantryman, a ground pounder, a grunt or in other words a part of the front lines which in those days were soldiers who were mired in the mud and filth of the trenches. He was a Marine in the Second Division under the command of Major General John A. Lejeune for whom Camp Lejeune was named. He was also a casualty of the war in that he was hit with the poison gas called Mustard Gas, and carried with him a cough for the rest of his life, eventually dying partially from the effects of the gas. He was determined to be disabled upon his discharge and received $5 per month disability pay for his medical condition.
My grandfather was a friendly man and worked hard until his retirement as a machinist, but the event that I remember most about him was during his final days on earth. As my grandfather became weaker, my grandparents came to live with us and during this time my cousin from West Virginia came with his parents to say their goodbyes. At the time he was in the Marine Corp, so my grandmother asked if he would wear his dress blues when he came. I was with him when he walked into the bedroom to see my grandfather who immediately perked up, sat up with a smile on his face and said “Finally I get to see a real man”, referring to the Marines. They talked for a short time but I could tell how happy he was to once again see the uniform of his branch of service and I realized how much it meant to him. When we left his room all he said was “See you, Marine”.
It was later on that my grandmother told me that she received a phone call from a man who asked to speak with Frank, my grandfather. After she told him that he had passed away, the man said he was sorry and that she must be very proud of him. When she asked him why, he told her that Frank was his friend and he had saved his life during the war and that he wanted to use his name in a book that he was writing. My grandfather had carried him to safety after he had found the man wounded on the battlefield. He said that my grandfather was awarded a medal for his actions during the fight of which my grandmother knew nothing about. These were the heroes of that time, when they were concerned more about others than themselves, and did not do things expecting rewards or admiration.
I loved my grandparents and learned much from them. Their love and values have been passed on to me, and being the oldest of their grandchildren I will never intentionally do anything to dishonor the memories they have left with me. I miss them both and still love them dearly. May God grant my grandfather peace and may He ease his pain.
Chip (Lou) Diamond
Senior Chief Tod Lyons (right) with son MST3 Jared Lyons following Jared’s graduation from A School in Yorktown, VA
I was shipped off to boot camp in Cape May, NJ on Sept. 19, 1983 and graduated eight weeks later on Nov. 11, 2003. I remember this day specifically because our company (Tango 116) graduated in the 11th month, on the 11thday at the 11th hour, which of course is Veterans Day.
My duty assignments over 20 years took me to Maine, Washington State, New Yok, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alaska and Virginia. Various deployments for large drug interdiction operations, oil spill response and even international exercises took me to the Caribbean, the Galapagos Islands, and over the International date line to Japan and Russia. While I may not have served in war zones like many veterans, I did serve two tours on the Coast Guard Strike Force, a special force according to the National Contingency Plan and experts at oil and chemical spill pollution control from major incidents and national disasters such as hurricanes and floods.
Strike Force duty includes some diverse operations. Some of the more notable events I responded to included: 600,000 gallons of crude oil on the pristine beaches of the Condado Plaza in San Juan, PR during Three Kings Day celebration; an oil well blowout in Timbalier Bay just of the coast of the Louisiana delta; 500,000 gallons of heavy oil that flowed down the Mississippi River from Arkansas to Louisiana impacting marshes and swamps full of alligators and other aquatic life; more than 400,000 gallons of No 4 heating oil spilled off San Cristobel Island in the Galapagos Islands – the most ecologically sensitive place on the planet; and a train derailment and fire in a Baltimore tunnel near Camden Yards where a chemical spilled and burned for many days, forcing the cancellation of Baltimore Oriole baseball games.
During my second tour at the Strike Force, America and the world remembers the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Towers that occurred Sept. 11, 2001. I deployed as a first responder driving through the night from Elizabeth City, NC to arrive at the Coast Guard command post early the next morning on Staten Island. I remember having to go through seven military check points just to get to the Coast Guard command post, where we set up shop to deal with media from all over the world.
The Big Apple and the Port of New York and New Jersey was pretty much locked down following the attack, something that probably hadn’t happened there since the Prohibition days. Ground zero looked like a war zone and at one time the Coast Guard had deployed 43 vessels to provide port security in New York Harbor. Nothing could move on the water without Coast Guard permission. As the 20-hour days ticked away, by day three we had 22 people assigned to the Joint Information Center trying to meet the international media’s needs during this disaster. I served as the Deputy Information Officer for the Joint Information Center, which was made up of reps from multiple federal and state agencies.
My promotion to Senior Chief Petty Officer at the Strike Force meant another move, this time to the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area Command 45 minutes north in Portsmouth, VA. There I served as the Assistant Public Affairs Officer for the Atlantic Area which handled Coast Guard public relations, media relations and community relations for the Coast Guard from the Canadian border to the Caribbean and as far west as the Mississippi River, and Coast Guard In-theater operations for Operation Iraqi Freedom
By now I had served more than 18 years on active duty. So, my original thought to “Do four years and get out” had long gone by the wayside. I had seen much of the US and portions of the world during my Coast Guard service that I would never had seen myself had I stayed in Vermont. But, I figured it was time to retire. My official retirement date was Dec. 1, 2003, 20 years, 2 months and 12 days from the first day I enlisted out of Springfield, MA back in 1983.
I really enjoyed my time in the Coast Guard and am proud of my service to our country.
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