B-29 Gunner Flew 33 Missions; Met FDR

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Homer Bates flew B-29s during WWII

In 1942, after enlisting with the Army Air Corps and testing high for skills needed to work with aircraft, Homer Bates of Markle, IN, was assigned to the 20th Air Force 58th Bomber Wing. His assigned duties would be manning a gun turret on a B29. As B29s were still in production, gunners practiced on B17 simulators since they had similar controls. When it came time to practice shooting, the gunners experienced a problem.

“Several of us were told to shoot painted ammo simultaneously at a banner flying behind a tow plane,” he said. “It served as a moving target and we were judged on our shooting abilities. At first the judges could not tell whose shots went where. So we were given ammo painted different colors. The judges could then tell by colors of holes which gunners needed more practice.”

His first mission over Japan took place June 1944. “For more than a year it was a steady routine of dropping bombs and encountering enemy fighters and heavy accurate flak,” he said. His longest mission to Nagoya lasted 18 hours. During the war, Bates flew 33 missions over Japan in B29s.

In February 1944 Bates’ crew was ordered to fly a B29 Typhoon McGoon III to Washington D.C. No reason was given for the special trip. Upon landing at Bolling Field, the crew commander was met by General Hap Arnold and his staff. Each of the crew members was greeted and asked to explain the aircraft so he could brief the president. The following morning the crew was completing their pre-flight check of equipment when they saw a limousine pull up beside the plane, along with an official-looking motorcade. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had arrived!

He and members of his family began questioning the crew about the aircraft. Anna Roosevelt Boettiger and her two teenaged children, Eleanor and Curtis, went into the nose section and asked questions of the crew. “It was obvious she was well versed about the plane,” said Bates.

The president remained in the vehicle but appeared pleased with the aircraft. “That was perhaps the only time the President ever saw a B29,” said Bates. Considering that the B29 project cost $3 billion and the A-bomb $2 billion, the president’s approval was a relief to the crew. The president ended the session by shaking hands with each crew member.

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Staff sergeant Bates was discharged November 2, 1945. For his bravery and contribution to the war effort he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and several other medals. In 1990 the Chinese Air Force recognized Bates’ efforts and sent him a certificate of appreciation.

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Military life had gotten into Bates’ blood. He joined the Indiana Air National Guard from 1954-1961. He re-joined the Air Force, spent a year in France during the Berlin Wall Crisis, then re-joined the Air National Guard full time until 1982, retiring as a Master Sergeant.

I was privileged to include Homer’s story in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans. Homer is my husband’s uncle and in recent years we became good friends. Sadly, Uncle Homer passed away in Nov. 2016. We often thanked him for his service. As my husband and son have both served in the Air Force, they always had lots to talk about!

Pearl Harbor Survivor Recalls Dec. 7, 1941

This interview with Dick Girocco – Navy veteran / Pearl Harbor survivor came by Skype in 2015. Thanks to the staff of Pacific Aviation Museum in Honolulu for arranging the interview. We must never forget what this momentous day meant in our nation’s history. Remember to thank a vet for his/her service!

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Caption: Dick Girocco thought he was in paradise, serving in the Navy in Pearl Harbor prior to Dec. 7, 1941.

A cacophony of strange noises outside their hangar on Ford Island caused Seaman 2nd class Richard ‘Dick’ Girocco and other seamen in his PBY squadron (‘patrol bomber’) to run outside to discover the origin.

The sight of planes in the sky didn’t immediately alarm them. The seamen working near Pearl Harbor in the early morning hours of Sunday, December 7, 1941, were preparing to move equipment to Perth, Australia. They believed other military were working as well. “We thought the Army Air Corps was dropping flour sacks for practice,” said Girocco.

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Caption: Ship exploding in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

As Girocco and the others gazed upward, they noticed red circles on the planes. The young American seamen quickly realized the planes were not being flown by Allied troops dropping inert flour bags. Japanese Imperial forces had painted their planes to resemble those used by the Army Air Corps. Their pilots were dropping bombs.

Pearl Harbor was under attack!

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Caption: Girocco (back row, 2nd from left) standing with his PBY squadron prior to Dec. 7, 1941.

Dick Girocco thought he was in paradise upon landing at Pearl Harbor in Thanksgiving 1941. “There were tall buildings, a harbor and lots of green water and sand,” he said.

The sight was a mecca for Girocco, born in 1921 in Milwaukee, WI. A few years earlier, he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps at a Forestry Camp in WI for six months earning $30/month. “I sent $22 home for my family and kept the rest,” he said.

He first tried to enlist in the US Navy at a recruiting station, but a broken tooth in the front of his mouth deterred the Navy recruiter.

A few months later, the Naval Reserve accepted Girocco and he spent 12 weeks at Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago before attending aviation machinist school at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Seattle for four months.

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Caption: Three battleships under attack by Japanese forces on Dec 7, 1941, L-R: USS WV, USS TN, USS AZ.

Girocco was transferred to a duty station on the USS Saratoga patrolling the Hawaiian Islands. Sixty sailors, including Girocco, shipped from San Francisco to Hawaii, arriving in late November in 1941.

Girocco and others were in the process of laying a pipe line from the water past the hangars when they spied the enemy attack.

Prior to December 7, seamen on Pearl Harbor had discussed the possibility of an attack by foreign forces. “We thought the Japanese would attack the Aleutian Islands off the coast of the Alaskan territory or maybe the Philippines to get rid of our naval fleet,” said Girocco.

His first impulse at realizing his life was in danger was to run back inside the hangar for protection. When he looked around, he saw a closer means of rescue.

Several feet of pipe lay close by. Scrambling inside, Girocco had a ring side seat to the horror and destruction that filled the next several minutes as Japanese air forces tried to annihilate the American military presence in Hawaiian territory.

A dreadful hour passed.

Girocco later learned that minutes before attacking Pearl Harbor, Japanese Imperial Navy aircraft had bombed the nearby U.S. Naval Air Station on the east coast of Oahu. As a result, 27 Catalina PBY Seaplanes – also known as ‘flying boats’ — were destroyed, and six others damaged.

This was a crippling effect as the long-range patrol bombers could have followed the Japanese planes back to their carriers as a defensive maneuver.

During a respite in the Japanese firing, Girocco thought it safe to venture out to the seaplanes to inspect them. However, the concussion of a bomb exploding – later he learned it had hit the USS Destroyer Shaw in the Navy yard dry dock — sent him flying into a nearby ditch.

“I couldn’t see anything but I could hear the noise and the concussion in the ground,” he said. “What I remember most is when Japanese bombers set off ammunition in Hangar 6. We were again in shock. It seemed all we could do was wait for instructions.”

Finally, thankfully, quiet descended over the area. Navy personnel quickly set to work, trying to establish order. A hangar was made into quarters and a barracks along Battle Ship Row was converted as a hospital for shrapnel wounds and other injuries.

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Caption: USS AZ Memorial at Pearl Harbor today.

For days the uninjured like Girocco looked for survivors. “We did rescue flights along the coast and evacuated marines who were injured,” he said. “We flew close to the water about 500-1,000 feet. A PBY could land on water and retrieve survivors.”

Girocco had liked to swim around Pearl Harbor before the attack. That activity ended as afterward it was filled with oil and the mortally wounded. “We used rubber rafts to get dead bodies in the water,” he said.

Recovering from Pearl Harbor seemed insurmountable, but hearing, just a day later, American President FDR had declared war on Japan and Germany and plans were being made to go on the offensive gave the seamen impetus to fight.

 

Girocco survived the remainder of the war which ended with a Japanese surrender in September 1945. He remained in his PBY squadron until October 1943 when he contracted malaria and was transferred to a different assignment. He continued serving with the Navy over the next several years in a number of places, including Okinawa and Texas.

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When Girocco retired from the Navy in 1960, he visited Hawaii repeatedly. In 1987 he moved to the state he had thought of as paradise and began volunteering at the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor. “Pearl Harbor was the most difficult part of my military experience,” he said. “I’m encouraged by the number of young visitors who show interest in our nation’s military history. I’m proud of our country and what we did to save it.”

The End

 

 

Pearl Harbor Naval Survivor Recounts December 7, 1941 — Pt 1

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Today I’m posting a story from a sailor who was on the USS St Louis stationed at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

You can hear a brief account of his experience here. Thanks to Bryan Lineberry, teacher at Bellmont High School in Decatur, IN, for inviting me to meet Mr. Garrett.

I’ll post a second account from another sailor I’ve interviewed tomorrow on December 7, to commemorate this significant day in our nation’s history.

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These are 2 of the nearly 150 interviews I’ve conducted with WWII vets.

Other World War II stories can be found in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans. It can be purchased through this site or at Amazon. Thanks for your interest in the stories of these great men and women who served our country so well!

Thank a veteran!

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Jack Garrett — Navy /Pearl Harbor Survivor

At 7:56 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Jack Garrett of Rome City, Indiana, was stationed aboard the St. Louis, a light cruiser moored at the pier in the southeast lock of Pearl Harbor.

Suddenly, a message come over the base’s PA system. More than 70 years later, Garrett can recall the bone-chilling words he heard that morning. “The guy said we were being attacked and it was not a drill!” he said.

Garrett was standing on the second deck of the St. Louis. Within minutes, the crew had scrambled to their assigned battle stations (general quarters).

Later Garrett and the rest of the crew learned that other seamen aboard the St. Louis had sighted Japanese planes approaching the base minutes before the alarm sounded.

At first the St. Louis with its 100,000-horsepower engines had no power. By the time the second wave of Japanese planes came in for attack, the ship had begun moving into the channel entrance for a strategic battle position.

“As the St. Louis began to back away, other battleships pulled out to allow us to get into place,” said Garrett. “At first it took a while as we were slow and heavy, but we were the first ship to leave the harbor.”

Earlier that year, the St. Louis, moored at Berth B-21 in the Navy Yard, had sailed west with other cruisers of the Battle Force, patrolling the waters of Wake Island, Midway, Guam and Manila.

It returned to Hawaii that fall and was at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard for upkeep.

As the St. Louis moved away from the harbor, its operable anti-aircraft guns were manned and fired on the Japanese attackers. A two-man Japanese sub fired two torpedoes on the ship, but they hit the reef and did no damage to the ship.

Incensed, the crew aboard the St. Louis searched two days for the Japanese seamen inside the subs. “We never found them,” said Garrett.

As members of the ship’s crew fired 5-inch guns at Japanese enemies, the crew realized the St. Louis, while sustaining minor bullet hits, was not a principal target for attack.

Eight battleships moored next to Ford Island, nicknamed ‘battleship row’, bore the brunt of the Japanese assault. They were the USS Arizona, USS California, USS Maryland, USS Nevada, USS Oklahoma, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee, and USS West Virginia.

 Within minutes, the Japanese aircraft had sunk or heavily damaged six of the eight ships. “I could see survivors who had been aboard the damaged ships swimming to shore,” said Garrett.

The St. Louis continued out to sea where she joined the USS Detroit and Phoenix, both of which joined Garrett’s crew in searching the waters around Pearl Harbor. “We wanted to find the Japanese naval fleet,” said Garrett. After searching three days, the St. Louis’ crew was unable to locate any part of the Japanese strike force.

The ships and their frustrated crews returned to Pearl Harbor on December 10. In the days following the St. Louis escorted transports carrying casualties to San Francisco.

Garrett had never dreamed of such dramatic action when he dropped out of high school in 1939 at age 17 in northern Indiana to enlist in the US Navy. “I joined because my cousin was in the Navy and he thought I’d like it,” he said.

By 1941 he was serving aboard the USS St. Louis stationed at an island in the Pacific he had never heard of prior to joining the Navy — Pearl Harbor.

“It was a two-ocean war,” Garrett said. “At the beginning of the war our naval fleet was too small to accommodate the demands. Those in charge decided to fight Europe first. We tried to make the Japanese think we were all over the Pacific when in reality we had few ships there.”

The St. Louis was involved in other battles during the war, including the Battle of Dutch Harbor in June 1942. Fought on Amaknak Island in Unalaska, Alaska, it was one of the few sites on American territory, besides the attack on Pearl Harbor, to be bombed by the Japanese during World War II.

In mid-1942 the crew sailed to the Solomon Islands and fought a ferocious battle on the island of Guadalcanal that waged until 1943. “The Japanese brought ships in through the night,” said Garrett. “We had seven ships as part of a convoy. The USS Helena was our sister ship.”

USS Helena (CL-50), a light cruiser, was damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor. She continued to fight in several battles in the Pacific War before being sunk by three surface-fired torpedoes at the Battle of Kula Gulf in 1943. Garrett recalled the sinking.

“When we contacted the crew of the Helena, we got no answer,” he said. “We shone the spotlight in her direction and saw the bow had been struck. We saw the ‘50’ and knew it was Helena. We found out later torpedoes had gotten it.”

In fall 1942 the St. Louis sailed to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska which was still a territory. The enemy had overtaken the island of Attu in June 1942 but American Navy won it back after a two-week battle in May 1943.

In July 1944, Garrett was on the St. Louis as it patrolled near Surigao Strait and was attacked by kamikazes. The Japanese planes bombed and rammed into the ship, causing it to list to port. By the time the cruiser was back on an even keel with all major fires out, dozens of crewmen were wounded, killed, or missing.

The crew managed to sail to Mare Island Navy Yard in San Francisco for repairs. They thought they would have a couple of weeks to wait for the ship’s new bow to be built. Half of the crew got a 10-day leave and the other half was scheduled to go after the first group returned.

Garrett was selected with the first half. “I took a train to Chicago, then Fort Wayne for a visit home,” he said. “It took 2.5 days to go each way so I had five days at home.”

By the time he returned, the bow was in place and the ship was ready to go. The other half of the ship’s personnel was forced to forgo their leave.

By the time the war ended, the St. Louis had participated in 11 sea battles. “Our nickname was ‘Lucky Lou’,” he said. Even Tokyo Rose, the infamous Japanese propagandist who gave radio talks designed to deaden the morale of Allied troops, talked about the St. Louis. “She said the St. Louis had been sunk three times,” said Garrett, who only returned to the US once during his four years of military service.

Another interesting experience happened to Garrett prior to his leaving the ship. A PT (Patrol Torpedo) boat approached the side of the St. Louis. “It was protocol for the boat’s officer to approach the quarter deck to ask permission to come aboard,” said Garrett. “He asked to see Lieutenant White and an orderly took him to Lieutenant White’s state room.”

After the visit concluded, the PT officer asked Garrett and others aboard the St. Louis if they’d like to ride in the PT boat. “I had always wanted to ride in one so I got permission,” said Garrett. “We rode for 30 minutes and went about 60 miles per hour. It was fun.”

Garrett never forgot the PT boat or its number – 109. The number would later become famous as would its commander – future US President John F. Kennedy. As a Lieutenant in the US Navy in August 1943, Kennedy commandeered his boat’s crew through a hazardous rescue after their boat was attacked by a Japanese destroyer.

After the war, Garrett worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. He retired in 1984. A grandson has served in the Air Force. Garrett has participated in Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana.

In the 1980s Garrett and others tried to save the St. Louis from the scrap yard to no avail. Today, all that’s left of the ship, which traveled a quarter of a million miles around the world and fired 38,000 rounds of ammunition, is its wheel which hangs in a museum in the city of St. Louis, Missouri.

The End

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WWII Seaman Al LeFevra Served Aboard USS Gemsbok in South Pacific

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“From everyday small feats to undeniably heroic efforts, the accomplishments and achievements of America’s Navy are vast and significant. Since its birth on October 13, 1775, the Navy has been involved with more than ten major wars and countless battles in the effort to bring security, democracy and prosperity to the American people and to the international community.” from US Navy Ball website.

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I didn’t know sailors could wear facial hair until my interview with Al LeFevra. When he showed me a photo of himself dancing in a hula skirt and wearing a beard, I could hardly believe my eyes! Here is Al’s story as published in the News-Sentinel on Oct 12, 2015. All of these photo materials are printed with permission from the newspaper and the veteran.

 

They were provided by Al LeFevra from his collection of war mementos.

HEADLINE: Dad’s advice, hula skirt, asbestos helped make Navy life bearable

Believing his son Al would soon be drafted during WWII, Rene LeFevra, a WWI veteran, shared information about his own time in the Army with his son. “He told me how he lived in fox holes, had little to eat and bathed rarely,” said Al. “He thought it would be an advantage for me to be in the Navy because I’d have good food and a clean place to sleep. That was all he needed to say!”

Al LeFevra was born in Woodburn in 1922. After graduating from Central High School in Fort Wayne in May 1942, he enlisted in the Navy in Indianapolis in November.

After completing basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago, he was sent to Treasure Island Naval Base in CA. LeFevra signed up for sea duty and was assigned to the USS Gemsbok (means ‘African antelope’).

The Gemsbok, which held a crew of approximately 100, was a supply ship converted to a tanker. “The conversion was to fool the Japanese,” he said. “During combat, they dropped bombs on tankers to destroy fuel. Many of our tankers carrying oil were getting sunk. Regular fuel ships measured approximately 900 feet in length and held about 100,000 barrels of fuel. Supply ships were half that length and carried half the fuel.”

On January 12, 1944, LeFevra’s ship received orders to head for Hawaii and then the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. There they would join the US fighting fleet under the Vice Admiral William Halsey.

Although a destroyer escort surrounded the Gemsbok for protection, LeFevra was not afraid of the enemy. He had more to deal with. “The water between the US and Hawaii was rough so many of us were seasick,” he said. Crackers helped LeFevra’s stomach.

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At Pearl Harbor LeFevra saw sunken ships from Japan’s December 7, 1941, invasion. He also grew a beard, which was allowed in the Navy, and paraded in a hula skirt he purchased when not on watch. Al still has this skirt today and uses it during talks at schools about the war. He said kids love it! Please excuse the photo’s quality which has deteriorated over the years.

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Notice how this bill is stamped ‘Hawaii’ on the right. It was issued by the US government after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At the Marshall Islands the crew had permission to go ashore. It was LeFevra’s first experience on a beach. “Other sailors from battleships, airplane carriers, destroyers and escorts had landed and cleared the area of Japanese soldiers,” he said.

Two months later the crew of the Gemsbok received orders to go to the island of Eniwetok. It was also deserted and served as the crew’s home base. “During our six months at Eniwetok, we furnished oil for fighting ships from Mariana, Majuro and Kwajalein islands,” said LeFevra.

A passing British ship appreciated when the crew of the Gemsbok shared fuel and food. One sailor pointed out his ship’s ‘head’ (toilet). “It overhung the water off the fantail (stern/back) of the ship,” said LeFevra. “It looked like an outhouse. I suppose that way they didn’t require a flushing system.”

The chief of the Gemsbok’s engine room was transferred and LeFevra tested for the position of water tender first class petty officer. He passed the exam and being the next highest sailor on board to a chief, LeFevra became acting chief of the fire and engine room.

He no longer had to stand watch and could eat in the chow room separate from the rest of the crew, but he had to be available in case of emergency. “I had to see all of the men under me did their job and report to the executive officer daily,” he said.

Fresh water was in short supply until LeFevra devised a solution. The Navy had a unit that processed salt water into drinkable water, though the water tasted salty. LeFevra took loose asbestos, mixed it with water and pressed it around a jug. After the solution dried, it formed an insulation. “We poured cold water from our ship into it and it stayed fairly cool with no salty aftertaste. When others found out about my water, they drank all of it. I made no more fresh water!”

In their spare time the sailors played sports. LeFevra was good at boxing, having learned it in high school. “When other sailors challenged me, we didn’t try to knock the other out, but had fun,” he said. “No one came out of it too bruised.”

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Al LeFevra served on the USS Gemsbok during WWII.

In July 1944 the crew received orders to head for Saipan and Tinian. “As we anchored off Saipan, we saw fighting on Tinian four miles away as Japanese soldiers hid in caves.” The Marines bulldozed rocks and tons of dirt to fill in caves. When no one wanted a Japanese rifle that had been found, LeFevra claimed it. “I was told not to load it with our ammunition because our ammunition was too powerful for that gun,” he said.

A new officer came on board who had seen much action in fighting. When planes flew over the Gemsbok, he hit the deck. “I learned this officer had seen stress conditions,” said LeFevra. Two weeks later the officer was transferred to a hospital in Hawaii.

In January 1945 the crew received word that Admiral Chester Nimitz was the new commander of the fleet. In the following days, B29 bombers flew toward Tinian, which was now secured and provided air support for B29s. “We didn’t know until much later that the atomic bomb used to bomb Nagasaki and Hiroshima called Little Boy was unloaded there in July 1945,” said LeFevra.

Soon the Philippines were liberated and the Gemsbok sailed to Leyte Gulf and was there with many other ships in September 1945 when the war finally ended.

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“Ships shot flares into the air like a Fourth of July celebration,” said LeFevra. When the celebration was over, the Gemsbok headed to Guam but ran into a hurricane that lasted three days and four nights. No one was allowed on deck. “Surprisingly, I didn’t get seasick, probably due to the excitement,” said LeFevra. Eating utensils had disappeared so the sailors ate sandwiches for four days.

At Kure Bay the crew went ashore to see the destruction to the city from the Allies’ recent bombing. “Everything was destroyed, so it was surprising how friendly the people were,” said LeFevra.

After the treaty of surrender was signed by the Japanese emperor and the Allies, the Gemsbok sailed for Hawaii. LeFevra had earned enough points to be discharged, but when his skipper asked him to stay aboard until the ship sailed to Alabama where it would be decommissioned, he agreed.

They sailed through the Panama Canal, then through the Gulf of Mexico to Mobile. On April 30, 1946, the sailors of the USS Gemsbok were called to order on deck under the US flag and the ship’s pennant. Each US Navy ship flies a pennant at the top of the US flag.

As they stood at attention and saluted, the US flag was lowered. The pennant was twisted, so LeFevra climbed a rope 12 feet to retrieve it.

The Captain presented it to him. “I was the only original sailor remaining from the ship’s commissioning,” said LeFevra. “He said I was one of the most honest men who had ever worked for him and gave me a letter of commendation.” LeFevra still has the pennant today.

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LeFevra takes his military mementos to schools for talks to students about his part in WWII.

When LeFevra was discharged, he held the rank of First Class Water Tender earning $100/month. He took home his Japanese rifle, camera, and ship’s log (diary) among other items.

After arriving in Fort Wayne, LeFevra was thrilled to see his brother Don, who had enlisted in the Navy with parental permission at age 16, to serve aboard a submarine tender, USS Prairie.

Al LeFevra worked at General Electric as a sand blaster. Adept at math, he attended Purdue University in Fort Wayne for drafting and later worked as a Senior Designer at BAE in Fort Wayne. He retired in 1987.

In 1947 LeFevra married Betty Elizabeth Willey from Marion. She and a son are deceased.

In 2013 LeFevra accompanied the Honor Flight for Northeast Indiana to Washington DC. “I feel everything went good for me while I was in the Navy,” he said.  “People from our church wrote to us and people sent cookies. We put them on the table and shared them. That meant a lot to us. We didn’t have much time to be homesick. Dad was right.”

The End

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More than two dozen stories like these are available in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans. It features stories based on personal interviews from men/women in nearly every branch about their military service.

This would make a unique gift for a history, military lover or a person who loves America! It is written in easy-to-understand language so non-military people can understand, include students in middle/ high school. It would be a great addition to a school library.

The book can be purchased at this Amazon link.

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Remember to thank a veteran today for his/ her service!

 

What is an Honor Flight?

 

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WWII Navy vet Lucille Clarke served as secretary to a JAG officer during the war.

On Wednesday, April 27, 2016, I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. It was something I never thought would happen.

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On that date I traveled with 86 World War II, Korean vets and two Vietnam veteran and each of their guardians to our nation’s capital as part of the efforts of Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana.

Honor Flight Northeast Indiana (HFNEI) is a non-profit organization formed in 2008 to send World War II veterans on a one-day trip to Washington DC to see the military memorials built and dedicated in their honor. All expenses are paid for the vets, including charter flight and meals.

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Since then, the HFNEI staff — all volunteers — have enabled 1,200 vets, the majority of whom are World War II, to see the memorials honoring vets of several wars.

It was a thrill for me to participate with the Honor Flight for several reasons. First, I’m a proud American and the proud wife and mother of an Air Force retiree and an airman.

Second, I’ve interviewed 135 World War II vets and written a book about some of their stories. You can purchase the book on this site’s homepage.

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World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

Third, my father, who is now deceased, was deferred from military service during World War II due to agriculture. The government set aside a certain number of men to raise food to feed our nation and troops overseas. My Dad, Forace Hale Brewer, was one as well as my father-in-law, Christian Robert Reusser. I could not be more proud of their hard work to provide food for not only our nation but people around the world. Both are now deceased.

With all of my patriotism I wanted to pay my way as a guardian on a HFNEI. But since I had no relation to a World War II veteran, it was not likely it would happen. Most vets who go on the Honor Flights are accompanied by a relative or acquaintance.

The waiting list of people who like me want to volunteer as guardians is long. Advice given to me was to find a veteran who wanted me to go as his or her guardian.

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I didn’t think my chances were good, but continued to support Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana by going to the airport to welcome them home after flights around 9pm. The crowd has grown to around 3,000 people of all ages. It’s quite a party with people of all ages waving flags, shouting ‘Thank you’ and shaking hands. It’s really a stirring event.

In January 2016 as I looked over the names of the vets I had interviewed, I prayed for safety and peace, as well as for our active military and vets. I know many of them struggle for decades with things that happened during their service.

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A female Navy veteran who served as a secretary to a JAG and lives in the same retirement community as my mother came to mind. Each time I visited Mom, I said hello to Lucille and chatted for a few minutes.

Lucille was a quiet lady who always smiled and was ready for a chat. I had interviewed her two years earlier and published her story, which included marriage to a Navy officer.

During my interviews with World War II vets, I always ask if he/she has participated in an Honor Flight. If so, we place their Honor Flight T-shirts in the photos for the magazine or newspaper story to promote the organization. Lucille’s photo did not show her wearing the shirt.

That wintry day it felt like God told me to ask Lucille if she had been on an Honor Flight. That week I visited Lucille and asked her if she had gone on an Honor Flight. She replied no. I then asked her if she’d like to go. She said, “Yes, but who would take me?”

Her children lived in other states at quite a distance. I calmly told her I’d love to take her, then confessed inside I was jumping up and down! We filled out the paperwork and Lucille was accepted for the April 20, 2016, flight!

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Dozens of dedicated volunteers come to send off the vets for their big day!

We arrived at the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard base in Fort Wayne at 6:45am. A complimentary hot breakfast was served to all 85 vets, their guardians, the Honor Flight staff and media. The hot, delicious meal was prepared and served by American Legion Post 241 of Fort Wayne.

Vets were issued new T-shirts with the HFNEI name stamped on it. Guardians wore shirts a different color. This really helped to sort us out when we got to Washington as many other Honor Flights from around the nation were present at the memorials. Vets were also issued new World War II caps and other snacks and gifts throughout the day, all free.

Our group left Fort Wayne on an American Airlines A-321 (airbus) at approximately 8:45am. Several groups participated in the boarding of the plane, including military and honor guards. They held flags, stood at attention or clapped as the vets passed. The flight crew, dressed in patriotic colors, chatted and even sung with the group during the hour-long flight.

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Certain procedures are followed by the Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana to ensure safety of its vets:

A physician accompanies each group. Wheelchairs belonging to the group are provided for each vet to be used as needed throughout the day. Wheelchair lifts are available on the buses – Lucille used this. Helpers are available to assist vets with settling in to seats.

Upon landing at Reagan National Airport in DC at 10am, the vets were greeted by dozens of people of all ages, waving American flags, shaking hands and thanking the vets for their military service. Outside the airport the group boarded four charter buses. Each veteran/ guardian was assigned a bus together.

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The nation’s capital city, known for congested traffic, was no problem as the Honor Flight convoy sped through with police escorts! The trip was even more meaningful as my daughter, Lindsay, lives in DC and took off a day of work to join us! Thanks to the HFNEI for allowing her to ride with us on the bus to each stop! Here she is talking with Lucille.

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For the next several hours, our group of nearly 200 people toured the World War II, Air Force, Vietnam, Korea, Iwo Jima memorials. Former senator Bob Dole, a World War II veteran, and Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly met our vets at the memorials. Senator Dole was one of the people who helped raise money to pay for the memorial using only donations, not taxes.

Since Lucille was born in Missouri, we took her photo in front of that pillar at the WWII Memorial.

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The presence of Lucille and two other female veterans in our group caused us to visit the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. This was a new memorial for me!

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A group shot of the vets is always taken at the World War II Memorial. We also watched the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery. Lunch and dinner meals were prepared by professional caterers and eaten on the buses. By the time our group arrived at Reagan National to go home, we were all tired, but the day was only half over.

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A large group of swing dancers dressed in 1940s-era clothing visited and even danced with our vets in the terminal. One male dancer placed his hat on Lucille’s head. When I texted the photo of Lucille with a big smile to her daughter, the daughter replied that she had never seen her mother smile so widely!

During the flight home, the vets were given packets of notes, letters (many from family and friends), again thanking them for their military service.

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The biggest surprise may have been the group waiting to greet the vets at Fort Wayne International Airport as they disembarked. An estimated 3,500 people of all ages stood inside the terminal and outside under the rental car awning, waving flags, cheering and offering handshakes.

It was an emotional day. Even though I’m not related to Lucille, I believe she’s a dear lady who served her country during its time of need and she was deserving of the attention given to her for her Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana.

I thought that would be my last trip—how lucky can one girl get to take a veteran she’s not related to on a trip?

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But another veteran, a 95-year-old Army veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, has asked me to accompany him on September 22, 2016. I’m so thrilled I can hardly catch my breath!

I promise photos of that trip in the near future! Please pray for our vets around the world for safety, peace and courage. They experience more than most of us ever will.

Please thank a veteran for his or her service today!

For more information about Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana go to Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana.

Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana

PO Box 5

260.633.0049

Huntertown IN  46748

Honorflightnei@gmail.com

Honor Flight of Northeast IN

The End

Tributes to WWII Vets Mankey, Beitler

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Two World War II vets from my book have passed away recently.

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Carl Mankey, one of the few World War II Marines I’ve interviewed and one of the 28 WWII vets whose stories are featured in my book, died on April 6, 2016. Here is a portion of his story:

In June 22, 1944, Marine Private First Class Carl Mankey led 20 men from his squadron up a mountain in Saipan in the Mariana Islands. Mankey’s goal was to destroy a Japanese machine gun nest that had fired for hours on Allied troops. Disregarding heavy fire from the enemy, Mankey moved into the open to shoot with his rifle and throw grenades, hoping to disrupt the firing. Failing to hit the target, Mankey refused to give up. Later, he returned to the machine gun nest, repeating his brave actions. This time he completely destroyed it.

**

Carl was one of the first World War II vets I ever interviewed about four years ago at his home.

He had a nice small house with an American flag waving in the front yard. Someone had suggested he had a good story and I was looking for something to fill another week of my column in the Ossian Sun Riser.

Little did I know how much that story would come to mean to me.

Carl told me his story, using a lot of words I had never heard of—Tinian, Tarawa. They were islands in the Pacific. He told me he was injured once, healed and sent back to fight. I thought once a soldier was injured, he went home. First lesson.

Then he showed me his two Purple Hearts and explained they had been awarded for his two injuries. Wow! He had been injured a second time and lived to tell about it!

Carl was a small quiet man so it was hard to imagine him taking out a sniper nest, but I absolutely believed he did it if he told me he did. I got the sense he would not brag on himself.

After hearing his story, I went home and thought, “Gosh it’s too bad more people won’t have the opportunity to hear his story. It’s so amazing!”

As I began to interview more and more World War II vets, it came to me to put a book together about their stories. Carl’s story is in my first volume, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans.

I visited him a few times after the book was released. His family was proud of him and turned out in numbers for our book launch. A family member took him on the Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana which he loved.

Carl died in his home. Thanks, Carl, for your support. I’ll miss you.

&&

Dick Beitler passed away on April 17, 2016. He was a godly man who was forced to fight in some extreme battles with the Army in the Pacific. Here is the introduction to his story in my book:

On Leyte Island in the Philippines American soldiers reconnoitered in the Bataan Mountains. It was January 1945 and American forces were trying to recapture the Bataan peninsula from the Japanese. All was quiet until the third night. When the enemy began firing, part of my company went to high ground to fight. I stayed in the valley with other soldiers, firing all night. Many Americans were killed in what would be later called the Battle of Zig Zag Pass.

**

Dick was one of the oldest vets I’ve ever interviewed. He graduated from Berne High School in 1935, years before the US was involved with the war. He worked at a furniture store before and after the war. He and his wife raised six children and he taught Sunday School for 70 years.

At my book launch Dick volunteered to pray for our group and I was nervous and glad to hand him the microphone. He might not have needed it as his voice boomed!

These were both great fellows and I’m privileged to have their stories in my book.

 

 

Jeannette & Bruce Kenline Serving God and Country

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This story is the result of interviews with a couple I met while working at a retirement home. They were the first couple I had met who had both served in the military. I admire them both.  I didn’t have photos of them in uniform but the helmet is pretty awesome!

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Jeannette and Bruce Kenline spent their lives in service, first as American soldiers, then ministering in churches.

A native of South Bend, Jeannette was a student at Indiana University for two years, majoring in business, when she enlisted as a Navy WAVES in 1944. (WAVES stands for “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service”)

According to the Naval Historical Center, 27,000 women were recruited as WAVES within the first year of the war. By the end of the war, 80,000 WAVES were serving the US.

“You had to be 20 years old to enlist as a WAVE,” said Jeannette. Why did she want to join the Navy? “I had flown in a friend’s plane a couple of times and thought it was great,” she said. At that time the Army Air Corps, later known as the Air Force, was still in its infancy.

Unfortunately, Jeannette’s dreams of going up in a Navy plane didn’t materialize. She was stationed first at a base in Norman, Oklahoma, then at a naval station in Jacksonville, Florida, where she was assigned the duties of an Aviation Machinist Mate. As soon as she could, Jeannette transferred to an office job. “I discovered I didn’t like taking apart carburetors,” she said.

Bruce graduated from East Rockcreek High School in Markle in 1939. Following graduation, he enrolled at Indiana University as a pre-med major. When he enlisted in the Navy in 1942, his pharmaceutical training from college qualified him to serve as a medic.

Bruce participated in fighting at some of the fiercest battles of the war, including the Omaha Beach invasion at Normandy.

Between June 1940 and May 1945, Normandy was part of the German occupied zone of France. During the War, the Allies coordinated a massive build-up of troops and supplies to support a large-scale invasion of Normandy. This included amphibious landings by troops on Landing Ship Tanks (LST). “The front end extended into the water, and then dropped open, allowing soldiers easy access to the beach,” said Bruce, who rode on an LST.

His job as a medic was to mend wounded soldiers. It was a gruesome task with Germans dug into fortified locations above the beaches and shooting steadily at the Allied forces. “Bruce saw a man running without legs as they portrayed in the movie Saving Private Ryan,” said Jeannette.

Bruce survived Normandy only to be shot by a sniper at a later assignment in Okinawa. As a result of his injury, Bruce was sent home. During one of his stops to the island of Guam, he and other wounded Allied soldiers heard about the US dropping of the atom bomb on Japan in August 1945.

It was a momentous occasion for the battle-weary soldiers. “We knew the US had been working on an atom bomb,” said Bruce. “We hoped the war would end soon.”

Back in the US and honorably discharged from military service, Bruce returned to Indiana University where he met Jeannette who had been discharged in 1946. They married in 1947.

After graduating from IU with a business degree, Jeannette obtained her teaching license from the University of St Francis in Ft Wayne, later earning a Masters degree in Education from the same institution. Jeannette taught business and social studies classes at Norwell High School.

Bruce didn’t finish his pre-med degree, but began working with his father in the Ft Wayne area in a home decorating business. Following a trip to Africa 1965 with Dr. LeRoy Kinzer of the Markle Medical Center and Reverend Ernie Shoemaker, Bruce changed his vocation to that of a minister. He enrolled as a student at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, and obtained his license to preach in 1970.

Bruce began preaching at the Tocsin United Methodist Church and later Greentown, IN.

Over the course of their lives the Kenlines traveled to China and Russia and raised three sons. In summing up her life in service to God and country Jeannette said, “It is full of amazing grace!”

Note: Jeannette and Bruce Kenline died in 2011 in May and November, respectively.

The End