2 | BANGOR DAILY NEWS | Thursday | November 11, 2010
Six seconds made all the difference for Marine pilot over Okinawa By Col. Paul A. Lucey, USMCR (ret.) The year was 1945, and I was a Marine aviator on Okinawa, preparing with my squadron for the mother of all Pacific battles: the Battle of Japan.
NEWS PHOTO BY BRIAN SWARTZ
Col. Paul A. Lucey, USMCR (ret). lives in Old Town.
Okinawa had been secured after a bloody battle. In the air, Japan had expended her kamikaze pilots in a futile attempt to stop the American advance. Marine Fighter Squadron 323 was part of the American forces forging a ring of steel around Japan in preparation for the final assault. Our Corsair fighters had been converted to fighter-bombers, flying missions several hundred miles long to Kyushu and dropping 500pound bombs on enemy airfields. A final indignity was seeing Army Air Force P-47 Thunderbolts weaving over us as our fighter protection. The thoroughbred Corsairs had been reduced to plow horses. But like good Marines, we saluted and carried out the missions. Happily, once we dropped our bomb loads and external gas tanks, we reverted to fighter status with our six 50-caliber machine guns at the ready. At Awasi Field on Okinawa, mundane squadron chores were assigned to pilots between missions. One ongoing duty was flight-testing overhauled engines. Periodic overhauls entailed stripping the engine and reassembling it with any needed replacement parts. Once out of
Piloting an F-4U Corsair, a Marine pilot fires rockets at Japanese positions on Okinawa. Paul Lucey of Old Town flew a similar aircraft on missions against Japanese bases on Kyushu.
overhaul, the plane was given a test hop; this involved following a series of maneuvers, power settings, etc. to be checked by the test pilot before returning the Corsair to combat. I was assigned to one such test hop. After completing the necessary tests, I decided to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the island when, without warning, oil covered the windshield and canopy. An oil line had ruptured! This was a terminal malfunction rarely experienced by a pilot and usually had only one corrective action: parachute time, open the cockpit canopy and jump. A pilot would have less than a minute
before the engine “freezes” or binds for lack of oil, and the Corsair glided like a stone. So, since I was flying at about 1,000 feet, which was well below a safe parachuting altitude, I had run out of options. Enter my guardian angel! Looking to my right, I saw a small outlying airfield with four Corsairs parked at one end. They were on “stand by,” ready to scramble if kamikazes were sighted. Instinctively I turned toward the field, dropped my landing gear and flaps, dove for the runway, and plopped down in a carrier-style landing right in front of the astonished pilots on stand by.
My Corsair rolled about 50 yards, and the propeller stopped turning. The engine had “frozen”! I had landed with perhaps six seconds to spare. Sixty-five bonus years later, I sit on my living room recliner and relive that near fatal incident. My daughter lives in Old Town. Her two children are Orono High School graduates. My son is in Honolulu with his wife and child, and neither family is aware that their very existence to due to my priceless gift of six seconds received one fateful day on Okinawa, before they were born. Col. Paul A. Lucey, USMCR (ret.) lives in Old Town.
30 English Masons toasted B-24 gunner Joseph W. Edwards, a lifelong resident of Island Falls, graduated from Island Falls High School and Stratton Commercial School in Boston, Mass. In 1942 he enlisted in the US Army Air Force as a private first class and received his military training in Atlantic City, N.J. Servicemen lived 10 to a room on the seventh floor of a hotel. During the war, with so many men to train, the Army Air Force took over hotels for basic training. According to Joe, they marched up and down the Atlantic City Boardwalk while singing songs. If they didn’t sing songs, they had to march for hours, so the men sang their hearts out to avoid marching and getting sore feet. The AAF at this time needed a backlog of officers for training pilots, bombardiers, and navigators, three very important positions on the B-24 Liberator. The other positions were enlisted men like Joe.
When the Air Force needed these men, they were sent to St. Louis, Mo. for testing to qualify as a gunner or radio operator. There was one nose turret gunner; he also dropped the bombs. Two waist gunners stood on each side of the plane, just behind the bomb load. The lone tail and ball-turret gunners each had twin guns. The radio operator was in the top turret, above the pilot; he also with a machine gun. Edwards was originally a ball-turret gunner in the belly of the plane; the position was later eliminated so the plane could carry more bombs, so he became a tail gunner.
Joe was stationed in Altbridge, England, 100 miles north of London where there were four squadrons. Each squadron put up nine to 10 planes at one time, with several hundred men flying on a mission. Joe remembers flying in the tail and looking out to see 1,000 to 1,500 planes bombing several targets. Between 1942 and 1945, he flew 30 missions. His last mission was over Dortmund, Germany. While serving in England, Joe and another Masonic serviceman attended a London Masonic lodge, where they Joseph W. Edwards shared dinner with 30 retired English military masons. During the dinner, each Englishman stood and toasted, “To our American friends,” and with each toast, Joe and his friend had to take a drink of wine, not once but 30 times!
Soldier served as a French interpreter
Avery V. Chipman joined the Army in 1942 and served with the 100th Infantry Division during the European campaigns. He spent the winter of 1944-45 walking through the Vosges Mountains from Marseille in France to Stuttgart in Germany.
John P. Runden, who lives in Hampden, served 4½ years in the Army during World War II. He initially trained as an aircraft mechanic and then as a French interpreter. Runden “was sent to the 69th Infantry Division. Our general was Gen. [Charles L.] Bolte*, and we were called ‘Bolte’s Bitching, Bivouacky Bastards,’” Runden wrote the NEWS. “Our division entered France three days after D-Day and fought through French towns into Germany,” Runden recalled. *Bolte commanded the 69th Infantry Division in 1943 and assumed command of the 34th Infantry Division in July 1944.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS | Thursday | November 11, 2010 | 3
Maine nurse recalls the bravery displayed by wounded Americans By Christina Fritz After flying for 25 hours, I had to force my swollen feet into my shoes. We were landing, finally. The TWA stewardess opened the airplane door and looked at us with such pity, it took my breath away. “Good luck… good luck… good luck’’ she kept repeating to each person like a mantra. Once off the plane, I heard someone say, “Walk quickly and keep your heads down.” What hit me full force was the heat and humidity and the putrid diesel smell. The seriousness of the situation became obvious as we hurried past bunkers into the tent to process “in country.” I was officially in Vietnam. I was 22, and it was December of 1967, and the war raged on. We nurses hurried to get finished with the paperwork, and I felt embarrassed by my new fatigues that announced my unseasoned status. I was struck by the silence as guys smoked and waited by their duffel bags for flights. And I saw the “Hundred Yard Stare”* in the eyes of the soldiers. Their vacant stares and the quiet made everything about the place feel heavy. My friend Pat and I met at Travis Air Force Base in Oakland, Calif., as we waited to fly to Vietnam. We had formed a bond in the way that happens between military buddies, and she felt like a sister to me. We hoped to be assigned to the same hospital, but the Army had other plans. We were to be split up immediately. I would go to Qui Nhon and she to Bien Hoa. Five long months would pass before we would work at the same hospital together at the 95th Evacuation hospital in Da Nang. In those five months, we had changed from naive girls to women who had seen firsthand the reality of war. We both felt old, and we were not even half way through the assignment. In those first few months I learned that counting the days until one went home was a way of moving through the experience. Another was to never mention how quiet it was at work. People in a war zone are superstitious; as soon as someone mentioned how slow it was in the Emergency Receiving area where I worked, all hell would break loose. An endless stream of fresh casualties from the field would fill our ward with men who needed the best care we could give. The med evac helicopters** would land just outside our Quonset hut, and the wounds we treated were frequently just minutes old. The injured soldiers, still in shock, had no idea of what had happened; there had not been time for them to process
any of it. I learned to shut down my feelings so that I could be totally present for each patient. It led to a schizophrenic split between reality and denial. With a sea of stretchers before me, I knew to waste no time as our team did our best to save them. We worked fast. We nurses would cut off the fatigues that hid the wounds and start IVs while moving down the line of stretchers, calming those who begged us to care for their buddy first. “He’s hurt much worse than me, take care of him first” was often the first thing we heard as they tried to get up off the stretcher to let their buddy take their place. I never heard anyone beg for help first, and the bravery I witnessed many times every day has stayed with me. Over and over, I heard, “Where are you from, round eye?” in reference to our Caucasian eyes. The question felt out of place, coming at me in spite of the situation, as if we were meeting in a park or a bar. I found that any tenderness, like a touch on the arm, made all of the difference in the world to the injured soldiers. We instantly became mother, sister, girlfriend, and wife to them, taking the place of loved ones they desperately missed, and they were grateful for any sign of kindness and concern, making it an honor to care for them. The hardest part was in not knowing how it turned out. Some days we had time to try to find our patients on the units where they had gone after we had treated them, and some were shipped out right away to Japan for longer term care. After a while I quit looking, and this lack of closure and not knowing how they had fared left a huge hole in my heart. The very badly injured patients, who were not going to make it, were put in the back of the Quonset hut, and when we had a break in the action, we held their hands and talked about home, comforting them and staying present so that they did not die alone. Richard Larson of Machias drives a Jeep while I never cried, and I never saw any of stationed in Vietnam with the United States Army. the other nurses or doctors cry. Some of
NEWS PHOTOS BY BRIAN SWARTZ
The Vietnam Nurses Memorial in Washington, D.C. (left) honors the American nurses who served in Vietnam. Calais resident Christina Fritz, RN, (above) spent a year experiencing the horrors of war at Army hospitals in Vietnam. the patients cried out of grief for a friend or because of fear or pain, but no medical person I worked
with did that. We had to shut down, to keep it inside. It was the only way we managed to do our job. And later, when we had time to let loose, we drank too much and laughed too hard and slept whenever we got the chance. Our goal was to make it through the year, one day at a time. The country, wildly overgrown with green foliage contrasted by the white sandy beaches, felt sinister and strange, the loveliness marred by military outposts, jeeps, and trucks and that smell of diesel that permeated everything. During the dry season the dust that blew from the beach covered our beds, and after working all night, we shook an inch of it off our bed covers before falling into an exhausted sleep. After we had worked all night, the heat woke us at noon, and we moved to the beach to try to get more sleep. With the 12-hour shifts and the lack of rest, we moved like sleepwalkers through the days. Some relief came in the fall and winter months with the monsoon rains, which turned everything to mud, but they also brought cooler temperatures and some blessed relief from the heat. The local women from the villages nearby were called “mamasans,” a colloquial term we adopted. They were hired to do our laundry and to clean our rooms, and we listened to their singsong language as they worked. We learned that no one could be trusted, and that even the smiling friendly women we saw every
See NURSES, Page 7
4 | BANGOR DAILY NEWS | Thursday | November 11, 2010
A Midcoast soldier spent Christmas 1944 in a European foxhole By Leone Barton Harriman My father, Leon Barton Jr., is 86 years old. He served in World War II, going into the Army at age 19 in 1943. He had seven months of training before heading to Europe, perhaps to die for his coun-
Veterinarian became a muleskinner Dr. Ray C. Newman of Island Falls was in the accelerated Veterinary Medicine Program at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., during WWII. The Army needed inspectors of meats for the Quartermaster Corps. When the program broke up during Newman’s junior year of college, he was given the choice of being discharged and taking the chance of being drafted or staying on active duty. Choosing to stay on active duty, Newman was sent to Fort Riley, Kansas as a mule skinner, where he taught ROTC cadets how to pack mules. He stayed there until a “mule team mishap”: He was caught with a twomule team when it was supposed to be a four-mule team. Without explanation, Newman was sent directly to the office for this mishap. When the officers in charged learned that PFC Newman was a senior veterinary student, he was immediately sent for OCS training and ended his military service teaching field artillery at Fort Sill, Okla.
try. Leon joined the 1st Infantry Division, the first division to arrive in England, the first div ision to invade North Africa, Si c i l y, a n d France. He told tales of being on Leon Barton Jr. the beach
at Normandy, of being blown 40 feet across the Cologne Plains in Germany, of Christmas in the foxholes, of losing his buddies at the Battle of the Bulge; he told these tales without embroidery or emotion. Called “Stump Jumper Maine” by Gen. George S. Patton, my father was known as Pfc. Barton of Co. K, 16th Infantry. He belonged to Patton’s Third Army and distinguished himself in combat, but not at the expense of his modesty. How, even at age 86, he still talks about the time that he served his coun-
Wearing a helmet that sported his captain’s bars, a young Richard Emmert smiles while perched atop a jeep on American Samoa during World War II. Emmert was a dentist in the Army Medical Corps. He told his children about the time when he was “trying to work on a patient out in the compound while a [Japanese] sniper was shooting … from the nearby jungle. Talk about not enjoying your visit to the dentist!”
try. Even in the early stage of Alzheimer’s, he still remembers the “ole days.” I am the oldest of his six children, and we are all proud of him as Dad and as a veteran of our country. I want to say “thank you” not only to
our Dad, but to all the men and women that are protecting our country now. May God be with them and their families.
Leone Barton Harriman lives in Northport.
Sailor fought at Pearl & Midway By Neal Sawick The military career of my father, Commander Theodore Sawick, spanned 32 years, from 1937 to 1969. He was a “mustang,” working his way up from the ranks to get his commission in the middle of the war. He was a machinist mate first class at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He was on PT-42, which was cradled on board the tanker USS Ramapo along with PTs 27, 29, and 30. These PT boats belonged to MTB Squadron One. The Ramapo was moored 400 to 500 yards from Battleship Row at the time of the Japanese attack. During the war, my father was at the Battle of Midway and the Battle of the Solomons, as well as campaigns in New Guinea, the Philippines, and Borneo. If the A-bomb had not been dropped, he would have been part of the first assault wave on Japan. The American military expected 80 percent casualties if that invasion took place. I’ve heard the stories and have about two hours of audio tape about Pearl Harbor, the war, and his naval career. At the time of the recording, he was crying while reliving some of those horrible moments. When I was growing up in Virginia, I
Here’s a well-deserved salute to all our sons and daughters of Downeast Maine who have served our country in conflicts past and present.
Thank You... for your selfless dedication to duty and to country. Serv erving all of Eastern Maine www.jordanfernald.com
Jordan-Fernald FUNERAL HOMES 667-2521 • 244-3183 caring for generations
Commander Theodore Sawick
never appreciated my father until I was married and moved to Maine some 36 years ago. I miss my father deeply, and now that he’s gone, I can’t ask him questions that I didn’t think to ask when he was alive. I could never know the horrors of war that he faced on those PT boats during the war. Dec. 7th is coming up, and since my father’s death, I can’t watch anything dealing with Pearl Harbor; it hurts too much. I think of my father almost all the time.
Neal Sawick lives in Machias.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS | Thursday | November 11, 2010 | 5
WWII vet shared memories in a letter On March 27, 1997, Howard Welch Jr. wrote a letter to a cousin, James Welch. In the letter Howard briefly recalled his Army service during World War II. He had previously received commendations for serving in the Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe campaigns. “He never talked about the war, never, ever,” recalled Marilyn Cronin, another cousin who provided the NEWS with Howard’s letter. “He did say [that] when he was in Germany in the winter [of 1944-45], ‘That was where I learned to drink coffee.’”
when Rommel was defeated by Montgomery during the Battle of El Alamein, plans changed, and we trained for several months on the East Coast and in England in expectation of the upcoming invasion of Europe. Eventually we crossed the Channel with the Allied armada, leaving from several British ports including Southampton, and landed on the beaches of France.
May 27, 1997 Jim — Another day, another mechanized assault on the English language! Your references to Fort Polk [La.] in the May newsletter conjured up memories since I was there in the 1940s (Camp Polk then). It was the first permanent base for the newly formed 3rd Armored Division (later known as “Spearhead”), to which I was assigned throughout WWII and which was structured by cadre from Patton’s 2nd Armored Division (“Hell on Wheels”) and thousands of selectees from all walks of life over the United States. We trained for several months in the Mojave Desert for later participation in the campaign in North Africa. However,
Howard Welch Jr. During the ensuing battles and campaigns, until contact was made with the Russians in central Germany, the “Flying Infantry” was indispensable (P-47 Thunderbolts). Admittedly, the U.S. Sherman tanks equipped with “French 75s” (75 mm cannon) were outclassed by German Tiger and Panther tanks given superior fire power with their highvelocity 88 mm guns — a fact that became apparent when the 1st Armored Division joined battle with the Afrika Korps in North Africa. Our tank-
destroyer gun carriages bearing versatile 90 mm cannon were a match for the 88s. Nevertheless, many low-flying P-47 Thunderbolts carrying 500-pound bombs permanently deactivated countless German tanks. When a P-47 was hit and ignited by enemy antiaircraft fire, there was no free fall possible because of the low altitude. The pilot, when able, would attempt to extricate himself from the burning wreckage sufficiently to pull the ripcord immediately and allow the parachute to whip him away from the plane — the procedure often resulted in successful, though rough, landings. I recall one such pilot, who we had seen crawl out on the wing and open his chute, as he walked out of a wooded area some time later and approached our column which had temporarily halted. Ahead of him walked a German soldier with [his] hands in the air. The pilot was carrying the German’s rifle under his arm and told us that he wouldn’t have known how to fire it under any situation! The willing captive had welcomed the unexpected opportunity to surrender, and upon seeing the pilot, threw down his rifle and raised his hands. Needless to say, it’s fortunate he wasn’t one of the SS troops! Well, Jim, so much for our alma mater, Fort Polk … My best, Howard
Avenger crew air-dropped supplies to hungry Marines Harlan Gardner, who lives in Marshfield, enlisted in the Marines on Aug. 28, 1942, completed boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina, and attended aerial ordnance and gunnery schools in Jacksonville, Fla. Assigned to Marine Torpedo Bombing Squadron at El Toro, Calif. in November 1943, Gardner trained as a
radioman and rear gunner on Grumman Avengers. Sailing from San Diego to the New Hebrides in early spring 1944, he underwent additional training and then flew to Guam, landing there on Aug. 13, 1944. In a large Avenger, Gardner “flew offshore, anti-submarine patrols for eight months.” His squadron then deployed to “Ie Shima, just off Okinawa” on May 19, 1945 “and commenced flying support missions for ground troops and more antisubmarine patrols. “We lost some planes and crews who didn’t return from anti-submarine patrols, and we endured the almost daily, heavy kamikaze attacks,” Gardner indicated. “During late May and early June 1945, heavy rains made the supply routes of the 1st Marine Division on Okinawa completely impassable, and they were in critical need of supplies,” he remembered. “VMTB A photo printed in Robert Sherrod’s “Histo- 131 made over 150 parachute ry of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II” drops to them during this perishows a Marine-piloted Grumman Avenger od, over 90 percent on target.” Gardner’s squadron received parachuting supplies to Marines on Okinawa in late spring 1945. a Presidential Unit Citation.
Soldier slept soundly despite D-Day noise By Rev. Dr. Henry G. Wyman I entered the Army on July 8, 1943 and went to Fort Devens, Mass. and from there to Camp Grant, Ill. After basic training, I went to Fort Knox, Ky., where I joined the 32nd Medical Depot. All my brothers and I served in World War II. My oldest brother, Walter, held the highest rank as a major. Frank was master sergeant. Sam served 42 years in the Maine National Guard, and I ended up as a private first class. The 32nd Medical Depot went overseas in March 1944 and landed in England on Easter Sunday. Our advanced training began at Ashbourne; then we went to Maidenhead and served on a hospital ship [moored] in the Thomas Estuary. The night before the D-Day Invasion, I experienced my first bombing and strafing. At age 18, it was fearful. We landed in Normandy on D-Day +1. Our first job was to clean up the American dead. That night the Germans were above us, and the [English] Channel was just behind us. We dug a foxhole, and I pulled railroad ties over the top. Later that night I fell sound asleep. In the morning, they pulled me out feet first while screaming at me, “How could you sleep through all that?” I replied, “Once you’ve done all you
can, what else was there to do?” We traveled in medical supply trucks all the way to the [war’] end in Strubing, Germany. The war ended, and I was discharged. During my seminary training, I was a chaplain in the U.S. Naval Reserve and was attached to the Naval Reserve Center
in Hartford, Conn. My career was short, but interesting. For me, World War II was very important. We visited Buchenwald and saw the horror there. I was glad when it ended. Rev. Dr. Henry G. Wyman lives in Bangor.
For serving with honor, courage and strength of character, we thank you.
Eastport veteran receives D-Day medal 58 years later Almost 58 years after the fact, Gordon Greenlaw of Eastport received a medal for participating in the Normandy Invasion. Greenlaw joined the Army, trained for 17 weeks at Camp Croft, S.C., and underwent additional training at Fort Meade, Md. The Army then shipped him and thousands of other soldiers aboard the liner Queen Elizabeth to Greenock, Scotland. Greenlaw trained in amphibious assault landings in England and Wales before he “boarded a ship in Liverpool” to sail for Normandy and “the D-Day Invasion on June 6, 1944.” He was wounded in Labell, France on June 14, 1944 and was evacuated by ship to the 135th General Hospital in England.
“After the operation on my leg to remove the bullet, which I still have, I was hospitalized for months,” Greenlaw recalled. He sailed aboard a hospital ship to Charleston, S.C. “I was honorably discharged on Oct. 14, 1945 and sent to my hometown, Eastport,” he said. During the war, Greenlaw received a Bronze Star, the Combat Infantry Badge, the ETO Ribbon with one Invasion Star, the Expert Rifleman Medal, a Good Conduct Medal, and a Purple Heart. On Feb. 4, 2004, he received the Medal of the Jubilee of Liberty, which France bestowed on Normandy veterans. Greenlaw winters in Florida; he received this medal from Florida Congressman John Mica.
We especially acknowledge our Husson family of Veterans and those still active in the military.
1 College Circle • Bangor ME 04401-2999 www.husson.edu • 800-4HUSSON
6 | BANGOR DAILY NEWS | Thursday | November 11, 2010
Three-war aviator helped rescue a Marine pilot from certain death By Brian Swartz SPECIAL SECTIONS EDITOR
Patrol Squadron 208 traded a Navy seaplane for a Marine aviator — and Lester Slate helped save an American’s life. Slate and his wife, Maxine, live in Exeter, but he hails from Chicopee, Mass. In 1942, Slate joined the Navy as an aviation cadet and promptly went to Pittsfield (Maine, not Massachusetts) “to learn to fly in the little Aeronaca.” He met a local woman, Maxine Pushor, during the 10-week aviation school. Additional training took Slate to Chapel Hill, N.C.; Squantum, Mass.; and Pensacola, Fla., where he opted for pilot training on multi-engine aircraft “right on Perdido Bay” on P2Ys and PBYs. After completing another 10-week school in Hollywood, Fla., he joined Patrol Squadron 208 in Key West. “That’s where we learned to fly the PBM,” a larger twin-engine seaplane, Slate said. While stationed in Key West, he traveled to Boston to marry Maxine, who then joined him in sunny Florida. The VP 208 crews soon checked out on the massive PBM5 Mariner, a well-
Lester Slate (left) flew Navy seaplanes (above) during World War II and Coast Guard rescue aircraft and helicopters during Korea and Vietnam. Slate lives in Exeter.
equipped PBM variant. The squadron departed for Hawaii in January 1945 and, after flying anti-submarine “patrols out of there for about a month,” crews and planes “just island-hopped out to Saipan,” Slate said. After flying search-and-rescue missions in the waters around Iwo Jima for a few weeks, the VP 208 crews shifted to Mog Mog, a tree-covered island near Ulithi Atoll in the Caroline Islands. In mid-spring 1945, Slate’s 12-man crew sailed by ship to the Kerama Islands west of Okinawa to establish a seaplane
base. Because they were so large, PBM5 Mariners usually moored in harbors or lagoons and relied on Navy support ships, designated as “AVs,” as floating seaplane bases. The USS Hamlin (AV15) supported VP 208 in the Kerama Islands. During a night patrol in mid-May 1945, “our navigator goofed up,” he recalled. The end of each patrol should find Slate’s PBM5 about 100 miles from the Kerama Islands; as this particular patrol headed toward “home,” the two pilots (including Slate) realized that “as time passed by, we weren’t picking up the [homing] signal” broadcast from the USS Hamlin. Slate rechecked the navigator’s calculations and discovered that “he had been
using the wind 180 degrees from what he was supposed to! We were 300 miles off!” Slate and the command pilot turned their PBM5 toward the Keramas. The Navy crew soon noticed two Marine pilots circling their F-4U Corsairs near a Japanese-held island. They were protecting another Marine aviator whose Corsair had crashed into the East China Sea. Seated in his life raft, that pilot did not know that the 20-foot seas and 40-knot winds were pushing him toward the enemy shore. “We normally wouldn’t land in seas like that,” Slate said. “If we didn’t pick him up, we knew he was a dead man. If he came ashore where he’d just been bombing the Japanese, they wouldn’t be nice to him.” The PBM5 landed amidst the high waves about 9 a.m. and “bounced awfully” while cracking a tail and “opening a seam,” he recalled. “We picked up the pilot, and he said, ‘Why the hell did you land in this?’ We told him he was headed for a Japanese island. ‘Another 45 minutes and you’d be there,’ we said. “He was grateful,” Slate said. Unable to fly, the PBM5 “taxied away from the island” until another Mariner landed nearby in quieter waters about 2
p.m. All occupants of Slate’s plane transferred to the other PBM5, whose crew sank the damaged Mariner. In August 1945, “we got sudden notice [that] an atom bomb had been dropped” on Hiroshima, Slate said. That September, the VP 208 crews sailed into Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Hamlin. And there the ship moored “just two vessels away from the USS Missouri,” Slate said. He stood on the Hamlin’s bow, “the highest part of the ship,” to watch the Japanese surrender ceremony. The Navy discharged Slate in December 1945. The Defense Department recalled him to active service in 1951, during the Korean War. This time Slate switched to the Coast Guard as a rescue pilot Stateside; “you name it, I flew it,” he said. The Coast Guard released Slate from active service in 1963, but he remained a reservist until his 1982 retirement as a full captain. He also flew rescue missions during the Vietnam War, but only in the States. Slate “started a chain of barbershops in Maine” in 1963. About 10 years later, he joined Maxine in selling real estate. The Slates built their own home on an Exeter hillside.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS | Thursday | November 11, 2010 | 7
Was approaching vehicle friend or foe? By Vernon A. Worster As the German enemy retreated from the Saar Valley, they blew out all the bridges and cut any trees that would reach the road after falling. We had to wade through mud and water around the blown bridges and climb over the fallen trees. In one little town we captured two Germans. I was chosen or volunteered to guard them until our jeep could get there. I suppose the engineers were back there helping him (the jeep driver) get through (the road obstructions). As Co. G faded from view, I began getting weird thoughts, like we didn’t spend a lot of time searching this town or the woods around it. I could be outnumbered, greatly! In other words, I was scared! So I got behind a bridge abutment while I ordered the prisoners to stay up on the top where I could see them. I made them understand that if there was trouble, they would be the first to go. I sweated it out there for a couple of hours, which seemed like a couple of weeks. I finally heard a motor! Then I sweat that out for a while longer wondering if was friend or foe! What a relief it was when that jeep came into view with my buddy, Cerpax, at the controls! We sat the prisoners on the hood, and I got in the passen-
Nurses Continued from Page 3 day could be giving information to the enemy. Between this distrust and the language barrier, we made little move to get to know them. The beauty of the people was lost on us. I understand why veterans of that war return to Vietnam. That year stood out as the best and the worst of my life, and I imagine others who were there feel the same way. I lived that year knowing in my heart that I was making a difference to the patients, and the proficiency of my nursing skills was at an all time high. The friendships I formed with my fellow caregivers were unlike any I have experienced since then. And an awareness of how precious life is from moment to moment has stayed with me, as the year spent with the injured and dying young men taught me to treasure each day. They taught me about bravery and about loving others, and in my dreams I still see some of their faces. I will carry the memory of them for as
ger’s seat. That’s the way we were when we caught up with Co. G. Shortly after we met a mechanized infantry unit. They were glad to see Co. G [and there were] a lot of handshakes and stories. I heard one of them say they had lost a truckload of prisoners before they met us. Snipers from the woods had shot their driver and guard. I can still their vehicles: missing fenders, broken glass, and full of bullet holes! I don’t know where we went from there; it may have been Alsace-Lorraine. Here ends the saga of the Saar Valley.
long as I live. They are a part of me, like the marrow in my bones. The country, beautiful and lush, became a battleground where too many died. It calls to those of us who were there to come and see it at its best, to be awed by the beauty of its mountains, beaches, and lovely blue seas. Sometimes I am curious about how it would look to me now, 42 years later, and at other times I have no desire to see it again, feeling the place has been forever changed because of what occurred there.
Vernon A. Worster lives in Prentiss Township.
When a Japanese kamikaze struck the USS Essex on Nov. 25, 1944, Lawrence Closson of Bernard was located far right on the carrier’s flight deck.
Eyewitness to kamikaze strike on American aircraft carrier By Lawrence M. Closson I was on the flight deck of the USS
I wonder if the sadness lingers, almost tangibly, like it does in some other battlefields I have visited, where beauty and pain coexist. While the best it has to offer pleases the eye, the worst lives on in the memories of those who remember it during wartime. *In all wars, weary combat veterans often display the “Hundred Yard Stare” (also called the “Thousand Yard Stare”), especially anywhere near the war zone or front lines. **Usually the ubiquitous UH-1 Huey.
Clark Wolfe served in the Air Force from 1951-1955. His assignments included an 18month tour in Morocco, where he was photographed holding a “grease gun.”
Essex (CV-9) on Nov. 25, 1944, as she steamed near the Philippine Islands. As an AMM 3/c, I was working on the first SB2C Helldiver on the starboard side of the flight deck. Japanese kamikazes were attacking the fleet. One got through the task force anti-aircraft barrage and crashed just forward of the elevator (H2) on the port side of the flight deck. The plane slid along the portside catwalk and wiped out the 20mm gun battery and the men stationed there. The Essex was launching aircraft less than one hour later. Another kamikaze in this flight went over and started to dive on the heavy cruiser USS Reno, an anti-aircraft ship. He was hit by every gun they had, and he just disappeared in the hail of gunfire before he could ever conclude his mission.
Lawrence M. Closson lives in Bernard. He is a retired Air Force senior master sergeant.
8 | BANGOR DAILY NEWS | Thursday | November 11, 2010
War delayed high school graduation a few years By Brian Swartz SPECIAL SECTIONS EDITOR
Uncle Sam sent Harold Sprague to war and back again — and inadvertently introduced him to his future sweetheart. The years slipped away as Harold Sprague, a Cherryfield native who “has been here all my life, 84 years,” remembered the train ride that took him to an appointment with Uncle Sam. He and Janet Grant Sprague, his wife of 58½ years, sat facing each other across the kitchen table in their exquisitely decorated and well-maintained home on Campbell Hill. While a junior at Cherryfield Academy, Harold turned 18 on Jan. 13, 1944. Despite his educational status, he soon received a draft notice. “They said, ‘You report to Bangor’ for a physical,” Harold recalled.“A bunch of us went to Bangor for physicals. That was my first train ride. I had never been out of Cherryfield, hardly.” Subsequently reporting to Fort Devens, Mass., he joined the Army on March 29, 1944 and “went to Camp Stewart, Ga. for my basic training.” Initially Harold trained as an anti-aircraft gunner firing machine guns at aircraft-towed targets; after eight weeks at Camp Stewart, “I chose telephone communications” as a military profession, “so they sent me to Camp Haan, Calif.,” he said. Training as a telephone lineman, Harold learned to “lay wire and repair wire,” how to “climb poles, put up the crossbars, and fasten them in,” and how to wire a switchboard. Later, Sprague and another 22,000 soldiers packed into the Queen Elizabeth for a four-day transatlantic crossing to Glasgow, Scotland. Raising and lowering his horizontally extended palm, Harold described the liner’s motion as he watched the Statue of Liberty fade into the distance; “she was going up and down, and that was the last time I ate my dinner,” and “I was seasick after that,” he said.
From Glasgow, Harold entrained for an English Channel port, sailed to Le Havre in France on an LST, and rode in a boxcar to Liege, Belgium to join the 394th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division. Following advancing American troops, Sprague’s company maintained vital, yet tenuous telephone systems. “When they were fighting, we would move from town to town … [and] put new wires up to the front lines,” he said. “We had three crews that laid lines and repaired lines; I was busy with that.” Because German snipers would target a lineman climbing a telephone pole and winter frost could affect buried telephone lines, Harold and his comrades laid wires along the snow-covered ground. American vehicles, especially treaded half tracks and tanks, could cut phone lines, and “[German] shells would come in and knock out the lines, so we did the repairs after dark,” he said. A repair team included five men and a jeep “with a roll of [phone] wire on the back of it,” Harold said. Often crawling on their hands and knees, linemen would probe with their gloved hands to find line breaks. Then the linemen would splice the multi-line phone wires together and would use test phones to “ring back to the switchboard” to determine which phones “had been restored,” he recalled. The 99th InfantryDivision advanced into Germany after participating in the Battle of the Bulge. “In the last of February , a thaw came. We had to hold up for a couple of weeks. Because it (the soil) was so soft, we couldn’t move,” Harold said. “It rained a lot.” On March 7, 1945, 9th Armored Division troops captured the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany and vaulted the Rhine River. “I guess I remember crossing the Rhine” on the bridge a few days later, Harold said. “We was in a convoy. We was moving; we moved downriver a little and found a large house” that became a telephone communications center. The 99th Infantry Division advanced into Germany and participated in the April 1945 Battle of the Ruhr Pocket, described by Harold as
NEWS PHOTO BY BRIAN SWARTZ
Janet and Harold Sprague of Cherryfield were married in 1952, about seven years after Harold returned from duty in Europe. “the last battle. I was laying wire; when they moved, we had to move with them.”
See CHERRYFIELD, Page 10
BANGOR DAILY NEWS | Thursday | November 11, 2010 | 9
“That crazy (Maine) lieutenant is calling napalm on top of himself!” By Brian Swartz SPECIAL SECTIONS EDITOR
For many Mainers, dawn on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 1968 started a new work week amidst Pine Tree State cold and snow. Far away in Southeast Asia, that same dawn ended a hellacious night experienced by an Army second lieutenant from Jonesport. Moving amidst combat-caused death, debris, stench, and horror, Gordon F. Kelley and his platoon’s surviving soldiers concentrated on staying alive after helping thrash two North Vietnamese Army regiments.
Co. C, 2nd Battalion (Mechanized)
In February 1966, 25-year-old Gordon Kelly “was working in Florida” when he received a draft notice. By then, the Defense Department was drafting men into the Army and Marines; the Army claimed Kelley, who recalled that “if I’d been sitting one seat to the left, I would’ve been in the Marines.” After completing basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., Kelley reported to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga. Commissioned a second lieutenant, he reported to Fort Hood, Texas to command a mechanized infantry company in the 1st Armored Division. “It was a captain’s slot, but all the captains were in Vietnam,” Kelley said. In “the last part of 1967,” he arrived in Vietnam to command a platoon in Co. C, 2nd Battalion (Mechanized), 22nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. The platoon “had [four] APCs (armored personnel carriers) for traveling, rather than just walking,” Kelley said. The 25th Infantry Division had deployed in the Iron Triangle and “all along the Cambodian border where the Ho Chi Minh Trail came into Vietnam,” Kelley recalled. “Where I was, it was all flat,” with rice paddies
by Kelley as “a leg unit,” dug in “just to the east” and failed to create adequate defensive positions.
Battle of Soui Cut
Kelley estimated that during the New Year’s truce, “there was probably 30,000 men (NVA) that had gone by us” while infiltrating South Vietnam. The truce prevented the 22nd Infantry troops from attacking NVA units passing near Fire Base Gordon Kelley (left) was an Army second Burt; then on Jan. 1, 1968, “some of them lieutenant who fought alongside his platoon’s split off and attacked us, probably 5,000 or soldiers during the night-long Battle of Soui Cut, 6,000 of them,” Kelley said. Vietnam, fought in January 1968. A burned-out Sometime that afternoon, “the first APC (above) attests to the savage fighting. inkling” the American troops received and rubber-tree plantations creating a kaleidoscopic landscape. about an impending assault “was when a plane flew over with some“We were in a lot of areas that were defoliated,” Kelley said. “It thing new [aboard], a ‘people sniffer,’ probably infrared,” Kelley said. looked like being on the face of the moon.” The aircraft’s crew radioed Fire Base Burt that “there was either a large In late 1967, NVA troops and supplies poured into South Vietnam herd of elephants or a lot of people moving around” around the base, prior to the planned late January 1968 Tet Offensive. Then Commu- he recalled. nist leaders proposed a New Year’s 1968 truce, during which combat As darkness settled, three Co. C soldiers deployed to an OP (obseroperations would cease. The 22nd Infantry Regiment’s 2nd Battalion vation post) “radioed in and whispered they could hear Vietnamese (Mechanized) and 3rd Battalion deployed in late December 1967 to voices all around them,” Kelley said. “We told them to come in.” The Fire Base Burt, located at Soui Cut “about 5 kilometers from the Cam- Americans hurried toward Fire Base Burt; two soldiers reached safety, bodian border, directly north of Saigon,” Kelley recalled. but Jack Miller of Fountain City, Ind. died just as he reached the wire. The two battalions created Fire Base Burt, which “looked like a “Just after dark,” NVA troops launched a brutal mortar barrage, and wagon wheel” with the companies deployed along the perimeter, and senior American officers “figured they put a couple thousand of rounds in there,” Kelley said. Then thousands of NVA soldiers charged “the artillery set up in the middle,” he said. A road bisected the base. According to Kelley, Co. C deployed its APCs, established solid Fire Base Burt. defensive positions, and set up fields of fire. A rifle company, described See BATTLE, Page 12
10 | BANGOR DAILY NEWS | Thursday | November 11, 2010
SS Marine Raven carried a Bangor sailor to the shores of Normandy By Phillip M. Gardner The Army troop transport Marine Raven was the first of the “Marine” class to carry troops. The first and second voyages across the North Atlantic with the lighter weight of troops on board were traumatic during the winter of 1944, but the ride tamed somewhat when upon the ship’s return to the States, several tons of pig iron were cemented to the bulkheads and deck. The length of the Marine Raven was 520 feet, the cruising speed was 17 knots, and the capacity was 2,439 passengers.
The crew were Merchant Marine, mostly veterans of the Murmansk Run, several of whom had been aboard ships sunk by German submarines. These sailors had refused to quit and were reassigned. The fated third crossing left from Pier 19 in New York on May 12, 1944 and arrived in Gourock, Scotland on May 23, then sailed up the Clyde River to Glasgow. The Marine Raven was shuttled between several ports in Great Britain until May 28, when we departed for Milford Haven. There troops were embarked, and then we moved out to anchorage at Swansea, Wales, where other transports and landing
37 months in the infantry Woodrow Cross was born on a farm in Bradford. As a boy, he took his small pony with him as he made his sales rounds through the neighborhood; he would sell anything from garden seeds to Cloverine Salve. His family built a country store when he was 12. When Cross was 21, his father passed away, leaving the store’s daily operations up to Cross, the oldest of three children. “That was in the middle of the Depression,” Cross recalled. Five years later, Uncle Sam called him to duty in World War II. He joined the Army and participated in the New Guinea and Philippines campaign. Cross spent 37 months in the infantry, including 15 months overseas. While in the service, he married Janette Bean. After returning Stateside, he operated the country store for another eight years. The store provided the fam-
Woodrow Cross, who started selling insurance in 1954, served in the Army during World War II. ily with income, but after several years in the grocery business, Cross was ready for a new challenge. A friend introduced him to insurance, and Cross “decided to start an insurance agency from my home in Bangor” in 1954.
craft were riding. On the evening of June 5, the invasion of France was declared. The feeling of impending fate was great. Thoughts were short-circuited and forced into the task of the moment. This became routine as we got underway when alerted by coded signals flashed from ship to ship in the early hours of June 6. The turbulent, gale-roughened seas around us met the horizon interspersed with the ships of this present-day armada. Overhead flew B-17s returning to England after their initial bombing missions. The formations were staggered: The patterns of three were now of one plane, sometimes two planes were missing, with another plane flying below the others with a stilled engine. This was our first appraisal of the hellish scenes to be met as we neared Omaha Beach that evening. As we approached our unloading positions, the thunder and flashes of the warships’ heavy armament flared the trailing smoke and shook the ship’s rigging. Overhead an enemy plane would fly into the steel cable of a barrage balloon and pinwheel, flaming into the sea without striking the deck.
From the enemy positions on the bluff, tracer bullets streamed into the lower shore targets, and flares — now red, now blue — were suspended in the chaotic night. There would be no unloading from our transport until orders were received. Meanwhile, fully equipped with full field packs, the troops climbed the ship’s ladders to the top of the ventilating structure from which landing nets were suspended. They practiced descending into LSTs that would dock alongside at daybreak. There was no conversation among the men. These were not the seasoned, rigidly disciplined troops of the Nazi regime, but for the most part they were college kids or youths drafted from the trades and professions. Many had volunteered shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The ship’s decks were wet and slippery from a drizzle. The LSTs arrived, and the pack-laden troops descended the landing nets into the tossing vessels that were riding three-foot seas. Loaded, the LSTs headed for the coast. We remained in position during the following day. During this time, the ship was strafed by enemy aircraft that managed to get past our 50-mm. anti-aircraft
on the ridge (on Route 193),” said Janet, who became Harold’s bride on May 29, 1952. She does not recall when she first met Harold, but “I probably was a sophomore before you asked me out,” she said, smiling across the kitchen table at her husband. After marrying Janet, Harold worked at A.L. Stewart & Sons in Cherryfield “for seven or eight years” and then joined the Postal Service as a window clerk and “substitute RFD driver” in Cherryfield. Before retiring in 1993 with 33 years’ service, Harold became the “full-time RFD driver.” In 1958, the Spragues purchased a house built in 1861. There they raised two sons, Timothy and Terrance; the Spragues now have two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Harold joined the Masonic Order in 1946 and the American Legion in 1960. He belongs to Legion Post No. 8 in Cherryfield.
Continued from Page 8 His company suffered casualties, caused primarily by German artillery. Sprague took shrapnel in his right leg; doctors later removed the metal fragments. In September 1945, he sailed from Le Havre to New York aboard a transport packed with 8,000 soldiers. “It was good to be back,” Harold admitted. The Army discharged him at Fort Devens on April 14, 1946. In January 1947, Sprague returned to Cherryfield Academy to complete his senior year. Janet was a freshman; if Uncle Sam had not sent Harold to war and delayed his graduation, he and Janet might not have met that year. “They gave me my diploma” in June 1947, Harold recalled. “I lived downtown, and he lived up
fire. The Army staff personnel had remained aboard, observing the landing. They disembarked later. The Marine Raven was in transit to and on the beaches of France June 6-9. As shown by later citations, the ship was heavily bombed June 8-9. On June 1718, we returned to the beachheads with replacements. After a total of 18 crossings and with the necessary military discharge points, I was discharged at Fort Jay, N.Y. on Nov. 6, 1944. I lacked just two months of five years of service in World War II. Phillip M. Gardner lives in Bangor.
NEWS PHOTO BY DEBRA BELL
In October 1939, Donald E. Moore joined the Maine National Guard and soon was called to active duty to serve with the 43rd Infantry Division. Late one night on New Georgia, quiet movement outside their tent led Moore and his comrades to grab their rifles and listen to the perceived threat recede into the distance. Next morning, “we finally found the footprints of a caraboa, a water buffalo,” he said. “We got a laugh out of that, but we were relieved.”
Dennis Boucher of Trenton served in Vietnam as crew chief on a Marine UH-34D helicopter. During a flight to help the crew of another downed helicopter, Boucher was firing his machine gun as “we were getting plastered by VC incoming rounds.” The UH-34D crashlanded and burned; its crew survived a three-day march to safety.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS | Thursday | November 11, 2010 | 11
A Vietnam vet remembers his first trip to The Wall in Washington By Philip J. Morneault Washington, D.C. — July 1988: I am experiencing an overwhelming flood of emotions during my first visit to “The Wall” as I feel what I have denied myself for years. I feel anger, disgust, sadness, grief, loneliness, annoyance, anxiety, guilt for surviving, guilt for the lives and land I helped destroy, frustration, bitterness for being used, fear that it might happen again, and an urge to go into a rage. But, at the same time, I feel grateful for being alive and being able to visit this monument that commemorates the ultimate sacrifice made by our brothers and sisters. I feel recognized for doing what, 20 years ago, I thought was my patriotic duty. I’m grateful also just for having the strength today to be here. Up until now during many trips to D. C., I’ve been afraid to come to The Wall because I didn’t know how or if I could handle it. However, this time I made myself a commitment to come even though it might hurt. My visit is part of a process to heal and recover from the psychological wounds of the war. It’s something long overdue. I had never dealt with the lingering issues from my Vietnam experience in a healthy way. I used numbing techniques and avoidance as coping tools. I feel heart-wrenching pain as I slowly make the long journey from one end of the V-shaped memorial to the other. I hopelessly try to hold back the tears; I eventually give up and allow the flood of emotion. It hurts, but in a way it feels good. The Wall: I never imagined it is as long as it is. The images created by photographers and television reduce its size. I contemplate the gruesome consequences and terrors experienced by those whose names are on The Wall. I remember some of the events I witnessed and knew about from my two years in ’Nam. I think about the more than 60,000 [men and women] who have died at their own hands after physically returning [from Southeast Asia]. Their names also belong here, but aren’t. I think
about fate. Different fate could have reversed the present: My name on The Wall, not me looking at The Wall. I think of the steps I took and the people who helped me in the past few months to have the courage to face The Wall. Coming out of denial in the spring of 1988, I finally admitted 1 had unresolved issues left over from Vietnam. Asking for help was scary for me because of a negative experience trying to get help from the VA in 1975. However, I did manage to make that difficult call to the Vietnam Vet Center in Hartford, Conn. For the first time since I returned in 1971, I felt as though somebody cared — and somebody understood. With counseling, I’ve been able to work on putting Vietnam in its proper perspective and gain some understanding of what it did to cause me to be who I am today. I reflect on the past. Although rarely a day goes by during which I don’t think about my Vietnam experience, I’ve never talked about it until recently. I wouldn’t even admit that I am a veteran. When I needed to talk about it in the early ’70s, I couldn’t. Nobody wanted to hear it. So I did what many other veterans did: I stuffed it along with my feelings. It’s now time for me to get in touch with myself, acknowledge what hap-
Philip Morneault (right) was overcome by emotion during his first visit to The Vietnam Wall in Washington in July 1988. pened to me and its significance, place sions? There were so many different airthe experience in its proper perspective, craft. The familiar roar of jet aircraft takand learn how to feel to give my life a ing off reverberates in my mind and brings me back in time. wholeness that has been lacking. The darkness of the warm summer As I read the facial expressions on night, lights illuminating the three soldiers those three guys looking at The Wall, overlooking The Wall, and the added sound effects of planes taking off from Washington National Airport create a surreal environment that brings me back to Danang Air Base 18-19 years ago. I think of the friends I shared those times with. I smile thinking of the good times. I shudder as I think of the difficult ones. The planes: What were they? Freedom birds? C-141 Starlifters with wounded soldiers or metal boxes (coffins)? C-123 Providers off to spray Agent Orange? F4s, A-6s, and A-4s off on support mis-
Marine served in Desert Storm Marine Staff Sgt. William Jones joined the United States Marine Corps on Feb. 27, 1984. He graduated from
Marine Staff Sgt. William Jones
Parris Island in South Carolina on May 17, 1984 and was honorably discharged after serving for 15 years. During his years with the Marines, Jones spent time on Okinawa and deployed three times to the Mediterranean Sea. His combat tour involved serving during Operation Desert Storm with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, known as “The Magnificent Bastards.” Serving with the Heavy Machine Gun Platoon of the Weapons Company, Jones participated in ground-combat operations against Iraqi forces during the liberation of Kuwait City in 1991. Currently the commandant for the Marine Corps League, Bangor Detachment 1151, Jones lives in Levant.
they seem to be asking the same question that I have struggled with for 20 years. Why? Why? Why? I don’t think I’ll ever find a satisfactory answer. All these emotions and all the intellectualizing I’ve done still leave me frustrated. Why? What did we learn? What did we accomplish with our blood, sweat, and tears and all the resources committed to winning hearts and minds? I stop at the tent of one of the veterans who helps maintain a vigil for those who have yet to return from ’Nam. A vet walks up to me, shakes my hand, and hugs me saying, “Welcome home.” It’s what I need to hear to know I am not alone and I’m finally coming home. Philip J. Morneault of Frenchville was an Air Force staff sergeant stationed in Vietnam
12 | BANGOR DAILY NEWS | Thursday | November 11, 2010
Breaking an Air Force gender barrier Classified communications in Germany By Johnny Friedman Ernestine C. Pelletier reports that she is “currently living in Old Town,” her “hometown, after being gone from home for over 50 years.” That half century took her into the Air Force and a new career path at a time when servicewomen were job-limited. In early December 1958, Pelletier reported for basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. On Feb. 29, 1959, she reported to Mather AFB in Sacramento, Calif. to work as an administrative specialist. In that era, few Air Force career fields were open to women. Pelletier worked at various Air Force offices in California, Germany, and England before a heart problem briefly sidelined her career in early 1965. Returning to duty that March, she continued working as an administrative specialist at bases in California, Germany, and Wyoming, where she was discharged from active duty in February 1970. Pelletier immediately joined the Air Force
Battle Continued from Page 9 “The vanguard of the assault went directly into Lieutenant Kelley’s platoon position,” reports the Distinguished Service Cross citation that Kelley received for his actions during the wee hours of Jan. 2, 1968. “The heaviest portion of their assault went right into our unit,” Kelley said. He thinks the NVA actually intended to swamp the adjacent, poorly fortified “leg company”; later, senior Army officers “said if it hadn’t been for my unit down here, we would have been overrun,” he said. Savage fighting continued all night, with Americans and Vietnamese often intermingled as the NVA “got through in several places, and some combat was hand to hand,” Kelley said. Heavy weapons went silent as NVA troops overran key positions. Kelley led efforts to recapture them, and sometime during the night, “they (battalion staff] gave me control over the airplanes and the artillery,” he recalled. “I was talking directly to the fighter pilots.”
American artillery position at Fire Base Burt the day after the Battle of Soui Cut. He described combat as “like slow motion. You just see it happening. I remember standing beside an APC with a .45 [in his hand] and shooting them (NVA) as they ran by.” With the situation deteriorating, Kelley called for the supporting artillery to fire horizontally across the Co. C positions. Americans dived into bunkers and foxholes moments before 105 mm. cannons fired “beehive rounds right over us,” he said. Each round exploded to release thousands of metal darts that struck any object above ground level. The next day, Kelley noticed hundreds of darts embedded in the APCs’ exterior metal walls. Kelley called in air strikes “to within fifty meters
Reserve at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City, Okla. Assigned to the 937th Military Airlift Group, she soon applied to become a full-time Air Reserve Technician. However, the Air Force allowed only male reservists to become ARTs, a position established in 1958. Pelletier begged to differ; “citing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and an executive order from President [Richard] Nixon and Air Force Reserve directives, Sgt. Pelletier built a case for allowing women into the ART program,” the Daily Oklahoman reported on May 21, 1971. Pelletier’s appeal opened the ART program to women; Pelletier became the first female ART as she transferred to the 446th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ellington AFB in Texas in spring 1971. She served there as a management technician. Pelletier completed 21 years of service at Charleston AFB, S.C. in March 1980. She received the Air Force Commendation Medal when she retired. of his position,” reports his DCS citation. “We used a lot of napalm. I could hear someone on the battalion [radio] net saying, ‘That crazy lieutenant is calling napalm on top of himself!’” he recalled. The DSC citation indicates that “throughout the … eight hour battle,” Kelley “moved from position to position to adjust his platoon’s fire, relocate weapons, inspire his men, and supervise the treatment and evacuation of wounded personnel. “Although painfully wounded by shrapnel, Lieutenant Kelley refused medical attention and repeatedly braved the enemy fire,” the citation states. “These [air and artillery] strikes and the well directed fire from his superbly led infantrymen repulsed the frantic assault.” Kelley recalled that “I was wounded in the legs and head, just about everywhere” by an exploding mortar round that spewed metal fragments into his platoon’s position. “It hurt, but it wasn’t life-threatening,” he said. The NVA troops broke off their assault near daybreak on Jan. 2 and hauled away many casualties. The Jan. 4, 1968 Pacific Stars and Stripes reported that enemy dead numbered between 351 and 549. The 2nd Battalion lost 25 soldiers, including four from Co. C. The battle at Fire Base Burt received cinematic recognition in the Oliver Stone movie, “Platoon.” Stone served with the 3rd Battalion during the night-long Battle of Soui Cut.
Remembering his men In autumn 1968, 1st Lt. Kelley “came home to Fort Hood,” left the Army, and returned to Maine. Ten days before flying to Vietnam in 1967, he had married Cynthia Renski of Cherryfield; they settled there to raise a son and two daughters. The Kelleys also have one grandchild, and Gordon Kelley owns an oil company and sells peat moss. He belongs to the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Looking back 32 years, Kelley still recalls the soldiers whose lives he considered so important. One such soldier was Jack Miller, whom Kelley remembers as if he had died in early January 2010 and not early January 1968. Kelley explained that each soldier’s death “meant a lot” to him. The memory “hurts a lot with the relatives of those people when you talk to them later,” he said. Kelly credited his soldiers for helping him survive warfare in the Vietnamese jungles. “I stayed in the field a year,” he said. “I had good soldiers with me; they made the difference.”
During the 1950s, I was a young boy growing up on outer Ohio Street in Bangor. Often the F86, F100, KC97, and B52 planes were buzzing above our house while taking off and landing at Dow Air force Base. I was truly inspired; I knew from an early age that I was going to join the Air Force some day. The day after I graduated from Bangor High in 1963, I went down to [the Armed Forces Induction Station on] Harlow Street to join the Air Force. I found that I had a medical issue; they declared me 4F. With my mom as a co-signer, I got a $1,000 loan from Beneficial Finance, had my medical issue corrected, reapplied to join the Air Force, passed my physical, and enlisted in August 1963. The career chosen for me was communications specialist. I was stationed with the 2063rd Communications Squadron at Lindsey Air Station in Wiesbaden, Germany for three years. The communications (traffic) at our comm cen-
ter was highly classified, requiring a “top Secret” Nato clearance. Not long after I arrived in Germany, the ugly business of Vietnam became a major priority for the Air Force. For the rest of my tour, Vietnam became a major part of our traffic at our communications center. In 1967, my three years were up, and I was going home. I was 21 years old. We were advised not to wear our uniforms home; there wasn’t much love going around for the military in the 1960s. After 9/11, I began to reflect on my own military experience. The U.S. military mission during the 1950s and 1960s was to keep communism at bay all over the world. Those efforts required great intelligence, communications, and human sacrifice. I had been part of a team that handled the most sensitive military communications of the time, at the highest level, of both the Cold War and the Vietnam War. In the last few years I have come to realize that my military experience was of great value. After 43 years, I have learned to be proud of those efforts.
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14 | BANGOR DAILY NEWS | Thursday | November 11, 2010
Air Force combat veteran greeted America’s honored dead in 2010 By Brian Swartz SPECIAL SECTIONS EDITOR
For 4½ months earlier this year, a Mainer “welcomed home” America’s fallen heroes arriving on their final flights to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. The daughter of Karla Gamertsfelder and the late Nicholas Gamertsfelder of Pembroke, Staff Sgt. Rachel Gamertsfelder recently completed a deployment with Air Force Mortuary Affairs at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Herself an Iraq War veteran, she served on a team dedicated to ensuring that fallen service members received a dignified greeting when they touched down on American soil for the last time. After graduating from Washington Academy in 2003, Gamertsfelder joined the Air Force “right out of high school,” but “didn’t ship out until November” to attend basic training and the security forces technical school at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Although stationed at Lackland AFB, Gamertsfelder has “deployed to several different locations,” including Kirkuk Regional Air Base in Iraq in August 2005. There “I was a machine gunner” armed with a 240 Bravo, “a newer version of the M60,” she said. If necessary, Gamerts-
Air Force Staff Sgt. Rachel Gamertsfelder hails from Pembroke. felder could also fire a .50 caliber machine gun. Duty assigned her to guard posts and to armored Humvees escorting allied convoys. Gamertsfelder did fire her 240 “a couple of times” as Air Force security personnel encountered IEDs and the Kirkuk air base received “a lot of indirect fire: rockets, mortars, nothing too severe,” she recalled. In February 2007, Gamertsfelder deployed to an air base at Al Udeid, Qatar. “I was doing fly-away missions,
when we would get onto a Blackhawk helicopter or a C-130 [transport],” she said. From August 2008 to February 2009, “I was in Balad, Iraq” as a “machine gunner once again,” Gamertsfelder said. “We still got mortared. We got rocketed very often, about every day. We also got some IEDs when we went off base on patrols.” Then in June 2010 the Air Force deployed Gamertsfelder to Dover AFB, Del. She was assigned to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center, and Dover AFB “is a high priority base because of what’s going on there,” Gamertsfelder said. She explained that “all the fallen soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, [and] civilian contractors, everybody is sent to Dover.” Air Force Mortuary Affairs handles the paperwork and other pertinent issues pertaining to “their biggest mission, [which is] making sure that fallen service members get back to the families,” Gamertsfelder said. “I was part of the Air Force Dignified Transfer Team,” she said. Incoming transports ferry the transfer cases containing fallen service members to Dover AFB. Each hero receives
special attention once a plane lands and opens its cargo doors. An Air Force Dignified Transfer Team enters the plane before the transfer cases are removed. “Every time we had someone fallen come back, we would go out onto the plane,” Gamertsfelder said. “We would replace the American flags on the transfer cases with new ones. We would pre-position the transfer cases” to be removed from a plane. Then, depending on the hero’s service branch, a transfer team from that branch moves a transfer case to a waiting “transfer case vehicle. It is completely enclosed. It can carry up to six transfer cases,” she said. “If it was an airman or a civilian contractor, we would carry the transfer case off the plane and put it on the transfer case vehicle,” Gamertsfelder said. “We would carry it off in a very dignified manner, using facing movements and [moving] in step.” Only an Air Force transfer team has eight members, Gamertsfelder noted. The Army, Marine Corps, and Navy teams have seven members. Air Force team members are stationed at Dover AFB; “we were on call 24/7,” Gamertsfelder said.
Gamertsfelder and her comrades also performed “a dignified transfer reverse” when a fallen service member “was being sent back to their home of record” after pre-funeral arrangements were completed at Dover AFB. “They are going home” in a casket or an urn, “depending on what the family wants” pertaining to earth burial or cremation, she said. Gamertsfelder, who left Delaware on Oct. 15, 2010 to return to San Antonio, remembered that “when I originally went up there” to Dover AFB, “I did not know what to expect at all.” She described the assignment as “very tough,” and with the upturned combat tempo in Afghanistan this summer and fall, “too many” planes landed at the base. “However, I knew that if I was in their (the fallen’s) situation, if the roles were reversed,” Air Force Mortuary Affairs “would be doing the same thing for me. That made it so honorable,” she said. Gamertsfelder has returned to “being a security forces patrolman” and “handling the law enforcement at Lackland Air Force Base.” Promoted to staff sergeant (E-5) in 2009, she extended her initial six-year enlistment by four years.
Infantryman noticed the birds of Vietnam A standout experience for me in Vietnam was observing a most remarkable bird, the greater racquet-tailed drongo. It happened while we were on patrol in what was supposed to be a rather dangerous area of the country. Maybe it was in Ruoung Ruoung Valley, near Nam Truong Nga Hai.
On a bright, sunny day, we were descending a steep jungled hill in single file when we broke into a small, grassy opening surrounded by hills. Across the patch of bright sky flew the magnificent greater racquet-tailed drongo, a large black-crested bird with a 13-inch long tail streaming behind it. The tail shafts
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feathered only at the tips. I was momentarily distracted from the business at hand: This was a great place to be ambushed. We had no way to quickly get back up that hill. Earlier, on the same patrol, I saw the scarlet minivet. On other excursions I saw a jungle fowl, a water hen, the greater coucal, the rufous bellied malkoha, various kingfishers, the red- Greater racquetbellied roller, tailed drongo the redwhiskered bulbul, the ashy fronted white-faced bulbul, the pied wagtail, and the common mynah. One bird, maybe a bulbul, emitted a loud sound like the “tock, tock, tock” of a clock, over and over and over, until it stopped. This Male scarlet left you wonderminivet ing what the bird had seen. Was there someone there? After a spell, it would do it all over again. I carried a field guide to the birds of Thailand in my pack. Once I borrowed the FO’s (forward artillery observer’s) binoculars to ID a blue-winged leaf bird. The experience wasn’t all bad.
The author is a Vietnam veteran who prefers to remain anonymous.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS | Thursday | November 11, 2010 | 15
High alert during a missile crisis
Milo veteran fought at the Frozen Chosin
By John I. Corrao
By Emily Adams
In the early 1960s, I was an Air Force aircraft machinist working on B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers while stationed at Turner Air Force Base in Albany, Ga. with the 484th Heavy Bombardment Wing. Everything was pretty much routine until the Cuban Missile Crisis broke out. Being young and in my late teens, I didn’t think much about it except having to work longer hours at the shop. This was not much different than our training alerts, when we would spend 20 or more hours on duty. That day we had a commander’s call. We were told what was happening, and that was when we went on alert at Defcon 4 because the Russian ships were heading for Cuba with their missiles aboard. We went back to work thinking the Russians would back off. Next day we went to another commander’s call, and we were told the Russian ships were still headed for Cuba with their missile cargoes. We moved to Defcon 3. We went to our shops and got whatever we needed and got ready to go down to the flight line. After we got there, the alert went to Defcon 2. Boy! That was a bad one! One more alert level higher, and we would be shooting nuclear-tipped missiles at one another. This thing was getting serious! Our bombers and tankers were at
their fail-safe areas or in the air while awaiting their orders. There were groups of men standing around, talking about what was happening and what they thought was going to happen. A lot of us were looking up not only for our bombers, but for a nuclear attack known as a nuclear air burst. I finally realized I might not be alive tomorrow, because a nuclear air burst can screw up your whole day. My thoughts went to my family back home in Maine and to my brother and his family in Maryland. Fortunately the Russian ships turned around and headed back to Russia. Now fast forward about 40 years to an air show at Brunswick Naval Air Station. Parked there on the flight line were two B-52 Stratofortresses. What memories came flooding back! I said to my wife, “Let me show you about this magnificent bomber.” We were standing in the bomb bay, and I showed and told her about the many different things that I had worked on so many times so many years ago. I remembered when we were all on the flight line at Turner AFB in 1962. We were the guys that stayed and stood our ground and did our job. With the efforts of so many of us in the early 1960s and after my time in the service, that was the reason we won that Cold War. John I. Corrao lives in Rockland.
MILO — Every war is so different. In Korea, the enemy was the Communists and the cold. Hanford “Sonny” Burton survived both, even the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. He is one of the Chosin Frozen, the Chosin Few. Burton was 18 when he enlisted in the Army in January 1949. He received the highest score during basic training in the whole battalion. Upon his arrival in Japan, he was authorized to be a mail clerk because he did not drink or play poker and was therefore considered dependable. Burton belonged to the Pioneer and Ammunition Squad, HQ Co., 2nd Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. By the first week in July 1950, the 24th Infantry Division had gone ahead to Pusan, South Korea. The 7th Infantry Division remained in Japan to train South Korean augmentees before going to Inchon in the wake of the Sept. 15, 1950 landing by the Marines. As Allied forces advanced into North Korea, the 7th Infantry Division was among the only American forces to make it to the Yalu River that separated the Korean Peninsula from Communist China. After Communist Chinese troops entered Korea in late October 1950, elements of the 7th Infantry Division were sent to reinforce the 1st Marine Division advancing toward the Chosin Reservoir. This is located in the northeastern por-
His children’s love taught ’Nam vet how to forgive By Ernest E. Lawford
I remember when I came back from Vietnam, I was so hard with emotion. There was no love, hope, or dreams in my mind or in my heart. I would not allow myself to get hurt physically or emotionally. In 1971, after coming home, I met a young woman, and the next year we got married. Yet there was no love in my heart for her. I didn’t know what it (love) was or how to feel it. We stayed together for 23 years, and there was never any love for her. The only thing that made me feel alive during that period was the two children that we had. My closeness to them became unbreakable. It was my two children that showed me how to love again. My love for them and their love for me has been unwavering. I have had to live my life not really knowing if it is real or just a dream. Sometimes I wonder if I really made it home, or I’m lying in some rice paddy bleeding. Maybe I’m just dreaming of what my life could be like if I ever make it home. I wonder if my children are a reality or just a dream. I pray to God that they are real so this life that I have to live has some meaning, that all I’ve gone through is for something worthwhile. Some people say that I should consider the reality of life. Yet in the reality of my life it can really be a dream. Would you like to live your life like this?
Just to think that everything I am, that everything I might become could all be a dream. This life is like a curse, like a game that you can never win. I know that in my life I have always been one step away from stepping over the edge. I know the only ones that I can count on to always be there for me are my children. I know in my heart that I
have felt the taste of love even though it might only be a dream. It was a love so gentle and kind that all men would envy. Through that one love I really learned how to forgive — and the joy in forgiving, if only a dream! Ernest L. Lawford of Hampden was a Spc. 5 with the 92nd Assault Helicopter Co. in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971.
Hanford “Sonny” Burton tion of the Korean Peninsula. Chinese attacks in late November isolated the Allied forces that had reached the Chosin Reservoir. Temperatures plummeted. For the trapped Americans, British, and South Koreans, the only option was to retreat — or as Marine Maj. Gen. Oliver P. Smith put it, “Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction!” During that time, Burton and his men came upon the bodies of 10 Marines in an open area who had been blindfolded and shot. Being captured or surrendering meant certain death. During their withdrawal, the Allied troops, with many left for dead, relied on them-
selves to make it back more than 70 miles toward the evacuation point on the coast. At one point, Burton and his comrades went three days without food and crawled for miles on their bellies at nighttime in conditions so cold — minus 40 to 50 degrees below zero — they could not dig foxholes. “After you get so cold, you want to sleep,” recalled the 80-year-old Burton. “That’s part of the battle, to fight that off, not go to sleep, do whatever you need to do to keep awake.” One member of his company zipped into his blanket sleeping bag and never woke up. As mail clerk, Burton had to write K.I.A. (killed in action) on his mail. During that November-December 1950 period, their winter gear was a field jacket snugged over layers of t-shirts. Burton wore four layers of socks that would become drenched, get wrung out, and be put back on time and again. The troops melted snow for water. They did not get real sleep. They shared a foxhole with a buddy and took turns keeping watch. On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23, they had frozen fruit cocktail. When they came upon C-rations left in abandoned trucks, they sat on them to thaw them out. The thrill of a hot shower would not be felt until Christmas Eve after the soldiers were evacuated from Hungnam to Pusan.
16 | BANGOR DAILY NEWS | Thursday | November 11, 2010
Soldier met his bride in Deming, N.M. Honored to call a ’Nam vet “Dad” By Jay Nadeau
between the guns, with the wire sometimes getting caught in the tracks and causing disruption. So my I was born in southern Aroostook County as the platoon sergeant tells us to bury the wires after each elder son of Bernard and Iona Nadeau. After joining setup. Now this is a lot of digging — and this is the Army at Bangor on Jan. 25, 1963, I went to Fort where the farm boy comes in. Dix. From there I went to Camp Casey, Korea for 13 I saw a Vietnamese farmer down the road who months. had a single bottom plow that he was using in his Later, I was assigned to Ft. rice paddies. The plow was Bliss, Texas. While there I went drawn by water buffalo. So two with my friends, Spc. Coy of my buddies took the jeep Howard of Texas and Spc. and paid the farmer a visit. A Donald Jones of New Mexico, $5 American bill bought us on a three-day pass to Deming, that plow. N.M. We went to a barn dance We took it back to the shop that was held at a two-room and hooked it behind the jeep; schoolhouse. the rest was history for us. It There I met a lovely young rolled the sod perfectly to bury lady named Betty. Not long the wire. after we had met, our unit was Five weeks after my enlistshipped to Vietnam. ment expired, I was disJay and Betty Nadeau I spent 66 days on the water charged. I thought I’d go to on the cargo ship SS Nancy Lykes. Being a County Deming to say “good-bye” to the young lady I’d met boy right off the farm, this was scary to me. Cross- there. The “good-bye” never came; we got married a ing the big water somewhere around Wake Island, I few months later, stayed in Deming 18 months, and turned 21. My thoughts were back home about how decided to load up and head to Maine and make I missed my three brothers and two sisters and our home here in Howland. We raised three wonmom and dad. Oh, my gosh! How did Dad get so derful children, two boys and a girl, and now we smart all of a sudden? have eight grand children. A lot happened in the next six months. One Betty went with me in heart to Nam. When I thing that really was a keeper was a story that I’ve brought her up here, she has never been back except shared with many people. to pay visits to her family. She’s loved it ever since. Jay Nadeau lives in Howland. We used to have to lay communication wire
By Kevin Melvin
The second thing he thought of was treatment, and he made the decision to stay in southern CaliforMy father, Wayne G. Melvin of Patten, truly saw nia where, over the past seven months, he has gone his military time and experiences in Vietnam as through brain surgery to try and remove a tumor. He just doing his job. That is just another example of has undergone extensive physical therapy. Through the entire process, he hasn’t comthe humility he has exhibited my entire life. plained at all, accepted suggestions Throughout most of my life, my dad about treatment, has been willing to try didn’t really speak about his time as an anything, and has worked harder than Army soldier serving in Vietnam. He anybody would have anticipated. served in the 52nd Infantry Regiment, My father has opened up more 2nd Battalion, A Co. from December about Vietnam since he has been sick, 1968 to December 1970. and he regularly falls back on his Anytime we would ask about his upbringing as the reason he was able to experience, he would say, “I heard stocome home to his family after his time ries about how bad it was, but I didn’t in the war. see much.” Despite being wounded in Wayne G. Melvin I recently saw his DD214. He combat and receiving a Purple Heart, he lives in Patten. achieved the rank of E5 in 11 months. has stuck to that story for 40 years. Over the past 15 years, he has transitioned from He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal while in a person who tried to blend into society with that Vietnam. When I ask about it, all he says is, “I’m chapter of his life behind him to a proud American not sure why I got that. Maybe it’s something they who won’t be seen in public without his Vietnam gave everybody.” Even when confronted about his heroism, he remains very humble about what he Veteran hat on. My father has successfully owned and operated did for his country. Despite what he was exposed to in Vietnam, Melvin’s Electric in Patten for the past 30 years and is a well-respected member of his community. On and regardless of the fight he is in now, my father, April 1st of this year, while visiting me in Califor- Wayne Melvin, puts generosity, character, work nia, my father was diagnosed with inoperable can- ethic, family, and friends ahead of himself at all cerous brain tumors. His first thoughts were how times. Whether he would accept any accolades or to make sure his wife and elderly mother would be not, he is my hero! Kevin Melvin is the proud son of Wayne G. Melvin. taken care of.
A tribute to the brave men and women who served and serve our country. Inside this special section are stories of real Maine veterans and th...