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We salute our local heroes

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

STORIES OF HONOR IS PRESENTED BY


Stories of Honor 2020 wraps up with section and Front Door Salutes By Sarah Gerrein, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer Photos and cover photo by Micah Usher

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e all have stories to tell, but some of the most riveting and powerful are those of the servicemen and women of the armed forces. For its fifth year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Stories of Honor series sought nominations from the public followed by a committee selecting those that were featured each week in the Post-Dispatch and online at STLtoday.com. This year’s stories contained accounts of military service, ranging from historical actions during WWII and Vietnam to present day duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 12 unique individuals featured are Purple Heart recipients and tenured veterans of multiple branches. There is a fighter pilot,

one of the first women to serve aboard a naval ship and a Battle of the Bulge survivor. No two stories are alike, but they all shared courage, dedication, sacrifice and service to country. Due to coronavirus restrictions, each recipient’s family and friends gathered as a group to celebrate their service for a special Front Door Salute. Watch the celebration video at STLtoday.com/storiesofhonor. Several partnerships allowed these stories to be shared and celebrated. Soldiers Memorial Military Museum offers programs and outreach services including special exhibits, tours, services for the military community, school programs and lectures. The Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program is an innovative program offered by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and partnering companies like Wells Fargo Advisors that provides transitioning service members with professional training and handson experience in the civilian workforce. The professional development offered through the program prepares candidates for a smooth transition into meaningful civilian careers.

ANTTWAIN DOBBINS SR. AND SONS

STORIES OF HONOR RECIPIENTS: Jon Browne Shelley Cade Mona Cunningham Jake Curtis Anttwain Dobbins Sr. Eugene Ganz

Tom Hopkins Christine Kilburn Larry Meisenheimer Monte Safron James Sutter Jack Zerr

Stories are told from the nominee’s point of view. This content was produced by Brand Ave. Studios. The news and editorial departments of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had no role in its creation or display. For more information about Brand Ave. Studios, contact tgriffin@brandavestudios.com.

SARAH GERREIN / content production manager / 314-340-8014, sgerrein@stltoday.com NATALIE MACIAS / content production / 314-657-3310, nmacias@stltoday.com DENISE KOSAREK / art director / 314-657-3312, dkosarek@stltoday.com NATALIE BARBIERI / designer / 314-340-8097, nbarbieri@post-dispatch.com JACK ZERR AND WIFE

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TERESA GRIFFIN / vice president of Brand Ave. Studios / 314-340-8909, tgriffin@brandavestudios.com

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Bridging the gap between service and civilian. Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program Wells Fargo Advisors believes inclusion is foundational to our shared success as employees, clients and communities. We are committed to hiring and retaining military veterans, veterans with disabilities, and active and reserve duty military personnel. In partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Wells Fargo Advisors is pleased to sponsor the 2020 Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program in St. Louis. The Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program is a 12-week, fully immersive professional training program designed to provide active duty service members with hands-on experience in the civilian workforce. We value people who: • Value teamwork • Build strong relationships • Possess solid communication skills • Practice rigorous critical thinking and decision making • Focus on results

Learn More To learn more about the Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program, visit www.hiringourheroes.org/fellowships. For other veteran programming o�ered by Wells Fargo & Company, visit. https://www.wellsfargo.com/military/veterans. Wells Fargo Advisors 2019 Corporate Fellowship Class

Wells Fargo is an Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Employer, Minority/Female/Disabled/Veteran/Gender Identity/Sexual Orientation. Wells Fargo Advisors is a trade name used by Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC, Member SIPC, a registered broker-dealer and non-bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company. CAR-0420-03182

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Jon Browne U.S. NAVY AND AIRFORCE By Lori Rose, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer

Editor’s note: Russell Jonathan “Jon” Browne passed away on July 5, 2020 at the age of 96.

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ussell Jonathan “Jon” Browne was the “baby” of the family but the first of three brothers to enlist in the military as the United States edged closer to World War II. “The whole country knew it was inevitable,” he said. “I was just 17 when I enlisted in August 1941, but I was ready. I was the baby of the family. I thought I had something to prove.” Browne, now 96 and a resident of Mason Pointe Care Center in west St. Louis County, went on to serve in both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force from World War II through the Cold War, before retiring and going to work for McDonnell Douglas.

DISCIPLINE AND DIRECTION Growing up in Bismarck, Missouri, Browne was the youngest of five children. He dropped out of school in the 8th grade to go to work but joined

JON BROWNE IN 2012 PHOTO PROVIDED BY JON BROWNE

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the U.S. Navy in 1941, thinking military service would give him discipline and direction in life. After basic training at Naval Station Great Lakes, Browne was sent to Texas to attend aviation radioman’s school. After the bitter cold he’d experienced in the Chicago area, he thought he had “died and gone to heaven” when he landed at the naval air station in Corpus Christi. Then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and Browne wondered, “What have I gotten myself into?” Though his two older brothers and brother-in-law soon enlisted and were sent overseas to serve in Europe and the Pacific, Browne remained stateside, training other recruits in radio operations. Eventually he was sent to the Azores and served as part of the naval escort when President Franklin D. Roosevelt went to North Africa in January 1943 to meet with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The meeting, which came to be known as the Casablanca Conference, was to coordinate the Allied strategy to end the war. “I was still just a kid,” Browne said. “I hadn’t even turned 19 yet. I knew this was an important meeting, but I probably wasn’t quite aware of how important, and that we might be in danger.” A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE When the war ended, Browne was the last of his brothers to be discharged, arriving home in December 1945 just in

time for a Christmas reunion with his family. “It was wonderful,” he remembered. “We were all home; it was a miracle.” After the war, Browne earned his GED and began attending music classes in St. Louis in hopes of becoming a professional singer. But the GI Bill would not pay for vocal instruction, so he went to work again, this time as a traveling salesman, on the road six days a week. “That got old,” he said. “I thought I’d be much happier if I went back in the military, and I genuinely felt drawn to serving my country. So I talked to the Navy recruiters and the Air Force recruiters. The Air Force offered me a better deal.” KEEPING THE PEACE The Air Force trained Browne in electronic countermeasures, and he served for many years as part of the crew on a B-36 Peacemaker, an integral component of the Strategic Air Command during the Cold War. The enormous bomber, able to carry a massive payload, including nuclear, all the way to Leningrad, was considered a major deterrent to keeping the communist super power and its allies in check. “Most people didn’t know we had an airplane like that,” Browne said. “We would take a whole aircraft wing to England and we would have one

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JON BROWNE BETWEEN 1960-1965 PHOTO PROVIDED BY JON BROWNE

airplane up in the air 24 hours a day with the A-bomb ready for intimidation. And I assume that it worked because we didn’t ever have to use it.” Browne’s job on the Peacemaker was to intercept and interpret Soviet radio communications. “It was pretty interesting work,” he said. “I don’t remember much of the Russian language anymore, but I still know how to say, ‘I like potatoes.’” Browne stayed in the Air Force until 1966, retiring as senior master sergeant. He went on to work as a supervisor at McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis for another 20 years. A few years ago he took part in an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. to visit the World War II Memorial. While his group was there, a special visitor dropped by: former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who exclaimed: “I want to hug a hero!” “Everybody started pointing at me,” Browne said. “Well, sure enough, she marched right over to me and gave me a big, enthusiastic embrace. I was glad that Bob Dole wasn’t there. I think he might have punched me.”

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Shelley Cade U.S. NAVY By Lori Rose, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer

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awn “Shelley” Cade was eager to serve in the Navy, so eager that she finished high school a semester early, persuaded her mother to sign the paperwork and headed off to boot camp at age 17. “I wanted to see the world,” she said. “I was seeking adventure.” It was a time of new opportunities for women in the U.S. Navy. A federal judge’s ruling in 1978 had cleared the way for women to serve aboard naval ships. No longer restricted to shore duty or wartime hospital ships, women like Cade were anxious to take advantage of the new roles that were open to them. HISTORIC OPPORTUNITIES FOR WOMEN IN THE NAVY After boot camp, Cade put in for sea duty and was happy to find herself assigned to one of the first

SHELLEY CADE PHOTO PROVIDED BY SHELLEY CADE

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warships being built to fully integrate women. The USS McKee, a submarine tender that could carry 1,350 sailors, was being built in a shipyard in Seattle to support and repair nuclear-powered submarines at sea. Cade was in its commissioning class, which included about 350 female crew members. “I felt like a trailblazer,” said Cade, now 57. “It was a special time for women.” During her four years of active duty helping put the San Diego-based McKee through its paces in support of the Pacific Fleet, Cade served mostly in the sales and services division, helping to manage shipboard activities such as barbershops, laundry services and snack shops. When she completed her commitment to the Navy as a Petty Officer 2nd Class, she had a newfound sense of confidence in her abilities, as well as solid job experience that led to a career in St. Louis with a manufacturing company she still serves today. “I held my head higher,” said Cade, who grew up in Indiana. “I knew that whatever happened to me, that serving my country was something that could never be taken away from me. I feel very proud about that.” Over the last 35 years with Willert Home Products, which makes cleaning products such as Ty-D-Bol toilet bowl cleaner, air fresheners and other household cleaners, Cade has worked her way up to vice president

for public outreach and director of sales for the military division. A PASSION FOR SERVICE Her time in the Navy also heightened her commitment to serving others. Today, she serves on the advisory board of Care to Learn, whose mission is to meet the needs of students in the areas of health, hunger and hygiene. She’s also civilian coordinator for the St. Louis Toys for Tots program. “That’s something that’s very dear to me because it puts me alongside those Marines and takes me back to my military days,” she said. This past holiday season, the St. Louis effort served about 40,000 families, Cade said. She said she worked countless hours in the months leading up to Christmas, coordinating volunteers, sorting toys and filling orders. “I would come home filthy dirty but fulfilled,” she said. “In my everyday job I don’t always see immediate results, but when you do stuff like this, you see immediate results. You’re making somebody happy; you’re taking a load off their mind.” She said her greatest passion is serving others. “I’ll work at Willert Home Products as long as I can, but I’ll never stop helping people,” she said.

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SHELLEY CADE AFTER BOOT CAMP PHOTO PROVIDED BY SHELLEY CADE

MORE DOORS OPEN FOR WOMEN As for the USS McKee, affectionately nicknamed the Love Boat for romantic relationships that developed on board, it later deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Desert Storm with a full crew of both men and women. Two years later, in 1993, Congress repealed the law prohibiting women from serving on combat vessels, giving women the opportunity to take on roles aboard carriers, cruisers and destroyers. In 2010, new rules cleared the way for women to serve on submarines. For Cade, her pioneering role in the history of women in the Navy and her time aboard the McKee remain among her proudest accomplishments. “I never had any issues being a woman on a ship with many men,” she said. “I felt like I had respect. It was one of the best times of my life.”

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Mona Cunningham U.S. NAVY AND AIRFORCE By Lori Rose, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer

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he USS Shenandoah was loaded with 350 sailors and family members that morning in 1994. It was the first and busiest trip of the day for the ferry, which traveled every hour between the windward side of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, and the leeward side. Mona Cunningham was the chief electrician on the ferry; she had served previously on an aircraft carrier and before that in the U.S. Air Force. Suddenly a sound like a woman screaming pierced the quiet of the morning. Cunningham and the chief engineman knew it was bad news: The huge main generator on the ferry was “running away.” “We heard that and we both looked at each other and went, ‘Oh my God,’” Cunningham said. “We ran in and all the guys ran out — it took us over half an hour between the two of us, but we finally got that sucker shut down. We were both drenched in sweat because ‘Gitmo’

MONA CUNNINGHAM RECEIVING A GOOD CONDUCT MEDAL. PHOTO PROVIDED BY MONA CUNNINGHAM

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is hot and the engine room is hotter. “It could have exploded like a grenade,” said Cunningham, now retired and living in St. Louis. “I had a lot of friends on board that day. I just really didn’t want to see anybody get hurt. That was the main thing on my mind at the time.” Among the passengers onboard that morning was the base commander, heading to work for the day. He recommended both women for Navy Achievement Medals for their heroics. FIRST THE AIR FORCE Cunningham, now 55, joined the Air Force in 1982 when she graduated from Bishop DuBourg High School in St. Louis. She had wanted to go to college to become a nurse but couldn’t afford it. Instead, she joined the Air Force, attracted by the benefits of the G.I. Bill. She turned 18 at her first post, Homestead Air Force Base near Miami, where she was assigned as an aeromedical technician to work at a clinic for pilots and their families. Within days of her arrival, two airmen perished in an accident shortly after takeoff. Cunningham’s job was to help retrieve their bodies from the wreckage in the ocean. “That was a scary way to start your job,” she said. A WHOLE DIFFERENT BALL OF YARN Cunningham left the Air Force when she and her husband were expecting their first child, but she decided to

re-enlist a few years later. An Air Force recruiter at the time told her there were no spots available, so she visited the naval recruiter’s office next door and signed up. Navy boot camp was a lot harder, she said. “I thought I knew what to expect but it was a whole MONA CUNNINGHAM’S AIR FORCE BOOT CAMP GRADUATION IN 1983 different ball of yarn,” PHOTO PROVIDED BY MONA CUNNINGHAM she said. “You always go three 18-wheelers simultaneously up through a moment of doubt. But I told to the deck.” myself, I can’t give up now.” That was where Petty Officer 2nd The Navy made her an electrician’s Class Cunningham was working one mate and stationed her on the USS afternoon a few months after the generLexington, an aircraft carrier based in ator incident when the ramp slipped and Pensacola, Florida, that was used for crushed her leg, detaching her right foot. training aviators. “During peacetime “It’s hard even to this day to think we would go out for two weeks, then in about it,” said Cunningham, who refor two weeks,” she said. “Later, during members little about being medevacked Desert Storm, we would go out and to the Naval Medical Center in Bethesstay out for as long as 2½ months.” da, Maryland, where surgeons reatShe served on the Lexington for more tached her foot. than three years, until the World War IICunningham spent months learnera ship was decommissioned in 1991. ing how to walk again and today suffers pain and multiple health problems A CRUSHING INJURY IN CUBA stemming from the accident. Her final post was Guantanamo, Looking back on her career, though, where the naval station is divided by the Cunningham said she is proud of her bay so that ferries make the 30-minute service. crossing every hour to deliver cargo and “I learned so much in the military passengers from one side to the other. and I made such good friends that I Another WWII-era ship, the Shenandon’t regret it,” she said. “I am glad I doah, could fit nine 18-wheelers on its served my country. It just gives me a vehicle deck, Cunningham said. sense that I did something worthwhile “The ramp weighed about 20 with my life.” tons,” she said. “You could drive

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Jake Curtis U.S. ARMY By Lori Rose, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer

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elaxing between patrols in central Iraq, U.S. Army Sgt. Robert “Jake” Curtis taught himself to play the blues on an off-brand guitar that he bought in the Iraqi marketplace. “It was basically unplayable,” he said. “You couldn’t play it normally. You had to play it as a slide guitar.” But that was OK, because slide guitar — played by placing an object such as a bottleneck against the strings — is a signature sound of the blues music he loved. And the blues provided the therapy Curtis needed during the war in Iraq. “The whole aspect of being in that place — the blues made sense,” he said. “I’ve always been obsessed with music. It’s always been my therapy, especially back then in combat.” Today, Sgt. 1st Class Curtis still serves his country by day as a fulltime career counselor at Jefferson Barracks. And at night, he still turns to music, bringing his own brand of

JAKE CURTIS PLAYING GUITAR IN IRAQ. PHOTO PROVIDED BY JAKE CURTIS

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the blues to venues such as Hammerstone’s in Soulard as frontman of his own band. The Jake Curtis Blues Band recently released its first album, “Tales from the South Side,” and won the regional Road to Memphis Challenge, which allowed them to compete at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, billed as one of the world’s largest gathering of blues musicians. “It was insane,” Curtis said of his three-man band winning the regional competition in St. Louis. “It was like winning the Super Bowl. My band was not expected to win. We were the underdogs for sure. It was a big upset.”

and figure out what he wanted to do with his life, he said. “Then Sept. 11 happened and I pretty quickly got a direction,” he said. Though he expected to get called up to active duty in the war on terror, his guard unit was sent to help out in places far from the Middle East. To Curtis, it seemed like everybody else was going over to fight for their country — and he was itching to do his part. “I just wanted to get there,” he said.

DISCOVERING THE BLUES Curtis, 42, said he first discovered the blues as a kid when he came across the 1966 album “John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton.” Clapton’s distinctive guitar work mesmerized him and led him to the public library in his hometown of Decatur, Illinois, to hear more. “The library as a kid was a wonderland,” Curtis said. “They still had listening booths back then, with literally hundreds of blues records. It was a type of music that absolutely nobody I knew was listening to, so it was special to me. I could feel that music instantly.” But he didn’t envision music as a livelihood for himself. After graduating from high school, he joined the Army National Guard, hoping to earn enough money to go to college

THIS IS REAL So he volunteered for the regular Army and joined the 1st Infantry Division, deploying to Iraq in 2004. “They put me straight to work,” he said. “I thought, ‘this is real.’” His unit was stationed near Samarra in central Iraq, and as an infantry team leader, Curtis said he saw a lot of combat. But he found a fellow music lover in his platoon sergeant, and to relieve stress, the two spent hours jamming together and learning to play slide guitar. “We kind of got obsessed, which is easy to do over there, because there are times you are working two or three days straight then there’s a big gap of down time,” he said. After rotating out of Iraq, Curtis was stationed in Germany. One of the

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JAKE CURTIS IN IRAQ. PHOTO PROVIDED BY JAKE CURTIS

first things he did was buy an electric guitar. “I plugged that thing in and immediately started writing songs,” he said. “I wrote countless songs.” He started performing in Germany, playing some of his own pieces and covering artists such as Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Once his commitment to the Army was complete, Curtis returned to the States and tried to enter the civilian world. But he found he missed the structure of military life. “I got out of the Army and then about a month later I joined back up,” he said. For the last 13 years, he has been serving as a counselor at Jefferson Barracks helping Army reservists with all sorts of issues, work-related as well as civilian. “You get to help them sort through all of the options,” Curtis said. “Sometimes they come back two or three years later and they outrank you. So, it’s cool. It’s one of those jobs where you actually get to see the fruits of your labor.”

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Anttwain Dobbins Sr. U.S. ARMY By Lori Rose, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer

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hrough 20 years in the U.S. Army, including three tours in Afghanistan, Anttwain Dobbins Sr. learned a lot about the mental stress soldiers experience. But he wanted to understand more so that he could help veterans like himself transition successfully into civilian life after serving their country. So he continued to go to school whenever and wherever he could. “My end goal is to be able to help combat soldiers when they come back,” said Dobbins, who has earned master’s degrees in both psychology and education and is now working toward his doctorate in psychology. “Because no soldier will want to talk to you if you’ve never been where they’ve been.”

ANTTWAIN DOBBINS SR. PHOTO PROVIDED BY ANTTWAIN DOBBINS SR.

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ON THE FRONT LINES IN AFGHANISTAN Dobbins, 39, of Belleville, experienced heavy combat during his time in Afghanistan. His third tour, especially, was marked by trauma. During a seven-month period in 2012, the soldiers in Dobbins’ unit of the 1st Infantry Division suffered the loss of their commanding officer from sniper fire, multiple traumatic brain injuries and numerous life-changing injuries from explosions. “I had 40 soldiers under me. Out of 40 soldiers, I had 35 awarded Purple Hearts, including myself,” Dobbins said. “Out of those 40, every one had a combat award or Combat Infantry Badge. My soldiers and I were involved in multiple IED explosions, car bombs, bombs blown up by cell phones, rocket-propelled grenades — full-fledged ambushes for months — I’m talking like every week. “We were one of the heaviest fighting platoons in that division,” he said. When Dobbins returned to the States and began seeing more cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide among his fellow soldiers, he set his sights on helping them. While stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he worked online during his free time toward his first master’s degree, then his second. “I wanted to give back,” he said. “I wanted to know, how am I so resilient to this to keep swinging, to keep going?” Today he’s working toward a doctorate in psychology, basing his

research on how society can help veterans transition to civilian life. GROWING UP IN EAST ST. LOUIS Earning a doctorate degree in psychology was likely not on his radar while growing up in East St. Louis, the oldest of four children raised by a single mother. By the time he graduated from high school, Dobbins himself had a young son and was looking for a way to provide a better life for him. ANTTWAIN DOBBINS SR. IN UNIFORM AFTER HIS RETIREMENT CEREMONY. He said his family PHOTO PROVIDED BY ANTTWAIN DOBBINS SR. did not have the money Sgt. 1st Class Dobbins, now a single to afford college, and he didn’t enjoy father to six, thought of the soldiers school anyway. So he joined the Army, serving under him as his children, too. hoping to get some job experience, It drove him to continue his education take advantage of the benefits and online, to be able to help his boys and earn money to support his son. his soldiers. “I wanted my son to be able to look Looking back, Dobbins, who reup to me and I needed to find a bettired earlier this year, said the Army ter way to take care of him,” he said. helped him become the role model he “I thought I was going to do my three always hoped to be. years and then get out. I wanted a job, “My decision to join the military and the Army said, OK, we’ve got a shaped my life to become a better man job for you — you’re going to be an and father,” he said. “I got to see things infantryman.” some may dream of. Both the good That was in 2000. The next year, afand bad of the world, too. However, ter Sept. 11, 2001, Dobbins was sent to the military shaped me but [growing Afghanistan the first time with the 10th up in] East St. Louis, Illinois, helped Mountain Division. He deployed again me survive through it all.” in 2006, then a final time in 2012.

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Saluting the honorees in their own front yards By Sarah Gerrein, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer. Photos by Micah Usher

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n years past, our Story of Honor recipients were celebrated at a dinner banquet. This year, due to coronavirus restrictions, each recipient’s family and friends gathered at the honoree’s residence to celebrate their service with a special Front Door Salute. The Salutes ranged from small gatherings of immediate family to almost 30 friends and relatives (socially-distanced, of course). Some family members surprised the honorees — coming from Tampa, Florida or extending a Father’s Day visit to take part in the celebration. This unique ceremony garnered attention from neighbors throughout the day, with some stopping by to offer gratitude for their service and congratulate them on the honor. One neighbor remarked, “I knew there was something special about him when he moved in! He’s a hero!” View the celebration video at STLtoday.com/storiesofhonor.

TOM HOPKINS AND FAMILY

MONA CUNNINGHAM AND SON

SHELLEY CADE

JON BROWNE

CHRISTINE KILBURN AND FAMILY

LARRY MEISENHEIMER

JACK ZERR

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ANTTWAIN DOBBINS SR. AND SONS

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MONTE SAFRON AND FAMILY

EUGENE GANZ AND FAMILY

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Eugene Ganz U.S. ARMY By Lori Rose, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer

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young Missouri soldier arrived on the front lines of World War II in time to take part in one of its most epic battles. But within weeks of surviving the fierce fighting of the Battle of the Bulge, Eugene Ganz was seriously wounded, frozen and frostbit, and had just lost his father back home. “He died on Jan. 30, I was hit Feb. 2 and I found out about his death March 21 when I got my first mail from home,” said Ganz, now 97 and a retired insurance salesman living in west St. Louis County. Ganz was 21 when the draft notice arrived in July 1944 at his family’s farm in Ballwin. He had dropped out of school after eighth grade to help his father run the place. After training in Texas, Ganz and his fellow recruits were packed onto train cars and rushed to the East Coast, where troop ships waited to carry them to war. Ganz was assigned as an assistant gunner on an 81-mm mortar squad. The heavy weapon required three men just to carry its parts. But when he boarded ship, each man was handed a rifle.

EUGENE GANZ PHOTO PROVIDED BY EUGENE GANZ

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“They needed men,” Ganz said. “The Bulge had started and it didn’t matter what your job was, you were going to carry a rifle now.” From France the Americans traveled again by train and then on foot to join the 1st Infantry Division, fighting off the German’s last-ditch offensive in Belgium. BITTER COLD, FURIOUS FIGHTING “We got out of our tent the next morning and immediately we started moving,” Ganz remembered. “It was a constant firefight and we were always moving forward. “The cold was terrible,”he said. “You couldn’t get away from it. I never took my shoes off because my feet were too swollen to ever get them back on. You had no building that you could get in. If there was a henhouse, you avoided it because of lice. The only time you got any protection was when everybody crawled into a four-man German foxhole.” On Feb. 2, as his company moved through a forest of pine trees, the whistle of an incoming shell sent Ganz diving face-first into a snow-filled ditch. As German shells exploded in the trees above, shrapnel glanced off his metal helmet and tore into his hand. Another piece hit him in the upper leg. Wounded in two places and already suffering from frostbite from the subzero weather, Ganz waited for what seemed like hours on the frozen ground along with 10 other injured soldiers. The

company’s two medics could only transport a few men at a time to a makeshift hospital nearby. SAVED BY THE COLD “You laid on two feet of snow and ice until the Jeep got around to you. They simply cut open my pant leg and taped [the wound] shut,” he said Save for the bitter cold, he might have bled to death, Ganz believes. “That was the only good thing about the cold,” he said. Once he arrived at the hospital, which was a converted bus garage, Ganz finally began to feel some warmth. “There were about a thousand wounded men there and sometime late that day they got around to me and I didn’t even wake up,” he said. “I had been awake so many days after days in the cold, I just went to sleep and [was] dead to the world.” The next thing he knew a Belgian girl was handing him paper and pencil. “My right hand was bandaged, so as best I could I wrote with my left hand. My mother received that note the day she buried my dad,” he said. Eventually Ganz was sent to England to further recuperate from his shrapnel wounds and the frostbite, which he said nearly cost him his legs. Even today he has trouble with his legs and feet. By May 1945 he had healed well enough to be sent back to duty and served with a company guarding

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EUGENE GANZ, AGE 97 PHOTO PROVIDED BY LORI ROSE

German SS troopers in Neustadt an der Aisch. He was discharged in December and awarded a Purple Heart, two Bronze Service Stars for the Ardennes and Rhineland campaigns and the Combat Infantry Badge. Back in Missouri he went on to marry and raise a family in Manchester, where he still lives today. Though he rarely talked to his children about his service during the war, he later found that he enjoyed sharing his experiences with students at various veteran events. At age 81, alongside one of his grandsons, Ganz received a high school diploma from Westminster Christian Academy through Operation Recognition, a state program that provides honorary diplomas for veterans who sacrificed their education to serve in the military. Though he donned the traditional cap and gown that day, when he speaks at schools or rides with other veterans in a Fourth of July parade, he wears the Army uniform he wore home from Germany 75 years ago.

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Tom Hopkins U.S. MARINE CORPS By Lori Rose, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer

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n May 7, 1965, 1st Lt. Tom Hopkins and several thousand fellow Marines landed on the beach at Chu Lai in Vietnam. Though Hopkins had seen intelligence maps marked thick with little red flags representing the enemy, the first wave of Marines ashore that morning met no resistance and instead were greeted by local dignitaries and Vietnamese girls bearing leis, Hopkins said. By the time he came ashore it was dusk. “I remember finding a small gully in the sand about 20 feet from the water’s edge and that was my home during my first night in Vietnam,” Hopkins wrote in a memoir he shared with his four grown children. “In the morning we picked ourselves up off the beach and moved inland looking for the war,” he said. “We didn’t have to look very hard — the war was just up the road.” Hopkins, now 79 and a retired insurance company executive living in Glendale, Missouri, was 24 when he arrived in Vietnam in the months after the first American combat troops were deployed.

TOM HOPKINS PHOTO PROVIDED BY TOM HOPKINS

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He had grown up in Nebraska and earned a commission as a second lieutenant after attending the Marine Corps’ officer candidate program. His first assignment in 1963 was the Marine Corps Air Station at Kaneohe Bay on the island of Oahu. Two years later, he was en route to Vietnam, leaving his pregnant wife and 1-year-old son behind. THEY WERE JUST INNOCENT PEOPLE After landing at Chu Lai, the Marines moved inland, passing dozens of farmers working in their rice fields and tending their vegetable gardens and livestock. Hopkins was ordered to clear the area of civilians. Assisted by an interpreter, he led a small squad of Marines from house to house, telling families they must leave immediately with only what they could carry. Local officials were supposed to have relocated the farmers and compensated them for their land, but that turned out not to be the case, he said. From what he could tell, no one from the South Vietnamese government had told them anything. Forcing those civilian farmers from their land at gunpoint has haunted Hopkins for 55 years. “What happened to those civilians caused me a lot of heartache,” he said. “They were just innocent people. The women and children were all crying. They looked at me with hatred. I’ll never forget it.”

I STILL SEE HIM IN MY DREAMS One scene stands out clearly in his mind today, Hopkins said. “I walked around this house and this little Vietnamese boy about 8 or 9 was crying and he was trying his best to help his family by picking vegetables from the family’s garden,” he said. “He was putting the vegetables in a sack to take with him for his family as they were leaving their home and farm forever. “I still see him in my dreams. But I had to obey orders. I did my duty. I was caught between a rock and a hard place.” A few weeks later, Hopkins’ company was sent to clear suspected Viet Cong from a nearby island. After being dropped in by helicopter, his gun squad became separated from the rest of the Marines as they tried in vain to start the vehicle their big 106-mm recoilless rifle was mounted on. Isolated on the beach, they saw a South Vietnamese gunboat approach and begin to strafe the area with machine gun fire. Hopkins was afraid his squad was about to become the victims of friendly fire. “In battle, things get pretty confusing and lots of people get killed by friendly fire — that happens many times,” he said. THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISION The corporal responsible for firing the gun asked permission to open fire.

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TOM HOPKINS, MARINE CORPS OFFICER PHOTO PROVIDED BY TOM HOPKINS

But Hopkins hesitated. “I wasn’t sure what to do so I told the corporal not to fire,” Hopkins said. “The gunboat kept firing and was getting closer all the time. About the time I was ready to order the corporal to fire, the gunboat turned around and headed away. “I can say without a doubt that my decision to do nothing — not to open fire — was the most important decision I made during my entire time in Vietnam and possibly in my life.” Hopkins continued to serve in Vietnam until February 1966 and remained in the Marine Corps until 1968, retiring as captain. The brutalities of war — the nowin situations, the close calls, the mortar attacks, the night patrols, the monsoons and the heat — remain vividly clear in his mind. He often volunteers to speak about his experiences to students at area schools. But he still wonders: “Should I have been true to my conscience and taken a stand that day against the way the poor Vietnamese farmers were being treated? “Would an objection have done any good? “As a Christian, I know that I will have to face the consequences of my actions on Judgment Day. Will it be good enough to say that I was just following orders?”

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GU Missouri is a proud supporter of our military and salutes our veterans who have made countless sacrifices to serve our country and ensure the safety of us all. As a nonprofit, fully online university, WGU is committed to honoring these local heroes who are interested in furthering their education and advancing their skill sets. The university is regularly ranked among the nation’s most military-friendly colleges and universities and is dedicated to helping servicemen and women apply their knowledge and life experiences toward a high-quality degree that will open career opportunities in the high-demand fields of business, healthcare, K–12 education, or information technology. WGU’s competency-based learning model is ideal for adult learners – especially veterans and their families – because it allows students to study and learn on their own schedule and at their own pace. Students

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can apply what they’ve learned at work, in the service, and in previous courses to move quickly through what they already know, while taking the time they need to focus on what they still need to learn. WGU faculty members work one-on-one with students as mentors, offering guidance, support, and individualized instruction. While the university’s degree programs are rigorous and challenging, competency-based learning makes it possible for students to accelerate their programs, saving both time and money. Veterans are typically eligible for benefits that more than cover WGU’s low-cost, flat-rate tuition of about $3,500 per six-month term. WGU’s degree programs are approved for VA education benefits under the GI Bill, and for tuition assistance for active-duty, reserve and National Guard service members.WGU also offers many scholarship opportunities specifically designed for veterans, active-duty military service members, and their families. STLTODAY.COM/STORIESOFHONOR

WGU is honored to support our veterans and military families and provide them with an affordable and flexible pathway to earning their degrees and advancing their careers. For more information, visit missouri.wgu.edu or call 855.948.8493. SUNDAY, JULY 19, 2020

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Christine Kilburn U.S. AIR FORCE By Lori Rose, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer

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rom her post at Scott Air Force Base, Master Sgt. Christine Kilburn helped manage essential radio communications for the U.S. Air Force at home and abroad. When Hurricane Sandy grew into a monster storm that caused billions of dollars of destruction in the Caribbean and the United States, Kilburn and her colleagues supported critical disaster relief efforts. When the Ebola virus flared up in West Africa, creating a pandemic that killed thousands, Kilburn helped synchronize radio networks that allowed the United States to safely deliver personnel and cargo. When the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela escalated in recent years, her work was vital to the delivery of thousands of pounds of food and medical supplies.

In short, if pilots from Scott Air Force Base were flying, whether delivering medical or combat supplies, transporting patients or soldiers or refueling aircraft, Kilburn was working behind the scenes to help make sure everything went smoothly. “The last several years I would say were the best, because of the opportunities at this base,”Kilburn said. “When you see [our pilots] flying around the world, whether we were transporting patients or cargo, all that planning came out of Scott Air Force Base and I got to be part of that team.” Kilburn, 39, who lives in O’Fallon, Ill., recently retired after a 20-year career that included a six-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2005. In Afghanistan, she helped coordinate communications for coalition forces and worked closely with Afghan officials.

CHRISTINE KILBURN’S RETIREMENT CEREMONY PHOTO PROVIDED BY CHRISTINE KILBURN

LOOKING FOR ADVENTURE Kilburn was looking for adventure when she joined the Air Force right out of high school in Hawaii. “I didn’t have scholarships and my family didn’t have the money to pay for school,” said Kilburn, who grew up on the North Shore of Oahu. “I wanted to get off the island and see what’s out there.” Inspired by a visit to her school from a female recruiter, Kilburn decided that a job in the Air Force would give her skills that could translate well in the civilian world. “The recruiter was great. She wasn’t

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pushy, she just wanted to make sure we all had a plan for the future,” Kilburn remembered. “I was excited by that. I wanted to go off and be on my own and see what the world had to offer. I thought I was going to be an air traffic controller. I thought it would help me go to anywhere that had an airport.” Her career path led to radio communications, an essential component to missions everywhere. Often that meant coordinating with other branches of the military and other countries and agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “You can’t do anything unless you can communicate with each other,” she said. A BIGGER PURPOSE Two years into Kilburn’s initial sixyear enlistment, terrorists attacked the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Kilburn was at her first duty station in San Antonio that day. “I was shocked, I was scared. We had just graduated [from training] and here we are at our first base,” Kilburn said. “But when that happened I felt like I was part of something bigger. I wanted to be part of the good guys who were going to protect our country. It was no longer about traveling,

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CHRISTINE KILBURN PHOTO PROVIDED BY CHRISTINE KILBURN

it was about being part of this bigger purpose of serving.” Her career in the Air Force ended up taking her to posts in Virginia, Korea and South Dakota before landing at Scott in 2011. Before she retired last year, Kilburn was taking employment classes at the Airman & Family Readiness Center when she found a brochure for Hiring Our Heroes, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation program that matches transitioning veterans with internships in the corporate world. Kilburn was paired with Wells Fargo Advisors for a 12-week internship that grew into a full-time job. Today she works in the compliance department as a senior associate. She said she is proud to be a part of a company that appreciates veterans. “They have a talent acquisition section that focuses just on military,” she said. “That’s pretty nice. They understand.”

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Larry Meisenheimer U.S. MARINE CORPS By Lori Rose, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer

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ore than 50 years later, Larry Meisenheimer’s Marine Corps training kicked in during a nightmare that had him fighting for his life. The violent dream in which he was fighting off three attackers ended with a bruised and swollen toe but sparked a new passion in life: talking about his service in Vietnam. Thankfully the toe wasn’t broken, but his podiatrist’s suggestion that Meisenheimer visit the Veterans Assistance Commission led him to dredge up old memories and meet them head on. These days he relishes every opportunity to speak to groups of students and others about military service, patriotism and the cost of freedom. “It’s very fulfilling,” he said. “There are things that I have learned that can help other people.”

LARRY MEISENHEIMER. PHOTO PROVIDED BY LARRY MEISENHEIMER

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THE TOUGHEST OUTFIT Meisenheimer, 70, of Bethalto, Ill., had just turned 18 when he joined the Marines in 1967. He was working overnights at a glass factory and taking college classes during the day. “It wasn’t working out. I really didn’t like the job and I was falling asleep in class,” he said. “So I joined the Marine Corps. “I loved the Marine Corps blues. I loved the uniform and the publicity they got. I thought they were the toughest outfit [and] I knew things were pretty hot and heavy in Vietnam. It turned out to be much [harder] than I thought, but I knew I’d signed up for it and I had to tough it out.” He served 22 months in Vietnam, seeing combat first as a rifleman and later as a fire team leader with a Combined Action Company, tasked with specialized counterinsurgency efforts. He earned the Navy Commendation Medal for meritorious service during combat and achieved the rank of sergeant. But for decades after returning home to Bethalto, Meisenheimer suppressed his memories of Vietnam and kept thoughts of war to himself. He immersed himself into what would become a 45year career as a pipefitter in the oil industry, married and raised a family and went back to college to earn a degree. “The war was over and my military time was done and now was time for civilian life,” he said. “I just poured myself into my job, and I didn’t talk about Vietnam for a long, long time.” But nightmares persisted. One

dream about a year ago led to his badly injured toe. “There were three guys after me. My training in the Marine Corps came back to me pretty clear. I kicked the first guy right in the crotch. It was the perfect kick; only thing was it was a plaster wall.” Since that visit with his podiatrist and his retirement, Meisenheimer has embraced his veteran status and has joined the board of the Veterans Assistance Commission. He says he struggles to control his emotions when he reads a tribute to the American flag or the citation he received in support of his medal. At one recent event where he received a standing ovation, he said, “I was kind of overwhelmed, pretty humbled. It made me want to cry.” COMING HOME Those feelings contrast sharply with the emotions he experienced when he returned home from Vietnam in 1970. “It was pretty ugly,” he remembered. “They were saying a lot of bad things about Vietnam and veterans. It wasn’t celebrated like World War II veterans where those guys couldn’t buy a beer. It seemed like there was mostly negative talk. I was smart enough to

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LARRY MEISENHEIMER. PHOTO PROVIDED BY LARRY MEISENHEIMER

know that I had to move on and immerse myself into civilian life.” But he tells young people the lessons he learned in Vietnam carried through the rest of his life. “There are times in life when we’re scared. There were many times I was scared but when you become scared, whether in combat or in life, don’t panic. When you panic, bad things can happen. In a firefight, when things weren’t looking good, when mortar rounds were coming in, you just had to keep your cool.” He also tells them serving in the military isn’t the only path to being patriotic. “I tell them the military isn’t for everybody but everybody can be patriotic. When they show respect to the flag and support and respect our veterans, they’re being patriotic.”

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Monte Safron U.S. ARMY By Lori Rose, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer

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onte Safron was a newlywed and midway through his education at the University of Missouri Columbia when the draft notice arrived. It was 1950 and the U.S. Army needed him to support the nation’s war efforts in Korea. “It was a surprise,” he said, remembering that he had only been married to his wife, Louise, for three months. “We cried.” After boot camp, Safron was sent to medical infantry training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas and for a time he believed he would be assigned to a hospital in Europe. Instead, authorities determined that his medical skills were needed on the front lines. “It took me a month to get there on the ship,” he said. “It was terrible. Everybody was throwing up and we had saltwater showers and everybody got sick.”

MONTE SAFRON. PHOTO PROVIDED BY MONTE SAFRON

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BITTER COLD AND FROSTBITE Safron, now 90 and living in Town and Country, was assigned as a litter bearer (or stretcher bearer) in the 7th Infantry Division but was soon elevated to medic. As the ground war raged over a region dotted with hilltops with nicknames such as Old Baldy and Jane Russell, soldiers battled bitter cold along with enemy fire. Safron said he suffered frostbite to his hands and feet. Thick gloves were of little use to medics, he said. “A medic can’t wear gloves because you have to treat wounds, and we couldn’t carry a rifle because we’d set them down and we’d lose them. So they gave us a .45. You’d have an ammo belt and it had a holster to hold your weapon.” He said he developed a hernia from carrying injured soldiers to safety and received two Purple Hearts for wounds he suffered while patching up GIs in the field. “I had my flak vest on and a round came at me and stuck in my flak vest and kind of rolled around and cut my stomach,” he said. “Another one hit me in my shin. Both were pretty wellspent bullets when they hit me but I was wounded twice.” A HIDDEN INJURY Years after returning stateside, Safron discovered another injury when he went to the doctor with back pain. “The doctor came out and said, ‘Mr. Safron, did you know you had

MONTE SAFRON, U.S. ARMY. PHOTO PROVIDED BY MONTE SAFRON

two pieces of steel in your back?’ It was shrapnel. They’re still there.” Near the end of his time in Korea, Safron was promoted to assistant to the regimental surgeon, which involved investigating battlefield casualties and reporting back to his superiors. “I‘d go out in the field to talk to company commanders. I was given a jeep and I could drive all over,” he said. When his service ended in 1952, Staff Sgt. Safron returned to the University of Missouri. He graduated with degrees in journalism and political science. After working for an ad agency, he spent the bulk of his career in the furniture business, retiring as vice president of purchasing for Townhouse Penthouse Furniture Corp.

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He and his wife raised three children and were married more than 45 years before her death from cancer. These days, Safron, who later remarried, enjoys singing high tenor with the Moolah Shrine Chanters, which performs at hospitals and Shriners events. A few years ago he participated in an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. along with other veterans who were honored for their service. “It was wonderful,” he said. “I was proud to be going. My son sat next to me and he pushed me in a wheelchair around Washington, D.C. and it was inspiring to see all the various monuments, like the Korean War Memorial.”

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James Sutter U.S. ARMY By Lori Rose, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer

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hen a soldier has made the ultimate sacrifice, there is a group of fellow soldiers specially trained to care for their remains with dignity and honor. Taking care of those soldiers who take care of the fallen was a critical part of James Sutter’s job in the U.S. Army. “The mental fortitude that all my soldiers had to be able to do that mission over and over again, it astounded me,” said Capt. Sutter, 28, of St. Louis County. “To relate it to people who aren’t in the military — every time you’ve seen a movie about the conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan, every single time you see a helicopter crash or a soldier get killed, one of my soldiers took care of them. Every single one was a real person that had family left behind...”

JAMES SUTTER PHOTO PROVIDED BY JAMES SUTTER

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A SACRED MISSION The creed of the Army’s mortuary affairs specialists is “Dignity, Reverence, Respect.” Those words were at the forefront of the sacred mission that fell to Sutter’s soldiers as they readied each fallen comrade to be returned to their families. From properly recovering and identifying the remains of the deceased, to safeguarding their personal effects, to preparing the uniform a fallen soldier will wear, even in a closed casket — these are among the sensitive tasks that must be performed just so, before a hero’s body is sent on its final journey home. The job is not for everyone, Sutter said, but knowing the impact the role has on family members back home is powerful. “It hits real close to home,” Sutter said. “You’re seeing a wallet with a picture in it or a wedding ring. We treat them [the deceased] as family members. We know and we understand and we make sure that we treat everything as if the family were seeing what we were doing and would be proud. But thankfully they don’t have to see what we do.” The somber responsibility takes a mental toll on those men and women assigned to the Army’s two mortuary affairs companies based at Fort Lee, Virginia, Sutter said. “Soon after arriving at my mortuary affairs unit, I became well aware of the PTSD issues that affected many

of my soldiers,” Sutter said. “The emotional aspect of it all was a key part of what I did. My soldiers knew I cared and that I was there for them. We were able to keep those soldiers in a positive place.” WEST POINT CADET Growing up in south St. Louis County, Sutter was inspired by his father’s experience as a West Point cadet and his stories of serving as an officer in the Army. “I grew up having him be the person I looked up to the most,” Sutter said. “He always would look back and [remember] those times as being fond and developmental years.” When Sutter earned an appointment to West Point during his senior year at Oakville High School, he knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. After graduating from West Point with a degree in management and a commission as an officer, Sutter was stationed at Fort Lee, where he served first as a platoon leader and then executive officer of one of the Army’s two active-duty mortuary affairs companies. As executive officer, Sutter helped manage the logistics of the company’s platoons rotating in and out of deployment. In addition to caring for the men and women who died while serving overseas, his company was

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JAMES SUTTER PHOTO PROVIDED BY JAMES SUTTER

on call for assisting in mass-fatality disasters at home — such as hurricanes, mass shootings and the current COVID-19 crisis. The role required regular planning for multiple scenarios as well as coordination with other branches of the military and agencies including FEMA and the FBI. Sutter later served at Fort Hood in Texas, where he helped manage logistics for the 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade. He credits his West Point education for teaching him to be a quick learner and the Army for his ability to get along with people from all backgrounds. The military is a path he would encourage young people to consider. “I would say as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons, it will give you the chance to travel the world, learn a lot of things and meet a lot of people, as well as serve your country,” he said. “It will set you up for success.”

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MOST PEOPLE 55+ DON'T GET ENOUGH EXERCISE. WHY YOU SHOULD GET STARTED TODAY. BY: DR. BETH TEMPLIN, PT, DPT, GCS GERIATRIC PHYSICAL THERAPIST

Most of the people I meet have the best intentions of staying active or starting a new exercise routine, but it's harder than it sounds. You have to find the motivation to start and then you have to find the staying power to continue with a program. Part of the issue can be finding the right exercise program to meet your needs. With all the options out there, it's easy to get overwhelmed and end up not making a choice at all. There are more reasons or excuses not to exercise than there are to exercise. I have to admit, I have been in that same boat myself. What I've learned and what I want to share with you are some of the most common reasons people 55 and older do not exercise. Previous bad experience. Maybe you tried a class and it was so big you couldn't see the instructor, or the music was so loud you couldn't hear the instructor. Or you were just starting out and had a hard time keeping up with the other people in the class and you felt "old" and out of place. If you don't feel welcomed or comfortable exercising, it's hard to stick with a program. Fear of making it worse. I know many adults 55+ who are worried exercise will make their back pain or their arthritis worse. They are concerned about their balance or worried their endurance is lacking and they don't want to embarrass themselves in front of the other class members. Exercise can actually help you manage or improve all of these issues, once you find the right routine. Being too old. You might not believe that regular exercise will help someone "my age". Age really is just a number and it doesn't matter if you've never exercised before. Exercise is key for staying active and independent, so you don't miss out on the good things in life. Unsure it will work. What if you finally try to exercise and you don't get better? BRAND AVE. STUDIOS

What if exercise just won't work for you? My answer to this would be, what have you got to lose? What could you possibly gain if you took a chance on yourself? Imagine how great it will feel to have more energy and confidence. Fear of the unknown. It takes a lot of guts to try something new. Especially when you're not sure what to expect. Will you be able to keep up with the rest of the class? Will you be sore? Will it be too hard? We work with people who feel this way every day. It's what we do. We help you overcome some of those fears and doubts in order to help you stay active and healthy. Exercise is Medicine! Especially for adults whose independence and ability to fully enjoy their retirement is directly linked to their activity and fitness levels. And it's never too late to start. So if you've been putting off starting that exercise routine, there's no better time than now to step up and try. Don't let time keep slipping away because you're nervous. Let us help you to live the life you should be living. We offer services at our South County location or concierge services in your home. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never exercised before or if it's just been awhile. Let our team of experts help you get on a path to a healthier version of yourself today. Sign up for a FREE Assessment to find out how we can help at (314) 939-1377. We offer assessments at our South County Location or in your home. At HouseFit, we help adults 55+ maximize their independence and fitness, so they can continue to enjoy a full and active life. 3809 Lemay Ferry Rd. Saint Louis, MO 63125 (314) 939-1377 info@housefitstl.com www.housefitstl.com STLTODAY.COM/STORIESOFHONOR

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Jack Zerr U.S. NAVY By Lori Rose, Brand Ave. Studios Contributing Writer

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arly one Saturday when John “Jack” Zerr was 17, his father rousted him from bed and drove him to the U.S. Navy’s recruiter office in St. Charles. “He told me the guy had a paper he wanted me to sign and I should sign it,” Zerr remembered. “No part of the Navy was a part of my dream.” But his father’s insistence that it was time to make his own way in the world set Zerr on a path that would lead to a distinguished 36-year career in the Navy. His career included more than 300 combat missions as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, the command of a massive aircraft carrier sailing around the world and a stint as an officer at NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe during the Gulf War. “I cannot tell you what kind of person I would be if it hadn’t been for dad shanghaiing me into the Navy,” said

JACK ZERR PHOTO PROVIDED BY JACK ZERR

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Zerr, now 78. “It wound up being a major blessing.” TRIPLE THREAT After retiring from the Navy in 1995, Rear Adm. Zerr went on to a second career at Boeing Co., where he managed a program that rolled out the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon patrol plane. Today, the discipline and work ethic that marked his two previous careers continue to guide him in a third: as published author. Each morning, Zerr rises before dawn to spend several hours writing at a computer in a spare bedroom of his St. Charles home. He has written eight books, mostly historical fiction that draw from his own experiences in the military. “I try to get the history in the background right, so when I put a historical event in, it actually happened,” he said. “The last one I published was a ghost story set in Belgium. A Navy family lives in a haunted house. Playing in the background are the ‘90s politics of Europe.” Zerr and his family resided in Belgium during the early ‘90s, when Zerr served as executive assistant to U.S. Army Gen. John Galvin, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander of Europe. Zerr arrived a few months before Desert Shield/Desert Storm and soon grew accustomed to hearing his boss on the telephone with his colleagues, “Norm” (Allied Forces commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf) and “Colin” (Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)

PUSHED OUT OF THE NEST None of this could have been imagined by the teenage Zerr, who grew up in St. Peters, the oldest of five children. He was a senior in high school when his father urged him to “feed at another trough,” Zerr said. So Zerr became a sailor. After his first assignment aboard ship, Zerr entered the Navy Enlisted Scientific Education Program, which enabled him to attend Purdue University and earn a degree in electrical engineering, while still drawing pay from the Navy. During that time he married his high school sweetheart, and the couple went on to raise six children. “It took me a while before I realized my dad was nowhere near as dumb as I thought he was all those years,” he said. After graduating from Purdue, Zerr attended officer candidate school and then was assigned to a destroyer heading to Vietnam. As the ship cruised the Tonkin Gulf and he watched American aircraft take off from a nearby carrier to bomb targets in North Vietnam, Zerr decided to apply to flight school. FROM THE SEAS TO THE SKIES In 1970, he returned to Vietnam, this time as a fighter pilot. After North Vietnam launched its Easter Offensive in 1972, Zerr saw heavy combat as his squadron fought off surface-to-air missiles to help our

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JACK ZERR IN HIS FLIGHT UNIFORM. PHOTO PROVIDED BY JACK ZERR

bombers reach their targets. “They were shooting at us a whole lot more,” Zerr said. “We were working hard. All of these missions had a high pucker factor. We’d fly two or three times a day, and at night we were planning missions for the next day.” On one such mission in May 1972, Zerr’s roommate was shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese, spending close to a year as a POW. Zerr’s plane was also launched that day but engine failure forced him to bail out over the Gulf almost immediately. Zerr said his training kicked in and he wrestled free of his parachute and inflated his life jacket. Within minutes a helicopter crew pulled him to safety. TAKING COMMAND Zerr went on to command his own squadron, then an entire air-wing. In 1988 he was named commander of the USS Constellation, a floating city of 5,000 people and 75 aircraft. Next came the NATO job before Zerr retired from his final post at the Operational Test & Evaluation Force in Norfolk, Virginia. “I never really decided to make the Navy a career,” he said. “I always had the outlook that you’ve gone further than anybody had a right to expect.” He has his dad to thank for that.

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A HEARTFELT THANK YOU to all who have served and currently serve our country. We celebrate veterans in our community, and we are proud to call these exceptional people members of The Gatesworth family.

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The Gatesworth is committed to equal housing opportunity and does not discriminate in housing and services because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin.

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HEAT & EAT PACK................ $55 Mostaccioli in Red Meat Sauce Pulled Pork in BBQ Sauce Chicken & Dumplings Hearty Beef Stew Stuffed Green Peppers Sliced Boneless Pork Loin in Gravy Our Famous Roast Beef in Au Jus This Package is Fully Cooked-Just Heat-N-Eat

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BREAKFAST, LUNCH & DINNER PACK................ $155 3 lbs. Slab Bacon 3 lbs. Old Fashioned Pork Sausage 1 lb. Kenricks Black Label Ham 1 lb. Honeysuckle Turkey Breast 1 lb. American Cheese 3 lbs. Ground Chuck

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CHICKEN LOVER’S FAVORITE .. $50 2 lbs. Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast 1 Whole Chicken - Split (2 Halves) 2 lbs. Chicken Drumsticks 2 lbs. Chicken Breast Cutlets

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