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Honor Our Veterans November 2014

Veteran finds photography a coping mechanism

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A special pullout section of the Whidbey News-Times


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Wednesday, November 5, 2014 • Whidbey News-Times

Finding comfort in photography after Vietnam By RON NEWBERRY Staff reporter

The setting for Bruce Williams-Burden’s 21st birthday wasn’t quite what he had imagined. He celebrated the occasion at an enlisted men’s club in Okinawa, Japan — just two days before reporting to duty in Vietnam as a Navy Hospital Corpsman in 1969. “A Marine said, ‘Doc, let me toast your birthday. It might be your last one.’ ” Williams-Burden spent a total of 10 months caring for wounded in Vietnam. Some of the chilling images imbedded in his mind resurface from time to time even 44 years later. “There’s reminders when you watch this or hear about that,” said WilliamsBurden, now 66, retired and living in Freeland. “I get all revved up inside when I hear about ISIS or something like that. It does press buttons and I’m sure I’m not the only one.” Williams-Burden’s experiences in Vietnam drove him to acquire the tools to offer better medical care and also taught him a coping mechanism he continues to employ today. After serving for nearly four years in the Navy, he went on to spend 40 years in the civilian world as a physician’s assistant. He retired in June after spending the past 28 years working for the U.S. Department of

Veterans Affairs in Seattle. After moving from Bellevue, WilliamsBurden’s world has opened up on Whidbey Island, where he looks at everyday life through a variety of lenses. In Vietnam, he developed a passion for photography as a way to escape some of the horrible images of war. He continued to master his craft during his travels in medicine and now is focused full time on his pursuit of shooting pictures. Although he’s been hired to tackle documentary types of photography assignments since 2002, more recently he’s concentrated on turning his pictures into art. In recent months, he joined the Whidbey Allied Artists and took part in his first art show with the group in Coupeville in October. “I hardly slept last night, I was so excited,” WilliamsBurden said, standing before a body of his work on display at the show’s opening at the Coupeville Recreation Hall. He pulled out two special images he took while in Vietnam, photos of two young children whose innocent stares were a welcome departure from the dark images of the battlefield. “I got interested in photography when I couldn’t get the pictures out of my head from the things that I saw,” he said. “I just kept

Photo by Ron Newberry/ Whidbey News-Times

Bruce Williams-Burden stands before an exhibit of his photography put on by the Whidbey Allied Artists in Coupeville in October. After serving as a Navy Hospital Corpsman in Vietnam and 40 years as a physician’s assistant, he is focusing now on photography. doing it.” As a part of relief teams for natural disasters and other callings during his medical career, WilliamsBurden always kept a camera nearby. He later started his own side business called Critical Images Photography, providing documentary and event photography for the Department of Homeland

Security, the military, fire departments, laboratories, the FBI and even the White House. For fun, he accepted an invitation to document the United States team at the 2001 Amputee Soccer World Championships in Rio de Janeiro. “You’d be surprised how fast guys with Canadian crutches run,” he said.

Williams-Burden and his wife Lorna, a retired pediatric nurse, are entranced with island living after moving into a home on two acres in March. He joked that they lived so close to Interstate-90 in Bellevue that the traffic sounded like the ocean. “When we’d go to the ocean, we’d say, ‘That sounds like I-90,’ ” he said.

Williams-Burden is often outside on Whidbey, looking to capture images of things “most people don’t pay attention to.” He likes to capture a detail in a photo that is out of the norm. “His photographs are more personal because he’s involved in a lot of them,” said Helen Bates, also a SEE IMAGES, PAGE 3

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014 • Whidbey News-Times

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Photos by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Above: To keep his mind off the horrible images of war, Bruce Williams-Burden resorted to photography as often as possible. He snapped these two shots of children while serving in Vietnam. Below: Williams-Burden’s military identification card shows a young Navy Hospital Corpsman. He turned 21 two days before he reported to Vietnam and served parts of 1969 and 70.

member of the same artists’ group. Williams-Burden has also written two military history books since 2010, “Luminous Base” and “Intrepid Souls.” “Luminous Base” tells the stories of the 57 Navy Corpsmen who lost their lives on or around helicopters during medical evacuations from 1962 to 2007. “Intrepid Souls” is about the Marine Corps and their medical personnel during the first six months of the war in Korea. As a Navy Hospital Corpsman, WilliamsBurden flew countless combat helicopter medical evacuations with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. His training didn’t prepare him for the scenes that would unfold in a dark helicopter in a foreign land with lives in his hands. He was often the only medical personnel onboard.

During one moonlit evening in the fall of 1969, the medevac unit he was a part of responded to an incident near the Que Son Mountains about 45 minutes away from the Navy Support Activity Hospital in Da Nang, South Vietnam. A tripwire set off a “daisy chain” of explosives, killing one soldier and leaving 10 others in dire need of medical attention. Williams-Burden remembers running on a field in the darkness toward the injured with a crew member yelling at him to stop — uncertain of what undetonated explosives might lay ahead. More than 600 Corpsmen were killed during the Vietnam War out of the estimated 58,220 U.S. military deaths. “I didn’t know what to do,” Williams-Burden said. “I kept going.” He tended to 10 people

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suffering from multiple wounds onboard that helicopter. He remembers the chaos inside the dark helicopter with wind blowing in and a red light to guide him. Two died en route to the hospital; the eight others survived. “It was just very overwhelming,” WilliamsBurden said. “But that wasn’t a normal kind of thing. Most of the time, you would stop and pick up someone and move on.” The experiences in Vietnam profoundly impacted Williams-Burden, leading to four more decades in healthcare. One of his sons, Sean, followed in his footsteps as a Navy Corpsman and is now an emergency room nurse at Northwest Hospital. “It served as an impetus for me to want to do better for myself and help people with more training and more experience,” he said.


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Wednesday, November 5, 2014 • Whidbey News-Times


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Wednesday, November 5, 2014 • Whidbey News-Times


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Female WWII vets honored as grand marshals By MICHELLE BEAHM Staff reporter

When Eva Brown got the phone call telling her she was going to be a grand marshal in the Oak Harbor Veterans Day Parade Saturday, Nov. 8 this year, she thought there was some sort of mistake. One of the three chosen grand marshals, Brown was a member of the Navy Waves during World War II. The other two grand marshals, Francis Skinner and Pat Ricketts, are also WWII veterans. “I really feel honored that they do recognize the women,” said Skinner, who was also a member of the Navy Waves during WWII. “For a while, the women weren’t really recognized as service people.” Skinner enlisted in the military in 1943 because joining the navy was all in the family. “All the boys were in the service, including my brothers. I thought it appropriate that I join,” she said. “And it was a good experience.” According to Brown, it wasn’t entirely smooth sailing, being members of the Waves. “The purpose for our being accepted in the military was so we could replace the men at the desk,” Brown said, “so they could go to sea duty. Some of them were happy to be released from working at a desk. Of course, there were some that kindly resented us.” But Brown said the majority were grateful for the women joining the ranks, and her experience in Navy Waves was a good one. She joined the Navy after seeing posters around town while she worked as a teacher, ones that said things like “You in Navy Blue” or “Navy Needs You.” “I took my one day of sick leave and went to Little Rock and enlisted in the military,” she said. “I was very proud of myself. “I took the bus down and, returning, I thought, ‘I’m a veteran. I’m a veteran.’ ” After WWII, Brown used her GI Bill to finish earning her teaching degree. Ricketts joined the military for similar reasons as Skinner. “I decided to enlist because I had three brothers in the service and I thought I should

Photo by Michelle Beahm/Whidbey News-Times

Eva Brown, 92, shows off a picture of her Navy Waves group, taken when she was still in the Navy. She will serve as grand marshal this year. get in and do something too,” she said. Ricketts was in the Army Air Corps as a priority and traffic officer for the Air Transport Command Branch. She was stationed in Karachi, India, for five months. Now she’s been chosen to be one of the grand marshals in the Veterans Day Parade. “I think it’s quite an honor,” Ricketts said. Brown said the three women, who met after the Oak Harbor Senior Center started a group for female veterans of WWII, have walked in Veterans Day parades in the past, for many years in Coupeville and in both the Oak Harbor ones since they started in 2012. Seeing all the young veterans in the service

now at events like that is something Skinner enjoys. “It was heartening, too, that some of these young gals said that we really paved the way for them to join the service,” Skinner said, “because we were the first to join the Navy. “It was a breakthrough for them, especially for the women.” Brown views being selected as a grand marshal to be humbling. “It’s an honor to be recognized, but I think the honor goes to somebody else,” she said, mentioning that Ricketts in particular deserved it as a pilot and officer in the army. “I gave so little to the military compared with what it gave me,” Brown said.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014 • Whidbey News-Times

Pearl Harbor survivor numbers dwindling By JANIS REID and RON NEWBERRY Staff reporters

Photo by Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times

Harold Johnson is one of the last few survivors of Pearl Harbor still living in North Puget Sound. This past year the North Cascade Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Association lost two members.

The morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Harold Johnson was headed out on leave to meet a girl. But before he could get off the USS Oklahoma, the Imperial Japanese Navy conducted a surprise military strike where Johnson was stationed at Pearl Harbor. He didn’t make the date. “Three months later I ran into that girl,” Johnson said. “She was mad I stood her up.” Once the attack began, Johnson had to quickly exit the ship as it took on water, jump into the ocean and hang onto a sinking aircraft until a rescue boat arrived. “When something like that happens, you don’t have time to panic,” Johnson said. “You just think about how to overcome it and escape it.” The hardest part was that night, Johnson said, waiting ashore not knowing if or when another attack would occur. “All you can think about is what’s going to happen tomorrow,” he said. “A lot of us thought they were going to invade the island.” Johnson was assigned to another carrier and went on to fight in both the Battle of Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. A life-long Oak Harbor resident, Johnson is one of the last few survivors of Pearl Harbor still alive in the North Puget Sound area. A founding member of the North Cascade Chapter of the Pearl Harbor’s Association, Johnson has seen a number of his fellow survivors pass just in the last year. Cecil Calavan, the witty North Cascade Chapter president, died in his Anacortes home at the age of 90 on Aug. 14, three days after the passing of fellow Pearl Harbor survivor and former chapter president Jim Stansell, 91, of Bellingham. “It was heartbreaking,” said Cindy Fowler, a senior chief with VAQ-129 and honorary member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Cascade Chapter group.

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“We had a moment of silence. It (their absence) was very noticed.” Two others in the group also passed away in the past year — Anthony Nady of Anacortes and Roger Allen of Bellingham. Allen, a Korean War veteran, was an associate member with the Pearl Harbor group. “That generation will never come around again,” said Lynda Eccles, executive director of the Coupeville Chamber of Commerce. “They just had that exuberance. Whether it was what they went through, they were very positive and so full of life. “They were very proud of who they were.” Members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association North Cascade Chapter have been honored guests in parades, changes of command and other ceremonies in Oak Harbor, including a Pearl Harbor remembrance on the Seaplane Base last December. Fowler said younger sailors have come to her to share how much it meant to them to meet and chat with Pearl Harbor veterans. “They got fairly well known around Oak Harbor,” said Skip Pohtilla, a retired Naval officer and member of the Oak Harbor Area Council of the Navy League. “They were able to get out and also participate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. It was an important part of Whidbey Island history to have the Pearl Harbor survivors here.” With the number of Pearl Harbor survivors declining and current members now in their 90s, it’s a chapter of local history that is fading. Johnson is now one of only two Pearl Harbor survivors from the North Cascade Chapter along with Harold Shimer, who served on the USS Helena. Only four members total remain with the North Cascades Chapter. The group met in September at its monthly meeting at the Farmhouse Restaurant in Mount Vernon and agreed to continue on. The lesson that Johnson said he and his fellow survivors always share is similar. “Don’t let it happen again,” Johnson said.

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Veterans Day is rich in country’s war history World War I — known at the time as “The Great War” — officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. For that reason, Nov. 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.” In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m. The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words: An Act approved May 13, 1938, made Nov. 11 in each year a legal holiday — a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea,

the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. Later that same year, on Oct. 8, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation,” which stated: “In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the administrator of Veterans’ Affairs as chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the executive branch of the government to assist the National Committee in every way possible.”

On that same day, Eisenhower sent a letter to the Honorable Harvey V. Higley, administrator of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), designating him as chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee. In 1958, the White House advised VA’s General Counsel that the 1954 designation of the VA administrator as chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee applied to all subsequent VA administrators. Since March 1989, when VA was elevated to a cabinet level department, the secretary of Veterans Affairs has served as the committee’s chairman. The Uniform Holiday Bill was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates. The first Veterans Day under the new

law was observed with much confusion on Oct. 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so, on Sept. 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of Nov. 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people. Veterans Day continues to be observed on Nov. 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to Nov. 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. — U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs




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Special Sections - Honor Our Veterans  


Special Sections - Honor Our Veterans