Sitting a few rows over was a man who flew the right wing plane for the Enola Gay, and not far away was another man who served on PT 109 – the torpedo boat commanded by Lt. John F. Kennedy, the war hero who went on to be president.
Altogether, 47 World War II veterans were honored Thursday during a pre-Memorial Day ceremony at Northside Christian Church in Warrensburg.
Former Congressman Ike Skelton was the keynote speaker, and the soon-to-be former commander of the 509th at Whiteman, Brigadier Gen. Scott Vander Hamm, made some remarks.
But the day belonged to the veterans.
And it was truly inspiring to be in the same room, along with some 200 others, as a Marine who stormed the volcanic rock of Iwo Jima and another who was aboard the USS Calvin Coolidge when it sank.
“Let me tell you that what you have done, the crusade of which you served, will be long remembered, will be written in the history books as no other fight for freedom has ever been written,” Skelton said. “You should be proud of that. Every American should be proud of that. So many of you are so humble and don’t wish to talk about it, but you did great work.”
Our former congressman, our dearly missed congressman, received a nice round of applause, but the enthusiastic salute of a veteran in the front row, clutching a walker, was absolutely dignifying.
I applauded these veterans, and as I did I couldn’t help but feel a sense of inadequacy. They deserve so much more because they endured and accomplished so much.
But then later I watched a veteran lean out from his seat as the quartet, Four Good Friends, harmonized “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” The look on his face was just pure joy as he smiled and mouthed the words.
It made me think, you know, that’s me right there. These are just regular guys who did what they had to do. Eighty something years old and someone starts singing a familiar song from when I was young? I know I’d be smiling. I know I’d be singing along.
And as Alex Slocum, commander of American Legion Post 131, started reading the names of these 47 men (and one lady – Beatrice Howard, an Army nurse), a child in the audience started fussing. Usually a kid whining at the wrong moment is just annoying. But the sound of child right then was so poignant. Here is a room full of people who watch as their comrades slip away one by one, and who know their time with us is short. And here’s the sound of a child.
Sorry, snapping out of it.
But even after the ceremony, that life-affirming sound of a child sort of resonated with the smiles on the veterans’ faces. They shook hands and laughed and chatted. It wasn’t a completely solemn thing.
Then I ran into Jim and Kathryn Whitfield. Jim served in the Navy during World War II in the Pacific and Mediterranean.
“I was on the same troop ship for 33 months,” he said, laughing and clapping me on the shoulder.
The lovely Kathryn joined us, informing me that she’s been an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary for 69 years. Jim gave a sort of sigh, like, “She’s got me there.” He’s only been with the Legion for like 63 years.
The affection they had for one another was just as inspiring as their dedication to serving their country. As Jim made the quiet march out of the sanctuary following the ceremony, he broke decorum and said, “Hey there,” and reached out playfully to Kathryn who was seated across the aisle.
“Oh, go on,” she smiled, shooing him away.
And most amazing of all, they’ve been married nine long years. Young love.
World War II Veterans Honored:
1. Allan Appell, Navy, Continental U.S.
2. Chester Badger, Army, Luzon, Philippine Islands
3. Glenn Baile, Army Air Corps, Italy and Austria
4. Clarence Baily, Army, Occupation of Japan
5. Robert “Buddy” Baker, Army, Pacific Theater
6. Arthur Barnett, Navy, Pacific and Okinawa
7. Vilas Bielfeldt, USMC, Camp Pendleton
8. Blaine Bowland, Army, Continental U.S.
9. Donald Brockway, South Pacific, Philippines
10. Bob Carr, Navy, Continental U.S.
11. Merle Case, USMC, Pacific and China
12. Conan Castle, Army, Camp Robinson, AR, and Ft Meade, MD, in the Army band
13. Howard Chappell, USMC, Pacific, fought and wounded on Iwo Jima
14. Sid Davis, Navy, Pacific Theater
15. Harold Davis, Army, Korea
16. Stansel DeFoe, Navy, Atlantic and Pacific
17. Robert Dunning, Navy, Asiatic/Pacific theaters
18. Henry Ernstmeyer, Army, European and Mediterranean theaters
19. Gene Fiedler, Army Air Corps, Pacific, Philippines and Okinawa
20. Carl Foster, Navy, South Pacific on PT 109 with President Kennedy
21. Justyn Graham, Navy
22. Melvin Haverland, Army, South and Western Pacific
23. Beatrice Howard, Army, Nurse in the pacific theater to include Okinawa
24. Charles Hull, Navy, Pacific and Okinawa
25. Calvin James, Army, South Pacific, Solomon Islands, New Guinea was on USS Calvin Coolidge when it sank
26. Robert Kenney, Navy, Pacific, Soloman Islands and Landing at Leyette Gulf, Philippines
27. Jim Kimbley, Navy, Alaska and Europe
28. Bud Love, Navy, Pacific theater
29. Robert Marshall, Navy, Atlantic theater
30. Paul Mitsdaffer, Army, Europe and Battle of the Bulge
31. Marvin Neal, Army, Okinawa
32. Jack Peddicord, Navy, Submarine service in the Pacific
33. Vern Plattner, Army, South Pacific
34. Fred Rietbrock, Army Air Corps, Okinawa
35. Dr. H.H. Robertson, Army Air Corps, Assigned to 509 Composite Wing, flew right wing plane for Enola Gay
36. Harold Sampson, Army, Pacific Ocean Area Command Headquarters
37. Harry Savery, Navy, Asiatic Pacific Theaters, Kodiac Alaska
38. Wayne Shivers, Army, Europe and Pacific
39. Emerson Smith, Army, France, Germany and Czechoslovakia\
40. Wayne Thomason, Army Air Corps, North Africa and Italy
41. Bill Thompson, Navy, Continental U.S.
42. William Turnbow, Navy, Pacific
43. Earl Uhler, Army Air Corps, China, Burma, India Campaign
44. Floyd Walker, Army Air Corps, China, Burma, India Campaign
45. Dean Williamson, Navy, South Pacific to include New Guinea
46. Jim Whitfield, Navy, Africa and Pacific theaters
47. Ed Woodrel, Navy, South Pacific