December 11, 2020

Shirley was right; school wasn’t so bad

That morning I’d gotten up earlier than usual, pulled on a pair of bib overalls and fastened the galluses over a blue chambray shirt. Then I’d gone to the kitchen for a bowl of Wheaties with sliced bananas, a dash of sugar sprinkled over each slice, and covered in thick cream.
          It was my first day of school. I’d wanted to start school the year before but wasn’t old enough. Now I was having mixed feelings. One minute I couldn’t wait for school to start; the next minute I’d try to think how to put it off. For days, I’d been asking my mother, my father, the woman next door, the girl across the street—anybody who’d listen—to tell me what it was like to go to school. 
          But the day had finally arrived for me to find out for myself. I shoveled the Wheaties down like a starving pig, occasionally chewing a slice of banana before swallowing it. At the kitchen sink, I slowed down long enough to pump some water into a washpan and splash a little on my face to erase the milk mustache with one hand and slick down a cowlick with the other one.
          Then I ran out the door to meet the girl across the street as she walked out of her front door. She was in the sixth grade.
          “What’ll I have to do today, Shirley?” I asked as we walked down the road toward the one-room schoolhouse. 
          I don’t remember her being specific about anything. But she might as well have told me that Miss (Leona) Race carried a blacksnake whip like Lash LaRue and would pop out one of your eyes if you ever crossed her. I was too frightened for it to have made any difference. 
          “But what’ll I do today?” I asked again, looking at the school with one eye and watching Shirley’s face with the other one.
          When she answered, I asked if the teacher would whip anyone. 
          “Of course she will,” Shirley said. “She’s a teacher. But you don’t have to worry about it. All you have to do is to mind what she says and do your work. She only whips you if you’re bad.”
          “What if I have to go to the toilet?” I asked, feeling much more like going to the toilet than going to school.
          She smiled, and held up one finger and said, “Hold up one finger if you have to do No. 1 and two fingers if you have to do No. 2.”
          It all seemed so simple.
          “Is school hard?” I asked, firing another question as the schoolhouse threatened to swallow us before she could answer. “I don’t know how to write.”
          Shirley, bless her heart, sighed and took a long breath before she patiently explained that was why I was going to school.          
          “You’ll get some books, and you’ll color in you colorin’ books,” she said. “Maybe read a little. Nothing hard. First grade is easy.” 
          “Heck, I can’t read,” I said.
          “That’s why you’re goin’ to school,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”
          I did worry about it, and my knees knocked together as we made the final assualt, and we walked through the schoolhouse door. 
          Miss Race looked up and said, “Hello, just show him where the first grade sits, Shirley.’”  
          From there on, I don’t remember a thing about that day and not much about the year. Oh, I remember trying to read to my mother about Dick and Jane and Sally and Spot running around. And I remember having trouble with the word “run.” Mother told me so many times that every time I’d hesitate, my younger sister would say, “Run.” 
          Other than that, school wasn’t a problem. Miss Race was a nice teacher, particularly considering the fact that she taught all eight grades in a one-room schoolhouse. 
          Most of the time I liked school that year. I did wonder if I’d ever grow up and get out of  school. The only world I knew was just outside the window. And I wanted to see what was going on beyond where I could see. 
          So I’d daydream and think about the world beyond the window. It’s undoubtedly an experiece that kids everywhere share, whether they went to a one-room country school or a school in the heart of the city. 
          When I’m reminded of mine, I stare out the window and smile as I recall walking to school with Shirley that morning. She was right. School wasn’t so bad then.

November 1, 2020

Remembering an uncle from childhood

Except for his clean-shaven face, he was exactly the kind and shape of man I imagined Santa Claus to be. He was a jolly man, always had a twinkle in his eyes, a smile on his face and a funny story on the tip of his tongue. He loved kids, though he had none of his own.
          Not very tall, he had massive arms, a thick hairy chest, an enormous waist and legs. He said he could lift the front end of an old Model A car. 
          His laughter came from the bottom of his huge belly and rumbled into the air. Sometimes tears rolled down his cheeks, he laughed so long and hard.
          When a man told him he was going to whip him over something trivial and long since forgotten, he said he laughed and shook his head. “You’re welcome to try, mister, but you might want to pack a dinner pail and bring a water jug. If you get the job done, it’ll take all day.”

           But that was a side of him I knew only through stories. I just knew him as Uncle Roy. He lived with Aunt Fannie on a small hill, surrounded by trees. In the cool of the evening, he’d sit on the front porch or in the yard in his bib overalls and laugh and tell stories to my sister and our cousins.

          On Christmas Day at Grandma’s, he really was Santa Claus to all the kids and passed out candy, toys and love. He’d disappear for a while and park his car down the road. There he’d slip into his Santa Claus suit and walk the muddy, frozen or snow-covered road back to the house.

          With a sack of goodies slung over his shoulder, he’d sneak through the back door. We’d see him coming a quarter of a mile away. But we’d pretend we didn’t see him.

          Around the fire after dinner at other times, he’d visit with us and teach us what we had a difficult time learning. “You can’t spell geography?” he’d ask. “Why that’s easy. Just remember George-Elliott’s-oldest-girl-rode-a-pig-home-yesterday.”

          And we’d remember it.

          In the summertime he’d bring cold watermelon to Grandma’s. An hour or two after dinner, he’d cut it while we watched with our mouths open and our tongues hanging out. There was always a steady flow of conversation as he sliced it and passed it around.

          His eyes always twinkled when he’d see the juice dribble down our chins or when we’d spit the jet-black seeds at each other. The other grownups would say, “Here, you kids quit that.” But he’d just laugh. He understood.

          We always wanted to go to his house to visit because he had the time to take us fishing, swimming, blackberry picking, mushroom hunting, riding his goats, whatever our whim. And we had many whims.

          But at his house he’d make us go to bed early for his was a day world. He’d get up early and show us the beauty of the sun rising through the woods across the road.

          And he’d show us the squirrels at play in the early morning light before taking us through the dew-laden grass to drive the milk cow to the barn. As he showed us how to milk the cow, he’d ask if we wanted to give it a try. More often than not, we’d try only to give up in disgust at not being able to match the heavy stream of milk he made.

            After a breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we’d gather the eggs and perhaps help Aunt Fannie churn butter. In blackberry season, we’d pick berries before the summer sun got too hot. Then we’d clean them and have cobbler for dinner. It always tasted better when we’d picked the berries. 

          In the heat of the day, he’d sometimes take us swimming in the river. Most of us couldn’t swim well, but he’d have an old inner tube for each of us to float around on. The water was shallow, so he’d find a deeper spot where he could float on his back or swim and laugh at our frolicking. 

          Back at his house, we’d play cowboys and Indians as he watched. He’d laugh and kid us out of our tears and hurts when we fell and went to him scratched and bruised.

          He had an old dog he had named Dopey that howled like she was shot every time a train went by on the track a half a mile away. At night she woke us all because we weren’t used to her. We all loved that dog, though, just as we did Uncle Roy. Dopey eventually died. So did he.    

          Perhaps he didn’t realize all the happy times he gave us, perhaps he did. But I don’t think I every told him how much I appreciated him. Sometimes it just takes a long time to get around to saying some of the things we should have said long ago.

          So this is thanks a little late, Uncle Roy, for all the happiness and joy you gave us. What you did was help us learn to laugh at life, enjoy it and deal with it. We appreciated it then and still do.


October 8, 2020

Nadine Ramsey: One of the Often-Forgotten Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II

“This is not a time when women should be patient. We are in a war, and we need to fight it with all our ability and every weapon possible. Women pilots, in this particular case, are a weapon waiting to be used.  Eleanor Roosevelt, 1942

Nearly 1,100 women answered the call to service as pilots ferrying planes all across the United States from early 1942 until the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was disbanded in 1944. During that time, these women had to overcome the discrimination they faced simply because of their gender, but still provided a valuable service for the war effort.

            One of those women was Nadine Ramsey, born in 1911 in Carlyle, Ill. She and her younger brother, Edwin, born in 1917, lived there with their parents while their father worked in the early oil fields. Her story, “Taking Flight: The Nadine Ramsey Story,” written by Edwin’s widow, Raquel “Raqui” Ramsey, and Tricia Aurand, was just published by the University Press of Kansas.  

            The family moved on to El Dorado, Kan., after their sister, Treva, died after accidentally pulling a kettle of boiling water onto herself. Still working in the oil fields there, their father was away from home for days at a time, often as far away as Texas and Oklahoma.

            After a fit of rage with their mother during one period when he was home, their father was arrested and taken to jail for the night. He was found hanging in the cell the next morning. Early in 1930, when their mother was having a difficult time providing income and overcoming the stigma of her husband’s suicide, they moved to Wichita, a few miles north, to start over.               

            It was there in “the exploding aviation industry” that Nadine became interested in flying. She attended a business college for the secretarial and bookkeeping jobs that women held and were expected to do. But she was interested in flying and paid for flying lessons with her meager salary and received her limited commercial pilot license in the spring of 1937. Flying continued to be her interest, and she became one of the first two women to carry the airmail for the U.S. Postal Service. 

            Her story continued to be intertwined with her brother. 

            In the intervening years before the war, Nadine continued flying and moved to California in 1939, got a job with Douglas Aircraft Co., and then took flight training at Mines Field near where she lived. She soon accepted a job at Aero Acceptance Corp. and offered flight training and sales as part of her secretarial duties after buying a small plane in 1940. 

            While taking a prospective customer flying who wanted to buy a plane for her husband, a retired Marine Corps captain, they crashed when the small plane was caught in a downdraft. Both women escaped with “crushed and mangled” legs, and Nadine also had a broken back and some broken ribs. Doctors wanted to amputate one of her legs. She refused.        

            As soon as Edwin heard, he left law school at Oklahoma University to go take care of her. He later encouraged her to get back in a plane and said she would, “even if he had to drag her by the hair.” After her recovery, he persuaded her to pursue her plans to fly because there was a war coming and she’d be needed.

            The war did come, and the Army Air Force needed pilots but initially only allowed men to fly military airplanes and ferry them around the country, to tow targets in training and to test repaired planes where they were needed for training, and to head for combat in Europe and the Pacific. 

            Despite the need for pilots, it took a great deal of effort to allow women to fly. WASP was formed in 1942 and some 1,100 women, most of whom were in their early- to mid-20s eventually served as pilots—Nadine was in her early 30s. They were allowed to live on military bases, trained as male military pilots were, wore uniforms and marched, but were paid less than men and were not allowed to leave the United States. 

            Thirty-eight of these patriotic women—who ferried about 12,000 planes, completed countless domestic missions, and flew more than 1 million miles in service of the war—died during their service, fewer than the men who were doing the same service. Yet these women could not be buried in military cemeteries, and the military wouldn’t pay for funerals or to send their remains home. And flags could not be draped over their coffins. 

            The WASP program was discontinued in 1944. At the last graduation ceremony of the last training class, Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, said he hadn’t been sure “whether a slip of a girl could fight the control of a B-17 in heavy weather.” But he said, “It is on the record that women can fly as well as men.”

            Nadine Ramsey, like every one of these patriotic women, loved flying, loved the country and wanted to be a part of the war effort, just as did other men and women in uniform and the people at home working to provide services and material necessary to defeat the Japanese and the Axis powers. 

            During the time these women were serving, that released their male counterparts to head overseas for combat duty, they flew almost every type of military aircraft, including the B-26 and B-29 bombers and even towed targets for ground and air gunners who were training with live ammunition. They thought they would become part of the military for their service rather than being disbanded after two years. Nadine was one of only 26 of the WASPs to fly the P-38 fighter aircraft. 

            Only a few of these women were able to get piloting jobs after the WASP was disbanded. After the war, commercial airlines would only hire them as stewardesses, but not as pilots. Originally stationed at Love Field in Dallas, Texas, with the WASP, Nadine had asked to be transferred to Long Beach Army Air Base in California and was able to stay on as an attaché to the Sixth Army Ferrying Group. 

            In the late 1960s, the WASP started to have reunions, and the women began to fight for military recognitionThat status was finally granted in 1970. It had taken years before the Air Force allowed women to fly. They finally received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor, when President Barack Obama signed the bill awarding the honor. By that time, many of the pilots had died. Nadine died in 1997.

            Edwin died in 2013. He had been an Army officer since the early 1940s, was stationed in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked there at the same time Pearl Harbor was bombed, and was living his own story. He had led the last calvary charge of the American Army in military history, for which he received a Silver Star, and then disappeared in the Philippine jungle countryside with others who refused to surrender. He became the leader of some 40,000 guerilla fighters until the Japanese surrendered. They placed a $100,000 bounty on him because of the guerillas’ success in fighting the Japanese Army and the relevant intelligence he was able to send to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Australia.

            Weighing less than 100 pounds when MacArthur and the American Army returned to the Philippines, Edwin was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by MacArthur and went on to a successful career in civilian life with Hughes Aircraft and his own company. In retirement he wrote a memoir, “Lieutenant Ramsey’s War,” and after his death in 2013, a documentary, “Never Surrender—The Ed Ramsey Story” was filmed for which his widow served as executive producer.

            Ed had always said that Nadine “had more guts than I ever had,” and a book should be written about her. Her story is the story of women’s fight for equal treatment as pilots and how these women overcame discrimination and contributed greatly to the war effort. Nadine continued flying after the war and purchased her own P-38 (which had cost $15,000 to build), for $1,250. She performed in the piston-engined fighter plane in an acrobatic show in Phoenix and ended up featured in Life magazine in an article heralding her “as the only woman in the world to own one of her own.” 

            There’s much more to this book about her family and this amazing woman and those she flew with during the war. It’s a book that clearly shows that women are quite capable of doing exactly what men do and deserve equal treatment.


September 13, 2020

Card shower planned for former WWII POW and wife celebrating 71st anniversary Sept. 17

          Former World War II prisoner of war Charlie Dukes, 97, of Georgetown, Ill., not only survived the grueling experiences of his captivity, but went on to help educate future generations about history and the cost of war by speaking to school classes and service clubs and writing his memoir, “Good Morning but the Nightmares Never End,” now in its third printing.

          Following the war, Charlie adjusted somewhat to life on the home front, went to college and met the love of his life, Gracie Schwab. Now, their four children and many friends are planning to help them celebrate their 71st wedding anniversary on Sept. 17, and invite the public to send a card or note of best wishes to them for the occasion: 

Charlie and Gracie Dukes 
Autumn Fields 
Room 115
 316 E. 14th St. 
Tilton, IL 61832 
Charlie’s story of survival was an arduous one all those years ago, but he made it back home to Illinois from Europe in the fall of 1945 after the war had officially ended. That was after enduring nine months in a German POW camp near the Polish border until prisoners and Germans alike hastily evacuated and started to flee west to avoid Russian troops advancing from the east, then spending time in a Russian detention camp from which he escaped, and later surviving a couple of months alone on the road before reaching the safety of Allied Lines on May 27--20 days after the Germans had surrendered. Dukes’ long journey to freedom ended with a prisoner exchange at the Elbe River in Wittenberg, Germany. 
In his retirement years, Charlie visited area schools and clubs, talking about the war and his experiences. In the late 1990s, he began to write his memoir about the war, “Good Morning but the Nightmares Never End” (available from Tales Press and at Amazon) with the help of his wife, Gracie. The title is taken from Charlie’s promise of saying, “Good morning,” for the rest of his life after he and a buddy were lead scouts for his L Company, 3rd Platoon, 413th Infantry, 104th Wolfhound Division, and they encountered a German battalion. His buddy was killed, and Charlie was trapped between the lines in no-man’s land for the night. 
“I’m not really a religious man,” he says, “but I promised the man upstairs that if I ever saw the sun come up again, I’d say ‘good morning’ for the rest of my life. When the sun came up, I said, ‘Good morning.’ I’ve been saying it ever since.” 
            In addition to Dukes’ story being available in hardcover and Amazon Kindle formats, Urbana native and scriptwriter Joe Hampton is developing an audiobook version and has written a script for a movie. A few years ago, Hampton posted a short video on YouTube of Dukes talking about his wartime experiences.
            It’s been an important mission for Dukes to share his story with others, and, in fact, the process has therapeutically helped eliminate the frequent, and sometimes very active, nightmares that haunted him for years. 
So, please consider taking a moment to send a card or note to bring a little cheer to a special couple for their 71st anniversary. And you might start your note off with a hearty “Good morning, Charlie and Gracie!” 

September 8, 2020

Author’s death prompts new support for writing scholarship honoring mentor

The recent death of noted author and playwright Jon Shirota, the last member of the prolific Lowney Handy Writers Colony of the 1950s and ‘60s near Marshall, Ill., has prompted a resurgence of contributions for a scholarship to inspire future writers from the area.
          The Lowney Turner Handy Creative Writing Scholarship was established at Marshall High School in honor of the unconventional namesake and co-founder of the writers colony known for her early nurturing of James Jones, author of “From Here to Eternity,” “The Thin Red Line” and other acclaimed works from Jones and former colony members. In gratitude to his former mentor, Shirota had provided $5,000 to give $500 annually to one graduating senior who best demonstrates an interest and ability in writing. 
          The last aspiring writer to live, train and work at the colony, Shirota, a Japanese-American who was born and raised on Maui and lived in Southern California, went on to publish several acclaimed novels and plays: “Lucky Come Hawaii,” written at the Colony in the early 1960s, “Pineapple White,” “Chronicles of Ojii-Chan” and several other stories. 
          In the opening chapter of  “Lucky Come Hawaii,” the news has just reached Maui that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. That causes miscommunications, confusion and rumors of war that aggravate the already-tense relations among the diverse immigrant population, Native Hawaiians and the American military. Told from the perspective of a poor Okinawan family, of which Shirota was born into, the novel captures the emotions and trauma that change forever the fate and way of life for everyone on the island. 
          After it was adapted into a play, it was awarded a production grant from the John F. Kennedy Center for new plays and led to other plays and playwriting awards for Shirota. He received awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the American College Theater Festival, the Los Angeles Actors Theater Festival of One Acts, the Los Angeles County Cultural Affairs Department and the Japanese U.S. Friendship Commission and National Endowment for the Arts. “Leilani’s Hibiscus” and “Voices of Okinawa” were published in “Voices from Okinawa” ( and have been performed in New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Okinawa and Japan. 
          Shirota wanted to fund the scholarship to honor Lowney Handy for nurturing him and helping him become a writer. Without her, he doubted he would ever have achieved his goal. He was working as an Internal Revenue Service representative in Los Angeles when Handy invited him to the colony in 1963. He resigned immediately, loaded up and drove the 2,000 miles to Marshall. On occasional trips back to Marshall and the area for the James Jones Literary Society symposia, Shirota would visit Handy’s grave in Marshall and leave a bouquet of flowers and stand before her grave in quiet contemplation.  
          “She showed me the way,” Shirota always said. “And I have a signed picture of her that she gave me on the wall of my office that I look up to each day as I sit down to write. She inspires me. My contribution to the writing scholarship is my way of honoring what she did for me.” 
          The $500 annual scholarship is given to the student who completes an application, holds a GPA of 2.5 or higher—Shirota liked the lower GPA because he never graduated from high school and joined the U.S. Army as soon as he was old enough and was stationed at Schofield Barracks where Jones was stationed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor—and is a graduating Marshall High School senior and completes a creative writing essay outlined by MHS senior Engish teacher Amy Gard or her successor. Recipients also receive a copy of the book, “Writings From the Handy Colony,” donated by Tales Press ( 
          The Marshall Public Library has all the books written by members of the Handy Writers Colony. Besides the books of Shirota and Jones, other writers from the Colony who published books include Edwin “Sonny” Daly (who left $100,000 to the library when he died) Don Sackrider, John Bowers, Tom Chamales, Jere Peacock and Charles Wright.
          When Shirota made the initial contribution in 2017 at almost 90 years old, he laughed and said, “If I live to be 100, I’ll give another $5,000 to continue it for another 10 years.”
          Shirota didn’t make it for another 10 years, but the members of the James Jones Literary Society and others who appreciate Handy’s contributions to the literary world are hoping to continue the scholarship for many years to come. Contributions through the first of the year may be made to Friends of the Marshall Public Library (a 501(c)3 organization), Attn: Director, 612 Archer Ave., Marshall, IL 62441, earmarked Jon Shirota in the check memo.

July 18, 2020

Arizona American Legion post honors Urbana, Ill., Iwo Jima veteran

Jim Kelly proudly wears a hat and T-shirt sent to him by the American Legion in Sacaton, Ariz.. (Photo by Jim Kelly Jr.)

James “Jim” Kelly, 98, of Urbana, a World War II Marine veteran who was on Iwo Jima for the entire 36-day battle, recently received a surprise in the mail from Tony McDaniel, adjutant of the Ira H. Hayes American Legion Post No. 84 in Sacaton, Ariz., and Urbana High School alumnus Gene Atteberry, a classmate of Kelly’s son, James Jr.
          When Atteberry, now living in Baton Rouge, La., attended a flag-raising ceremony for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima in Sacaton on Feb. 24, he received a Legion Post challenge coin from a tribal elder and wanted to honor the senior Kelly by giving it to him. When Atteberry told the officers at the American Legion, they put together a larger package of two post hats, two T-shirts, four challenge coins, and four pins and sent it all to the 98-year-old Marine veteran.
          A letter from McDaniel enclosed with the gifts explained that they were being given to Kelly “in honor of yourself, our comrade, and your dedicated sacrifice of military service to the best nation in the world. Your sacrifice to service gave veterans like me the opportunity to serve my nation as the democratic free country that it is.”
          Kelly served with the Fifth Service Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment of the Fifth Marine Division. During the battle on Iwo Jima, Kelly lost his friend and fellow Urbana High School classmate, Richard L. Pittman, on Feb. 21, 1945. The local Marine Corps League #1231, formed in 2005, is named in his honor. Kelly also lost three of his service battalion buddies in the battle when they were hit by a mortar round as the four of them were delivering ammunitions and supplies to the front.

June 12, 2020

Robert C. “Bob” or “Mo” Mueller, 1924-2020

The last time I saw Bob Mueller was in February at the West Coast Iwo Jima Memorial Service and Banquet at Camp Pendleton to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, which was to be the last time the group sponsored the event. Bob was pleasant, jovial and feisty as ever. It never occurred to me that it would also be the last time I’d see him.
            Knowing that Bob was a good friend, Gail Chatfield, long-time committee member of the West Coast Iwo Jima group that hosted the commemoration, emailed me not long before the event and asked if I’d like to sit with Bob Mueller and his daughter, Sue Campion. 
Bob Mueller and I at the 75th anniversary West Coast Iwo Jima banquet at Camp Pendleton
            “Absolutely,” I replied immediately. I’d known Bob or “Mo” for several years and visited him in his home every time I was in California. He was one of several Iwo Jima veterans I felt very close to through the years after I first met him at the Fifth Marine Division Association reunion in San Diego in 2010, where he was on the committee as he had been for the annual West Coast Iwo Jima Memorial and Banquet.
            I liked the glint in his eyes and his quick wit from the first time I met him. You never had to wonder what he meant. Bob was a tough Marine with a heart of gold. 
            After he heard that my son in Oakland, Calif., had died unexpectedly from a heart attack, Bob sent me an email with his condolences: “I can probably relate to this situation better then most because I lost my wife at age 37. She left me with three girls ages 3, 6, 10. It was a bitch raising them. They learned the difficult way from this hard-ass Marine veteran. Fortunately, they have done well in life. Hang in there, my friend.”
             It was much appreciated.
             A native of Omaha, Neb., Bob had joined the Marine Corps in September 1942—not long after Ira Hayes, who later became a good friend, had also joined, and they went to Parachute School at the same time and were in Bravo Company of the Third Parachute Battalion at Camp Elliott, Calif. Both were shipped out to New Caledonia in March 1943 but soon went to Guadalcanal during March and April 1943. From there, Bob went to Vella Lavella (Oct. 14-Dec. 3, 1942) and on to Bougainville (Dec. 4, 1943-Jan. 29, 1944), where he fought in the battle for Hill 1000 and “Hellzapoppin’ Ridge.” Bob then went back to the States, where the ’Chutes were disbanded in February 1944.
            After a 30-day leave, Bob reported to Camp Pendleton, where the Fifth Marine Division was being formed, then went to Camp Tarawa on the Big Island of Hawai’i where the Fifth trained for what the troops later learned was the Battle of Iwo Jima. He had reported to Dog Company, Second Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment. Hayes reported to Easy Company, Second Battalion, with Capt Dave Severance as commander, and became one of the flag raisers of the second flag raising on Mount Suribachi on 23 February 1945 that AP photographer Joe Rosenthal captured in the iconic photograph. That photo became the image that the American public rallied behind to finance the final days of the war and is depicted in the Marine Corps War Memorial statue in Arlington National Cemetery and other places around the country. Laura Dietz is spearheading the effort to erect one at Çamp Pendleton overlooking the 5 Freeway and the Pacific Ocean. 
            On the morning of Feb. 23, Bob was part of a four-man patrol that set out to climb the west side of Mount Suribachi at about the same time the Easy Company 40-man patrol climbed the north side of the mountain with the first flag. Hayes, Mike Strank, Harlon Block and Franklin Sousley went up later with wire for Easy Company patrol leader Lt Harold “George” Schrier’s radio and were accompanied by Rene Gagnon with the second, larger flag to replace the first and retrieve the first one for the Second Battalion.  Harold Keller and Harold Scholtz joined the four in raising that flag
            When I asked Bob about the patrol, he said it was led by Sgt J.D. Mulligan, a large man who had played professional football but had to drop out, Cpl John Wieland, Pfc Fred M. Ferentz and himself (also a Pfc).
            “Due to Mulligan’s weight,” Bob said, “he didn’t complete the task. He was having difficulty and was knocking rocks and dirt back on us. Wieland took charge, and we finished the climb.” 
            Mueller was a paramarine, and the other three were former Raiders. 
            “We were on top of the mountain when both flags were raised,” Bob said.  He never said anything about any fierce fighting on the way up the side of the mountain and only a little about a brief firefight on the top of the mountain. One account said the Dog Company patrol was the first one the reach the top. 
            “That could be,” he said. “I wasn’t looking to see who was first.”
            He did say that there had been an article about his patrol in a Stars & Stripes article in the fall of 1945. I didn’t find that one, but I did find an article in the Marine Corps Chevron publication Volume 4, Number 35, dated September 1945 that had information about the patrol and may have been the one to which he was referring.
            Bob was in the second landing wave on Green Beach on Feb. 19, was wounded on March 9 but returned to the company the same day, spent all 36 days of the battle on Iwo Jima, and went back to the Big Island of Hawai’i to prepare for the Invasion of Japan, but was spared that with the dropping of the atomic bomb. And after the Occupation of Japan, Bob went home like many veterans of World War II, put the war behind him, went to work, got married and started raising a family.
            After his first wife died in 1961, leaving the three girls to raise, he married again in 1965 and had another girl. After 23 years with the local Omaha, Neb., utility company, Bob moved the family to Cleveland, Ohio, for a short time, then moved the family to Southern California in 1969 and worked as a service representative for Carrier Corporation for 20 years before retiring. His second marriage ended in divorce in 1974. He remarried in 1976 and again lost a wife to death in 2011.
            All the time, Bob remained a Marine’s Marine in the way he handled death and adversity and worked with the West Coast Iwo Jima Committee for as long as he was able and also served as a trustee for the Fifth Marine Division Association until shortly before his death.
            After I met him in 2010 and heard stories that sounded a bit farfetched or like another sea story, I’d call Bob. Sometimes he’d laugh and say he hadn’t heard that one. But sometimes he had. After hearing one story, he emailed me, “The BS gets stronger with age. These people sure do want to claim last-minute fame.”
            Bob never told me those kinds of stories himself.  He just told it like it was.

June 1, 2020

Watching a man die ...

For the last week, I’ve seen the video of police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee in the throat of George Floyd until he was dead while the three police officers stood idly by doing nothing and heard the criticism of them all. And their behavior was appalling. No question about that.

But one of the bystanders filmed it while others stood by and made comments that the man couldn’t breathe and the officer should stop. Really? That’s great.

My question is why one of these bystanders didn’t step up, grab the police officer by the collar and jerk his ass off of George Floyd’s neck? Or is it okay to stand by and let a police officer kill a helpless man?


May 28, 2020

Memorial Day 2020 -- Loss is felt every day

Here is the Memorial Day tribute I gave last year that the local newspaper, The News-Gazette, asked to print this year:

April 19, 2020

Researchers reveal more about individual WWII experiences, including my cousin’s

In the process of researching World War II veterans’ records, I thought of my cousin Bruce Elliott’s service with the 741st Tank Battalion from D-Day on to the end of the war in Europe.
I mentioned him to Bert Caloud, a retired Marine sergeant major who has helped me with military and historical research several times. He’s tenacious. The time that sticks in my mind was when I made an inquiry on behalf of an Iwo Jima veteran about a Marine flame-thrower who was thought to have been buried in an unmarked grave under one of the airstrips on the island. I emailed Bert, who was the assistant superintendent at the Manila American Cemetery, told him what I knew and gave him the name and the unit.
Not long afterward, I was in Manila with a group touring the World War II battle sites in the Philippines. Bert had tracked the man from when he was killed on Iwo Jima to his transfer to the cemetery in Manila and took me to the grave. I took a photo and sent it to the Iwo Jima veteran, Al Jennings, who was relieved to know that his buddy was properly buried rather than being in a hastily dug and unmarked grave on Iwo Jima.
“I’ve thought about him every day since he was killed,” Jennings said, “wondering where he was.”
Recently, after I mentioned my cousin Bruce to Bert, he put me in contact with Erik Albertson, head of training and plans for WW2 Armor. I gave him some background about Bruce and sent a photo of him in uniform during World War II. Eric sent me some information, then asked if I’d like for Bruce to be listed and honored in the “Tinker Tidbit” segment on the WW2 Armor Facebook page. I thought it was a great idea and told him to go ahead. The piece about Bruce and the photo that is running with it were posted April 19 at
Bruce’s service in the war was extraordinary, given that he landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, was in the Battle of the Bulge and was still there at the end in Pilsen, Czech Republic, on May 5, 1945, when the war was about over. Bruce told me he wouldn’t take a million dollars for his experiences, but he wouldn’t do it again for a million dollars, either. I used that quote and much more in my novel, Wild Hands Toward the Sky.
Attached is (the) Tanker Tidbit in honor of Bruce,” Eric emailed me about the piece. “We focused on his D-Day landing, as that is a major ordeal to have been part of and survived to say the least, as we all know. A book alone could be written about him as he made it through the entire ETO with the 741st from Omaha Beach to Czech Republic. Honestly, can’t even imagine that and what he experienced, as it’s not too common to have made it all the way through as a combat arms troop. In the words of one senior NCO from the 66th Armor who fought in the MTO and ETO, ‘By the end of the war, we only had nine of our original unit members that were with us from when we left the U.S. in 1943.’”

March 31, 2020

Final thoughts about editing Spearhead News and serving as FifthMarDiv Association secretary

It’s been my honor to edit Spearhead News for the Fifth Marine Division Association since 2008 and to serve as secretary since 2014. Bert Clayton, who had served as editor for many years, offered me the editor’s position after he had already resigned to concentrate on the establishment of the $125,000 “BAR ON THE BEACH” statue in Semper Fidelis Memorial Park on the grounds of the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Triangle (near Quantico), Va. 
         He had been able to report that he was resigning as editor, although most of his column was about the BAR project, which he was locked in on. All he said, quite simply, about resigning as he outlined the project and proposed an ad hoc committee to get the job done was, “Add to that your Spearhead editor, resigning 31 December 2007, but willing to carry on as secretary of the committee as long as I’m needed.”  
         I wanted to say a bit more about my exit from the roles. 
         Since I had not been informed about my status for continuing the two positions when the Fall/Winter 2019-20 Spearhead issue that I’d promised to edit was due to be published, I was unable to write my farewell column for publication. So, I’m taking this opportunity to let FMDA members and others know that I have been replaced as editor and secretary. 
         Expressing the full extent of my thoughts about having had the opportunity to serve the Association for the past 12 years would take a book. To get to know so many of the Iwo Jima veterans who fought and survived that horrific battle and the Vietnam veterans who carried on the tradition of their predecessors in their own intense battles in the reactivated Fifth Marine Division during the harrowing days of the Vietnam War, to meet their families and to be able to share their stories through their writing, my writing, the letters, emails and phone calls I’ve received, and the personal meetings at reunions and travels has been an incredible experience. 
         You can read what I’ll continue to write about Iwo Jima and Vietnam veterans and other issues I find worthwhile by going to my blog and subscribing at No obligations. It’s free.
         I served with several World War II veterans during my own time in the Marine Corps and respected their service, but from the time I attended the first FMDA reunion in Raleigh, N.C., and started editing Spearhead later, I got to truly appreciate and know many Iwo Jima veterans as I had the A/1/28 Marine Iwo veteran in my hometown—a neighbor and family friend who saw the flag flying on Mount Suribachi as he was being hoisted up the side of the hospital ship on D+4 after he’d been wounded on D+3. 
         Then there were subsequent reunions in Washington, D.C.; Houston, Texas; Biloxi, Miss.; Branson, Mo.; Reno, Nev.; San Diego, Calif.; Tampa, Fla.; Virginia Beach, Va.; San Antonio, Texas; Kailua/Kona, Hawaii, on the Big Island where the Fifth Marine Division trained; Champaign, Ill., which my wife Vanessa and I were privileged to host; and New Orleans, La. I attended them all and always had a special time honoring and remembering the service of the veterans and those who hadn’t made it back. And I’m looking forward to the 2020 FMDA reunion scheduled for October this year in Dallas, Texas. 
         At every reunion, I was honored to meet many of the Iwo Jima veterans and their families and develop lasting friendships with them, as well as the Vietnam veterans we’ve worked hard to recruit and make feel welcome. And through the years, I’ve received many phone calls, letters and emails—which is probably why my inbox is always crammed full. All of those letters, articles and photos enabled my wife and me to publish Spearheads that helped to keep the veterans and their families close.
         The downside and saddest part of those relationships was all the Final Muster letters, emails and calls that I received on a regular and an increasing basis. 
         I’ve met many other Marines and Marine veterans through the years, but none of them have had more of an impact on me as a human being or treated me any better than the veterans of the FMDA. I could fill this entire page with names and examples, but if I tried to do that, I’d invariably leave out somebody’s name and regret it. They’ll forgive me if I mention one Marine, though, although he’s not an Iwo Jima veteran and was only in Vietnam for a brief time before the war escalated. No matter.
         John Butler is a Marine through and through.
         I was fortunate to meet him on the 2005 60th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima Military Historical Tours trip to the island where the Americans and the Japanese meet annually in peace for the “Reunion of Honor.” From then on, he’s been the rock that’s always there with historical information about the Marine Corps battles in the Pacific War, particularly on Iwo Jima, but about Vietnam, too. He wrote several articles and provided photos for Spearhead and made recommendations for others. 
         As Association president for five years, John provided true leadership and, more than anyone, helped “perpetuate the name and glory and spirit of the Fifth Marine Division, and (to) preserve the friendships formed while serving with the Fifth Marine Division,” as stated in the preamble of the constitution of the Association. I am grateful for his unconditional friendship and his wholehearted support.
         John is the eldest son of LtCol John Butler, CO of the First Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, who was killed in action on Iwo Jima on 5 March 1945 when John was only 5 years old. John had an older sister and two younger brothers, one of whom was on the trip. I met the other brother later, a great family who was raised by their mother and their grandmother and step-grandfather on the Caloosahatchee River just north of Fort Myers, Fla.  
         John has written many stories about those years and will also tell you some of them whenever he has a chance. Great storyteller. And, as I’ve said, he’s quite well versed on the history of the Marine Corps action during the war in the Pacific and in Vietnam. I learned much from him. But some of the stories John tells about growing up have stuck with me through the years. 
         Doc Holmes, his step-grandfather filled the paternal role that made the Butler boys into the men they became. One of my favorite sayings John has shared with me that Poppa, as they called him, had told them early on that rings so true in today’s world was, “There is what you know and what I know, and then there is the truth.” 
         John Butler, the other Butlers and all the Iwo Jima and Vietnam veterans and their families offered me something I can’t begin to thank you for. I hope I’ve been able to repay you somewhat with my service. It’s an honor I never asked for, it’s one I never expected, but one for which I have the greatest appreciation. You can see all of the Spearheads I edited from Spring 2008 until the Fall/Winter 2019-20 in the archives of the Tales Press website at You’ll find some of John’s works in there. And you’ll find many of the memories of those who fought and survived one of the most iconic battles in the history of warfare.
         Spearhead provided a way for me to help share and preserve the stories of these incredible, brave, selfless Marines so that others will know more about what they did and who they were for years to come.
         Semper Fidelis.

February 15, 2020

Feb. 23, 1945—the day E-2-28 Marines raised both flags on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi

Col. David E. Severance, USMC (Ret.), who turned 101 on Feb. 4, was a 26-year-old mustang captain and company commander of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division, when he landed at Green Beach on Iwo Jima with the third wave on Feb. 19, 1945. At the time, he had no idea of the fame men from his company would attain for raising a flag on Mount Suribachi five days later. 
            The campaign was only going to last about that long, the troops were told. That’s all it would take to secure the sulphur island only 8 square miles, 5 miles long and from 800 yards to 2.5 miles wide miles at its widest point. Taking Iwo Jima was important because it was roughly halfway between the Mariana Islands, where the bombing raids on Japan originated, and the Japanese mainland. Radar on the island warned the Japanese that the bombers were coming, and Japanese fighter planes and mainland antiaircraft guns often were instrumental in damaging planes returning to the Marianas, causing them to go down in the Pacific and losing the entire crew. 
            For the first five days, the fighting was ferocious and casualties high. 
            “We had nearly 30 percent casualties those first few days,” Severance said. “Our CP was set up at the base of Suribachi and we were headed north. The vantage from Suribachi and the fire from various spots there made it necessary to secure the mountain.”
            When battalion commander Lt. Col. Chandler Johnson told then-Capt. Severance to send a patrol up Mount Suribachi to secure and occupy it, he sent a 40-man patrol led by Lt. Harold “George” Schrier, along with an American flag the colonel wanted raised, if possible. The patrol found a pole, fastened the flag to it and raised it at about 10:30 a.m. 
            “That boosted our morale,” Severance said. The Marines below the mountain cheered and hollered, and the ships at sea blasted horns and clanged bells and whistles, thinking the battle was over that, in fact, raged on for more than 30 days.
            Plt. Sgt. Ernest “Boots” Thomas later told a reporter aboard ship that the flag was raised by Lt. Schrier, Sgt. Henry “Hank” Hansen and himself by fastening it to a Japanese water pipe. Cpl. Charles Lindbergh, Navy Corpsman PhM2 John Bradley, Pvt. Phil Ward and Pfcs. James Michels and Raymond Jacobs were there helping. No photo of the first flag raising exists because Marine photographer Sgt. Louis “Lou” Lowery was reloading his camera.
             Soon afterward, Johnson wanted a larger flag in its place and the first one brought back for the battalion, which Severance says was later placed in the battalion safe. Easy Company runner Pfc. Rene Gagnon was taking radio batteries to Schrier and was given the second flag to take with him that later was pictured in Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo and Marine photographer Sgt. William “Bill” Genaust’s moving picture film.
            Gagnon went along with four men Severance was sending up the mountain to string combat telephone wire to Suribachi. Those four men, Sgt. Michael Strank, Cpl. Harlon Block, Pfcs. Franklin Sousley and Ira Hayes, Gagnon and Pfc. Harold Scholtz (identified as one of the second flag raisers in 2016) helped attach the second flag to another pole and raise it as the first flag came down. (In 2019, Cpl. Harold Keller was identified as one of the second flag raisers in place of Gagnon.)
            “We didn’t think more about it until a couple of weeks later when they wanted the men identified from the second flag raising to take back for the bond tour,” Severance said. Only Hayes and Gagnon were still alive (Scholtz and Keller were alive but not recognized as helping raise the second flag). The other four had been killed a few days after the flag was raised. Hayes did not want to go back and reportedly threatened Gagnon, who was asked to identify the flag raisers, if he named him. But back in the States at Headquarters Marine Corps, Gagnon was apparently persuaded to name Hayes and also named Navy Cross recipient Bradley as the surviving flag raisers. 
            Severance has continuously been asked about the flag raising and the 40-man patrol for the last 75 years, including responding to a large number of claims from men who say they were one of the flag raisers or were on the 40-man patrol. 
            “If everybody who said they were on the mountain then were there,” he first said years ago and no longer wants to talk about it, “the whole mountain would have sunk into the ocean.”
            Severance enlisted the Marine Corps in 1938, later received a commission, served with the 1st Parachute Battalion and fought on Bougainville. After the Paramarines were disbanded, he later joined the newly formed 5th Marine Division and received the Silver Cross on Iwo Jima, then became a Marine aviator and received the Distinguished Flying Cross in Korea, where he flew some 60 missions.