Floyd Coffield underwent his baptism of fire on a bombing raid over Ploesti, Romania, flying a B-24 “Liberator” four-engine bomber on May 18, 1944. Some 600 B-24s and B-17 “Flying Fortresses” bombed Ploesti in an attempt to knock out the refineries. The German war machine derived one-third of its oil supply from Ploesti.
It wasn’t long after Navy Medical Corpsman Steven Bizeur of North Port, Fla. came ashore on Kwajalein with the 4th Marine Division he became a casualty himself during the war in the Pacific.
Don Platt remembers May 15, 1941, like it was yesterday. That’s the day he signed up to join the U.S. Navy, shortly after receiving his charter boat captain’s license at 21.
The high point of Lt. Edwin Morgan’s 5 1/2 year Naval career was the six months he sailed throughout much of Europe and the Middle East aboard the destroyer escort USS Trippe in 1975 as the ship’s supply officer.
Ed Robins was in the Navy during the Korean War. He was an airman who never set foot in an airplane and never went to sea. He spent most of his four-year hitch painting murals om the wall of the mess hall at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station.
Former Marine Sgt. Jim Foster of Blue Heron Pines mobile home park south of Punta Gorda, Fla. was a member of George Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11 Regiment, 1st Marine Division. He marched to the Chosin Reservoir and back in the opening months of the Korean War.
Robin Matthews was an Army medic aboard a hospital train dispatched to treat the wounded from the massacre at No Gun Ri during the early stages of the Korean War more than half a century ago.
Roland Hardt is one American soldier who made the D-Day invasion twice. He also received a bear hug from Gen. George Patton for being “one hell-of-a-good soldier.”
Mike Raymond, commander of Post 110 American Legion in Port Charlotte, Fla., contends, “I had the best job in the Air Force” during the “Cold War.” He was a boom operator on a Air Force 707 jet refueling tanker.
Pvt. Al Gaus was supposed to be an office worker in the 90th Infantry Division that landed on Utah Beach along the Normandy coast on D-Day plus two, June 8, 1944, with thousands of other soldiers.
Col. George E. French of Venice, Fla. Golf & Country Club retired from the Air Force in 1966 after serving in World War II as a B-24 “Liberator” bomber pilot in the Pacific. His final post in his 24-year military career may have been one of his most interesting.
George French piloted a B-24 “Liberator,” four-engine bomber in the Pacific during World War II. He was a member of the “Long Rangers,” the 370th Squadron, 307th Bomb Group, 13th Air Force flying most of the time from a base on Morati Island, southeast of the Philippines.
Time changes all things, three World War II soldiers learned when they revisited China with their wives last month. [May 2000] The senior warriors from Charlotte County, Fla. were part of a group of 330 Americans who recently spent a week or more in China as guests of the Beijing Aviators Association.
Twenty-year-old David Frey of Port Charlotte, Fla. is a Navy Seabee who just returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq.
There weren’t suppose to be any enemy surface-to-air missiles in South Vietnam, but they were there. Maj. Tom D’Andrea, executive officer of Marine Attack Squadron 211, got an up close and personal look at the telephone pole-size missiles one day in 1967 while flying his A-4 Skyhawk fighter-bomber on a mission.
The one-page “Unit Citation” summed up Pfc. Bill Muldoon ‘s service in World War II. The 91-year-old Maple Leaf Estates resident served in the 19th Infantry Regiment during the Leyte Invasion in World War II.
Even though Pfc. Dominic Socci of North Port, Fla. saw little of the enemy because he was part of a 155 mm Howitzer crew that sat back from the front lines five miles or more, there were times when the war and its aftermath caught up to him and drove home the horrors of battle.
At 6:06 a.m. Thursday, former Airman 1st. Class John Langley of Venice stood in front of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and read 30 servicemen’s names who appear on the memorial together with more than 58,000 others inscribed there forever.
The high point of Peter Rabczewski’s four years of service in the U.S. Air Force was helping complete the construction of the Trans-Pacific Telephone Cable in 1964 as a member of the 2875 Ground Electronic Information Agency. His job was to install telephone and microwave communications throughout the Pacific for the Air Force.
After a hitch in the Navy at the end of the Korean War, Don Bordenkircher, who lives in Maple Leaf Estates in Port Charlotte, Fla., went to work as a correctional officer at San Quentin State Prison in 1957. In the vernacular of the penal system, he was a “screw.”
Maston Thomas of South Port Square in Port Charlotte, Fla. joined the Navy six months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Robert Borboro of Cross Creek RV Park north of Acadia, Fla. served the better part of two years in Korea during the war. It’s been 60 years since he was a corporal in the 97th Engineering Battalion attached to the 1st Infantry Division based at Young Dong Po and his memory is not what it…
In 1947, the year before George Kalaf’s freshman year, at the University of Florida, the school’s Gator football team lost every game. Some 8,000 students attended the university in those days.
A week or 10 days after boarding a victory ship in New York Harbor Pfc. Lou Roth of Baltimore, Md. sailed into Le Havre, France together with thousands of other G.I.s. It was August 1945, a few months after the end of World War II in Europe, and the 19-year-old was part of the Allied…
During most of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima, Marine Pfc. Silas Jessup was a stretcher bearer. He received a commendation from the commanding general of his division for carrying more than 100 dead and wounded U.S. Marines and a Japanese Imperial Marine off the most costly battlefield foot-for-foot in the Corps 231-year…
Eugene Schweiss of Arcadia, Fla. was a teenaged Air Force armorer who saw to it bullets and bombs were loaded into swept-wing F-84 Thunderjets and F-86 Sabrejets during the Korean War.
In 1944, Val Gerald was a petty officer second class serving aboard the USS Randolph, an Essex Class aircraft carrier in World War II. Today the 89-year-old former Navy man is a resident, along with his wife Olga, of The Courtyard, an assisted living facility in Port Charlotte. Fla.
Water Tender 2nd Class Charles Murdock of Holiday Park in Englewood, Fla. was 21-years-old when he went aboard the light cruiser USS Philadelphia in February 1942, during the early months of World War II. She was headed for convoy duty in the North Atlantic.
Former Sgt. Michael Hirsh of the Seminole Lakes subdivision, south of Punta Gorda, Fla. was in the first public information detachment of Army reporters since World War II who went to Vietnam.
John O’Sullivan is one of two full-time helicopter pilots who fly for the Charlotte County, Fla. Sheriff’s Office. He learned to fly after serving a tour in Vietnam in 1965 with the 1st Infantry Division.
The target: A major bridge over the Po River near Pavia in northern Italy used by the Germans in World War II to move men and equipment south to the front line. The mission: 50 B-26 “Marauder,” twin-engine, attack bombers struck the span. Each carried four 1,000 pound high explosive bombs.
Vic Ciullo of Venice, Fla. was an amtrac driver in Vietnam with A-Company, 3rd Amphibious Tractor Battalion in 1966-67. His outfit was assigned to various Marine divisions in ‘Nam — the 4th, 5th, 7th and 9th.
Fred Paulsen heard the 20 mm guns on the carrier USS Saratoga firing at will as she cruised off Iwo Jima on Feb. 21, 1945. That’s when he knew they were in trouble.
Col. Bob Carroll never mentioned he was awarded a “Silver Star” in Vietnam “For Gallantry in Action.” The Manasota Key, Fla. resident also has an 8 X 10, black and white, framed photograph of President Lyndon Johnson pinning the medal on him at Fort Benning, Ga. The commendation accompanying the medal says it all.
Frank Miale made four combat jumps with the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II. He survived the war, came home and wrote a book called “Stragedy” about his war experiences.
It was All Souls Day, Nov. 2, 1944, Francis Murphy remembers most about his 26 combat missions as tail gunner in a “Flying Fortress,” over Germany late in World War II.
Don Miller was a Vietnam “Tunnel Rat.” It had to be the worst job an American soldier could have in the Southeast Asian war.
Jack McClinden was aboard the USS Jenks, one of the five destroyers in a hunter-killer pack that captured the German submarine U-505 off the African coast in June 1944. It was the first time a U.S. vessel had captured an enemy ship at sea since the 19th Century.
Glenn Meyers of North Port, Fla. decided to joint the war effort at the tail end of World War II when his older brother, Elmer, was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He was a senior, and football star. at Elizabeth High School in Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh, at the time.
Russ Kyper of the Park Forest subdivision in Englewood, Fla. joined the U.S. Navy on Aug. 13, 1945, the day before V-J (Victory over Japan) Day that ended World War II. He eventually transferred to the Seabees.
Like millions of other servicemen in World War II, Jack Reynolds who lives in Grove City south of Englewood, Fla. on the way to Placida, never made it to the front lines and the fighting. He was a radio operator on a PBY airplane, at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station and aboard the troop transport…
What Gilbert Butson of Oak Forest Condominiums Port Charlotte, Fla. remembers most about the three years he served aboard the destroyer USS Cowell (DD-547) in the Pacific during World War II was the time his ‘tin can” rescued sailors from the ill-fated heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis in the Philippine Sea during the “Great Mariana Turkey…
Gordon Gade of the Seminole Lakes subdivision, south of Punta Gorda, Fla. joined the U.S. Army shortly after graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1958 with a degree in business administration. He served in Germany during the Cold War as a guided missile soldier.
The old, white, steel Army helmet was chipped and battered. It didn’t look like much.
Ed Lyman who lives in the Jacaranda Trace Retirement Community in south Venice, Fla. wore a dark blue uniform much like the kind worn by Naval officers during World War II. He even had an anchor patch on one sleeve, however he had captain’s bars on his shoulders. Lyman spent the Second World War explaining…
Two dog tags — one worn by an American soldier, the other by a German soldier — were found in a Luxembourg woods near the German border more than half a century after hostilities ended. The men who wore them crossed paths during the closing months of World War II.
Every So often I receive an e-mail from a reader worth reprinting. This one from Jack Fournier of North Port, Fla. fell into that category. It’s better than anything I could write. As a U.S. Navy World War II vet I am a constant reader of your column. I was taken by a recent column…
Glen Johnson of Tropic Palm mobile-home park, south of Punta Gorda, Fla. went to war right out of high school in mid-July 1943. After boot camp he and a group of other sailors took a banana boat to Pearl Harbor. His destroyer hadn’t returned with the fleet from fighting the Japanese at Tarawa Atoll.
Bud Aronson , who lives on Manasota Key, Fla. has always favored the underdog, even when he served in the Marine Corps during World War II. Those days in the Corps there were no black officers, he explained. “A couple of buddies and me, from Springfield, Mass. enlisted in December 1942. We were put on…
World War II was the most segregated war the United States ever fought, according Dr. Yenwith Whitney, a former Tuskegee Airman from Sarasota, Fla. “Many commanders didn’t want blacks doing anything but menial labor in World War II. They didn’t think blacks were smart enough to do things like fly airplanes,” Whitney, who flew in…
Randy McConnell of Nokomis, Fla. received seven Purple Hearts, more than any other living American soldier, for six months of intensive fighting with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam during the “Tet Offensive” in 1968. He was also awarded two Silver Stars and a Bronze Star for valor together with an Army Commendation Medal with…
After his first mission over Germany as a navigator aboard a B-17 bomber during World War II, 1st Lt. Ray Griffith of Lake Suzy, Fla. wrote in a pocket notebook he carried during the war: ‘I’m not going to survive my tour.’”
“Barney” Jimerson of Gardens of Gulf Cove, south of Englewood, Fla., is a full blooded Seneca Indian, born in Elco, N.Y., He grew up, graduated from high school in the Jamestown, N.y. area and volunteered for the draft in 1955 when he was 21.
On Oct.22, 1942 Tony Di Gregorio of Rotonda, Fla. was drafted into the Army. He was 21. The South Philly soldier took his basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It took until the summer of 1944 to board a troop transport and sail in convoy for Scotland.
Pete Marlo of Holiday Estates in Englewood, Fla. served in the 62nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion from Totten, Long Island, N.Y. His unit was attached to Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army during part of World War II. They fought Field Marshal Irwin Rommel during the disaster at the Kasserine Pass shortly after the Invasion of North…
“Leading a formation of Havocs–A-20, twin-engine attack bombers–that dropped their bombs on a Nazi command headquarters in France and were on their way back to base when the German guns below got their range,” the five-page letter from Ninth Air Force Headquarters to Sgt. Ken Dvorak’s parents in Cleveland, Ohio explained.
Knowing how to type made former Seaman Duane Payne’s 22-months in the U.S. Navy during the late 50s a walk in the park. It was an outstanding tour of duty, or so he recalled with pleasure more than half a century later.
Frank Arcidiacono was the radio operation aboard a U.S. Navy seaplane assigned to find Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto’s armada. The huge Japanese fleet was steaming toward Midway Island in the North Pacific on its way to attack what was left of the much smaller American battle group during the pivotal days of June 1942.
After graduating with a double major in English and Psychology from Norwich University in Northfield, Vt. in 1961, Dominic Ruggerio joined the Army as a 2nd lieutenant. He went to basic at Fort Knox, Ky. the following year.
It was like old times when Sal Russotto of Port Charlotte, Fla. and Charles Wilson of Tampa, Fla. two Korean era vets, met for the first time in 43 years, at Russotto’s home.
Shortly after graduating from high school in 1943, Clarence Tuma was drafted into the Army, went to basic at Fort Stuart, Ga. and traveled by ship to Europe as a member of the 789th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion.
In another war during an earlier time, the USS Gilligan would have been a frigate, one of the smallest fighting ships in the fleet. DE-508 was 306 feet in length with a couple of 5.8 inch main guns fore and aft and several 40mm and 20mm anti-aircraft guns to protect her from attack by enemy…
The USS Hocking, an attack transport, was a marked ship while still in port at Hilo, Hawaii, even before it sailed for the war zone in 1944. Stanley Fiorini of Port Charlotte, Fla. was a deckhand on one of its landing craft.
At 18 Jim Williams of Seminole Lakes subdivision south of Punta Gorda, Fla. became a Navy plane captain aboard four different aircraft carriers during his three years of service in the 1960s.
The last time Glenn Fackler saw Walter Anstey, his company commander, it was aboard a hospital ship on their way back to the States at the close of World War II. They were both recovering from war wounds.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, when tens of thousands of Allied troops were storming the beaches of Normandy, France, Staff Sgt. Wilbur Butler was flying as nose gunner aboard a B-24 bomber called “Boobie Trap” on a mission to bomb the Ploesti oil refineries in Romania.
Pete Peterson was lucky. He joined the Marine Corps at 17 in 1946, a few months after the end of World War II. Three years later he got out of the Corps in 1949, a few months before the start of the Korean War.
At 5-ft, 3-inches tall, Bobbie Caho was the shortest soldier in 106th Artillery Battalion attached to the 27th Infantry Division at the battles of Saipan and Okinawa in the Pacific during World War II. His foxhole buddies called him “Gremlin.”
Capt. Willard “Bill” Reddel of Paradise Park south of Punta Gorda, Fla. was captain of the satellite communication ship USNS Kingsport when it helped put the first worldwide communications satellite in orbit Dec. 8, 1963.
Willis Brumhall spent World War II in the Aleutians building emergency runways as a member of the 46th Seabee Battalion for Russian pilots ferrying American made planes from Canada across the Bering Sea to their homeland to use against the Germans.
The big, black, bold two-deck headline across the top of the front page of the Baltimore News-Post for Thursday, June 15,1944 read: U.S. B-29s BOMB JAPAN; GIANT PLANES’ 1st RAID WASHINGTON (AP)–The Army announced today that B-29 Superfortresses of the Army Air Fore bombed Japan today.
When Jim Julian flipped the switch, cranking up a small remote-controlled helicopter on the deck of a Navy destroyer, he became a part of history that stretches to the increasing use of drones in today’s military.
Pfc. Al Meersman was behind quad-fifty caliber machine guns mounted on a halftrack when it rolled out of an LST onto Omaha Beach on D-Day plus one, June 7, 1944. Eleven months later he and his four buddies were on their halftrack when they met the Russians, who were advancing westward fighting the last of…
In 1940, Ralph Bates, of Port Charlotte, Fla. was 18 when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Before he completed flight training in Canada, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The young aviator requested a transfer to the U.S. Air Force.
Henry Cwiklinski of Indigo Isles in Englewood, Fla. was in the second wave that attacked the Japanese-held island of Leyte in the Philippines on Oct. 20, 1944 during World War II. He was a member of the 106th Field Artillery Battalion, a National Guard unit, from Buffalo, N.Y.
Ray Richards’ latest battle is as tough as the one he fought more than 60 years ago, when, as an 18-year-old Marine in the 3rd Marine Division, he saw action and was wounded at the start of the Battle for Iwo Jima during the final months of World War II.
It was while Walter Tatko of Venice, Fla. was serving in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army in France during World War II he and a buddy, Pfc. Frank Zalewski, knocked out a couple of German halftracks loaded with enemy troops.
Everett W. Driggers was a quiet man whose friends and relatives say should be remembered for his devotion to God, country, family and work. He never did anything particularly important except fight in some of the major battles of World War II, help found Venice, Fla. American Legion No-Vel Post 159, be postmaster at Laurel…
NOTE: I received this story from Thelma Miller of Venice,Fla., widow of Al Miller Jr., who flew as a copilot aboard the B-24 “Liberator” bomber in the Pacific during World War II. He wrote the story before he died two years ago. Miller flew 30 combat missions including: the Marshall Islands, Maloelap Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Truk…
Bernard Knoll of Port Charlotte Village mobile home park in Port Charlotte, Fla. flew 104 combat missions in a “P-47 Thunderbolt” fighter plane during World War II. On one mission, he shot down a German fighter in a quick but deadly dogfight. In another, he led a squadron of 16 P-47s that destroyed an enemy…
“We caught it on our third trip. All three of our flights were over Berlin,” James Estrep of Englewood recalled.
For more than three decades Col. Jeff Ponkratz of Punta Gorda Isles, Fla. served as an Army Reservist in the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion based in Green Bay, Wis. His job in the military was one of rebuilding and preserving what was left of the half dozen war-torn countries he served in during the U.S.’s…
Elizabeth Adams of North Port was “Rosie the Riveter’s” English cousin during World War II.
During his freshman year at the University of Ohio in 1943 Cliff Birdsall of Punta Gorda Fla. was drafted into the U.S. Army in the middle of World War II. A few months later he found himself fighting in Europe as a 57 millimeter gunner in the 106th Infantry Division, part of Gen. Omar Bradley’s…
Staff Sgt. Jerry Meadows was in the 106th Infantry Division. He was in charge of a .30-caliber machine gun unit dug in on a hill along the German border on Dec. 19, 1944, during the opening days of the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. That afternoon, he was wounded and captured in…
Rudy Raymond of Bay Isles Estates in Nokomis, Fla. like thousands of other guys, was called back into the service when the Korean War broke out. In World War II he served as a Marine in the 2nd Air Warning Squadron at Okinawa.
Forty years after Marine Cpl. Randy Smith of Venice, Fla. lowered the flag for the last time at the American embassy in Saigon on April 29, 1975, he returned to Ho Chi Minh City on Nov. 10 to attend a Marine Corps Birthday Ball held in the South Vietnamese capital city for the first time…
A couple of weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor launching the United States into World War II, Francis Cynkar of Maple Leaf Estates, Port Charlotte, Fla. joined the Navy. He was 15.
Bob Erwin of North Port Pines Retirement Center made five patrols aboard the USS Parche (SS-384) into Japanese-held waters during World War II. On one of these patrols his skipper, Cmdr. Lawson Ramage, received the Medal of Honor and Erwin was awarded the Silver Star for their exploits.
John Dexter of Jacaranda Trace apartments in Venice, Fla. was already an electrical engineer working for Dow Chemical Co. when World War II broke out in 1941 for the United Sates.
For almost three decades Ron Klein of Port Charlotte, Fla. was involved in some of this country’s major military actions. Too young for Vietnam, he joined the Air Force in 1977 as an 18-year-old bomb loader.
By D-Day, June 6, 1944, former 1st Lt. John Nemeth of Port Charlotte, Fla. had flown 40 combat mission over Nazi-occupied Europe in a Martin B-26 “Marauder” bomber named “Johnny Come Lately.” He would fly 27 more in his bomber dubbed “The Widowmaker” by some because of its propensity to crash during takeoffs and landings.
Bill Hallo of North Port, Fla. fired the 16-inch main guns on the stern of the battleship USS South Dakota in some of the major battles in the Pacific during World War II. He was aboard ship firing away at the enemy at: Guam, Saipan, Tenian, New Guinea, Philippines, Luzon, Formosa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and…
Their mission: Sasebo, the Japanese naval base in Nagasaki Harbor. Their target three Japanese aircraft carriers.
Ralph Cook of Venice, Fla. ended up a chaplain’s assistant serving with the 104th Timberwolf Division in Europe during World War II after flunking an eye exam to enter pilot training in the Army Air Corps.
1st Lt. Wallace Spencer of Tangerine Woods in Englewood, Fla. was on his 28th and last combat mission on March 24, 1945 when the B-24 “Liberator” four-engine bomber he served as bombardier in was shot out of the sky at 20,000 feet by anti-aircraft flak while bombing a railroad marshaling yard in Münster, Germany.
Randy Smith of Venice, Fla., who served as a 19-year-old Marine Corps guard at the American Embassy in Saigon 40 years ago, is returning to Ho Chi Minh City, its new name, in a couple of days.
Bob Porter of Venice, Fla. served as a sergeant with the 5th Marine Division in World War II. He was with the first U.S. Marines killed or wounded at the Battle of Iwo Jima during the closing days of the Second World War.
Doug Danforth of Englewood, Fla. was a precocious kid. He graduated from high school at 15, joined the United States Air Force at 17 and went to war with the 27th Fighter Escort Wing, 8th Air Force in Korea on Dec. 7, 1950.
The Tet Offensive, the largest enemy assault of the Vietnam War, was Spc. 4 Donald Hirkey’s introduction to Southeast Asia almost 40 years ago. The 65-year-old North Port man was a member of A-Company, 2nd-Battalion, 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment, part of “The Screaming Eagles,” the 101st Airborne Division.
Lee Mauk of Venice was aboard the nuclear submarine SSN Skate when she made the historic cruise under the Polar Icecap during the winter of 1958. He was the chief electrician aboard the boat.
Gene Roaf of Punta Gorda, Fla. was a plane captain who maintained a single Corsair fighter aboard the carrier USS Bennington during the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in World War II. He served as a seaman 1st class and part of the Essex class carrier’s deck crew.
George Eyster started off driving a 2 1/2 ton army truck in the 254th Engineering Battalion attached to Gen. Omar Bradley’s 1st Army when it came ashore on Omaha Beach June 6, 1944. He saw the war from the vantage-point of a deuce-and-a-half starting with the invasion beach to the Battle of the Bulge, on…
Fred Davis of Englewood, Fla. graduated from high school in 1942 and immediately signed up for the Army Air Corps during the middle of World War II.
Most of David Eshelman’s 29 years in the service were spent as an airborne trooper. In 1979 he retired a command sergeant major, the highest rank an enlisted man in the U.S Army can achieve.
A caisson flanked by an honor guard and drawn by six matching brown horses held Harold Sandler’s remains in a steel-gray casket draped with an American flag. The eight soldiers in impeccable Army dress were commanded by an equally resplendent captain. All waited in statue-like silence last Tuesday on a road in Arlington National Cemetery,…
Dick Trott, who lives in the Jacaranda Trace Apartments in Venice, Fla., came ashore on Feb. 19, 1945 in the second wave with the 5th Marine Division during the Battle of Iwo Jima. He was a corporal operating a radio working with Navajo Code Talkers providing U.S. Marines with an unbreakable language to communicate in…
“Merrill’s Marauders” is what newspaper reporters who covered their exploits a lifetime ago during World War II called them. Officially they were the “5307th Composite Unit Provisional,” a long-range penetration special operations jungle warfare unit that fought the Japanese in the jungles of Burma.
Bob Weiler was the left waist-gunner on a B-29 Superfortress dubbed “Sky Scrapper,” part of the 61th Bomb Squadron, 39th Bomb Group, 314h Bomb Wing of the 20th Air Force, based on Guam in the Mariana Islands bombing Japan late in World War II.
Derek Nelson of North Port, Fla. served 3 1/2 years in Vietnam. He first went there in 1967 as an 18-year-old member of the 9th Infantry Division located in the Macon Delta. During his second tour in 1969 he served with the 1st Logistics Command in Saigon. His last 18 months over there he was…
During his 41 years in the Naval Reserves Chief Warrant Officer-4 (CWO-4) Bill Wyld Jr. of Port Charlotte, Fla. may have served on more ships than just about anyone in the service. From 1948 until he retired from the Navy in 1989 he went aboard 21 ships, some of them a couple of times.
Cpl. George Walther of Englewood worked as part of Lt. Eli Wallach’s crew helping produce “Is This The Army?” during World War II in Europe. The yet-to-be-famous Hollywood actor appeared in the play poking fun at the leaders of the Axis enemy powers.
Joe Comeaux of Punta Gorda got out of high school in ’69, just in time for the last of the Vietnam War.
Dutch Dutcher was a 17-year-old wise-guy from Brockton, Mass. when he signed up for the Army with a friend in 1967.
Cpl. Gwen Sieg returned home afer six months on the front lines in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division after fighting her way through the desert and into Baghdad. Proudly waiting her homecoming were her 6-year-old daughter, her mother and three younger brothers and sisters.
Les Thompson says he’s no war hero. He was just a seaman 1st class who served aboard the USS Abner Read, a destroyer sunk by a Japanese kamikaze at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944 during the final months of World War II. The 76-year-old Englewood, Fla. man joined the Navy at 17…
Because his high school sweetheart jilted him Tommy Hammond of Shell Creek mobile home park, south of Punta Gorda, Fla. decided to join the Seabees. He was 17, the date was 1950– the year the Korean War started.
Keith Jones was too skinny to get in the Navy in 1942, but the Army took him anyway despite his lack of weight. He became a member of the 87th Infantry Division, part of Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army in Europe during the Second World War.
Sgt. Rudy Raymond of Bay Lake Estates mobile home park in Nokomis, Fla. arrived just in time to take part in the biggest battle in the Pacific Theatre during World War II–Okinawa. He was a member of the Second Marine Wing, Air Squadron 8.
Don Schmitt of Maple Leaf Estates, Port Charlotte, Fla. was trained as a combat engineer and sent to Okinawa during the final days of World War II. He was a corporal who served with the Army’s 47th Combat Engineers in the Pacific at the close of the war.
Lee St. John was a bit of a contradiction in Vietnam. He was a Baptist kid from Arcadia, Fla. who ran a liquor warehouse in ‘Nam. He was a small arms specialist who never fired a shot until he wound up in a Southeast Asian war. He was a “spook,” or spy, a member of…
Joe Falis tried to sign up for the service the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Trouble was, he was only 17 and he had to have his parents’ permission.
In 1939, the year Marie Sgriccia graduated from high school, the 17-year-old had to wait a year before attending college to become a registered nurse because they wouldn’t take her until she was at least 18.
Dale Davis of Punta Gorda, Fla. got into Naval aviation on June 8, 1945. It was two days after Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets dropped the first Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan from a B-29, four-engine bomber named for his mother–Enola Gay–ending World War II.
Art Rimback, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., had a military and civilian career afterwards that was pretty much a closed book. He did a bunch of secret stuff he doesn’t talk about.
Steve Logsdon of Rotonda, Fla. joined the Army at 17, shortly after graduating from high school, just in time for the start of the Korean War. He went from basic training to the front line holding back advancing waves of North Korean infantry during the monumental battle of the Pusan Perimeter in the summer and…
The inscription on the front of the white ball cap siting on the coffee tale says it all: “America’s most Decorated 34th Infantry Division.” Below the inscription was an irregular shaped patch showing the head of a bull in red on a solid black background the 34th Division’s insignia.
It was July 22, 1945 when Earl Thompson, a Navy fireman who now lives in Port Charlotte, Fla. sailed into Buckner Bay aboard a transport ship that dropped anchor off Okinawa. The 17-year-old swabbie was one of the thousands of servicemen aboard these ships.
Shortly after graduating from high school in 1943 at 17 in Philadelphia, Pa., Warren Hope of Gulf Cove, in Charlotte County, Fla. joined the Seabees. His parents had to sign him into the service because of his age.
When Sgt. John Spatharos of Tangerine Woods, Englewood, Fla. climbed aboard an A-20, twin-engine attack bomber dubbed “Steak and Eggs” at Kila Airstrip on the island of New Guinea during World War II he had no idea what fate had in store for him.
When the Germans marched into Poland in 1939 starting World War II, Bill Donaldson and all the other young men in his senior class at Strong Vincent High School in Erie, Pa. went down to the local military recruitment center and signed up.
It was dark and eerie when he climbed out of the sack at 4 a.m, shaved and ate a breakfast of powdered eggs, Spam and coffee. Then he and the rest of the 10-man crew of “Shack Happy,” a B-24 bomber, headed to the briefing room with scores of other B-24 crews to get the…
For much of his five years in the Army James Lunn was within arms length of the firing button for ground to air guided missile. He was an Army’s fire control specialist for land-based “Hawk Missiles” in the U.S., South Korea and Germany.
Larry Rhodes of Venice grew up in Far Rockaway, N.Y. Just out of high school in 1941 he went to work for Republic Aviation building P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter planes on Long Island, N.Y. for World War II.
By the time World War II ended, Oscar Hettema of Port Charlotte, Fla. had seen a lot of this world as a chief warrant officer in the Navy Seabees.
Bob Burdick was a top turret gunner on a PV-1 Ventura patrol plane in the Pacific during World War II. The 88-year-old former gunner who now lives in Port Charlotte, Fla. with his wife, Maryan, saw combat at Tannin Island in the South Pacific, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Japanese home islands before war’s end.
In 1943 Ida Scherf was a Maine school teacher when she made a commitment to the war effort. She joined the WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. The 23-year-old school teacher was part of the first graduating class of women trained by the Navy to teach men aerial gunnery–how to shoot a .50 caliber…
They called it “Nimitz’s Secret.” All 10, 100-foot-long steel sections were towed by ship from San Francisco to Espiritus Santo, the main island in the New Hebrides chain. This floating steel dry dock for America’s Pacific Fleet during World War II was a military secret and a game changer.
Pfc. William McWha, Serial No. 31305306, was a replacement soldier. He was one of the tens of thousands of American infantrymen from the “Repo Depot” who were put on the front lines in the heat of battle during World War II to replace killed or wounded soldiers.
Seventy-two years ago today MSgt. Gasper Buffa, a resident of Lexington Manor Assisted Living facility in Port Charlotte, Fla. served with the 1st Marine Division on Midway Island in the Pacific. He survived an attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy’s planes commanded by Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto.
Glen Berree spent the first two decades of his life as a Navy brat. His father was a fighter ace in World War II with nine kills to his credit. The next quarter century Berree carved out a career as a pilot, like his dad, almost became a SEAL and completed his Naval career as…
Ed Hutcheson of Burnt Store Marina, south of Punta Gorda, was an airman first class working for Air Force Intelligence. His job was to intercept secret messages sent by his Soviet counterpart about the Soviet’s military operations.
In 1942 when Glenn Magner of Tangerine Woods mobile home park in Englewood, Fla. enlisted in the Army he was 16-years-old. He told them he was 20 and got away with it.
The Piper Cub, used as an artillery spotter plane, did more to defeat the German Army in World War II then any other American airplane, according to Capt. John Johnson.
Dick Samuelson of Tangerine Woods in Englewood, Fla. admits “I was no big war hero.”
John Ardolino of Burnt Store Marina, south of Punta Gorda, Fla. served a couple of years as a member of Company B, 25th Signal Battalion in Germany during the early 1960s. He and his buddies strung telephone lines from the command center to the front lines if war broke out.
Chet Buckenmaier comes from a military family. His grandfather rode with Teddy Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” in Cuba during the Spanish American War of 1898. His uncle was a Navy fighter pilot in World War II. He served for almost 20 years in the Air Force. His son is an Army doctor currently serving at Walter…
Operation Allen Brook in May 1968 was the worst of the numerous combat operations Cpl. Neal Gettle of Gulf Cove participated in during his 14 months of service with the Marine Corps in Vietnam.
Larry Cote of Holiday Park III in Englewood, Fla. former Marine Corps sergeant, kept baseball great Ted Williams’ F9F “Panther” jet fighter plane in the air while serving as an airplane mechanic with the 1st Marine Division at the end of the Korean War in the early 1950s.
Like millions of other young men before and after him, Howard Mack joined the Navy right out of high school. It was 1954, he was 18, and the Korean war had been over for a year.
“Radio Bamiyan” is what it’s unofficially called. The tiny, 400-watt station established six months ago by Staff Sgt. Joe Smith, chief of the U.S. Army Psychological Operations group stationed there, is helping change the hearts and minds of the 50,000 inhabitants of the Bamiyan Valley in the central highlands of Afghanistan.
Tet was the big battle former Air Force Sgt. Jack Freeman of Port Charlotte, Fla recalls most vividly during his year-long deployment to Vietnam.
Two friends who served in the submarine service before Jim Manning talked him into signing up for the Navy and going to sub school when the time came. He didn’t regret it.
Bob Goff grew up in Placida, south of Englewood, Fla., joined the Army at 16 after he dropped out of Venice-Nokomis High School in 10th grade. He lied about his age and signed up for the service, “because I didn’t want to be a fishermen or farmer.”
Richard Johnson of Circlewood, a south Venice subdivision, escaped with his life when a couple of Japanese kamikaze aircraft struck the Carrier USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) within minutes of each other the afternoon of Jan. 21, 1945 off the coast of Formosa during World War II.
Fred Stuenkel graduated from Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, Fla. in 1965. He continued his education at Manatee Junior College in Bradenton, a few miles north up Florida’s west coast, until his funds ran out. It was 1969, the year he received notice from the draft board, he had been selected to join the…
Dick Hughes of Paradise Park RV Resort south of Punta Gorda, Fla. flew a B-25, “Mitchell,” twin-engine bomber on 30 combat missions while serving in the 12th Air Force in Europe during World War II. He ended up in a “Mitchell” because a B-24 “Liberator” bomber was too big for him.
Airman 1st Class John Perdue of Punta Gorda, Fla. spent most of his four years in the U.S. Air Force decoding secret messages from the North Korean Air Force during the Korean War of the 1950s.
Christ Nielsen of Punta Gorda, Fla. was a “Seadevil.” He was a member of U.S. Navy Helicopter Combat Support Squadron Seven that rescued downed pilots and seamen in trouble off the coast of Vietnam during the war.
It was their last mission aboard “Betty-J,” a B-24 four-engine bomber named for the pilot, Jack Bates’ wife, that Elbert Bishop of Paradise Park, east of Punta Gorda, remembers most. The crew was part of the 42nd Bomb Squadron, 11th Bomb Group, 7th Air Force.
“Puff the Magic Dragon” was a big hit in the early ’60’s for Peter, Paul and Mary. It was also a big hit about the same time in a different sort of way for Airman 1st Class Bill Grant who now lives in Burnt Store Isles, south of Punta Gorda, Fla.
It was late in the war. Petty Officer 3rd Class Don Alger was on his first combat patrol aboard the USS Billfish (SS-286) sailing into Japanese waters. He was scared.
Former Cpl. Al Beyer of Port Charlotte, Fla. ended up protecting Europe and the rest of the NATO countries from the Soviet troops along the German-Russian border in 1968 instead of going to Vietnam during the war. He served in a mechanized infantry unit attached to the 3rd Armored Division stationed during the “Cold War”…
In 1942 Dan Middleton joined the Army Air Corps instead of the Navy because he didn’t want to be sunk at sea.
Before Brad Messick graduated from high school in 1966 at 19 he had already been notified by his draft board. He signed up with the Navy and was allowed to graduate before going to sea.
Master Chief and Valet Ricardo Sanvictores of North Port, Fla. had two jobs during his 44 year Naval career. He was Adm. John S. McCain Jr.’s steward for 14 years. After the admiral retired he was invited to join the White House staff as cook, butler and valet. He served seven presidents for 30 yeas…
2nd Lt. U.S. Cleveland was a key part of the most elaborate hoax ever attempted by Allied forces during World War II. This picture of him was taken in Fort Knox, Ky. in 1941. Photo provided
Three times Gene Kopec of North Port was wounded while fighting in Vietnam with the Marine Corps. He received three Purple Hearts and took part in the Battle at Khe Sanh. Here North Vietnam Army regular troops and Vietcong guerillas went head-to-head against American and South Vietnamese soldiers along the Demilitarized Zone in the biggest…
Shelly Berryman of North Port, Fla. started out not wanting anything to do with the Vietnam War. However, before the conflict was over he was in the thick of it flying 1st Infantry Division troops into battle in a Huey helicopter.
Jim Laurent’s 24 years of service in the U.S. Air Force was shrouded in secrecy. He was a high frequency radio communication expert who spied on the Russians, kept the radio equipment running in the SR-71 “Blackbird” spy plane and spent more than five years working in White House Communications for three presidents.
By the time Paul Molnar was 14 he had survived the Holocaust. It would be two more years before he survived World War II.
By the time Capt. Bill Haase reached England and the 8th Air Force during the last half of World War II, he was an experienced aviator with 15 months under his belt flying new bombardiers on practice bombing missions stateside.
Leon Gumley died in John Wayne’s arms as they fought their way up Mount Suribachi in the closing minutes of the 1949 World War II movie “Sands of Iwo Jima.” He played Marine Pvt. Sid Stein and Wayne was Sgt. John Striker, the hero, who was also killed by a Japanese sniper’s bullet during the…
Geoffrey Morris of Venice. Fla. was a conscientious objector who volunteered to become a medic with the 237th Medical Detachment. He flew out of Quang Tri, Vietnam in 1970-71 aboard a DMZ Dust Off helicopter rescuing wounded soldiers and taking them to the 18th Surgical Hospital for emergency treatment.
Giff Stowell of La Casa mobile home park in North Port, Fla. was a gunner on an A-20 Havoc twin-engine bomber in the Pacific during his first nine months of combat in World War II. The rest of the war he flew as the nose gunner in “Lucky Strike,” a B-24 “Liberator” in the 380th…
After flunking out of Northern Michigan University in his sophomore year in 1968 Don Rudness of North Port, Fla. was classified 1-A by the draft board and sent to Vietnam by his friends and neighbors.
Dave Youngs turned mechanics into cooks when he wasn’t playing bridge, skiing and sightseeing around Europe on the weekends at the end of the Second World War.
Col. Norm Mac Lellan of Venice had already served one tour in Vietnam and survived the 1968 Tet Offensive when he got in the firefight of his life with North Vietnamese Army troops during his second tour of duty along Highway 1, north of Saigon in the summer on 1972.
When he wasn’t being a pretty good two-finger clerk typist for the United States Maine Corps, Cpl. Kean Mc Gill was a better than average “Junior Welter Weight” boxer for the Corps.
When Bill Bingham bailed out of “Lemon Squirts,” his doomed B-24 “Liberator” bomber over northern Italy on Mar. 4, 1945, he never considered the possibility the silk parachute that saved his life would become a family heirloom.
Retired Staff Sgt. Buster Yates decided to volunteer for the U.S. Army Air Corps before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, launching the United States into World War II.
Warrant Officer 5th Class Jim Stivers of North Port flew Army Hueys, Sky Crane and Chinook helicopters starting in Vietnam and for the next three decades. He eventually became an instructor pilot who checked out helicopters pilots around the world.
Norm Holloway of Venice, Fla. had the best job in the Navy, he said. He was a cook aboard the carrier USS Independence (CV-62) during the Vietnam War era. He and 74 other cooks provided food for the ship ‘s crew of 5,000.
1st Lt. Andy Carrico’s D-Company platoon, part of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, trained for five months on New Guinea in preparation for their assault on the Japanese-held island of Leyte. When his regiment landed on the beach at Leyte the enemy was nowhere to be found. But Carrico and the rest of his airborne…
In January 1966 Pfc. Ron Heurlin of Punta Gorda, Fla. flew into Tan Son Nhat Airbase in Saigon, Vietnam. He was a member of Company B, 28th Regiment, 1st Infantry Division known as “The Black Lions.”
Almost a year after four Japanese Imperial Navy aircraft carriers were sunk at the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942, the Japanese troops that went ashore at the same time on Attu Island in the Aleutians suffered a similar fate.
Long before his squad slogged through the black volcanic beach on Iwo Jima in February 1945, Sgt. Paul Vnencak, who winters in Port Charlotte, had seen considerable action as a member of the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division.
Bill Jordan and Dick Boos were Marine Corps buddies. Jordan was a “DUKW,” landing craft, driver and Boos a medic. Jordan survived World War II. Boos didn’t. He fell in the black, volcanic sand of Iwo Jima, six months before the end of WWII. He was 19.
More than half a century after he was shot in the back and hand in two major World War II engagements, the 77-year-old Punta Gorda, Fla. retiree still has trouble talking about what he went through. “It was hell,” he said.
Until he was 18 and graduated from Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, Fla. in 1974 Bill Gomes spent most of his time in the saddle punching cows on ranches in Charlotte and De Soto counties. He was a “Florida Cracker,” better known as a cowboy. He wasn’t much interested in his education.
Mary Chalifour of Port Charlotte, Fla. joined the Air Force Nursing Corps on a whim for three years in 1958. She and a friend she graduated with from nursing college in North Carolina decided to give the service a try. Twenty years later she retired as a lieutenant colonel in charge of all the nurses…
Bill Cunningham of Viscaya Lakes Mobile Home Park in El Jobean, Fla. was in his early 20s when he signed up for the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in July 1942. He was sent to Siena College in Loudernville, N.Y. were he received 40 hours of civilian flight training.
Tippy Burgess of Viscaya Mobile Home Park in El Jobean, Fla. joined the Marine Corps right out of high school in 1939. His parents had passed away and his older brother was doing his best to keep what was left of his family–himself, two sisters and a younger brother together. Times were tough for this…
It was Capt. Harold Keathley’s 33rd combat mission flying “Skookum,” a B-29 “Superfortress” over Japan loaded with incendiary bombs. The target: Aomori, located along the coast of Honshu, the northernmost main island. What made this bombing mission special was that the crew flew from Tinian Island in the Pacific to Aomori and back, a distance…
Near the end of World War II, when Aggie Konings of Port Charlotte, Fla. was a 15-year-old teenager living in Limburg, Holland, she volunteered to put flowers on the grave of an American soldier who had fallen in battle while liberating her homeland from the Germans.
Jiggs Yeager was a sergeant in the 39th Signal Battalion attached to the 26th Yankee Division, part of Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army in Europe during World War II.
Pfc. Dave Lea of Englewood, Fla. spent much of his time in the service in the most boring place on the planet — Thule, Greenland.
For James Broner of Englewood, Fla., Dec. 7, 1942 is a day he will always remember. That was the day his older brother was killed by a Japanese machine gunner and he lost his left leg to a sniper’s bullet. Both incidents took place within hours of each other a few hundred feet apart at…
“I knew things were getting serious when they issued us corpsmen morphine as we got off the C-130 transport at Guantanamo Bay,” Bob Pulver of Heritage Lake condominiums in Port Charlotte, a former Marine corpsman during the Cuban Missile Crisis said.
Sgt. Bryan Coward is in an elite group. He’s part of a handful of local students attending one of the United States’ military academies. Coward is midway through his junior year at West Point. He is a 2003 graduate of Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, Fla. His parents, Tony and Sandee Coward , live…