My tribute is to my grandfather. He fought in WW-I; he was a combat engineer, like me. His job was to infiltrate Axis lines to destroy bridges eliminating the opportunities to either evacuate or reenforce the front upon attack by the allies.
When he’d finished he messengered success to Command. He was ordered to hide in place. After the successful attacks to break the Axis, he was ordered to begin rebuilding those bridges.
He was decorated by King George V.
My Godfather, Bill Mellan, had an easy smile and a big laugh. He was instantly likeable, and was a loving father to his boys as well as a devoted husband to the love of his life, my Godmother Mary Jean.
He was also a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, who had received the Bronze Star for bravery. I heard this last fact not from him but from my mother. Uncle Bill was much too kind and self-effacing to puff himself up with tales of military glory. I never heard him talk about his war experiences, and am under the impression that he kept the stories of his heroism to himself. That kind of quiet heroism is valuable and rare in a society where too often people cannot rush to a microphone fast enough to tout their latest insignificant accomplishment, and it just one reason why I admire him.
I am not a big fan of the propaganda about “the Greatest Generation,” which strikes me as too much Baby Boomer self-regard masquerading as filial piety, as if praising their parents now will make up for the awful things they said about them back in the 1960s. But I have nothing but respect and praise for those who did serve, and who, after doffing their uniforms, returned to build American society as loving husbands and fathers and hard working friends and neighbors. Those are true heroes. People like my Uncle Bill.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had two grandfathers that both served their country proudly. Both of them taught me so much about life and how to be a gentleman and a real man.
Our Memorial Day serves as a great reminder of the parts of their lives they sacrificed for our country. Even though they both served in active combat they survived to live long lives and carry the scars of battle through civilian life until their respective deaths.
Clyde and Nancy Adams
My dad’s father, Clyde Adams, was a career soldier in the U.S. Army. Throughout her career he was stationed all over the world: Germany, Panama, and here in the U.S. at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He fought in two tours of duty in the Vietnam conflict and served as a quartermaster. He also spent time as an Army paratrooper. He often wondered aloud later in life why someone decided to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. My grandfather retired at an early age at the rank of Master Sergeant. He was offered a promotion to Sergeant Major, but was eager to enter retirement and spend more time with his family (his wife and son). He was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He passed away at the age of 65 on December 21, 1999.
My mom’s father, Leon Ferguson, served two tours of active combat during World War II. Instead of waiting for his name to be called during the draft he volunteered to join the U.S. Army. He fought in France, Germany, and Luxembourg specifically. I’m sure I’m leaving some out, but those of the particular ones that I can remember from conversations. He fought Nazis and he survived. He served one three year tour, was injured, and came home, only to go back for another three year tour. My grandfather volunteered at the age of 17, knowing he would enter into one of the violent wars in history, unbelievable. And yes, he was on the beach in Normandy. He obtained the rank of Private First Class and was awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. He passed away at the age of 83 on Feb 14, 2006.
My dad, who is 90, served in the army during WWII. He and my mom, who is also 90, are still active on the family farm.
My father was a Pearl Harbor survivor. (The picture at left is of me and my father; He stands with my mother on the right).
He joined the Navy in 1936 as an enlisted man he retired as a Commissioned Warrant Officer in 1957.
He was born in Winchester, Kentucky on April 2, 1917. Both of his brothers served in the military: my Uncle Cecil in the Navy, my uncle B. B. in the Army Air Corp.
He was on the USS McDounagh at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. My mother and I were in San Diego, I was 7 months old. My mother didn’t know if he was alive or dead for 10 days.
I was born second in line behind my older brother, Ricky. He was 3 and 1/2 years older than me.
Early on, sibling rivalry developed between us. I always wanted to tag along with Ricky and his friends but being as much younger as I was, they didn’t want me around.
At one point, Ricky and his friends formed a Yankees fan club. I really wanted to be part of it only to once again be denied. That year, the Yankees played the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Since I couldn’t be in the Yankees fan club, I rooted for the Pirates. The Pirates won the series and I became a fan for many years.
Ricky went away to a Catholic seminary for his first two years of high school. In spite of our sibling rivalry, I found myself missing him at times. When he came home, though, the sibling rivalry resumed. As I had developed my own circle of age appropriate friends, the intensity of the rivalry was far less.
When I started my first year at Catholic high school seminary in Missouri, Ricky was in his senior year at local Catholic high school in Louisville. I was homesick at times.
With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up and many of the local St. Louis area boys going home to be with their families, the homesickness was particularly intense. Ricky took the Greyhound and came to visit me over that weekend. His visit meant the world to me. The bitterness of the sibling rivalry was completely dissolved over that weekend.
After graduating from high school, Ricky began a job as a union sheet metal
worker. The Vietnam War was going full tilt by then. Ricky, being the young patriotic man that he was, felt very strongly that he needed to serve his country. In the fall of 1967, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. The following spring, he came home to Louisville before shipping out to Vietnam. I had to get special permission to leave the seminary to visit home before Ricky left. The time of the visit flew by and Ricky took me back to airport to fly back to St. Louis. He walked with me to the tarmac. As I reached the top of the stairs to the plane, I turned to wave goodbye to him.
Our eyes locked and I immediately knew that I would not see him again. I
remember going to my seat with tears in my eyes and a stewardess asking me if I was okay. “Yes,” I said “I just said goodbye to my brother who’s going to Vietnam.” I didn’t tell her what provoked the tears.
On June 15th , 1968, just 10 days after the assassination of Robert Kennedy, one of Ricky’s heroes, Ricky was killed in action in Quan Tri Province, Vietnam. It was the day before my 16th birthday. On Tuesday, June 18th, I was standing on our front porch with some friends when the Marine Corps car pulled into the driveway. My heart sank and there was a pain in the pit my stomach. I knew why they had come and that our lives were never going to be the same.
My mother, Lois Howard was a lieutenant jg in the Navy. She was stationed in Washington in the Office of Naval Intelligence.
One of my mother’s favorite stories was of walking back from night duty almost at sunrise in Washington, where she sometimes ran into President Harry Truman, who was out on his morning walk. Mother reported that Truman would greet her with a salute, saying, “Good morning, Lieutenant!” This was before the assassination attempt on Truman’s life, when he was accompanied by only one or two bodyguards.
My father, James Norris Gray (1917-1972) was a chief petty officer, and spent his tour of duty in the Pacific on a PT boat, and in China.
Editor’s Note: The author, Jim Gray, is the Mayor of Lexington, Kentucky.
My late mother in law, Eva Maurice Schweder, was one of the first one hundred women in the Navy in WWII. She became the first aeronautical draftswoman. She survived the war to come home and complete college, marry and raise three sons following her honorable discharge. The entire family is very proud of her service to her country.
My brother Sol served in the Navy aboard the destroyer Stoddard, DD566. The Stoddard was actively engaged in many of the Naval battles in the Pacific.
His most hair-raising story was of his battle station, and how scary it was to be in the “handling room” during a fire fight. For the uninitiated, the “handling room” on a destroyer is an area in the bottom of the ship where all the black powder is stored. The bulkhead (door) is “battened down”; you’re locked in there, and the job of the crew there is to keep sending bags of black powder up the elevator to the gunners topside.
Sol, (1914-1994), left Louisville in 1936 during the height of the Depression, taking a job in Los Angeles, and finally ending up in Chicago. There he met his future wife, Bertha Goodhart. He was already a father at the time he was drafted, in 1943. After the War, he returned to Chicago where he rejoined his two brother-in-laws in their Goodhart Family business.
The other members of my family that served during this time were my cousin Monroe, who was a sgt. in the signal corps; and my brother-in-law Moby Blanc, husband of my sister Sylvia. He was called up in the very first draft.
At this time, the song “Good Bye Dear, I’ll Be Back in a Year,” was very popular. But alas, before that year was up, war was declared, and those early draftees served much longer than the rest of us. Moby rose to the rank of Captain, and did his tour of duty in North Africa.
Also among the many that I’m remembering today are those men that I served with during WWII (I carry a list of their names in my wallet). At right is a photograph of Edmund Wright, Jack Yowell and “Smitty”. These three pilots were each shot down; Yowell and Smitty were killed in action, and Wright became a prisoner of war after parachuting over Germany. In the photo they are standing by the trailer where we received mission briefings.
Editor’s Note: The author, Jerry Wurmser, is one of the RP’s true heroes. Jerry flew 66 fighter-bomber missions over Europe during the final years of World War II. His earlier claim to fame is that he almost broke the sound barrier on June 9, 1944, at 6:05 p.m. over Salisbury, Maryland, and lived to tell about it. At 88 years young, he remains an active member of Lexington’s Jewish community, as well as a doting grandfather and great-grandfather.
Both of my grandfathers served in the military, and yet the roles they played in my life were very different. My Mom’s father, Thomas Carmine Capone (seen with my grandmother Mary) died many years before I was born. All I know of him was from my mother (and even her memories are less pronounced given he died when she was only 13).
I think though when I summarize his service, I think of a story that after he died, he was buried in a military cemetery in New York. On his tombstone was the letters “BSM” which no one knew what they meant. It turned out my grandfather had been awarded a Bronze Star Medal for operations in Europe during the War.
No one knew if he ever knew or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was just too humble to have ever told any family about it.
My other grandfather, John H. Johnson Jr., is my namesake (seen with my grandmother Jennie). I knew my grandfather very well—having been so lucky to have him as a part of my life for the first 36 years of my life. I didn’t think of my grandfather of a military man, but I do think of him as someone with an incredible work ethic and incredibly high standards. I have no doubt his demanding standards were shaped by his experiences earlier in life and in service to our country.
The greatest compliment I was ever given was from my uncle, who once told me that if my grandfather could have drawn up the plan for what he wanted his grandson to be like, it would have been me. Sharing someone’s name creates a special bond—and in some sense, a special sense of responsibility.
On this Memorial Day, I’d like to recognize both of my grandfathers and all the other veterans who have served our country proudly.