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BY RALPH SCHAEFER, TULSA BUSINESS & LEGAL NEWS
Their eyes said the unsaid as World War II and Korean War veterans recounted some of their military experiences.
The 83 veterans were on the Oklahoma Honor Flight #20 from Tulsa on June 10.
These are a few of their recollections.
One of the first
Bonnie Clavijo stood and waved proudly when the Coast Guard Hymn was played at the Bixby High School auditorium.
The World War II veteran from Bartlesville was the only member of that branch of service on the Honor Flight roster.
Clavijo, one of the first female members of the Coast Guard SPAR, originally had enlisted in the Navy.
When the call went out for volunteers she made the change.
The first assignment was the Coast Guard Office off Charleston, S.C. and the new members were quickly challenged when they had to find their own quarters.
“I had a high school education and two years world experience at that time,” she said. “I grew up in a hurry. If my folks who lived in the midwest had known why was going on they probably would have come to get us.”
Parental actions would not have been permitted since Clavijo and others had enlisted for three years.
Future enlistees would have living quarters available, but Clavijo and her colleagues were permitted to stay in their original accommodations.
Clavijo said her Coast Guard training was extended three weeks beyond that of her Navy counterparts.
The reason, she said was they had to learn the meaning of SPAR, the Coast Guard motto The Latin and English translations are Semper Partus! Always Ready!
Actor influenced decision
Thomas Howard Boone
Marine Buck Sgt. Thomas Howard Boone is extremely proud of his time in the United States Marine Corps.
Boone, from Bixby, said his service from 1954 to 1957 was in the Corps air wing where he served as a radio operator in an RSD four engine aircraft either transporting military personnel or supplies to the K19 Airbase in Korea from Japan.
Boone’s seat on the aircraft was directly behind the pilot and his job was to maintain constant air to ground radio contact.
“I have no idea how many tons of supplies or the number of personnel we moved from one point to another,” he said. “I was a 19 to 20 year-old kid and stuff like that didn’t mean much to me at the time.”
Boone said he was from a southeast Missouri and “was not very worldly” at that time.
“I was thrilled to be part of the action and did what I was told,” he said. “I was the low man in rank on the totem pole at that time and got all the unpleasant details. We gassed (fueled) our own aircraft and I was pouring gasoline into the wing tank.”
Boone chuckled as he recalled the reason he chose to the Marines.
“I’m a John Wayne fan and he made a lot of Marine movies,” he said. “I especially enjoyed his role in the 1949 movie as Sgt. John M. Stryker in ‘Sands of Iwo Jima’.”
Aircraft cowlings full of debris
Pat Nobles, USMC
Pat Nobles looked at photos of Corsairs returning from a combat mission in Korea to the U.S.S. Boxer aircraft carrier.
The Broken Arrow resident who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War vividly remembered the scene.
He and other Marines in his detail were on that carrier waiting to service the returning aircraft so they could fly back to support ground troops again.
Nobles reviewed the book “Korea Reborn, A Grateful Nation” that honored the veterans for 60 years of growth.
As he looked at the various photographs, Nobles pointed to a lone tank saying the armored vehicles made up the artillery early in the war.
The tanks were parked in such a manner their guns were elevated so they could serve as artillery until the real weapons arrived.
Nobles, who was part of the June 10 Oklahoma Honor Flight, said his job was to clear the debris from the air cowlings in front of the plane.
The debris had been picked up by the low-flying aircraft as they supported American ground troops.
“The troops loved the support,” he said. “It took a lot of work to get the aircraft serviced and some of the bullet holes repaired in the fuselage. Some journalists on the ship placed bets on how much debris the Corsairs might have in the cowlings when they returned.”
Nobles rotated back to stateside duty to get other aircraft ready to be shipped to Korea.
He narrowly escaped death when the engine failed in the aircraft in which he was a passenger.
The pilot was able to glide the aircraft down and landed it in the sea. The crash was seen and they guided a rescue crew to the site.
Howard Hermann, sitting in front of the Korean War Memorial, vividly remembered his service in that country.
Hermann, from Claremore, recalled being in foxholes as American troops prepared for another invasion from the north.
It was 1956 and Hermann, a member of the Oklahoma Honor Flight 20, was part of the “cleanup detail” somewhere between Pork Chop Hill and the Freedom and Liberty Bridges near the DMZ — demilitarized zone.
The North Koreans and Chinese forces had blown up ammunition dumps in the area during the fighting and it was the detail’s job to clear the debris that had been left behind.
Unknown to the Americans, the North Korean and Chinese forces decided to stage practice maneuvers near the border.
Those actions kept the infantry unit on constant alert.
Even though Hermann was not involved in combat, the memories of what he saw as he helped clean up are burned in his memory.
One soldier assigned to the unit and been in the fighting told about the viciousness of the combat, he said.
Get out, quick!
Joe Busby and his team saw an angry Army colonel flagging his team down when they were on Leyte in the Pacific during World War II.
They were told they were behind enemy lines and to get out of the area.
Busby, from Depew, and his son Randy, Colorado Springs, Colo. who was visiting his father, were among the veterans and guardians on the Oklahoma Honor Flight 20 on June 10.
“We were in the Philippines and New Guinea,” he said. “We also had been sent to Australia and New Zealand.”
The elder Busby was a member of the U.S. Army’s 643 Ordinance Company that was responsible for setting up supply dumps to provide needed material for the troops on the front lines.
The company stayed together most of the war, but they were split when the Leyte and Mindora invasions were planned.
That was when they were told they were behind enemy lines and, Busby said, “it didn’t take long to get out of there.”
The unit was assigned to Japan as part of the occupational force at war’s end.
Busby now lives on the family farm that he left in 1943 to serve his country.
He returned in 1999.
“Mother bought the 80 acres in 1910,” he said. The family moved there in 1920 and I was born there in 1923.
Part of the acreage has been converted to a Serenity Retreat, Ron said.
Feeding the troops
Lee Stone’s Army Air Force career might not have seemed exciting during World War II.
He never flew missions over Europe, but he did live at the edge and was near significant military actions.
The first lieutenant from Dewey, lived in Bartlesville when he was drafted in 1941.
Stone’s job was to feed men assigned to 16 different fighter groups, first in England and later in Germany.
Stone, at 97, was the oldest member of the Oklahoma Veterans Flight #20 on June 10. He will be 98 on June 28.
Stone is hard of hearing 70 years after the war ended and attributed the difficulty to a German bombing raid before he left England.
“I wound up flat on my back in a shallow trench,” he recalled. “I think that is what hurt my hearing.”
The injury didn’t slow his work.
Stone, as commissary commander would follow American troops into Normandy on D-Day Plus 7.
“It was dark when we drove our truck ashore,” he said. “We decided to stop for the night and sleep in the truck.”
The next morning they found they had driven into a German mine field. They quickly backed out of the area and moved into a safe zone.
German aircraft continued to strafe the Americans during those first weeks after D-Day on June 6, 1944. It took time for the Americans to liberate Paris and move towards the German border.
Stone and his men would continue to set up kitchens to feed the troops and after the Battle of the Bulge found themselves headed into Germany.
The enemy had destroyed bridges, but the determined airmen eventually found a pontoon bridge across the Rhine River.
Stone went to one of the concentration camps that had been liberated, but commented little on the memory.
Eventually, Germany surrendered and Stone and his detachment were put in a French railroad box car and moved to the Mediterranean Sea with orders to go to the Pacific Theatre where war continued to rage against Japan.
Japan surrendered while they were waiting so they got to go home.
Stone returned to Bartlesville and after earning a law degree, went to work for Phillips Petroleum Co., a company he would retire from.
He chuckled as he recalled his career and that of his father who also retired from Phillips.
“Dad worked on the railroad and came home one day to tell mom that he was going to work for a new company, Phillips Petroleum Company. I was three years old at the time,” Stone said.
Phillips Petroleum was formed in 1917, the same year Stone was born.
“Dad didn’t think the company would last very long,” he said. “He wrote payroll chefs in longhand to pay employees. He was writing payroll checks totaling $100 million annually when he retired.”
Twins join together
Jim and Bill Rogers
Jim and Bill Rogers, fraternal twins from Locust Grove, signed up for a four-year hitch in the U.S. Air Force in 1952.
The agreement with the military was they were to stay together until their enlistment that ended in 1956. That agreement lasted two and one-half years when one brother went to Germany, the other to Alaska.
Bill Rogers was a procurement and contract specialist responsible for getting supplies to bases.
Jim Rogers was in technical work that supported the F86 aircraft.
Both were initially assigned to Clovis Air Force Base, New Mexico.
Basic training was taken at a now-closed base at Camp Parks, Calif.
The Korean War ended before the brothers could be deployed to that part of the world, but the need for their service continued.
The twins were separated when Jim went to eastern France to a base 90 miles from the Russian border.
Tensions were high because rumors abounded that Russia was going to take over Germany, he said. “I was assigned to an F86 Squadron where I was part of a team responsible for technical support for the aircraft.”
He spent two years in that overseas assignment.
Bill went to a colder part of the world, Goose Bay, Labrador, where he continued his work in purchasing and contracting.
The brothers said they looked forward to the Honor Flight and quickly admitted they would “do it,” sign up again.
Korean duty diverted
Eddie Lee Bachtold
Eddy Lee Bachtold was training to go to Korea in 1951 when his orders were changed.
Rumors were flying that Russia was fixing to invade and take over Germany.
As a result, Bachtold, and approximately 10,000 other soldiers training at Ft. Benning, Ga., were sent to Germany where they would spend an extensive amount of time on maneuvers during the next two years.
Private First Class Bachtold was assigned to a headquarters company that was charged with supplying ammunition to other companies in the division.
“I enjoyed my time in Germany,” he said. “When we got off maneuvers, a friend from Belleville, Ill. and I wold get a three day pass, get on a train and go as far as we could from the camp.”
Occasionally, they would get too far away and had to hurry to get back before curfew.
Bachtold took a lot of pictures during his tour, but one of the most memorable was when a group of U.S. soldiers were taken to Salsburg, Austria to see Hitler’s former summer home.
“That was where Hitler and his SS troops would hang out,” he said. “I enjoyed my time in the Army and recruiters tried to get us to extend our time and continue our service there. I chose to come home instead.”
A native of Ryan, a southern Oklahoma community on U.S. 81 located 30 miles north of the Texas border, Bachtold graduated from high school in 1947.
He attended college at Weatherford for one year before getting a job and working in Oklahoma City and being drafted when the Korean War broke out.
Returning home, Bachtold worked in various jobs in Oklahoma City before moving to Owasso.
He worked in construction and retired in 1995.
Since then he has done a lot of hunting and fishing.
Marine Corps is bond
Barbara Kepper, Robert Starr
Barbara Kepper and Robert Starr found they have one thing in common on Oklahoma Honor Flight #20.
Both served in the U.S. Marine Corps, but in different wars.
Starr, from Warr Acres, served in World War II.
Kepper, from Owasso, served in Korea.
Kepper, who served from 1954 to 1956, completed basic training at Paris Island, S.C., and then was assigned to Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Future duty would find her assigned to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where commissary duty would find her working in shifts of three, three days, three evenings and three days off.
“I went on mess duty while at Pearl Harbor,” she said. “I loved it. No, I didn’t wash pots and pans. We had tables to set and on Sundays we could order eggs the way we liked them.”
Collins brothers step up to serve
Charles and Stanley Collins
Charles and Stanley Collins were among six brothers in the family to serve in World War II.
Only one, killed in a training accident, failed to return.
Charles, from Salina, and Stanley, from Sallisaw, were among the 83 veterans combined from two wars, World War II and Korea on the Oklahoma Honor Flight #20 on June 10.
Charles was in the Navy, Stanley in the Air Force.
Stanley said he worked in the atomic missile program during his service time.
“I saw a lot and I am sure glad that MacArthur (General Douglas) wasn’t allowed to use the weapon in Korea,” he said.
Stanley’s extended duty came when he was stationed in Alaska before statehood. That was considered overseas and he drew the extra pay afforded those serving outside the continental U.S. borders.
Skirmishes with the Japanese had occurred in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska during World War II and any person who served until December 1946 was classified as a veteran of that war.
Charles was 17 years old when he joined the Navy in 1944.
He wold serve as a radio man on a flotilla flagship that would take him from Hawaii to Guam, the Philippines and eventually become part of the occupational forces in Japan.
“I went from boot camp training to the end of the war without coming home,” he said. “I was on the ocean 44 days without seeing any land.”
Eniwetok, part of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific was the first land Charles saw during that long voyage. They picked up fresh water, giving those on board a change from the salt water they had been using on the ship.
Charles’ ship was part of the flotilla supporting the Iwo Jima invasion.
Forward observer duty
Robert Lyle Baker
Army Staff Sgt. Robert Lyle Baker, a radio man and an officer found themselves either close to or at the front of the lines during combat.
As an artillery forward observer, Baker, then 23 who now lives in Sand Springs, and his team found the highest position possible to observe German troops and call for artillery support for American troops.
“We had our maps, but it was necessary to make corrections to ensure that our fire fell on the enemy,” he said. “Sometimes we were in front of our infantry, but we often were in their midst.
Baker, a Minnesota native, served in the European theatre for nearly three years before returning home in January, 1946.
“I can’t think of anything significant during those combat days,” he said. “We frequently were fired upon by German troops as they attempted to take our positions.”
Men in the units became friends and family to replace loved ones left at home, Baker said. “We were with some of them day in and day out.”
Baker saw the end of World War II and it would be eight months before he would return to the U.S.
Millions of soldiers had to be moved back to America and the process was done on a point system.
A peacetime assignment in a war-torn land found Baker and other American soldiers serving as occupation troops.
Baker was assigned to oversee five or six small German communities that had a government in place.
This was different than his artillery observer training and it was another learning process for him.
“I learned how to be humble when dealing with people,” he said. I was responsible for visiting each village daily to ensure that newly established rules were being followed. Sometimes we had to fire government officials and replace them with others.”
The soldiers also were responsible for collecting and confiscating any weapons that were in the villages.
“I can’t say there was any reason for those actions other than the safety of our troops,” he said. “It was hard to require a farmer who had never opposed us in combat to give up his beloved shotgun, one that he had used only for hunting.”
Other soldiers assigned to larger communities, were part of squads that would go through the town during the middle of the night searching for weapons and Nazis that were hiding as civilians.
These were scary times but these raids did find weapons and fugitives, Baker said.
Baker doesn’t glorify his military service and considers it was a time when a job had to be done.
Other family members would serve in Korea and Vietnam.
Baker feels the futility that over the time since his service more than 70 years ago that no way has been found to resolve differences than through war.
60 Missions later
John Kirkland’s military career began when he joined the Air National Guard in 1941.
That branch became the Army Air Corps with the outset of World War II and Kirkland, from Tulsa, and his outfit would be assigned to the Mediterranean theater.
Kirkland, who didn’t make the 20th Honor Flight trip but attended the June 9 ceremony, served as a radio operator, gunner on a B26 twin engine bomber. He also was the photographer, taking photos on the mission.
The aircraft could fly a maximum of 13,000 feet because there was no oxygen, he said. Flights were limited to the amount of gasoline the aircraft could carry.
The aircraft would fly missions to support ground troops, the 45th Infantry Division, when they were trapped at Anzio.
Kirkland would fly more than 60 missions, from Anzio to the Alps.
There would be missions in southern France and eventually in Germany, he said. “We didn’t stay in France very long.”
“I volunteered for the National Guard to keep from being drafted,” Kirkland said. “That’s how I got into the Air Force.”
Don’t kill the babies
“Don’t kill the babies.”
That is Bert Tenney’s plea today, more than 60 years after the end of the Korean War. It is almost his sole vocal reflection on his experience.
Tenney couldn’t go to work in 1952 because he was just 17 years-old and no work was available in Michigan.
He went to Ann Arbor, enlisted in the Army and after basic training was given a 30 caliber machine gun. He then found himself in the middle of the fighting on the Korean peninsula.
Tenney, who now lives in Tulsa, has made Oklahoma his home for many years, said he fell in love with the state and its people.
“Oklahomans are a great group of people who would give you the shirt off their back or let you walk into their home to borrow a cup of sugar,” he said.
Tenney was one of the Korean War veterans on the Oklahoma Honor Flight from Tulsa on June 10.
Since the war he has buried the memory deep inside and opened up only slightly because of the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.
Nineteen children were counted among the 168 people who were killed in the blast. At least 650 people were injured.
The bombing and the deaths of the babies revived the memories because many were killed during the war.
“You can go ahead and slap me around and I can slap you around,” Tenney said. “Just don’t kill the babies. That is the sad product of war.”
Hoyt one of first recruits
Thelma Hoyt was one of the first women recruited for the U.S. Air Force in 1950.
She and seven other women from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, felt the call to serve their country in 1950 as the Korean War raged.
She joined the service without a definite career path, but left as a fully trained nurse, work that she continues today.
“We didn’t know what we were getting into and the Air Force didn’t know what to do with us,” she said.
Hoyt, now living in Tulsa, and her fellow recruits were sent for basic training in Sand Antonio, Texas.
No female barracks were available for the women, so they were billeted in newly built men’s quarters.
“We were naive,” Hoyt said with a smile. “We saw urinals on the wall for the first time and didn’t know what they were for. We only had cold water on the base and we thought that was where we should wash our hair.”
When a male lieutenant colonel was inspecting the facility he wanted to know why there was so much hair in the urinals, she said. Shampoo bottles were nearby and he quickly assessed the situation. He was nearly “busting a gut” he was laughing so hard as he left the building.
Hoyt was assigned to a military hospital in Great Falls, Montana, a facility that received badly wounded men as the result of combat.
It was classified as a “RON,” remain overnight medical hospital where the men were stabilized, then sent to other facilities for specialized treatment.
It also had a maternity ward where babies were delivered hourly.
Women of military personnel living in a five-state area around the Montana facility were flown to medical facility to have their baby. Any siblings that made the flight were cared for in a separate area until their mother and the newborn could make the return flight home, generally a week later.
“I would be working in another area of the hospital when a doctor would call and tell me to get ready for another birth,” Hoyt said.
Hoyt left the Air Force when her three-years were over, fully trained as a nurse.
She quickly said she still is a nurse even though she now works as a nurses aide.
“But I always will be a nurse,” she said.