Currently viewing the tag: "Hawaii"

Stories of What It’s Like Returning Home After 25 Years

by dave ammenheuser

Sitting on top of Haleakala in Maui in late October, it was the perfect place to reflect on the craziness of the past year and what lies ahead in the future.

As I’ve chronicled here throughout the past year, I quit my life-long sports journalism career last October, sold my Nashville house, and moved back East to take care of my parents’ estate. My father died in September 2020; my mother passed in December. The tragedy trifecta began when my father-in-law died in July 2020.

After spending a year clearing my father-in-law’s Delaware home and my parents’ Creagerstown home, then selling both houses, it was time for a much-needed vacation to finally let the absorbed emotions of the past year release. It was finally time to shed a tear or two.

My wife and I planned the trip to Hawaii for several years. It was our gift to each other for our 25th wedding anniversary. And, geesh, did we need it.

Unwinding in Hawaii, the one common theme that constantly came to my mind was family. Simply put—as I’ve stressed to my own two children over the past two-plus decades—nothing is more important.

Growing up in Thurmont, my childhood was not perfect. But, as I aged and lived in eight different states, becoming friends with thousands, I’ve realized that nobody’s family is perfect. All families come with their own quirks, many of which remain private and out of the public eye.

I have also become keenly aware of the need for planning for the future. Prior to leaving for Hawaii, my wife and I spent many hours preparing important legal documents: our will and trust, health directives, and power of attorneys. It’s something we always talked about doing but never got around to completing, until last month.

Thankfully, my father-in-law and my parents had their wishes written down in a legal format. That’s the good part.

The bad part is that we rarely talked about them until they became terminally ill.

Over the past year, I’ve reunited with many of my childhood and high school friends. If there’s one bit of advice that I can give each of them (or anybody reading this column), it’s this: If your parents are still living, spend some quality time and sit down with them and talk about their future. It’s important to know what they want their care to look like as they age. You can’t fulfill those wishes if you don’t know what those wishes are.

My mother died of breast cancer that spread to other parts of her body. My father died of congestive heart failure. My father-in-law died from metastasized melanoma cancer that spread to his brain.

My father died instantly; my mother and father-in-law slowly declined over a period of months.

All had completed health directives. My parents (albeit surprisingly) did theirs a few years ago. My father-in-law needed a lot of prodding from my wife and her brothers before he completed his shortly after his terminal diagnosis.

The entire past year would have been more difficult and painful if any of them had not completed the simple form.

Death isn’t a fun subject for any aging person with a challenging diagnosis. Heck, death is the last thing that they want to think about. However, the document is important if your loved one, due to declining health or a medical accident, is unable to cognitively make decisions for his/her own care. It’s a roadmap and guide with legally binding instructions for healthcare providers. You can search online for free fill-in-the-blank forms.

After the healthcare directive is completed, it’s important that you discuss the document’s contents and its location with other loved ones, especially siblings. This is important because some of the information may surprise you (for example, I had always thought my mother wished to be buried, but she relayed to me later and included in her health directive that she wished to be cremated).

A Last Will and Testament is equally important. Your parents don’t need to share the contents of the will with you (my parents’ will certainly had a few surprises), but it’s important to know where important estate documents are kept, so you can access them when the time comes. 

After being away from Thurmont for 25 years, I’ve spent the past year writing funny and heartful anecdotes about my return home. But none of those words are as important as the 700 on this page.

David and Maura Ammenheuser and their parents on their wedding day in 1996. It’s the only photo of all six of them together. All four parents are now deceased.

Dave Ammenheuser reads The Catoctin Banner’s October issue while relaxing on the beach at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park in North Kona, Hawaii.

“Farm Boy to Combat Engineer”

by Priscilla Rall

Robert “Bob” Clifford Mount, the son of Clifford and Violet Mount, grew up milking cows by hand and plowing with a team of horses, named Dick and Queeny. He lived in a home without electricity, phone, or plumbing. Bob was a farm boy, born in 1931 in the Great Depression. He went to a one-room school and knew little about what was going on in the world, as the family could only use their radio when they charged its battery at his grandmother’s house.

In 1948, Bob left school when he turned 18 and joined the U.S. Army.

He went to Fort Belvoir for training at the Heavy Equipment Mechanic School. Then he was sent to Hawaii, where he was able to complete his high school classes and get his diploma. In June 1950, the Korean War erupted unexpectedly, and Bob was sent to Korea in July. His unit, the 72nd Combat Engineer Company, was in the Pusan Perimeter, where the Americans were desperately holding onto a patch of land on the southeast Korean peninsula. When the company was in review one day, the commanding officer asked if anyone could type. No one raised their hand. So, the commanding officer asked again, and this time, Bob raised his hand, breaking the first law in the Army: NEVER volunteer for ANYTHING!
Bob then raced to the camp’s office and yelled, “Does anyone know how to type?” He managed to get a book on learning to type, and he was ready in a few days to become the company’s regimental clerk! But, soon, the company was sent to make roads, sweep for mines, etc. They didn’t have a demolition man, and Pvt. Mount ended up with that job, too.

Once, when they were checking a bridge for explosives, they descended a ravine by the bridge and, without warning, became the target of North Korean snipers. The GIs promptly called for artillery, which quickly ended the snipers’ attack.

Another time, they were passing through a deserted village on a lane with stone walls on both sides when the enemy opened fire on them from behind the walls, resulting in several casualties. The danger was never far away, even in the Pusan Perimeter.

After the successful invasion at Inchon, near Seoul, the troops in the Pusan Perimeter broke out and headed north. Pvt. Mount’s company was part of the 5th Regimental Combat Team that worked with the Turks, the British, the Greeks, the South Koreans, the 1st Cavalry, and the U.S. Marines. Again, they were making roads and also building pontoon bridges. The troops were buoyed by the pronouncement from Gen. MacArthur that they would be “home for Christmas.” The soldiers made their way north with few difficulties until those in on the west side made it to the Yalu River, which divides North Korea and China.

It was mid-November and getting colder by the day. Bob remembers standing guard one night; in the morning, when he was relieved, he got to camp just as the chow truck got there with tasty hot pancakes—the best meal Bob claims he ever had!

Tragedy loomed as the Chinese crossed undetected into North Korea and attacked the Allied troops, just as the soldiers had finished savoring their Thanksgiving dinner. The soldiers located on the east of the Chosin Reservoir and the Marines on its west took the brunt of the enemy’s forces. The northernmost troops in the west were decimated as well. Frederick County lost Cpl. Paul Carty from Thurmont, Sgt. Roy Delauter, Sgt. Joseph Trail (who was captured and died in a POW camp), and Sgt. Norman Reid. Washington County lost PFC Herene Blevins, Cpl. Kenneth Ridge, and Marine PFC Daily Dye, all at the Chosin.

The Allied troops retreated in haste, and most of those killed in the north still lie in that frozen wasteland. Bob recalls that his general ordered a retreat even before MacArthur did. The 8th Army fled in confusion, as did all the Allied troops. His unit finally stopped in Seoul, and they built a bridge next to the destroyed one across the Han River. He could hear friendly howitzers firing north all night long. Ironically, another Maryland boy, Rupert Spring from Dickerson, was with a company illuminating the area to help the engineers building the bridge.

Finally, Bob was sent home and discharged at Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, in August 1951. Unbeknownst to Mount or the military doctors, he had contracted a case of malaria that didn’t flair up for two months. Few local doctors were familiar with this tropical disease, and it was some time until it was properly diagnosed and treated.

Bob soon crossed paths with a beautiful young lady, Winnie, who he had known slightly before the war. They were married in March 1952 and had two children. The GI Bill helped them buy their first home. Later, they lived on Fish Hatchery Road. Bob realized that to get ahead in business, he had to get as much education as he could. With the help of the GI Bill, he took classes at several different colleges and eventually became the Senior VP Auditor with the Bank of America. Pretty good for a boy who grew up without even electricity!

Bob doesn’t regret his time in Korea. The GI Bill helped him in his career, and his ambition did the rest. Bob has been very active in the KWVA Chapter 142, and he and Winnie now live in Country Meadows, enjoying a peaceful retirement that they have both earned. Bob, thank you for your service!

If you are a Veteran or know a Veteran who is willing to tell his or her story, contact the Frederick County Veterans History Project at

Robert Clifford Mount

James Rada, Jr.

Jim Wisotzskey considers himself the luckiest guy in the world. He is ninety-three years old and is still going strong. He has lived in Thurmont all of his life, except for a few years in the 1940s during World War II. He survived the war, barely missing several times when he could have easily been among the casualties—this is why he considers himself so lucky.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, Jim, like many Americans, rushed off to join one of the Armed Forces. The problem was that he was seventeen years old at the time, and he couldn’t enlist without his parents’ signature.

Grinning, Jim recalled, “I know they wanted to get rid of me, but they wouldn’t sign.”

When he turned eighteen, he enlisted in the Marines and was shipped off to Parris Island. Apparently, it wasn’t as grueling a time for Jim as it was for other Marines. He actually said that he liked his drill instructor.

At the end of his basic training, all of the enlistees were taken into a hall and given a test. This was the first time where Jim’s luck helped him out.

“I was raised by a storekeeper, and the test was all about storekeeping things,” he said.

He figures he must have aced the test, because of the ninety-four Marines in his group, he was the only one sent to Quartermaster School in San Diego. The rest were sent off to fight. Once Jim learned how to be a quartermaster, he was shipped off to Hawaii.

Three days after arriving, he and the other Marines were told to line up to get their orders to ship out to an island where they needed to build an airstrip. The problem was that the Japanese were on the island and intended to remain there.

While he was in line waiting to board the plane, a bicycle messenger pedaled up with a message for the officer in charge. The officer read the piece of paper, looked at the line of waiting Marines, and cut it off at a point ahead of Jim. He and the other Marines behind the cut-off were told to return to their barracks.

Jim thought that he would just be taking another plane out the next day, but Hawaii became his duty station.

“Of that first batch of Marines that went out, only seven came back,” Jim said. “It was my name that saved me. We were alphabetical, and I’m always near the end of the line.”

Jim’s job in Hawaii was to gather orders. Each morning, he was given a list of supplies and parts that he needed to collect. Usually, he would go out to Barber’s Point to meet the incoming supply ships and see if they had what he needed. If they didn’t, he still needed to find the items. He would scrounge through junkyards, and also admitted to “borrowing” them from Navy planes without asking the permission of the Navy.

Another instance of his luck saving him was during the West Loch Disaster. On May 21, 1944, a mortar round on a landing ship exploded, which set off a chain of explosions and fires at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. Over the next day, 6 landing ships sank, 163 people were killed, and 396 people were injured.

“We had fallout raining down on our camp for seven days,” Jim said.

The incident was kept classified until 1960, and so it is not a well-known incident from WWII. Jim could have easily been one of the casualties that day, but he was working elsewhere.

“Friends told me they saw Marines holding onto railings with their heads missing, but they were still standing,” remembered Jim.

One time where his luck failed him was when it came time to return to the states. As he was waiting to board the ship that would take him home, he got horrible stomach pains and doubled over. He was taken to sick back with an acute appendicitis, so severe that a doctor had to be brought in to operate immediately on Jim.

Meanwhile, the ship sailed without him, and it had all his papers. He was forced to spend the next three months recovering in a tent area on Hawaii until his papers made their way back to him and he could leave for California.

As the war wound down, Jim got two weeks leave, which he spent in Thurmont, getting married. He and Lilalee Caton had known each other before the war started; although, she had been fourteen and he seventeen when they met. She wrote to him while he was in Hawaii and sent him care packages. Now they were both adults and decided to marry on July 4, 1945.

The war was already won in Europe, and the focus was on ending the war in the Pacific. After his leave, Jim had to return to California for six more months. He was discharged as a sergeant at the end of the war and returned home to his wife.

He became a carpenter, and he and Lilalee raised three children. Lilalee passed away last year, but she did not leave Jim alone. Besides their three children, they have seven grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.

Jim Wisotzkey is shown in front of a display of the many puzzles he has put together and mounted as an art display at Moser Manor.

by Jim Houck, Jr.


George and mother and wife - VETERANS COLUMNBorn on April 5, 1921, just north of Thurmont at Franklinville, to Roy and Blanche Baker, was a boy they named George. George had three brothers and two sisters: Raymond, Donald, and Leroy, and Ruth and Helen (nicknamed Tootie). In 1940, at the age of nineteen, George decided he wanted to join the military. His brother, Raymond (nicknamed Hun), had already been in the military several months, and was somewhere around Washington, D.C.

George enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Baltimore, Maryland, in November of 1940, and asked to be sent to Hawaii. He was sent to Fort Slocum, New York, for basic training, where it was bitter cold, which made his training very difficult. He volunteered for a “honey dipping” job because he heard he could keep warm. He found out the job was dipping solids out of the sewage; he said it did keep him warm, but he didn’t smell very good at the end of the day.

When it was time to go home on leave for Christmas, George caught the flu; if you had a temperature over 100 degrees, you couldn’t leave. George knew his was high, so he keep ice in his mouth until his temperature was taken; he passed and was allowed to go home. Christmas of 1940 was the last time he was home until January 1943. He stayed at Fort Slocum until the end of January 1941, when he was loaded on a ship; the U.S.A.T. Republic headed for Hawaii.

George arrived in Honolulu in early March and was put in a truck and taken to a small train that took him to Wheeler Field in central Oahu. Some of his friends, “Pipe” Fuss, Jim Adelsberger, and Jack Stoner, were already in Hawaii and wanted to see him, but because they were sick, they were quarantined and did not get to see him until later. When they finally saw each other, they had quite a chat about Emmitsburg and Hawaii. George was allowed to have a pass to go anywhere on the island; while at Waikiki Beach, he got a bad sunburn. He didn’t want to report to the hospital, because it was a court-martial offense to get sunburned. He was digging a ditch from Wheeler to Schofield Barracks, and it would have been bad for his sunburn. Luckily his sergeant allowed him to take it easy until his sunburn healed.

They were forming new fighter groups, and they had P-36s and the newer P-40s arriving frequently. George was assigned to the 72nd fighter squadron, and in September 1941, he was sent to Hickam Field to attend Aircraft and Engine School. It was a three-month course and was going along nicely. At the end of November, he was taken out of school and put on ground defense. George was issued a rifle and pistol and was on guard at different places around the base and then, they were moved from the new barracks to a tent area across from the Post Exchange. On the night of December 6, 1941, George was on guard duty at the water tower of Hickam from midnight until 6:00 a.m., the morning of December 7. While he was walking in from the tower he saw a float plane fly across very high. George just thought it was one of our navy planes and forgot about it, but it could have been a Japanese observation plane.

George decided to go to the barracks and eat breakfast and take a shower. He was getting dressed when there were several explosions. He thought it was the Navy dive-bombing off Pearl Harbor. He raised a window blind and saw a plane drop a bomb into the Hawaiian Air Force Depot Hanger and knew it wasn’t the Navy doing the bombing.

George finished dressing and was going to try to get back to the tent area. When going down the steps a sergeant yelled, “everybody out on the parade ground.” George looked at the parade ground which had quite a lot of soldiers on it.  As a Japanese plane came across strafing, he decided that was not the place to be, so he stayed close to the buildings and worked his way to the Post Exchange. By that time, the Jap planes were bombing Pearl Harbor and then flying across Hickam Field strafing. Soon after, they bombed Hickam Field, and from what George understood, several different places in Hawaii.

At the Post Exchange they stood behind concrete pillars and watched the planes fly over. George could see the big red ball painted on their planes, but no one knew what nation they came from. They started to strafe the area that George was in so he ran over to the tent area and got his guns.

There was a rumor going around that the Japanese were landing on the beach across from Hickam, so they loaded George on a truck with some machine guns and took him over to the beach-side of Hickam. They set up machine guns where they could cover the beach and left George there with very little ammunition. From his vantage point, George could see the bombing and burning of Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field. Some planes tried to take off (B-18s and B-12s) and were shot down by our own people. Everything was very confusing and some B-17s coming in from the states tried to land and some made it and some didn’t.

The Japanese hit very hard for a couple of hours. Around noon, the officers asked George and the other soldiers to go over to where the buildings and planes were and see if they could help. They were to see if they could find anyone injured and take them to the hospital. The hospital was already filled and some were waiting outside. George helped several to the hospital and he found a leg and part of an arm and saw some things he couldn’t identify.

George said his hatred for Japanese started at that time and kept up to the very day he wrote about it. He said he would never forgive them and had they declared war first he may have looked at it differently.

George said that that evening they returned to the beach where they had set up. During the night, they were awakened several times and asked their name, rank and serial number. They got very little sleep that night.

They spent a couple of days on the beach “digging in” and reinforcing their positions. On the 10th of December, they were told to go to a place to be paid. When George’s turn came, he was told they couldn’t pay him, as he was listed as dead. A couple of soldiers he knew told them he was George Baker, so they paid him.

George’s parents were notified on the 10th of December that he had been killed. They were not notified until December 24th that he was alive, even though George was told to write a letter home soon after the attack. Due to priorities, mail was very slow leaving Hawaii. All the plaques and monuments listing George’s name as being dead weren’t cleared until 1996.

Several days after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, George was transferred back to Wheeler Field. He was in the 72nd fighter squadron where he went to Hickam to school. The planes were in short supply because of the bombings. They had little use for crew chiefs, so he was assigned as crew chief on the Group Commander Colonel Steele’s P-36. Colonel Steele was a West Point officer and very strict.

George didn’t like Headquarters Group and wanted to get back to the 72nd Squadron, but Colonel Steele wouldn’t transfer him. They hadn’t received many planes. One time, Colonel Steele came down to fly his plane and it wouldn’t start, so George asked him to get out. George tried and it started right up. It was right after a rain and Wheeler Field was a grass strip at that time. When the Colonel landed, George could tell he was mad. He told George he rolled the plane over several times and a piece of dirt hit him in the face, and if that was combat, he could have been killed. George said, “Colonel look at your boots, they have mud on them from the rain.” The colonel said, “Baker how long have you been in the Army? You never have an excuse.”

George decided then he wanted to return to the 72nd Squadron. The next morning George was in his office asking for a transfer. He was told no, so George did that for about a week and the answer was always no.

Finally, he told George that the only way he would transfer him was to be busted. George was Staff Sergeant and hated to lose it but, he said, “bust me!” Colonel Steele did. The next day George was transferred as a private. George was glad to get back to the 72nd and was made crew chief on a P-40. He was allowed one promotion a month, so in several months he was back to Staff Sergeant.

From Wheeler Field, George was moved to Barbers Point on the coast for several months. While he was there, he tried to burn some gas-soaked rags and got badly burned. He was in the hospital a couple of weeks.

From Barbers Point he was transferred to the golf course at Schofield Barracks. While there, George happened to run into Colonel Steele. Colonel Steele told George that since the war started, the requirements for aviation cadets had been lowered from two years at college to a high school diploma. George told him he had lied, and only had two years of high school. Colonel Steele told George if he lied once, he may as well do it again and put in for it. He got George some math books to brush up on. George had no trouble passing the exam.

George returned to the states as a cadet in January 1943 and was stationed at Santa Anna, California, where he was allowed to go home for a few days before pre-flight began. The academics and physical training were tough, but George managed to make it. They wanted to make him a bomber pilot or a navigator or a bombardier, but George said he wanted to be a fighter pilot or be sent back to his old squadron.

They finally gave in. After pre-flight, he was sent to Santa Maria for primary flight training.  George said he soloed in a PT-17 and it was one of the greatest thrills he had ever had, being up there by himself. The courses were exciting, as they did a lot of acrobatics, and he was finally flying solo, something George never expected to do. It took 7.46 minutes for him to solo, which was about normal for all cadets. May, June and July he spent in primary flight school; August and September he was in basic training in a BT-13 at Lancaster, California; October and November, he  was in Advance Flying School at Chandler, Arizona, where he was flying an AT-9, a twin engine training plane; he also flew an AT-6 and checked out a P-38.  He said it was a thrill because the P-38 had 2300 horsepower. George graduated in the class of 43K, December 5, 1943.

continued in next month’s issue.


Note: A special thanks to George’s daughter, Connie Baker Fisher, for providing all the information and photos about George and granting me permission to write his story.