Currently viewing the tag: "Veteran Spotlight"

Sergeant David J. Smith

KIA Afghanistan

David J. Smith was born on February 16, 1984, in Washington, D.C., to parents Mary Jane McWilliams and Leonard Alan Smith.

The Sergeant David J. Smith Memorial Fund website noted that he had been raised by stepparents, John Jones and Olga Smith, and was the “the middle child to sister, Kristen, and brother, Daniel… (and) he was part of a loving and extended family; he was a caring son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and friend.”

The Washington Post reported in its January 31, 2010, issue, “As a boy in Frederick, Maryland, David Smith loved to play with his Army and G.I. Joe action figures and spent hours (at play) rescuing his older sister Kristen from all manner of imagined peril.”

Smith was a 2002 graduate of Frederick High School, where he had participated in various sports, including wrestling, lacrosse, soccer, and football. According to his obituary, as posted by Stauffer Funeral Homes, he had also enjoyed participating in school plays.

At the time he enlisted in the Marine Corps, he was also attending East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, where he played lacrosse and majored in distribution and logistics. According to his obituary, “He loved the Redskins, country music, living down South, ECU Pirates, and life in general.”

Smith had enlisted into the Marine Corps on December 29, 2003, and was assigned to the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Bravo Company in Camp Pendleton, California, where he served as a light-armored vehicle crewman, according to thefallen.militarytimes.com.

His first deployment was to Iraq from 2006 to 2007, during the culmination of the War in Iraq, and he was subsequently deployed to Afghanistan during October 2009, during the final year of “Operation Enduring Freedom,” which had been initiated as the result of the attack on America on September 11, 2001, by terrorist elements based in Afghanistan.

At age 25, Smith was fatally injured on January 23, 2010, as the result of a suicide bomber attack while on patrol with his unit in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

The Washington Post reported on January 31, 2010, that Smith was injured when “a suicide bomber made it through the security perimeter and detonated a bomb, which had killed three Marines and injured four others,” noting further that Smith’s sister stated that a ball-bearing that had been contained in the bomb had fatally embedded itself in the back of the Marine’s skull.

The Post further reported that his sister said, “Military doctors kept Smith on life support until his father and mother… were able to fly to (medical facilities) in (Landstuhl) Germany… Once his parents arrived, doctors removed Smith from life support, and he died. In keeping with his wishes, Smith’s organs were donated.”

His sister told The Post that “They (medical authorities) told us he saved five or six other people because of that (the organ donations) … I think David would have liked that.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that Smith had died on January 26 from the wounds he had received on January 23.

The (Baltimore) Sun reported on February 2, 2010, that Sergeant Smith was to be interred in the Arlington National Cemetery.

Smith’s military service awards include the Combat Action Ribbon, Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal, according to thefallen.militarytimes.com.

In the aftermath of Smith’s death, his family established the Sergeant David J. Smith Memorial Fund” to provide temporary assistance to Veterans in Frederick County.” The fund can be accessed at sgtdavidjsmith.org.

Additionally, a scholarship is issued in his name every year at Frederick High School from an endowed fund. East Carolina University set up its own memorial scholarship at the School of Engineering and Technology, that being the David J. Smith Leadership

Medic John W. Bennett

Survived Being KIA

by Richard D. L. Fulton

John W. Bennett was born (“at home”) on March 13, 1948, in Takoma Park, a Montgomery County suburb of Washington, D.C., to parents J.W. and Elmira Bennett. He graduated from Westminster High School. 

Bennett subsequently met his wife Shirley (“on a blind date”). They have two children: John, Jr. and Diana, and they have lived in Fairfield for more than three decades. His wife is presently employed at Saint Catherine’s Nursing Center in Emmitsburg.

Bennett enlisted in the Army and was inducted in October 1966, as a conscientious objector, and thus served as a medic. As a private, Bennett was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for training, and subsequently to Fort Sam Houston, Texas. 

After graduating from training, Bennett was sent to Hawaii, where he was assigned to the United States Army’s 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Light Infantry Brigade, to undergo “jungle training” to prepare for deployment to Vietnam.

Bennett and his unit departed from Hawaii on December 5, 1967, and after a 10-day trek across the ocean, the 11th Light Infantry Brigade was “boots-on-the-ground” in Vietnam, ultimately arriving at Due Pho.

Within days, he found himself assigned to a Recon (Reconnaissance) unit as part of Echo Company, wherein he saw numerous actions in operations against the Vietnamese. 

On one mission, in particular, his Recon unit was suddenly ambushed in a surprise attack, which ultimately turned into a full-scale battle as the Recon team fell back to a safer position. Before the engagement was concluded, the enemy troops found themselves being hit with air strikes, artillery rounds, mortar and gunship fire, and even a coastal warship that had opened up on the enemy.

Bennett said, “Perhaps a million dollars’ worth of ammunition was fired that night… As I looked around the field (after the fight), I could see literally hundreds of bodies.”

But it was during Operation Dragon when the unit’s position came under regular attacks, particularly during storms. Bennett said the enemy preferred moving through the jungles during storms because it made it more difficult for the American defenders to see them.

Having been attacked during a storm the preceding night, Bennett instinctively grabbed an M-16 and several rounds of ammunition and settled down next to a bunker, where he had a clear view of an adjacent hill (medics can carry arms if a unit is short-handed and/or if a troop position is under imminent threat). 

Being seated by the bunker was the last thing Bennett remembered, except for a moment when he thought he was lying on a litter next to a helicopter, at which point he said, “Then there was a huge tunnel (that he saw) and pastel-colored lights with a really bright light at the end, and then suddenly, it went out and left me in the dark.”

Some 10 to 20 hours later, he regained consciousness but felt that he was confined in some kind of plastic tarp. Reaching down into his pocket, he found his knife and cut his way out.

When he sat up, he was startled to discover the tarp in which he had been encased was actually a body bag, and “around me were perhaps a hundred litters with filled body bags on them.” After sitting there for some 20 minutes, a medical staff member entered into what turned out as being a military morgue, and attended to Bennett, showing him his bag-tag that stated, “KIA – Struck by Lightning.”

Amazingly, after recuperating, Bennett returned to duty.

Bennett was honorably discharged from the Army in October 1972. He was awarded two Bronze Stars and numerous other awards issued by the Republic of Vietnam and the United States Army. He was never issued a Purple Heart. He did write a book on his personal experiences during the war, entitled Killed in Action – Struck by Lightning, published by the United Book Press, Baltimore.

To this day, Bennett stated that he still suffers from the effects of having been struck by lightning.

Specialist-4 Richard Sanders

“Chopper Down” Rescue Service in Vietnam

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Helicopters played a major role in the Vietnam War, notably in support of ground operations and in airlifting combat casualties, but this placed many of them at the risk of taking enemy fire themselves.

Richard Sanders, Sabillasville, was born in 1947 in the Waynesboro Hospital, the son of parents Lester and Hilda Sanders of Sabillasville. His father, Lestor, worked as a pipe cutter in a pipe factory, according to the 1950 United States Federal Census, while his mother was listed as a housewife.

Sanders attended Thurmont High School, graduating in 1965, and attended Penn State Mont Alto, graduating in 1968 with an “accelerated” associate degree in engineering technology.

The course was “accelerated” as the result of Sanders having been serving in the Pennsylvania Army Reserve since 1966 with the 357th Transportation Company based in Hagerstown. Facing activation with his unit as the Vietnam War continued to drag on, Penn State Mont Alto staff and professors accelerated the final courses and final exams needed to satisfy the requirements of earning the associate degree.

Following the May 1968 activation of the 357th Transportation Company, Sanders, as a helicopter crew chief, and the 357th Transportation Company (classified as Aircraft Maintenance Direct Support) were assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia for advance training before being shipped overseas to Vietnam. The advance elements of the 357th arrived at Bien Hoa Air Base on September 27, 1968 followed by the main body on October 11.

The 357th Transportation Company was assigned to the 520th Transportation Battalion, with a portion of the 357th designated as the 20th Transportation Company, which was then based at Cu Chi. Sanders was then with the 20th Transportation Company because of the re-designation. The primary helicopter of the transportation units was the “Huey.”

As to the duties of Sanders and the 20th Transportation Company, they were to repair battle-damaged helicopters and render them serviceable. 

He said repair work restoring downed helicopters was accomplished by the men in shifts, but if one or more of the workers was making substantive progress on one of the wrecks, they might not cease work on the craft until it was fully functional again.

“If you started working on one (damaged helicopter), you worked on it until it could get back into the air again,” Sanders said.

It would seem that such a job would not entail much of a risk, but the base had come under attack several times. In February 1969, a small force of the Viet Cong attacked Cu Chi and damaged and destroyed 11 aircraft, according to transportation.army.mil. The base was again attacked on August 15, resulting in the 20th Transportation Company having sustained a number of wounded.

Another of Sanders’ duties was to serve on recovery helicopters as needed to bring back downed choppers, which often entailed flying into active combat zones, Sanders explained, noting, “Everyone took turns flying (on recovery missions).”

Sanders said the recovery operations included utilizing heavy-lift helicopters, such as the dual-propellered Boeing CH-47 Chinook and the CH54 “flying cranes” (for jobs too big for the Chinooks to handle).  Recovery of a downed aircraft usually included strapping the damaged craft to the recovery helicopter and air-lifting the wreck back to the base of operations for repairs (if the helicopter was salvageable).

Encounters with the enemy were not uncommon. Sanders said when the enemy began shooting at the rescue helicopters, the crew just quickly adopted a “spray and pray” strategy:  “We just opened fire and shot the hell back.”

However, Sanders was seriously wounded when a Vietcong round made a direct hit on a recovery helicopter in which he was riding. The rescue helicopter had just been rigged to a downed helicopter and was about to lift it when the round had struck.

Sanders said he didn’t know if he was hit by shrapnel or metal fragments from his helicopter, “but I caught it right in the (buttocks)…”  He said the injury “looked like a checkerboard” on his behind. He was transported back to the States for hospitalization, and then released, thereby ending his career in the Army.

By the end of the war, Sanders had received the Purple Heart for his wounding, along with the unit citations awarded to all the members of the 357th Transportation Company, including the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, the Meritorious Unit Commendation, and the Army Commendation Medal.

Sanders went on to work for Landis Tool Company (Waynesboro) for 55 years, having retired in 2020. Upon his return to the States, he had also earned two master’s degrees while in England (while employed by Landis Tool).

Richard Sanders in Vietnam.

Ira H. Buhrman

“Lost at Sea”

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Ira Harrison Buhrman was born on November 10, 1887, in Foxville (Frederick County), to parents Harvey Meade Buhrman, a farmer, and Theresa Need Buhrman. Buhrman had eight brothers and sisters (two apparently having died at birth).

Buhrman resided in Foxville until his death and was, at one point, employed as a laborer in a local lumber mill. 

The (Frederick) News reported on February 10, 1942, that Buhrman had enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in July 1918, and served one enlistment in Hawaii. The newspaper reported that he became a member of the 13th Regiment, which was then employed in Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. 

He subsequently was attached to Company D of the 15th Separate Battalion until the signing of the Armistice in November 1918.  Buhrman remained with the Marine Corps at Marine Base Quantico until discharged. It was reported that, after having been discharged from the Marine Corps, he was involved in the construction of Camp Ritchie (perhaps due to his former employment in the lumber industry).

The (Frederick) News also reported that Buhrman was an award-winning marksman, having been awarded a number of medals for sharpshooting and marksmanship while serving in the Marine Corps.

By the time World War II broke out, Buhrman, at 53 years of age, was too old to serve, so he opted to sign up with the Merchant Marines (officially known as the United States Merchant Navy), and, thus, on October 8, 1941, ended up as a member of the crew of the fuel tanker India Arrow, owned by the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company. 

He served as a ship’s wiper, which entailed cleaning the engine compartment and machinery, as well as other jobs that were assigned by the ship’s engineers.

On February 4, 1942, the India Arrow was making its way from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Carteret, New Jersey, with a load of 88,369 gallons of diesel fuel. The ship was unarmed and unescorted.

The India Arrow was struck by a torpedo fired by a German submarine (subsequently identified as the German submarine U-103) when the tanker was only about 20 miles southeast of Cape May. Russpickett.com reported that the German submarine “then surfaced and fired seven shells from her deck gun (at the stricken tanker) at two-minute intervals, from a distance of 250 yards into the bow section, which remained above water as the stern was sinking.”

The Frederick Post reported on February 11, 1942, that Buhrman may have been in the engine room when the tanker was hit by the torpedo ”just aft of the engine room,” further noting that only two or three of the occupants in the engine room had escaped that portion of the ship. Buhrman was initially listed as missing.

The vast majority of officers and the crew of the India Arrow had actually survived the attack, except for two that were killed outright, when the submarine shelled the ship. However, 18 of the officers and crew drowned when their lifeboat sank. Ultimately, as the result, eight officers and twenty of the crew were lost in the attack on the India Arrow, while only one officer and eleven of the crew survived.

Between January and August in 1942, German submarines sank more than a dozen ships off the New Jersey Coast, and even more off the coasts of other Mid-Atlantic states, according to whyy.org.

The (Frederick) News reported that Buhrman was the first Frederick County resident to have been killed in World War II. He was posthumously awarded the Merchant Marine Medal and the Combat Bar with Star. The Combat Bar was awarded to Merchant Marines who were onboard a ship that was attacked by an enemy. A star was added if the recipient was also forced to abandon the ship (or was killed in the attack).

Buhrman was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars as the result of his service during WWI.  According to wikitree.com, in the wake of his mother’s death in 1947, “his name was added to her headstone in Mount Bethel Cemetery in Garfield as a memorial, since his remains were never recovered.

Ira H. Buhrman Source: findagrave.com and Wings Across America

India Arrow

Source: City of Little Rock, LR Parks & Recreation

Anyone who might know a Veteran or is a Veteran, who would like to share their experiences in the military for publication in The Catoctin Banner, is invited to contact the columnist at richardfulton@earthlink.net. Thank you.

Upon Combs’ death from congestive heart failure (according to The Washington Post) at age 92, his memorial service was held at the Myers-Durboraw Funeral Home in Emmitsburg. He was interred in the Emmitsburg Memorial Cemetery.

Sergeant George Frailey Combs

Navigating Bombers Over Europe

by Richard D. L. Fulton

George F. Combs was born January 11, 1922, to parents Cooley and Clara Rowe Combs. He grew up in Emmitsburg and had two brothers, Samuel and Thomas.

Combs’ military registration card, filled in when he was 20, described him as being 5’7” and as having blue eyes and blonde hair, with a “ruddy” complexion.

Combs was married for 60 years to Doris Peppler Combs, 50 years of which was spent living  in Alexandria, Virginia, according to Combs’ obituary, published at the time of Combs’ death in 2014 by The Frederick News-Post, among others.

He attended Mount Saint Mary’s University and graduated with honors in 1942. Also in 1942, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps.  The United States Air Force did not yet exist in 1942 and would not be created until 1947.

Combs’ obituary stated that, following his graduation from navigation school, he was assigned to the 8th Air Force based in England.  The 8th Air Force was initially designated as being the VIII BC (Bomber Command) in 1942, and was subsequently designated as the 8th Air Force during the reorganization of 1944, according to the Official United States Air Force Website (8af.af.mil).

Combs and the then-designated VIII BC were initially assigned to Daws Hill in England, and subsequently, headquartered in High Wycombe in Wycombe Abbey (a school for girls). 

While stationed in England, Combs “became a lead navigator, guiding formations of B-17 bombers on missions over occupied Europe,” according to his obituary. 

For his service with the 8th Air Force, Combs was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and four Battle Stars. 

According to the Air Force website (8af.af.mil), from May 1942 to July 1945, “the Eighth planned and precisely executed America’s daylight strategic bombing campaign against Nazi-occupied Europe, and in doing so, the organization compiled an impressive war record.”

However, the website further noted that the successes of the 8th Air Force, which had included engaging in over 440,000 bomber sorties, during which, the planes dropped 697,000 tons of bombs, did not come without a price: 

“The Eighth suffered about half of the U.S. Army Air Force’s casualties (47,483 out of 115,332), including more than 26,000 dead. The Eighth’s brave men earned 17 Medals of Honor, 220 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 442,000 Air Medals. The Eighth’s combat record also shows 566 aces (261 fighter pilots, with 31 having 15 or more victories, and 305 enlisted gunners).”

Combs attended Dickinson Law School, after having been discharged from the service, and graduated in 1948 with a law degree, subsequently becoming a member of the Maryland Bar Association.

He also spent his entire career with the United States Government Federal Trade Commission, according to his obituary, “he worked as a staff attorney and as a confidential advisor to several commissioners.”  It was noted that Combs had also prepared the drafts of over a hundred Commission adjudicative opinions. According to The Washington Post, Combs also received the Federal Trade Commission’s Distinguished Service Award for his career contributions.

His obituary also noted that his most significant achievement “was his work on the opinion which resulted in the licensing of the patent on the antibiotic Tetracycline, saving consumers millions of dollars.”

Sergeant George Frailey Combs (Obituary photograph)

Anyone who might know a Veteran or is a Veteran, who would like to share their experiences in the military for publication in The Catoctin Banner, is invited to contact the columnist at richardfulton@earthlink.net. Thank you.

Upon Combs’ death from congestive heart failure (according to The Washington Post) at age 92, his memorial service was held at the Myers-Durboraw Funeral Home in Emmitsburg. He was interred in the Emmitsburg Memorial Cemetery.

PFC Richard Lee Fulton

From Occupying Japan to War in Korea

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Former Brunswick area resident Richard Lee Fulton was born in Labell, Missouri, on May 30, 1930, to parents, Kansas-born Oscar Lee and Missouri-born Tina Fern Fulton. 

He had one brother (also named Richard) and five sisters: Juanita, Carmeta, Donna, Elmita, and Doris, according to his father’s obituary.

Fulton married his first wife, the late Regina Webber (Moler), also a Brunswick-area resident, and had one son who was born in the Frederick Memorial Hospital in 1949. He subsequently remarried several times and fathered a number of sons and daughters.

Fulton’s father, a World War I Veteran, was recorded at one time as having been a baker, apparently owning his own bakery in Lewis, Missouri, but retired in Florida after having been employed in the banking business. His mother, Tina Fern, was listed as a housewife who had never attended school.

The Army Home Town News Center (AHTNC) listed Fulton’s occupation prior to entering the service as a farmer.

Piecing together Fulton’s military record has remained something of a challenge, since according to the National Personnel Records Center, records that would have detailed Fulton’s military involvement “would have been in the area that suffered the most damage in the fire that date (on July 12, 1973) and may have been destroyed (which included Army personnel records from 1912 through 1963).”

Adding to the confusion, Fulton had initially enlisted in the Army using his brothers’ name, Richard David Lee Fulton, because he, himself, was too young to enter the service. Probably one of those, “It seemed like a good idea at the time” moments.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Fulton had initially served in the military from April 7, 1947, until June 17, 1947.  The AHTNC, via Radio Station WDBO, Orlando, Florida, reported that Fulton had served with the 24th Infantry Division, as part of the “occupation force,” led by General Douglas A. MacArthur. 

The occupation force had been dispatched to Japan in the wake of the Japanese surrender in 1945. The overall occupation lasted until 1952. During Fulton’s tenure with the occupation force, Fulton was promoted to Private First Class.

Records relating to Fulton’s enlistment in 1947 seem elusive, which could be due to their records having been lost in the National Personnel Records Center’s fire.

Fulton was discharged in 1947, after serving barely three months, although there is nothing in surviving military records that would indicate any reason for his discharge. It has been surmised it was due to his having been discovered to have entered the service under a false name.

Whatever the case may be, he successfully (and lawfully) re-enlisted on November 18, 1950, enlisting in Memphis, Tennessee, with the 34th Infantry Regiment’s 2nd Battalion, 77th Armed Infantry Company.

Fulton and the 34th Infantry Regiment’s 2nd Battalion, 77th Armed Infantry Company, were subsequently dispatched to Korea in March 1952, according to the AHTNC. He served in Korea with his unit as a squad leader in Company G.

Fulton was discharged from the Army on January 18, 1954.

It was noted in an obituary that was published at the time of his death that he had also served in Vietnam, although no military records appear to exist that would verify this statement.

Due to his service in Korea, he was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge and the UN Korean Service Ribbon, the Korean Service Ribbon, the Korean Service Medal, National Defense Medal, and at least two others, according to the Report of Separation from the Armed Forces of the United States.

He ultimately retired as a laborer from the Buckhorn Rubber Company in Missouri and was a member of the Emmette J. Shields American Legion Post 55 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post.

Fulton passed away at the Monroe Manor in Paris, Missouri on October 18, 2008. He was buried in the Mount Olive Cemetery in Hannibal, Missouri, with full military rites, provided by the Emmette J. Shields American Legion Post 55.

Colonel Bernard L. Talley, Jr.

Former Mount Graduate and POW

Bernard L. Talley Jr. was born on February 23, 1939, in Baltimore to parents Emma Louise Sheely and Bernard Leo Talley, Sr., and was the youngest of his parents’ three children.

Talley was a graduate of Loyola High School, Towson, and was graduated in the Mount Saint Mary’s University Class of 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in economics before entering U.S. Air Force Officer Training School on June 27, 1962.

Talley was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, according to Veterantributes.org, on September 25, 1962, and served as a supply officer at McCoy Air Force Base, Florida, until entering Undergraduate Pilot Training in April 1964.

Veterantributes.org also reported that he was awarded his pilot wings at Laredo Air Force Base, Texas, in May 1965, and then flew F-4 Phantom II fighters with the 25th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. In April 1966, at the age of 26, Talley volunteered to serve in Vietnam as an F-4C Phantom II pilot.

Talley flew 76 combat missions with the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron out of the Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, before being forced to eject over North Vietnam on September 10, 1966, according to Veterantributes.org. The Dallas Morning News reported, in his 2022 obituary, that his plane was struck by a missile, and further noted that Talley’s Flight Commander, Douglas “Pete” Peterson, who was also in the plane, was also forced to eject.

Pownetwork.org reported that Tally’s target for the mission in which his plane was shot down was a bridge and ferry complex near Hanoi, and, as they were departing the strike zone, the Phantom was hit by a surface-to-air missile (SAM). “Fortunately,” according to Pownetwork.org, “It was not a direct hit, thus neither the pilot nor Talley were injured by the missile’s blast. The aircraft, however, was severely damaged. Both engines were rendered inoperative, and the entire aft portion of the aircraft was on fire.”

Apparently, Talley and Peterson knew they could not make it to a safe area where they stood a chance of being rescued and decided to eject.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Talley had managed to evade capture for one day before being taken prisoner on September 11, further noting that he was the 125th American airman captured.

Talley subsequently spent the next six-and-a-half years in captivity. The Dallas Morning News stated, “Talley’s parents would not know he was KIA (Killed Action)/MIA (Missing in Action) or a Prisoner of War for three years and one day.” He was released along with Douglas “Pete” Peterson during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973. Talley subsequently retired from the Air Force as a Colonel.

For bravery demonstrated in Vietnam during a bombing raid in Vietnam on September 3, 1966, seven days before his plane was shot down, Talley was awarded the Silver Star. The citation is quoted here in full (militarytimes.com):

The President of the United States of America… takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to First Lieutenant Bernard Leo Talley, Jr., United States Air Force, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force while serving as a Pilot of the 433d Tactical Fighter Squadron, Ubon Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, in action over North Vietnam on 3 September 1966. On that date, Lieutenant Talley conducted a night strike on a vital supply and storage area of the hostile force in a highly defended area. With complete disregard for his own safety, Lieutenant Talley continued the attack in the face of intense defenses to deliver ordnance on the target, completely destroying it. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Lieutenant Talley has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

PFC John Little, Emmitsburg

KIA in the Liberation of Bizory

by Richard D. L. Fulton

John William Little was born on December 19, 1910, to parents John William and Minie Little, and resided on Frederick Street, Emmitsburg, Maryland, and had two sisters, Valerie and Anna, and three brothers, Robert, Roy, and James.

James was included as one of the brothers by a write-up that appeared in The (Frederick) News on March 12, 1945. However, James is not mentioned in the 1930 census. The census lists the Little’s three brothers as Robert, Roy, and Charles.

According to his draft card and enlistment records that Little had filled out when he was 90, he indicated that he was employed at St. Joseph’s College as a fireman before entering service, and that, regarding his education, he had attended “grammar school.”

Little was enlisted at Fort George G. Meade on April 3, 1942, and given the rank of private. He was subsequently stationed at Camp Cook, California, and Camp Chaffee, Oklahoma, before going overseas (at age 34) and was a member of a tank crew in the 68th Tank Battalion, 6th Armor Division, in General George S. Patton, Jr.’s Third Army.

Little was given leave in December 1943, to return home, following the death of his father, to attend the funeral.

The 6th Armor Division entered the war via Utah Beach, Normandy, July 19, 1944, ultimately fighting its way through Northern France, Central Europe, and finally, the Ardennes.

He was injured in November 1944, when the tank in which he was traveling was knocked out by enemy fire, resulting in his being wounded in the face and left leg. The Gettysburg Times Reported on January 30, 1945, that “He was able to able to return to action shortly thereafter… after the medic treated him.”

Little wrote his last letter home on December 27, 1944, stating that “he was well, and expecting to be to be sent to some other country, which he could not identify, within a short time,” according to The Gettysburg Times.

That “some other country” would be Belgium, and Little would soon find himself and 6th Armor Division the rolling towards Bastogne, a Belgian city that the German troops were in the process of laying siege to, as part of an over effort ordered by Adolf Hitler to attack allied forces that were slowly griding their way towards Germany – an overall engagement that came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.

The Battle of the Bugle would become Hitler’s last stand before his 12-year-long “1,000 Year Reich” began to implode from the allies tearing into it from all directions.

The German siege of Bastogne was ultimately broken by the U.S. forces, including the 6th Armor Division, during seven days of battle, from December 20 to December 27, 1944. In January, 1945, the U.S. forces were ordered to begin driving off the German troops that remained in the area.

As a part of that effort, the 6th Armor Division was ordered forward to take the village of Bizory (sometime misspelled as Bixory on some web sites) away from its German occupiers. Bizory lies about 2.6 miles northeast of Bastogne.

The village was soon liberated, and the 6th Armor Division was solely credited with accomplishing the objective. Unfortunately, Little, who would make his final stand in the fight to liberate Bizory, was initially declared missing in action on January 8, 1945. He was 34 at that time. Little was shortly thereafter reclassified as killed in action. But it would appear that Little’s body was never recovered. His name is listed on the “Tablets of the Missing” in the Ardennes American Military Cemetery, Neuville-en-Condroz, Arrondissement de Liège, Liège, Belgium.

Little was awarded the Purple Heart W/Cluster and was also posthumously promoted to private first class.

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army public domain

PFC John William Little, Photo Courtesy of findagrave.com

Private Joseph A. Williams

Adams’ Only Black WWI Fatality

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Joseph Albert Williams was born on November 23, 1892, in Frederick County, Maryland.

In Valerie J. Young’s The World War One Gold Star Soldiers from Adams County (Adams County Historical Society, Adams County History, Volume 24 2018), Young stated that Williams was born in Emmitsburg, one of nine children of William Alfred and Emma Clara Cook Williams.

According to Williams’ draft registration card, which he had filled out on June 5, 1917, Williams listed his address as being Gettysburg, and his profession was given as “caretaker of horses.” His employer was stated as being J. Lawrence Butt, and Williams’ location of employment was stated as being in Cumberland Township. He listed his relationship status as being single.

Butt was apparently a prominent Gettysburg attorney who owned farmlands in the area, which were farmed by tenant farmers. Williams’ father also worked for Butt.

Williams’ mother died in 1904, so only his father lived long enough to see his son go off to war.

The Gettysburg Compiler reported in their November 3, 1917, issue, “On Monday, seven colored boys, drafted for the National Army, left for Camp Meade. Their many friends were at the station to see them off.” 

The newspaper noted that, “Each (of the draftees) had a box filled with a good lunch prepared by committees from Asbury and Zion churches.” The paper named Joseph A. Williams as having been among the seven.

The Gettysburg Times reported in their September 1, 1919, edition, that Williams, a soldier in the 368th Infantry, had been killed on September 28. However, Young, cited above, claims that Willians was only initially assigned to the 368th, and was actually with the 372nd Infantry, 93rd (colored) Division, at the time of his death. Young further noted that Williams had been killed by a German artillery round.

The Gettysburg Times reported that Williams was killed on September 29, 1918, in their article of December 29, 2021, titled, “Soldier Received Purple Heart 100 Years After His Death.”

September 28 marked the third day of the Meuse–Argonne offensive, a concerted effort launched by the allies to counterattack the German forces in the German effort to take Paris. The counter-offensive did succeed in driving back the Germans to the degree that it resulted in the November 11, 1918, armistice… at the cost of 360,000 casualties.

During the Meuse–Argonne offensive, the 372nd Infantry was credited with capturing nearly 600 German prisoners, and securing large quantities of engineering supplies and artillery ammunition, according to nationalguard.mil.

Of the seven Adams County blacks to serve in the war, Williams was the only fatality.

Williams was buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery near the French village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, where his remains are still interred. According to ww1cemeteries.com, the cemetery “contains the largest number of American military dead in Europe (14,246 individuals).”

The Gettysburg Times reported on December 29, 2021, in the article previously cited), that Jean Howard Green, great-niece of Private Joseph A. Williams, was presented with the Purple Heart, and a World War I Victory Medal and Victory Pin for his service, according to the Times

The newspaper noted that Representative John Joyce’s field representative, Ashleigh Presnar, presented the awards.

Had Williams survived the war, he would have been entitled to pin the French Croix de Guerre with Palm unit citation to his uniform. Instead, he would have to wait 100 years to receive a Purple Heart and the victory medal and pin.

(Reporter’s Note: For additional information, refer to Valerie J. Young’s The World War One Gold Star Soldiers from Adams County (Adams County Historical Society, Adams County History, Volume 24 2018), and to The Gettysburg Times article of December 29, 2021, entitled, “Soldier Received Purple Heart 100 Years After His Death.”)

Pvt. Joseph A. Williams’ unit, the U.S. Army’s 93rd (colored) Division.

Source: nationalguard.mil (An official website of the United States government)

Corporal Martin Burns

Guarding Presidents and Camp David

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Martin “Marty” Burns, of Thurmont, was born in 1965 to parents Patricia and Jay Burns, resided in Munroe Falls, Ohio, and graduated from Stow–Munroe Falls High School, Stow, Ohio.

Burns subsequently enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1985 and was sent to Parris Island “boot camp” for training.  Burns said he wanted to be an aviation mechanic. During boot camp, he was recommended for reassignment to the Presidential retreat Camp David duty by a Marine drill instructor. Burns initially tried to turn down the offer, “I didn’t even know what Camp David was,” he said.

It required that he change to the Marine Corps infantry career field and forego his desire to serve as an aviation mechanic.

But, he said, “I didn’t want to be a ‘grunt (infantryman). His Drill Instructor responded, “Do you know what you’re turning down? You will guard the President of the United States.” He subsequently accepted and received orders to Marine Barracks Washington.

Having been at 8th & I for “just shy of a year,” he was being considered for assignment to the White House as a member of the presidential guard.

He didn’t quite make it to the White House. Several Marine guard positions opened up at Camp David, unexpectedly, and Burns found himself enroute to that presidential compound. 

Burns’ duties at Camp David included providing overall security for the President and presidential guests, in conjunction with the Secret Service when the president or presidential guest was onsite and providing physical security for the base when they weren’t.

Burns served at Camp David during President Ronald Reagan and President George H. W. Bush, Sr., and often encountered both during their stays at the presidential retreat.

Regarding Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan, Burns stated that they kept to themselves, and we were not to be seen or heard. “They routinely brought horses up, and we would see them horseback riding,” Burns said, “and a couple of times had lunch with them.” Otherwise, he stated, they kept to themselves.

Burns said President Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush were “exactly the opposite” of the Reagans, noting that the President and First Lady would often talk with the Marines and joke with them, and even invited them to play racquetball.

When Bush entered the gym on one of his first visits to Camp David as president, he questioned where the Marines and others were, and was told that Reagan never wanted them present when he used camp facilities.  Burns stated that Bush told the staff, “If they (Marines and other military members) use this (gym) when I’m not here, then they can use it when I am here.”

Burns said the Bush family “did not act like they were special,” adding, “He (the president) was an incredibly humble, personable individual.”

Burns left the Marine Corps in 1989, and, for his service as a member of the presidential guard, he was awarded the prestigious Presidential Service Badge, being the 9,381st member of the military to receive the medal since it was established back in 1964.

After leaving the Marine Corps, Burns worked at Holy Hills Country Club—where, again, he met President Bush—and in the security industry, which even included returning to Camp David to install a new security system.

He ultimately landed at the Pentagon, where he served for more than two decades, and recently retired from federal service in December 2022.

In 1989, Burns settled in Thurmont, where he served as a commissioner from 1999 to 2001, and as mayor from 2001 to 2013. He then subsequently served as commissioner again until 2021.

Burns with his wife, Suzanne, have two grown children, and he continues to work in security as a senior manager for Lockheed Martin.

For leisure, he likes to take mechanical things apart and reassemble them, or fix them, and enjoys playing pickleball.

Nancy Reagan, Martin Burns, and President Ronald Reagan at Camp David, 1987. 

President George H. W. Bush and Suzanne and Martin Burns at The White House, 2006. 

Photos Courtesy of Marty Burns

Harvey Lee Wetzel

From Erecting Bridges to Disarming Bombs

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Harvey Lee Wetzel was born in 1947 in Waynesboro to parents, Clarence and Elsie Wetzel, and he and his family lived in Thurmont, where Wetzel graduated from Thurmont High School in 1965. Wetzel presently resides in Indian Head, Maryland with his wife, Sandy. They have three children: Jackie, Chris, and Andrea.

Wetzel enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1965, only months after graduation, then to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, and, after a brief assignment with Infantry Training Regiment and the 2nd Engineer Battalion at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. Wetzel was transferred to Camp Pendleton, California where he was assigned to the 3rd Bridge Company, 7th Engineers Battalion.

His first deployment was to Vietnam, where he was stationed for 13 months, from 1966 to 1967. During his time in Vietnam, he rose from the rank of lance-corporal to corporal, and ultimately sergeant.

The 3rd Bridge Company, as the name would suggest, entailed repairing and erecting various types of bridges – which included fixed and floating bridges – and roadwork as necessary in order to maintain reliable supply convoys for reaching the convoys’ designated destinations.

During this deployment, the 3rd Bridge Company opened the first supply road from Dong Ho to Khe Sanh, which was essentially established utilizing an old French road that had become heavily overgrown. During the establishment of the road, Wetzel said the unit encountered communities whose inhabitants had never seen a motorized vehicle.

At the end of his 1966-1967 deployment, Wetzel returned to Camp Pendleton and Twenty Palms, California, until he reenlisted in 1969, which resulted to his assignment at Maine Barracks Bermuda. After 12 months in Bermuda, he deployed on his second deployment to Vietnam with the 1st Engineer Battalion, consisting of a six-month stint spanning from 1970 into 1971.

Duties during this deployment entailed much the same as the previous deployment, with the added responsibilities of sweeping the roadways for mines, ‘rehabilitated” damaged or otherwise-ruined assets, and “rehabilitated” or helped repair the military infrastructure.

During both deployments, Wetzel was based at Dong Ho, Hill 37, and in the Da Nang area at Landing Zone “Ross,” and at Landing Zone “Baldy (also known as Hill 63).”

Subsequently in 1971, Wetzel was transferred back to the states on a “Humanitarian Transfer,” following the death of his father. Such transfers were granted to those who actually represented as being a family’s “only child.’

From 1974 to 1975, Wetzel attended Explosion Ordnance Disposal (EOD) school, and received training in how ordnance functioned which helped the rendering ordnance safe ranging from mines and improvised explosive devices, to rockets/missiles, and even nuclear weapons, which included disarming weapons that failed to fire when triggered.

Upon completing the training in 1975, Wetzel was sent to Japan to provide EOD support to the Marine Air Wing. His duties were to support flight operations.

Wetzel was assigned to Marine Corps Recruit Deploy from 1974 to 1977 as Drill Instructor, senior drill instructor, and series gunnery sergeant meritoriously promotion to the rate of gunnery sergeant.

In 1977 through 1979, he served at Camp Pendleton as part of the Marine Corps Base EOD team, and in support of the other EODs. Tasks included support of range operations and rendering safe ordnance that failed to exolode. 1979 and into 1980, Wetzel was sent back to Japan, and to North Korea and the Philippines, the assignments being repetitive of those rendered within his initial service in Japan. “We (the EOD team) supported the air-wing wherever they went,” he said.

In 1980, he was assigned to the Marine Corps Detached Joint Service installation at Indian Head, Maryland, where he was involved in revising training manuals and standardizing EOD-related procedures.

Wetzel considered himself retired after his assignment to the Marine Corps Detached Joint Service installation, but instead he found himself recalled to active duty during Operation Desert Storm.

He said he was not deployed overseas but did spend “about three months sitting on my butt” in Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, filling in for EOD technicians who were deployed. At this time Wetzel, Son and Daughter were on active duty.  His son went on to retire from the Coast Guard with 30 years of service at the rank of CWO4.

Finally retiring from the Marine Corps, Wetzel continued on as a government contractor, serving as a senior engineer on EOD-related projects. After the contracts ended, he worked at Lowes, “just counting nuts and bolts,” until he officially retired in 2012.

Today Wetzel enjoys photography and belongs to a number of photography/camera clubs, and he enjoys traveling.

Photos Courtesy of Harvey Wetzel

Sergeant Jim Adelsberger

Emmitsburg’s Last Pearl Harbor Survivor

by Richard D. L. Fulton

On February 24, 2009, Emmitsburg lost its last Pearl Harbor survivor, James (“Jim”) O. Adelsberger, at age 87, when he passed away at St. Catherine’s Nursing Center.

In November 2004, the reporter, who was then the news editor for the The Emmitsburg Disatch, met with Adelsberger at his West Main Street home, where he recounted his experiences on that fateful day of December 7, 1941, when the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the military installation at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Adelsberger was born on May 24, 1921, in Baltimore, son of the late Dwen and Adele Adelsberger, and James was married to the late-Loretta C. (Sanders) Adelsberger.

Upon graduation from the Emmitsburg High School, Adelsberger, at age 24, decided to enlist, at which time he became a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps, the unit in which he was serving at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, and the unit with whom he remained for five years.

Adelsberger had said during the 2004 interview, that he and three of his friends, Joseph Boyle, Jack Stoner, and Bud Shearer (all of whom enlisted in the Army Air Corps at the same time), upon enlisting, requested to serve in Hawaii, which the Army was then promoting as a “paradise.”

They were then assigned to “guard-duty” at Hickam Field when, subsequently, “Paradise” quickly became Hell on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese targeted Hickam Field as part of the overall assault in order to suppress any effort by the Army Air Corps to get their planes into the air to defend against the Japanese attack.

The attack commenced around 7:55 a.m., when Japanese Commander Mitsua Fuchida uttered the command, “Tora, tora, tora!”—which doesn’t mean “Attack, attack, attack.” It is Japanese for “Tiger, tiger, tiger” (code for executing a lightning attack).

“We heard the planes coming in and thought they were ours (an incoming flight of B-17s was anticipated that morning at Hickam Field),” Adelsberger stated during the 2004 interview. 

In fact, the B-17s were arriving and found themselves mixed in with the attacking Japanese aircraft.  Unfortunately, said Adelsberger, the B-17s were unarmed to lighten their loads. 

“Some of them (the B-17s) were being hit. Some of them were being shot down. We didn’t know what was going on. Some of them were shot up pretty bad,” Adelsberger said.

As the intensity of the attack increased, he stated during the 2004 interview, “They just kept coming and coming, and we couldn’t figure out where they were all coming from,” adding that, none of the men could figure out why they were being attacked. “We didn’t know what it was for… I could see all of the attack. I could see ships half-sunk and buildings burned down after the attack.”

When the attack subsided about two hours later, Adelsberger said, during the 2004 interview, “There were a lot of fellows lying around (on the ground). They were lying everywhere. The field hospital was doing a real business that day.”

Hickam Field suffered extensive damage and aircraft losses, with 189 people killed (including civilians) and 303 wounded. In total, the Japanese assault left 2,388 military personnel dead, along with 1,178 wounded. Among the dead were 68 civilians. And the attack propelled the United States into World War II.

Sergeant Adelsberger was discharged from the military on October 16, 1945, and, subsequently, worked for 35 years at the United States Post Office in Emmitsburg.

On December 2, 2004, the Emmitsburg Board of Commissioners officially recognized Adelsberger as the “town’s last surviving citizen and Veteran of Pearl Harbor,” and issued a proclamation that declared December 7, 2004, as “James Adelsberger Day.”

Adelsberger was a member of the Emmitsburg Memorial VFW, Post 6658, the American Legion Francis X. Elder Post 121, and a lifelong communicant of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

Photograph of the attack on Pearl Harbor, taken by a Japanese fighter pilot.

James Adelsberger poses with his Pearl Harbor “Mementos,” including spent Japanese fighter cartridges and his burnt wallet and dog tags, which he recovered from his barracks after it had been bombed.

Pvt. Francis Xavier Elder

First to Enlist, First to Fall

by Richard D. L. Fulton

“I am about to enter the fight for democracy…”   ~Francis X. Elder, 1918

In 1917, as the United States entered World War I, the soldiers of the 1st, 4th, and 5th Maryland (state national guard) regiments found themselves on their way to France, and in the process, those units were combined to form the 115th Infantry.

Among them was 21-year-old Emmitsburg resident, Francis X. Elder. 

Elder was born on June 30, 1893, to Emmitsburg residents Doctor James B. and Sarah B. Elder.

He enlisted in the service of his country on May 9, 1917, the first Emmitsburg resident to do so.  Based on a sole, last letter written home in 1918, Elder was full of vim, vigor, and patriotism and was prepared to face an impending storm of battle as the Germans prepared to unleash a massive attack in order to capture Paris. 

Between the Germans and their Paris objective, a line of French and American units had been assembled in order to resist the onslaught, Elder amongst them.

The allied resistance effort would become known as the Meuse–Argonne campaign, a counter offensive launch by the allied troops on September 28, 1918 in the hopes of stalling the German advance, if not driving the German forces back completely from their objective of taking Paris.

Elder and his fellow soldiers were deployed within the area of the Belleau Wood, which had been cleared of German occupation in June, a battle so violent that, when the allied forces had prevailed, General John Pershing, commanding the American Expeditionary Forces, said, “The Gettysburg of the war has been fought.”

The troops that Elder was among found themselves in the area of the Belleau Wood as the Meuse–Argonne campaign was launched.  Apparently as they moved out on October 11, Elder was fatally injured and listed among those “killed in action.”  The place of his death is stated on a memorial dedicated to his memory as having occurred at Belleau Woods, Alcaise Argonne Forest.

Private Francis X. Elder was the first Emmitsburg volunteer to die in the war.  One month after his death, on November 11 the guns fell silent across the entirety of the Western Front.  The “war to end all wars” was over.  The war had cost the United States 116,708 deaths, and had helped spread the deadly Spanish Flu as an aside.

What is likely Elder’s final letter home appeared in the January 9, 1919, edition of The (Allentown, Pennsylvania) Morning Call, which stated his step-brother. Robert G. Smith,  “had just received…” almost three months following Elder’s death.  It seems fitting in this tribute to print this letter in full:

“As I am about to enter the fight for democracy it is my desire now, whilst I have the opportunity to pencil a few lines briefly, and bid you all a sincere farewell. And may our dear and most precious God always protect you in this life, and knowing this I will die cheerfully and in a good cause, if it be His holy will; otherwise it will be the happiest moment of my life when I once more kiss mother’s lips. If the worst happens to me, take the news courageously and be brave, as I am going into it cheerfully and resigned to whatever my fate may be.  If I come through O.K. I will write at once and let you know.  Hoping for the best and trusting that I may see you all on earth, or that we will meet in Heaven. I am yours affectionately, farewell, Private Francis  X. Elder.”

In 1920, the first American Legion Post in Emmitsburg was organized and named the Francis X. Elder Post No. 75 (later Post No. 121).

Elder’s original headstone was replaced , and the original headstone now stands in front of the American Legion post that bears his name.

by Richard D. L. Fulton

“Step forward now you soldier, you’ve borne your burdens well,

1st Lieutenant Robert Seidel, III

Walk peacefully on Heaven’s streets, you’ve done your time in Hell.”

“A Soldier Reports to God,” Author Unknown

(west-point.org, Tribute to 1st Lt. Robert Seidel, III)

1st Lieutenant Robert Seidel, III, was born in 1982 in Frederick, the son of Bob and Sandy Seidel, and was raised in Emmitsburg until his family subsequently moved to Gettysburg in 2003. His grandfather served as mayor of Emmitsburg from 1968 to 1970. 

According to Seidel’s mother, Sandy Giannini Seidel, her son enjoyed Civil War history, frequently visited the Gettysburg battlefield, was a country music fan, and also enjoyed athletics. 

Seidel graduated from Catoctin High School in 2000, where he played football and baseball and excelled academically, his mother stated. After graduating from Catoctin, he attended the United States Military Academy West Point, where he also participated in wrestling on the intramural team. 

According to west-point.org, Seidel majored at West Point in the American Legal System, along with environmental engineering, “(and) was an Army Ranger, earned his Air Assault and Airborne badges, and had been planning a career in the Army.”

Upon graduating from West Point in 2004, 1st Lieutenant Robert Seidel was assigned to United States Army 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division (light infantry), and served as the rifle platoon leader in Company B during Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.

Frederickcountygives.org noted that, as a platoon leader, “Seidel felt a tremendous responsibility for the safety and well-being of his men, putting their concerns above himself.” 

But, at 2:20 p.m. on May 18, 2006, his service in Iraq came to an unanticipated and devastating end, when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near the HMMWV (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, also known as a Humvee) in which he was riding in with several other soldiers in the Baghdad area. Seidel died from injuries sustained in the blast. Also killed in the blast were Lieutenant Colonel Daniel E. Holland, Sergeant Lonnie C. Allen Jr., and Private First-Class Nicholas R. Cournoyer.

Seidel’s mother said the family was informed of the death of her 23-year-old son at her Gettysburg home by someone she identified as a lieutenant colonel. The family was informed on the same day as his death.

A Mass of Christian Burial for Seidel was celebrated on May 29, 2006, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and was presided by Bishop Francis Malooly, with Rev. James Kiernan serving as celebrant, and was assisted by Father Vincent O’Malley and Father Stephen Trzecieski. 1st Lieutenant Robert Seidel, III, was subsequently interred at St. Joseph Cemetery in Emmitsburg. Hundreds of individuals attended the services, including members of the family, military, county and local officials and citizenry, and the Patriot Guard.

Seidel earned many awards and decorations, including the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Combat Infantryman Badge, Iraq Campaign Medal, War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Overseas Service Ribbon, Ranger Tab, and the Parachutist Badge.

On October 29, 2016, the bridge on Route 140 in Emmitsburg, spanning U.S. 15, was dedicated to the memory of 1st Lt. Seidel III, an action made possible through the Maryland Hero’s Highway Act.  Kirby Delauter, then a Frederick County councilman, led the dedication ceremony. Each side of the bridge bears a sign noting Seidel’s name and rank.

To honor 1st Lt. Seidel III’s memory and his commitment to his troops, his parents established the 1LT Robert A. Seidel III Memorial Scholarship Fund with the Community Foundation of Frederick County to award scholarships to graduating seniors from Catoctin High School who exhibit academic promise, have participated in at least one varsity sport during their senior year, demonstrate an outstanding record of community service, and are active in their faith.

His parents also established the 1LT Rob Seidel Wounded Soldiers Fund to award grants to nonprofit organizations who support wounded soldiers with medical treatment, housing assistance, psychological counseling, physical and occupational therapies, companionship, mentoring, and employment training.

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Major George W. Webb

Gettysburg’s “Tuskegee Airman”

When George W. Webb, then-holding the rank of first lieutenant, reported for duty as the first black commander of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp on the Gettysburg battlefield, the only red tails he would have encountered there would have been the species of hawks that flew overhead.

The irony of that was, as World War II broke out, “red tails” would come to assume a whole new meaning in his life.

First Lieutenant Webb secured his Army commission as the result of ROTC training he had received at Howard University, having graduated in 1926. In May 1939 he was assigned to be a member of the staff at the CCC camp in McMillan Woods on the Gettysburg Battlefield.

The CCC had established two camps on the Gettysburg Battlefield. The first camp was located in 1933 in Pitzer Woods (in the field behind where the General Longstreet monument stands today) and designated NP-1, and the second camp was located in McMillan Woods in 1934 on the western slope of Seminary Ridge, taking its access off West Confederate Avenue, and designated NP-2.

The CCC camp in Pitzer Woods was comprised of all-black recruits under the command of all white officers as NP-2 had been, except that during late 1939, two years after the Pitzer Woods camp had been abandoned, it was announced that the NP-2 was to become the first all-black (recruits and officers) in the country. At the time, the all-black staff assumed command, the McMillan Woods camp served as home to 198 CCC program “enrollees (designated as being the 135th Company).”

Lieutenant Webb assumed command of the NP-2 on November 12, 1939, when the camp was about to begin being led by an all-black command structure.  Although Webb was described as a “native Washingtonian.” Beginning with his assignment to the NP-2, he afterwards always regarded Gettysburg as his home (before being sent to Gettysburg, Webb had served as supervisor of the Industrial Home School of Blue Plains in Washington, D.C.).

Webb received an official send-off at the NP-2 on August 25, 1941, in the form of a “smoker and banquet.”  The Gettysburg Times noted that, under Webb’s command, the camp had a superior rating “as one of the most outstanding companies in the central district.”

On August 19, the lieutenant arrived at Chanute Field, Illinois, to commence with his training to serve as the adjutant officer of the 99th Pursuit Squadron (also known as the Red Tails, due to their having painted their airplane tails red.  The group was not referred to as the Tuskegee Airmen until it appeared in a book in 1955).  The Black Dispatch reported at that time that Webb was married and had three children (two girls and one boy).

During the second week of September 1941, he was dispatched to the Tuskegee (Alabama) Institute, where he officially assumed his assignment as adjutant of the 99th Pursuit Squadron at what would become Tuskegee Army Airfield.

By January 1942, Adjutant Lieutenant Webb had been appointed provost marshal at the Tuskegee flying school, becoming the first black provost marshal in the United States Army (although he continued in training for that position for six months at the Provost Marshal General School in Fort Custer, Michigan through August 13, 1943).  He was additionally appointed as fire marshal and transportation officer.

As an aside, in October 1942, the flying school opened its brand-new chapel, Webb’s youngest son was the first child baptized in the new facility.

By February 20, 1943, he had also assumed the command of the military police unit at the Tuskegee flying school and had been promoted to captain. In September 1943, Webb had been promoted to major, just days after having completed his provost marshal training in Fort Custer. His wife had also given birth to a third daughter.

The Tuskegee Army Air Field closed in 1947; 932 pilots had been successfully graduated from the program. Among these, 66 Tuskegee airmen died in combat.

Airman First Class Ballenger

From Rocky Ridge to Japan …and Beyond

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Life-long Rocky Ridge resident, Emily Ballenger (pictured right), during a short two-year span during which she lived in Texas, decided to seek out a career move, and subsequently signed on with the United States Air Force.

Ballenger is the daughter of John and Linda Ballenger, owners of Buck Forest Farm in Rocky Ridge, which now also serves as her home. Her father served aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Saratoga in the 1960s.  Her brother, John “Jay” Ballenger, served in the Army in Afghanistan.

Ballenger signed up for the air service in Dallas in 2003 and trained at the Lackland, Texas, Air Force boot camp in Bexar County, Texas, for a half dozen weeks before being assigned to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. 

Ballenger spent eight weeks in Biloxi, six weeks training and two additional weeks awaiting an assignment. When the assignment came through, she found herself enroute to Misawa Air Base, located in the northern part of the island of Honshu in Japan, where she was attached to the 35th Communication Squadron which is a component of the 35th Mission Support Group, 35th Fighter Wing. 

The base is a joint service installation and houses three United States military services—Air Force, Navy, and Army—as well as the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.  Ballenger noted that there were also American Marines located there.

She served as an Air Force administrative assistant/information manager. Ballenger described the installation as a “fairly large base… nicely laid out,” which was “very quiet.” She said the base was being constantly upgraded throughout the time she was there.

She was able to spend some time touring, her main form of off-base entertainment, and even purchased a motorcycle there for simply getting around, touring the area. “I loved it in Japan,” she said, adding, “The culture there is amazing.” 

Ballenger said that particular area of Japan is primarily agricultural, which made her feel more “at home” (the Buck Forest Farm being some 140 acres in size).  The town of Misawa, she said, was about the size of Thurmont, noting, “It was so nice. It was like being at home.”

She served in Japan two years before being discharged and sent home. The only downside to her service in Japan was contracting “stress-related arthritis and fibromyalgia, which resulted in her having been diagnosed as being 50 percent disabled.

Ballenger was honorably discharged from the Air Force at Misawa Air Base in August 2006.

Following her return to the United States, Ballenger served as a photographer for the (now defunct) Emmitsburg Dispatch, photography being among her obsessions. She now runs her own photography business, Twilight Photography, primarily focusing on outdoor events and subjects. 

“My love of photographing nature and horses brought me to share my passion with others,” she said, adding, “I would have to describe my photography style as a bit of photojournalism mixed with fine art and a sprinkle of spontaneity.”

Her other obsession includes horses. Her home, Buck Forest Farm, served as a boarding facility for horses for many years. Presently, Ballenger also offers riding instructions, and currently has three horses of her own.

She said her experience in the Air Force has “taught me a lot about integrity and working hard.” As an administrative business professional, she learned skills related to initiating and managing a business.

For more on Ballenger’s Twilight Photography, visit twilightphotographymd.com.  For riding lessons, contact Emily Ballenger at 301-473-1504.

Dana French

45 Years in the Navy

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Note: Priscilla Rall contributed various materials for the purpose of writing this article.

Dana French of Frederick County served aboard and/or commanded several Navy vessels over the course of the 45 years he served in the United States Navy, from 1955 through 1990.

Raised in Newburyport, Massachusetts, French decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and enlisted in the Navy at age 17. After French signed on with the Navy, he qualified to attend the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS), in Bainbridge, Maryland.

French attended the academy as a sailor, and then graduated in 1961 as an ensign. He chose to pursue a career in the naval surface (non-submersible ship) service, as opposed to air or submarine services.

His first shipboard assignment came a month after he graduated, when he was assigned to the destroyer U.S.S. Coontz, which was then sent along with ships accompanying the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ranger to the Middle East for two seven-month deployments.  French served as the assistant 1st lieutenant in charge of the deck force, then became gunnery assistant at the end of the deployment.

French was then ordered as an executive officer in 1963 to report to the wooden minesweeper U.S.S. Whippoorwill during the Korean war. The minesweepers were wooden while metal alloys were employed wherever necessary—then to keep from triggering magnetic mines. The ships were responsible for cleaning mines from harbors for use by United States’ forces.

In the wake of the Tonkin Gulf incident (which technically triggered the Vietnam War), the minesweepers were sent on a “secret mission” to the Tonkin Gulf to screen a harbor for mines, rocks, and debris that would prevent the proposed port from being used.

In 1965 French was ordered to the U.S.S. Koka, an auxiliary ocean tug as Commander (the first such rank assigned to his academy class).

French said one of the more interesting incidents was when his ship was ordered to tow a “floating bomb” out to sea where it could be detonated to test how far around the world the detonation could be detected via deep sea sound channels. The “floating bomb” actually was a “Liberty” ship, made of concrete.

French was tasked with towing it, along with a second tug, to a desired location for detonation, which “seemed like a simple idea, except the weather turned bad. The weather really turned awful.” As the vessels approached to drop-point, the tow lines gave way, and the “floating bomb” was then loose. French was able to recapture the “Liberty” ship and begin towing it, but the scientists present decided to blow up the ship where they had it, rather than risk further issues trying to tow it to the original designated location.

During 1968, French was again heading back to Vietnam for seven months, this time in command of the guided missile destroyer U.S.S. Robison. He and the Robison became part of an operation deemed “Giant Slingshot,” a plan to ambush Vietcong attempting to cross two parallel rivers, using the cover of night, leading from Cambodia into Vietnam. 

The Robison and other Navy ships under French’s command, joined by several riverine combat ships, were concealed during the day until nightfall, and then to rush the two river crossings and take out as many enemy combatants as they could, then fall back before Vietcong artillery could get a fix on their ships’ locations.

French was subsequently assigned as a weapons officer on the guided missile cruiser U.S.S Leahy in 1970, when the ship was sent off with its sister ship and an aircraft carrier to Gibraltar and then Jordan to counter a Russian move in that area, resulting in a stand-off and the retreat of the Russian ships.

After his services at sea, French had also subsequently developed a number of programs addressing officer leadership and enlisted men and organizational effectiveness. After his retirement from the services, he began a career as a self-employed organization development consultant and trainer, based in Frederick.

For additional information regarding Dana French, visit elementalimpactsolutions.com/dana-french-bio.

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Lehman & the U.S.S. Barb

The Sub That “Sunk” a Train

The World War II submarine U.S.S. Barb (also known by its naval designation SS-220), was said to have compiled “one of the most outstanding records of any U.S. submarine in the war,” sinking more than 96,600 tons of Japanese ships—a total of 17 Japanese ships, including an aircraft carrier.

Under the command of Lieutenant Commander Eugene “Lucky” Fluckey, the Barb’s commander earned the Navy Cross and Medal of Honor, and the ship and its crew were awarded four Presidential Unit Citations and a Navy Unit Commendation with eight battle stars.

The late John Lehman, born in Reed (near Hagerstown), ultimately became a resident of Frederick.

Lehman joined the Navy in the wake of the Korean War as a trained radio operator, having attended the Bliss Electrical School in Tacoma Park. He joined the Navy before he could be drafted into the Army, wherein he received additional training, notably in the field of radar.

He was subsequently sent to London, Connecticut, to attend classes on submarine-specific radar.

Following the completion of his education in Connecticut, he returned to Mare Island, California, where he was assigned to the crew of the U.S.S. Barb.

Initially, the Barb was dispatched to the North Atlantic under Captain John Waterman, where the submarine sank only a single German ship.  The Barb was then assigned to Pearl Harbor, where Fluckey assumed command.

With Lehman manning the radar, the Barb sank four Japanese ships, including an aircraft carrier in the East China Sea, off the coast of China, before making its way up to a Japanese-occupied port on the China coast, where the crew of the Barb took on a Japanese sitting duck convoy of 30 anchored ships.  About that raid, Lehman stated, “(sneaking into the harbor) was the easy part… Getting out of the harbor safely into open water was the tricky part,” adding that upon escape, the submarine was forced to remain on the surface in order to safely negotiate mines and rocks.

For this daring assault alone, Fluckey was awarded the Medal of Honor, and the crew of the Barb received the Presidential Unit Citation.

The Barb also participated in a rescue operation when an unmarked Japanese ship—designated the “Hell ship”—transporting Australian and British prisoners of war was tragically sunk. The crew of the submarine rescued 14 of the POWs.

But one of the Barb’s more notorious ventures began on July 19, 1945, when the ship sailed close to the Japanese shoreline, and the crew noted a railroad that had been constructed with the apparent intent that it be used for transporting military supplies. The submarine sat idle for several days to allow the crew to observe the arrival and departure of the supply trains.

Then on July 23, the submarine closed in on the shoreline, followed by eight of the ship’s crew, launching themselves in a small boat to gain access to the beach. According to warhistory.com, the team then crawled through high grass, across a highway and a ditch, and then began to lay pressure-sensitive explosives along the train tracks.  Lehman said he tried to volunteer for the mission, but the commander was not about to send his primary radar operator into the attack.

In a little over an hour, after the assault team was back on board the sub, a supply train triggered the explosives and blew up, and the rest is history. The attack became the only ground combat assault carried out upon Japanese soil in the war, and the Barb became the only submarine with the image of a train sewn onto their battle flag.

Fluckey described Lehman as one of the best radar men with whom he had ever sailed, citing Lehman several times in the lieutenant commander’s book, Thunder Below.

Lehman passed away in Frederick in 2021, the last surviving crew member of the Barb under Fluckey’s command.

As to the fate of the U.S.S. Barb, it was decommissioned and loaned to the Italian Navy, who renamed it the Enrico Tazzoli. Still in Italian hands, the ship was sold in 1972 for scrap for $100,000, according to warhistory.com.

by Richard D. L. Fulton

The Day Georgie Peach Helped Save 3,800 Prisoners

Walkersville may very well remember George Fisher, Sr. as a life member of the Walkersville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company or his having been an active member of the United Methodist Church, the local Lions Club, or the Woodsboro American Legion Post.

But some 3,700 to 3,800 civilian prisoners being held by the Japanese Army in Manila during World War II might remember him for an entirely different reason: the day Fisher, aboard his tank, Georgia Peach, stormed the prison camp and helped liberate the prisoners from their brutal Japanese Army captors.

When Fisher joined the United States Army in Spring 1942 as a drummer in a regimental band with the 8th Armored Division, the raid to liberate Allied civilians being held as prisoners by the Japanese in Manila was three years away. He received his basic training at Fort Knox. A month and a half later, Fisher was sent to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to assist in forming a regimental band as part of the 12th Armored Division. He remained there as a drummer in the regimental band and in the show and dance band.

But the frivolity, as such, was about to come to an end. In September 1943, the band was reduced in size, resulting in Fisher seeking reassignment, which landed him in the 44th Tank Battalion, a unit within the 12th Armored Division. In November, the 44th Tank Battalion was detached from the 12th Armored Division and, in March, was sent to Vancouver to prepare for deployment to the Pacific, a move that was executed in March 1944.

“We… boarded the Dutch ship S.S. Kota Baroe on March 22 and sailed unescorted for a period of 51 days before reaching our destination at Fanshawe, New Guinea,” Fisher stated in an interview.

The war officially commenced for Fisher in January 1945, when the 44th Tank Battalion was deployed along with the armed forces being sent to San Jacinto, Philippines, at the opening of the Luzon Campaign—making it the largest campaign in the Pacific war, involving more than 10 U.S. divisions.

General Douglas MacArthur, then commander of the Southwest Pacific, had become impressed with an ongoing prisoner rescue attempt and immediately ordered the formation of the “Flying Column,” with the orders to, “Go to Manila! Go over the Japs, go around the Japs, bounce off the Japs, but go to Manila! Free the prisoners at Santo Tomas…”

Fisher had been assigned to an M4 Sherman medium tank, which the crew had dubbed Georgia Peach, no doubt influenced by the fact that the tank’s commander was Sergeant Marvin Herndon, of Georgia, when orders were received to roll with the “Flying Column.”

As the column (a mere 700 men and their equipment) neared Santo Tomas, the bullets and shells began to fly, as Japanese resistance began to stiffen. Fisher described the ensuing chaos as seemingly “all Hell breaks loose, with the appearance of a fireworks display on the Fourth of July.”

Fisher stepped outside of his tank during a presumed lull and was immediately struck in the back by a fragment of shrapnel.  Regarding the injury, he said, “It was red hot, and that’s why it hurt so much, but it was a clean cut,” so the tank crew “just put on a bandage,” and he resumed his position in the tank.

The troops received word that the Japanese may well have been preparing to execute as many of the civilian prisoners as they could before they could be liberated, which further hastened the American column forward. Upon orders to charge the prison compound gates, the Georgia Peach and four other tanks broke into the compound, and the fight to free the civilian captives was over… except of course, the “Flying Column” and its thousands of liberated prisoners now themselves had to escape.

The column encountered a major Japanese fortified “roadblock” while executing their withdrawal, but in 20 minutes, reduced it to rubble, and the road “home” was cleared of resistance.

Fisher was awarded a Purple Heart, a Philippine Liberation Ribbon, a Good Conduct Medal, and an Asiatic Pacific Service Medal, and served as a president of the 44th Tank Battalion Association of WWII.

Fisher, a Bedford, Pennsylvania-born, life-long resident of Walkersville, and an honorary member of the Bay Area Civilian Ex-Prisoners of War, which had been bestowed upon him as a result of his participation in the 1945 rescue of the 3,800 civilians at Santa Tomas, passed away at the Montevue Assisted Living in Frederick, on July 11, 2000—23 days after his 100th birthday.

Corporal George Fisher, Sr. Courtesy of Family

George Fisher, Sr. and Georgia Peach. Source: Citations Magazine

Navy Vet Tony Ruopoli

by Richard D. L. Fulton

From Beirut to Eritrea

Soon-to-retire and highly decorated Frederick County Deputy, Tony Ruopoli (pictured right), served in the U.S. Navy and has been confronting the “bad guys” for more than four decades, from Lebanon to the highways of Frederick County.

Emmitsburg resident Ruopoli served in the Navy from 1980 until his retirement in 2002. He has served in missions from Lebanon to Somalia to Eritrea, as well as at home, which included recovering a valuable, prototype aircraft involved in a fatal crash in the Potomac River.

Ruopoli, who enlisted in the Navy when he was 17, was initially assigned in 1980 to serve on the U.S.S. Spruance as a mechanical engineer, working on hydraulics and the ship’s diesel engine.

He was serving aboard the Spruance, which was stationed off Lebanon in 1983, as the Lebanese war was erupting, and was present when the U.S.S. New Jersey engaged the enemy, firing her heavy guns for the first time since Vietnam at hostile positions in Beirut.

Also in 1983, Ruopoli was assigned to the U.S.S. Halyburton.  While serving on the Halyburton, Ruopoli was aboard when the ship was dispatched to Granada in October 1983 to support the Marine assault that resulted in the liberation of 36 American students that were being held as hostages by the Grenadian militia. 

During 1985, Ruopoli was assigned to Assault Craft Unit II, a unit that was involved in the invasion of Panama, which ultimately resulted in the surrender of Dictator Manuel Noriega. While with the unit, he was made chief engineer and became the first engineer to qualify as craft master.

Ruopoli was subsequently transferred to the Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit II (MDSU) after having been trained as a Navy diver. When Iran invaded Kuwait in 1991, Ruopoli found himself and other members of MDSU deployed in support of the ensuing military response.

A less pugnacious incident he was assigned was the salvage of a prototype V-22 Osprey (a “tilt-rotor” aircraft), which had crashed on July 21, 1992, into the Potomac River. “We got called to recover the aircraft,” Ruopoli said. By dusk, Ruopoli and his fellow divers had begun recovering pieces of the craft and the bodies of the crew members.

The year 1993 found Ruopoli enroute to Mogadishu, Somalia, to support Seal Teams 2, 4, and 6 in retrieving the remains of the Black Hawk helicopter that had been shot down by Somali militia (subject of the movie Black Hawk Down).

Ruopoli was then assigned to the Navy Medical Research Institute (NMRI) in 1994 to participate in developing protocols for civilian and Navy divers and to help with experimenting with gas mixtures for divers’ tanks. He was also made chief petty officer.

Ruopoli also became involved in recovering debris and bodies from the wreckage of TWA Flight 800, which had exploded and crashed into the Atlantic in 1996 off Long Island, New York. He said the recovery was especially emotional and difficult for him since “a lot of them [victims] were those of kids who were on the plane on a field trip to France.”

When the Eritrean–Ethiopian War broke out in 1998, Ruopoli and other members of his unit were deployed as part of a United Nations operation in an attempt to “assist Eritrea in becoming its own nation and (in assuring) a peaceful separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia,” he said. 

Ruopoli retired from the Navy in 2002, and then attended and completed the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) Academy, becoming a deputy sheriff, a position he continues to hold until he retires in September.

He has received citations (including medals for valor) for numerous acts of heroism while on and off duty, having saved several lives over the years, including an individual rescued from her burning home. As part of his duties with FCSO, he predominantly patrolled the north county, with some of his time on the force devoted to accident reconstruction.

Following his retirement, Ruopoli and his wife, Brenda, intend to continue with their development business, Cherry Blossom Properties.

Seaman John Ballenger

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Four years on the Saratoga

John Ballenger’s adventures aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga, the sixth ship in the Navy that had been named after the 1777 Battle of Saratoga – which marked a turning point in the American Revolution – began in 1960 when he sought to avoid the draft, and thus… the Army, and instead he then volunteered to join the Navy.

It was a close call, soon-to-be Seaman Ballenger stated. Within two weeks of entering basic training, he received a draft notice. The advantage of not being drafted, he said, was that if an individual was drafted, the draftee had to do whatever the Army assigned to them, but if an individual volunteered, “You got to do what you wanted to do.”

Ballenger resided in Laurel at the time with his parents, where his father also owned and operated the regionally renowned Ballenger Buick (Seaman Ballenger worked at the dealership before ultimately inheriting it, upon his father’s death.). 

Following his induction into the Navy at Andrews Air Force Base (the home of “Air Force One” since 1961), he ultimately was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, in Michigan, for basic training, and then on to the Mayport Naval Station, Jacksonville, Florida, where he was assigned to the Saratoga

The command wanted Ballenger to serve on the flight deck crew, but he wanted and was approved to serve as a catapult-and-arrest mechanic—the catapults being the means by which the jets are launched from the carrier, and the arresters are the means by which the incoming planes are stopped on the deck. He was also responsible for assuring that jets preparing to take off had the appropriate load of fuel and confirmed that the plane’s load met weight standards.

In 1962, the Saratoga was ordered to proceed to Guantanamo Bay along with two other carriers during the “Cuban Missile Crisis”—a 13-day standoff between the U.S. and the USSR over nuclear missile bases being installed by the Russians in Cuba. Ballenger said the Saratoga and the others were prepared for the worst. They all had nuclear missiles onboard.  If the carriers had been forced to arm the jets and use the missiles, “Cuba (as we know it),” he said, “wouldn’t exist today.”

After the Russians backed down, the Saratoga was off to the Mediterranean, during which time Ballenger was able to witness the kind of things that could happen on deck when things went wrong. 

During one incident which turned out to be more heart-stopping than catastrophic was when an improperly secured bomb dropped off the wing of one of the jets during its take-off and landed on the deck.  Fortunately, it didn’t detonate.

If the catapults did not function properly, a plane could nose-dive into the sea off the bow of the ship, and if a jet—generally coming in at 150 miles-per-hour—missed the arresters, it could result with fatal outcomes. 

Ballenger said that one plane attempting to land missed the arresters, and the pilot throttled up and took off, enabling the pilot and co-pilot to eject (having lost their landing gear). Somehow, he said, the co-pilot was killed in the effort.  During a second incident, another jet came in and missed the arresters and crashed into a line of jets on the flight deck, setting them afire.  Fortunately, Ballenger stated, the planes had their bombs removed and taken below deck before the crash.  “It was a terrible crash,” he said.  “We lost a few people.”

But the Saratoga did avert being deployed to Vietnam during Ballenger’s service, and the sailors aboard, were instead given opportunities to enjoy a number of Mediterranean countries, including Venice, Italy, France, and Turkey.

Ballenger was discharged in 1964, and married his wife, Linda Ballenger in 1977, and sold Ballenger Buick in 1989, subsequently buying the farm upon which they presently reside in northern Frederick County. They have three daughters, Jessica, Cynthia, and Emily, and one son, John III. Ballenger retired from Lonzo Bioscience in 2017 after having been employed at that facility for 12 years.

Seaman John Ballenger

PFC Clyde Jacob Smith

by E.A. EYLER

Photo Credit to Richard Starbird

When I was six months old, my uncle Jake moved in with us. We lived in a small house alongside Rt. 491 in an area called Lantz. At least it was Lantz until the1960s when the Lantz Post office closed, and our postmark became Sabillasville. The truth was we lived in neither. Just out in the country on a mountain saddle between the South Mountain and Catoctin ranges. My grandparents’ farm was a half mile back the road, where, on maybe 15 acres of tillable land, they raised a family of twelve children. Jake and my mom, Mildred, were born somewhere in the middle. And now, Jake had fallen out with his parents and left home.

Jake had knocked around after leaving school. He worked at Victor Cullen Sanitorium as a dishwasher and occasional projector operator, but, mostly, he had worked on the family farm and for his brother-in-law, Glenn (Junior) Willard, on his farm a mile back the road.

But, Jake was dissatisfied. He wanted to do something more with his life. He wanted to see the world and start a career. It was 1951 and there was a war in Korea. He wanted to join the Army. Trouble was, he was only 17. And, at 17, you needed your parents to sign off, and they refused. Likely, my grandmother put her foot down. She ran the roost. So, Jake moved in with my parents.

Jake was persistent, however, and after six months, tempers cooled, and his parents reluctantly agreed to sign.

He took basic training at Fort Meade and then shipped out to Germany. Unhappy with his assignment there, he requested a transfer to Korea and arrived there on July 14, 1952.

On August 7, 1952, he was assigned Fire Direction Liaison Operator with the 57th Artillery Battalion, Charlie “C” Battery. Finally, he requested to join a Forward Observe Team and was assigned to the 31st Infantry Regiment 3rd Battalion “K” Company as a Wire Corporal. His duties were to keep communications open via radio between his Forward Observation team and the gun battery.

Per a letter received by Jake’s parents from Colonel R.A. Risden, Major General Wayne Smith’s chief of Staff:

“On 17 October 1952, (during the battle of Triangle Hill in the Iron Triangle), friendly forces engaged in an extensive offensive action against a strategic enemy-held hill, were subjected to an intense enemy mortar and artillery barrage. Private Smith was with the Forward Observer Party relaying vital communications when the radio suddenly failed. Ignoring the fierce enemy fire, Private Smith left his position of relative safety, and, moving through the impact area, secured additional batteries so communications could be restored. Upon his return, Private Smith, noticing several wounded men in danger of falling over a cliff, rushed to their aid and helped in evacuating them. Again returning to his position, Private Smith, with complete disregard for his personal safety, answered a call for volunteers to help defend the friendly positions and moved in to the forward trenches (with Riflemen of the Infantry units), where he valiantly fought off numerically superior enemy forces until he was mortally wounded by enemy fire (an artillery shell landing close to his position).”

He received the Silver Star and the Purple Heart, posthumously. He was buried January, 8, 1953, in Germantown Bethel Church Cemetery.

 According to Lt. Richard Starbird and Sgt. Howard Nease, who served with him, “Smitty was a good soldier, well-liked by his buddies. He chewed Plow Boy brand tobacco and loved the Hershey Bars in his rations. Clyde was a strong man who was good at “Tapping the Box” (keeping the radio working). He loved being a soldier. He looked forward to mail from his family and a girl named, Jennie.”

How I Came to Know My Father ~ Part 4

by Sally T. Grove

Courtesy Photo of Chester L. Grove, Jr. in Uniform

Dad and Mates

Courtesy Photo

I started to understand my father, Chester Grove when I was 20 years old in 1977. That’s when I found the journal he kept during World War II. I read about experiences he didn’t talk about…fighting in war.

A cold March rain came to add to our discomfort…my arm was now stiff but the bleeding had stopped. My buddy’s head and legs were giving him plenty of trouble…we had to slow the pace and take turns helping him along…we often went through the forest on trails and dirt roads, tanks and guns concealed in the forest…we were constantly wet and chilled.

Our guards stopped at a house in the next town and ate while our stomachs just growled with hunger. At 4:00 p.m. we came to a little German town and sat down while the guards talked to a German captain. We had been walking since 5:00 a.m. and we were a tired and hungry bunch of Joes…

Dad had been going for at least 20 hours straight. I doubt anything that life dealt my father after the war could compare with what he had experienced in Germany. No wonder my father was always grateful for the small blessings in life. He taught us to stop and savor the view, to hear the calls of Bob Whites and Whip-Por-Whils echoing in the air at sunset, and to know that in our family we were rich beyond money.

...one at a time into the house… the Jerry’s captain interrogated us… I was next to be questioned and was glad my time had come, for the uncertainty of waiting was terrible. I went into the room and the officer behind a large desk asked, “What’s your name?” I answered with my name, rank and serial number. He then asked my outfit. I wouldn’t answer so he told me the answer, the division and also the regiment I was from… I was not surprised that he knew the division but I was given a great surprise when he also named the regiment. I still cannot understand how he found out unless he forced one of the fellows to talk (which I doubt) or found the answer on a letter or paper of some kind someone was carrying. He then asked whether we were Panzer’s troop, flyers, or infantry, and I guessed then that he didn’t know much about our outfit. I refused to tell him and he got very mad and threatened to hit me unless I talked. He even drew back his arm in a motion to strike me but it turned out that he did not strike. I was very mad when he threatened me and I’m sure that if he had struck me I would have gone over the desk after him and killed him, for I know I could not have taken a slap without fighting back. It is good that he didn’t for I surely would have been killed if I had tangled with him.

I cannot even imagine my father having the thought of killing someone. He was the gentlest soul I have ever known.

After he had finished questioning all of us, he said that since we would not talk we would have nothing to eat until we decided to talk… We waited for about two hours in the rain and cold March wind, while the guards ate and we looked on with watering mouths and hungry eyes. Finally we were told to go in the house… we were brought in a small bowl of cold potatoes, about one apiece. But they vanished in a flash, serving only to sharpen our hunger.

Dad hadn’t eaten since 8:00 p.m. the night before. He had gone 24 hours without food.

About half an hour later, the three of us that were wounded were told that a truck was waiting to take us to a hospital and the rest would march on to the concentration camp. I almost wished to go on to the concentration camp rather than split up with the rest of the fellows, but I wouldn’t have been allowed… so we parted our little group that had been through so much together.

What would have happened had he gone to the concentration camp? Would things have turned out differently? Thank God his life took the turns it did or I would not be here to tell you my father’s story.

It was dark and we rode for ages in the small truck and went through countless towns. Finally, about 11:30 p.m., we were taken into a large German house, which was being used as a Jerry field hospital. We gave our name, rank, and serial number to a Jerry orderly at a desk and then sat down among half a dozen wounded Jerries to wait our turn with the doctor. I was taken into a room equipped for operating. A radio was playing an American song. The first American music I had heard for months… A beautiful, young blonde-haired girl was helping the doctor. He told me it was his daughter. I laid on a table and was stripped to the waist then strapped down hand and foot. The doctor drew out a large scalpel and laughed as he drew it across my throat in a motion to cut it. If he had not been laughing, I would have been very much afraid, but I knew it was a joke so I laughed back.

My father had a great sense of humor, a gift he gave us all. We still laugh when we think about Dad learning to play tennis. For all of our lives, my father came home from work and changed from his suit into blue jeans. Blue jeans were his primary play clothes. So, when Dad played tennis, he played in jeans. That was fine in cool weather, but when the mercury skyrocketed along with my father’s passion for tennis, the problem had to be fixed. For Father’s Day, my siblings and I bought Dad tennis shorts. My father appeared in the hallway, boxers hanging inches below the shorts. Being a time before it was chic to have boxers showing beneath shorts, the whole family dissolved into laughter. Dad not only graduated to shorts that summer, but was introduced to briefs as well.

The doctor said, “Don’t feel so good now do you?” He told me in broken English that he had studied medicine in Chicago and I felt a little better.

Sadly, this is where Dad’s war diary stopped. He didn’t explain how long he was held captive, when he was liberated from the Germans, where he recuperated from his wounds, or when he returned to the states. Thankfully, my father had lived through these horrendous events and lived to write a part of his story.

Slowly, after reading the last page, I closed the stenographer’s notebook. Dad was a writer. This was my father but outside the lens of my experience. Were his memories too horrible to speak? Did Dad write this journal to have an outlet to express his feelings, hoping that in the writing of the words, the horror would be erased from his memory?

My mind’s camera had always framed a gentle, quiet man. The man I had known came home each afternoon by 4:30. He took a nap, his eyes closing and his body surrendering to a fast, deep sleep, the very moment his head made contact with the mattress on my parent’s carved-pineapple post bed. As kids, we rushed to see Dad when he came home; if we were two seconds late, our sharing had to wait until dinner at 5:00.

I clutched the notebook to my chest, my heart racing as I slowly ascended the stairs. Now that I knew all of this, I could not pretend that I didn’t know.

I opened the door and found various members of my family sitting around our house. I relaxed my grip on the notebook, looked at my mom and each of my siblings, knowing that I knew what they did not. I don’t remember how it happened, but I shared Dad’s notebook with my family that day.

You see, my father died when I was twenty, the day after Thanksgiving. He had gone hunting, fell out of a tree stand, and hit his head, dying instantly.

I remember vividly, too vividly, the night that my father’s station wagon, along with another car, pulled into the driveway and my Aunt Kitty got out and walked to the door. I assumed that Dad had finally gotten his deer.

When, in anticipation, I opened the door to my aunt and uncle, I knew that I was wrong. Their faces said everything. I don’t know how I held it together that night. I told my aunt I would tell my mother when she returned home from her quick grocery run. Somehow, my family made it through the night, and the days and nights that followed.

The next day, the day after my father died, I would descend the stairs to the basement. I would go through my father’s belongings, wanting so much to touch him, to hear him, to know he was there. I would open a trunk and find a small stenographer’s notebook, its brown cover worn, well-traveled, the edges frayed—my father’s war diary.

I would learn things about my father that I had never thought to ask him. Some questions to this day remain unanswered. Still, the journal provided me a glimpse into a man I did not know, and it is how I came to know my father.

How I Came to Know My Father ~ Part 3by Sally T. Grove

Courtesy Photo of Chester L. Grove, Jr. in Uniform

Courtesy Photo

I started to understand my father, Chester Grove when I was 20 years old in 1977. That’s when I found the journal he kept during World War II. I read about experiences he didn’t talk about… fighting in war. About the assault on the Rhine, he wrote:

Where I lay, there were two more of my buddies, so I crawled back along the wall trying to locate the rest but could not do so… The Jerries must have heard me for just then a pebble dropped from the wall about ten feet away… I realized that it might not be a stone after all. I hugged the ground as tightly as I could, pushing my body against it. I also, in that split second, turned my face against the wall. Then it happened, a blinding flash and a deafening noise. I could neither see nor hear. Dirt flew all over me.

A grenade had taken my father’s sight and his hearing. A dark veil hanging over his bright blue eyes. How it must have magnified his fear!

I felt my face for I was sure it must be bleeding, but then my sight returned and gradually my hearing, although my ears kept ringing… I looked at my buddy in front of me and his head was smeared with blood as well as his foot and legs. I shook him thinking he was dead but he moved, then another grenade not quite as close hit the ground. A blinding flash and blast followed, however it did not touch us.

Concern for others, even in the face of adversity does not surprise me. Although my family didn’t have much growing up, we never did without, thanks to my father. Dad had just three suits: one for winter, one for summer, and one to wear when the in-season suit was getting cleaned. His children, on the other hand, went shopping each September for new school clothes, and each spring, we shined in our new Easter outfits.

I knew then that they would keep grenading us till we were dead or came out. I never prayed so hard and so desperately in my life, I know that I could never be an atheist, ever, and that anyone no matter what his feeling, put in the same situation would ever deny God.

Dad never talked about religion, he lived his belief. Mom was the one who took us to church on Sundays. Dad came for Baptisms, First Communions, and Confirmations, but Sunday mornings were always Dad’s time at home, while we went to mass with Mom. I have never known a more-loving man than my father, so I am not surprised that he professes his belief in God, still he never talked to us about his faith.

In those few minutes, which seemed a year, I saw visions of my favorite fishing places and hunting territory… saw them clearly as if I were there. I pictured mom, dad, and all the family, as well as all my friends who I was sure I would never see again.

My dad’s sister, Aunt Kitty, told me that Dad was always her best friend. They were closest in age of all their siblings and played together as children. They fished in Carroll Creek and rode their bikes through the streets of Frederick. I once read a letter that Dad wrote to his father; he signed his letter, “Love, Your Fishing Buddy, Tommy.”

Again a grenade dropped within 20 feet and I pressed into the earth… a voice spoke in broken English “Hello boys, come out, ve know you are there.”… I scarcely breathed for each breath sounded like a bellows, at least in my ears… I was soaked to the skin in blood and water and was shaking like a leaf in the wind. I thought of my first-aid kit with its sulfa drug to keep my wound from infection, yet I dared not move for every move brought a grenade.

The waiting must have been torture. Dad knew that the Germans were close, and they had his life in their hands.

Night started to fade… empty boats floated by… then we heard footsteps on the beach… the Jerries were afraid to come down in the darkness for fear of ambush. They had waited until they had light enough to see and then investigated. We were prisoners.

Dad’s fear must have been great when he heard footsteps approaching. The soldier became a prisoner.

At least the constant fear of uncertainty and falling grenades was now over. We had lain under the wall from 12 p.m. till daylight… four and a half hours of terrible uncertainty, awaiting death or capture or possibly help.

Dad relinquished one state of uncertainty for another. Perhaps being a prisoner of war was better than lying in wait for an unknown fate.

We were searched and stripped of all equipment but our clothes, even our first-aid pouches were taken, as well as our cigarettes, water, rations, and anything the Jerries decided they wanted. I refused to give up my pay book and finally they agreed to let me have it… I then tried to get the other fellow’s books back but they would not allow this.

Why was his pay book so important? What did it mean to a soldier?

Certainly a soldier got paid whether they presented a pay book or not.

Thankfully, by the time I knew my dad, he had given up cigarettes for a pipe. I know that pipes are bad for you, but to this day, pipe smoke makes me think of my father.

We had four guards for the eight of us and we were forced to carry a fifty pound box with us. We climbed up a steep, rocky ridge just before the sun peeped over the horizon. The going was rough…those hills were hundreds of feet high and very steep. Our (the U.S.) artillery had begun firing again and we were in constant danger from our own shells…We were really scared and I never thought we would make it through there alive.

I had seldom seen my father show raw emotion, except, that is, when Dad made a decision to reverse a doctor’s recommendation for our family. I was 10 when my brother Craig was born. We didn’t know it for several years, but Craig’s brain had been damaged during the birth process—Craig was developmentally disabled.

The doctors told my parents that Craig and our family would fare best if Craig moved into a group home.

Unfamiliar with the plight ahead, my parents placed Craig in Kemp Horn Home.

Our family was not allowed to see Craig for a month. When we finally visited, it was raining. “Song Sung Blue” played on the radio. My family’s hearts mirrored the rain as we visited with Craig. My father decided that doctors do not know best, and Craig came home with us that very day. My family never looked back.

How I Came to Know My Father ~ Part 2

by Sally T. Grove

Using Her Father Chester L. Grove, Jr.’s Diary and Reflecting on What He Had Written

I was 20 years old when I first came to understand my father. He invited me to return home to live with him on Thanksgiving Day 1977 as a way to relieve the financial pressures I faced as a newly graduated college student. It was then that I found a small stenographer’s notebook in a trunk in the basement. As I read through it, I learned about a part of my father’s life during World War II that he, like many Veterans of that war, didn’t share easily.

 “January 11th, we left the good old Terra Firma of the U.S.A. for Europe … January 21, 1945, we landed at Le Havre, France… We had a cold reception on landing. The temperature was below zero… We rode 60 miles in open trucks to Camp Lucky Strike, the coldest ride of my life. We arrived at camp at 2 a.m. frozen stiff. Our night was far from over yet, as we had to pitch tents in the snow and, when we finally did get to bed, we were too cold to sleep.”

I took U.S. History in high school, and I guess I should have known Dad fought in WWII. Still, Dad never talked about the war.

“The camp of former German airfields with a large concrete runway was infested with mines and booby traps. We trained in snow and then knee-deep mud for about a month, making very hard marches. During that time, my feet were frozen so badly that I couldn’t wear shoes for several days.”

Studying history is nothing like reading a journal from WWII. They didn’t talk about the cold and the suffering in our textbook—feet frozen so badly that you couldn’t wear shoes! Thankfully, that is a cold that I have never known.

“On March 25th, we moved up to the west bank of the Rhine. We arrived at 8 p.m., ate, and at 10:30 p.m. with but two hours’ sleep, we started our assault crossing. For hours, our artillery had been hammering the east bank and now the forest was a blazing inferno. Our company crept down the twisting trail to the river’s edge. As we reached the riverbank, we were fired upon by a hail of machine guns and 20 mms, which pinned us to the ground for half an hour. The railroad station to our front was ablaze as a result of the firing… The second platoon tried to launch several boats but was mowed down before they could load them. Finally in desperation, Captain Brown asked for a boat load of volunteers to try to make it across… our whole squad stepped forward…”

Dad was a part of the assault on the Rhine! We learned so little about WWII in my high school history class. We learned almost nothing about the Holocaust or how the United States declared neutrality at the start of World War II in Europe. We did learn about troop movements, and my limited memory tells me that the assault on the Rhine was a big deal. It precipitated the beginning of the end.

“… we got out only about thirty yards before they spotted our boat. Everything broke loose at us but we kept going… halfway across and by this time about two blocks down stream, we again received heavy fire but again paddled through it. Finally we were about 40 yards from the Jerry side, right opposite a high wall on which the machine guns were mounted… this time the jug-heads had our range and were peppering the boats so we decided to swim for it. Stripping off all equipment but our guns, we dove overboard…I was in mid-air when I felt a hot sear in my shoulder…I found that I could not use my left arm, but I managed to swim with one arm to shore…I was the only one of the seven in our boat that was hit…as we hit the sandy beach, they resumed firing on us and the engineer in the boat with us was hit and fell at the water’s edge. The rest of us took cover at the base of a wall about 25 to 30 feet high.”

I have seen that scar on Dad’s shoulder since I was a kid. The scar is as much a part of Dad as the dimple on his chin or his chipped front tooth. I knew his tooth broke during a childhood flight over the handlebars of his bike, and Mom always said Dad’s dimples made him look like Robert Mitchum, a movie star from their generation. But the scar on his shoulder—I had not known the event that had caused it.

“The engineer was in terrible agony and laid groaning and praying in a blood-chilling voice. We could not go to his aid as the Jerry’s kept showering the area with lead. A little later, however, we crept over to him, but it was too late. A bullet had hit his spine and he was dead.”

My father saw a friend die. I cannot imagine my father enduring such a tragic loss. Did a soldier’s training prepare them to go on when they had lost a friend? 

“… We made our way back to the safety of the wall, as shells were hitting directly out from us in the water about 20 yards away. We were pinned between two lines of fire, one from the Jerry’s and one from US troops.”

This sounds like a scene from an old war movie…

“Pain seared my body. I don’t know why but one of my first impulses was to spit to see if my lung was hit, which I guess it was not, as I did not spit blood. I could see the bullet holes in my jacket right at the point where the sleeve and shoulder seam is, but could not find where the bullet left, although my chest at the heart area was very sore and full of blood as well as swollen. My whole shirt was blood-soaked and I feared I might bleed to death although the blood did not now seem to be running from the wound. We lay very still along the wall, the hob-nailed boots of the Jerries sounded just above the wall and we could hear them loading their machine guns and talking in low voices. My arm was stiff and throbbing now like an engine.”

This wasn’t an old John Wayne war movie. This battle was real, and my dad was the main character. How frightening it must have been for him, bleeding and in pain, waiting, not knowing what would happen next. The design of his future was out of his hands.

Sally Grove pictured with her father and mother in 1972.

Courtesy Photo of Chester L. Grove, Jr. in Uniform