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Kent Rotary Veterans
Introduction Regarding WWII
1941 was a much different time than now. Half of the nation’s children came from homes that earned less than $500/year. One quarter of the population lived on farms and the average farmer made less than $1000/year. One fourth of all US homes lacked running water and one third were without flush toilets. The average American left school after the eighth grade. The country’s population was 132 M and demographers predicted it would not get much larger. The GNP was $90 B and the Dow Jones was hovering around $150. At the turn of the decade, there was only 2 Black officers in the Army and none in the Navy. In 1941, Bob Feller threw a no-hitter, Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games and Lou Gehrig died. A hit song was, "Goodbye Mamma, I’m Off to Yokohama."Historian William Manchester said that in 1941 the US was not even a third rate military power. As late as the mid-thirties, we had the 16th largest Army in the world….ranking behind Czechoslovakia, Turkey, Spain, and Romania. Our 30,000 man ready Army was smaller than the Army that England had sent in an attempt to defeat us in the Revolutionary War.
But mobilize for WWII we did, and during the next four years we produced 90K ships, 100K tanks, 300K Warplanes, 2.5M trucks and 20M weapons. The war cost $245B, more than all of the US budgets from 1789-1940 combined.
16.3M men and women entered our military. A total of 70M men and women served in the Allied and Axis forces. Of this 70M, 17M lost their lives. The Soviet Union lost the most…7.5M. Germany lost 3.5M, and Japan lost 1.25 M. It is estimated that the Soviet Union also lost 20M civilians and China 10M civilians.
Of our 16.3M service personnel, 672K were wounded and survived, and 407K died.
In this article we wish to honor three groups of Kent Rotarians:
Group 1 consists of those members who were in the Rotary Club of Kent when WWII commenced and left the club to serve in the armed forces..
Group 2 consists of currently active Rotary Club of Kent members who served in the armed forces in WWII.
Group 3 consists of currently active Rotary Club of Kent members who served in the armed forces during the Post-WWII era.
Group 1. Active Rotary Club of Kent Members Who Left the Club to Serve in WWII.
(Note: Only one current member, Dick Wiland, is in this category.)
Dewey was the Chair of the Industrial Arts Department at Kent State University. He served as an Officer in the CBs, and landed at Guadalcanal.
Wayne was a General Contractor. He served as a 1st Lt. in the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Bill was a Partner in the Kent Hardware. He served in the US Army Signal Corps.
Karl was the President of Kent State University. He served as a Major in the US Army. Leebrick Hall named in his honor. Mrs. Jerry Wiland reported that President Leebrick rented what is now the Patton House as the Presidential Home while he was President of KSU.
Bill was Chair of the Journalism Department at Kent State University. He served as a Col. in the US Army, and was on General MacArthur’s Staff. Taylor Hall, KSU, was named in his honor.
Harry Longcoy Jr.
Harry Jr. was the son of Harry Longcoy, Sr., the 25th President of our club. Harry Jr., a Staff Sgt., was killed in the Italy Campaign on November 1, 1944. Harry Jr. was the only Kent Rotarian killed in action.
Dick served as a Lt.jg in the US Navy. His service is described in Group 2 (Current Member section).
Note: A special classification of "Honorary Service Member" was bestowed on each of the above while serving their country.
Group 2. Currently Active Rotary Club of Kent Members Who Served in WWII.
Jim enlisted in the Navy in February 1945. He was a Pharmacist Mate 3rd in the summer of 1945. He was slated to report to for Camp Pendleton for fleet marine training, to prepare for the invasion of Japan in November 1945. Jim was relieved when the atomic bombs ended the war in August 1945 and he didn’t have to be a part of the invasion force . He went back to college and graduated in 1949. In 1952, he was recalled to active duty because of the Korean War. Jim said that, "In the usual foresight of the military, I was sent to the Mediterranean Sea, to serve on the USS Coral Sea." Jim was welcomed aboard by the head of the medical department with the greeting, "Why were you sent here? We’re overstaffed!" A week later Jim was called into the Captain’s office and told that since he had been recalled to active duty from his job at the New York Times, he was being assigned to the ship’s newspaper as Editor and Chief. Jim’s protests that he had been in the circulation department at the Times fell on deaf ears, and he served as Editor of the Coral Sea Breeze (Jim named the paper) for his entire tour. Jim said that his success as Editor was insured when he put the Captain’s picture on the cover of nearly every issue. Jim had a wonderful tour of duty, getting to visit Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, France, Morocco, Spain, Portugal and Algeria.
Bob served as an intern and physician at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital for two years. Bob was a Naval Officer and completed a remarkable, life long career in medicine here in Kent a few years ago.
Duane enlisted at 17 years of age into the regular Navy. He served in the South Pacific on the Staff of Commander, Mine Craft - Pacific Fleet. They dragged for mines and tended mine nets. Duane was in charge of the enlisted personnel for the Flag Command. He served from 1943-46 and attained the grade of Yeoman 1st Class.
Alex volunteered for the Navy V-7 Program in February 1942, after graduating from Kansas State University in May 1941. He was working for Halliburton as an engineer in Duncan, Oklahoma (years later Halliburton moved to Dallas, Texas). He was assigned to the V-7 Program at Nortre Dame University as an Apprentice Seaman for one month, and then to an old converted battlewagon (Prairie State – formerly the USS Illinois) in the Hudson River, New York City, as a Midshipman. He was commissioned an Ensign-Engineering late in the summer of 1942. He was then assigned to the Diesel Engineering School at Penn State University for three months. Next, he was ordered to Guantanamo Bay (GTMO), Cuba to serve on PT boats as Engineering Officer for six months escorting ships from GTMO to Trinidad and back. Next he was assigned to Destroyer Escort School in Miami, Florida. Then to a one month diesel school in Cleveland, Ohio. Finally, assigned to the Destroyer Escort, USS DeLamons (DD743) as Engineering Officer. The USS DeLamons was commissioned in San Pedro, California in February 1944. Then proceeded to Hawaii and to Marshall Island Battle (escorting the Third and Fifth Fleets). The USS DeLamons participated in the invasion battles of Guam, Saipan, Tinian (then Ulithi), the Philippines (escorted MacArthur to Borneo Battle), Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The USS DeLamons was awarded nine battle stars…more than any other DE. Returned to the states in February 1946 and was released from active duty, exactly four years after he had entered. Alex stayed in the Naval Reserves until 1949, when business commitments caused him to resign. He completed his service as a LCDR.
After graduating from the USNA, Class of 1942, Fred served on the USS Fletcher, a destroyer, for 20 months. While Fred was an officer on the Fletcher, the ship earned 7 Battle Stars from July 1942 to March 1944. Fred gave an outstanding program to Rotary a few years ago about the Fletcher’s part in the Battle of Guadalcanal. Fred spent the last year of the war in flight school where he became a pilot, and was on his way to the Pacific as a replacement pilot as the war ended. (Fred tells a wonderful story of honeymooning with Betty on side-wheeler ferry boat traveling overnight to Detroit…and then saw the same ferry several years later for the first time since his honeymoon, as he landed on this now converted "carrier").
Port (on the right) was drafted after his senior at Kent Roosevelt High School and was put in the (Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) of the infantry. This entailed taking infantry basic training at Fort Benning, before being sent to University of Oklahoma in the V-12 program. This was to be wonderful opportunity, except it was cancelled after he completed basic training, and they were all put into the 94th Infantry Division! Next, they were sent to Europe soon after the invasion. Their Division was sent to Brittany to hold the Germans in the bypassed channel ports of St. Nazaire and Lorient, ports the Germans used to service their submarines. This was a relatively good assignment, as it only involved some patrolling and artillery shelling from time to time. (Editor’s Note: This doesn’t sound like a good assignment to me.) When the Battle of the Bulge started, they were sent there to help out. This was a difficult assignment, as many men were wounded or killed. Port was hit by a fragment of a German 88 shell that hit a tree behind him. The fragment went through the four layers of his webbed belt and stuck in his back. Port recalls, "This injury earned me a Purple Heart, but as I remember, it was repaired with a Band-Aid!"
When the war ended, Port’s group moved across the Rhine River to occupy Dusseldorf. After a few weeks, their division was sent to Czechoslovakia. Port did not have enough points to come home, so he was transferred to the 503rd MPs in Bad Tolz, Germany. They guarded the previous German Army Headquarters in Bad Tolz, which was by now housing our Third Army Headquarters, led by General George Patton. Port said, "I once had the guard post duty outside General Patton’s office door for five days and that was a very interesting assignment." Finally, port was sent back to the States on a Liberty Ship…a trip, which took 18 days compared to the five days it, took him to get to Europe on the Queen Mary.
John "Jack" Joy
Jack enlisted in the US Air Force in 1942 and was discharged in 1946, having achieved the rank of 1st Lieutenant. Jack was a B-17 Pilot in the 15th Air Force, 483rd Bomb Group, and the 817th Bomb Squadron. He flew 34 missions against German military installations, bridges and railroads around Munich, Vienna, Plesti, Prague and Berlin (the longest mission requiring 8 ½ hours to complete). His unit worked with the Russian Air Force to bomb German targets and in 2002 Jack was honored by the Russian Government, the City of Balashika and the Russian 218th Air Division for the important role he played during his service. Jack and one other American, Harry Yoder, a B-24 Pilot, marched in a parade commemorating the allied victory, the only Americans of the 40,000 people present. (Jack explained this story in a 2002 Speech to the Rotary Club of Kent.) Jack received the Distinguished Flying Cross (for bringing his badly damaged plane with one engine shot out and crew safely back to base), the Air Medal with 2 clusters and 4 Battle Stars. Jack said that several of his special WW II memories include: encountering a German twin engine jet fighter (ME 262) while on a mission; ferrying 5th Army High Point Troops from Pisa to Casablanca for 4 months; piloting a B-17 with crew from Lincoln, Nebraska to Foggia, ItaIy; piloting a B-17 with 5 crew members and 10 passengers from Pisa, Italy to Morrison Field in Florida; and of course, those 34 missions.
Walter enlisted in the Army in January of 1943 and was sent to an accelerated Medical school program at Georgetown University, School of Medicine. He graduated as a physician in June of 1947. Because he graduated after the war was over, the Army recalled him to serve in the Korean War for two years. He served at Fort Campbell, KY and on the day he was to go to Korea, he was retained at Fort Campbell because they could not get a replacement for him in the Ear, Nose and Throat Department on this 40,000-troop base. Walter completed an exemplary life long career in pediatric medicine here in Kent a few years ago.
Ken joined the Army on September 9th, 1942. After basic training at Fort Benjamin Harrison, IN, he was sent to Fort Hayes in Columbus, OH, where he issued uniforms until January 1944, when he was sent to the 15th Replacement Depot and on to England on board the Queen Mary. Ken’s 30,000 men unit moved to France, via Omaha Beach, in August 1944 to supply the troops of General Patton. In December 1944 their unit processed returning prisoners. Ken was discharged November 2, 1945.
Bob enlisted in the Army on July 20, 1942. He was an aviation cadet until he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Us Army Air Corps on February 3, 1943. Bob then served as Communication Officer at three air bases in California (Muroc Dry Lake, Salinas, Santa Maria) until being transferred to China. Bob served with the 11th Bomb Squadron, 14th Air Force in Yang Kai, China from 1944 until the end of the war. He held the rank of Captain. Bob said that their mission was to support bombing missions to China and Japan. He recalled seeing 100,000 coolies working to build an airstrip…with little or no mechanical equipment. A thousand men would pull huge rollers to level and compact the runway. I asked him about his most exciting moments and he said that that had to be flying the "hump," as in Himalayan Mountains, in a C-46. He was released from active duty on April 3, 1946 and served in the active reserves until 1959.
Bob (on the left) enlisted in the US Army Air Force in January 1943. He became a Radio Operator on a B-29 crew and was assigned to the 20th Air force, 315th Bomb Wing, 16th Group, 15th Squadron. There were 200 B-29s in their Wing. They flew bombing missions to Japan from Guam. Their missions were so long that all of the machine guns were removed, except for the tail gunners, so they could hold more fuel. They were trained to fly their missions at 30,000 feet, but in actuality, flew them at 12-18,000 feet. Their missions were flown at night and were aimed at fuel refineries. They used the new 60-degree radar and the Norden bombsight. A typical mission was 12 hours, but 5 days after the second atomic bomb blast at Nagasaki, Bob’s crew flew to Hokkaido to knock out some oil refineries and this mission was one of the longest ever flown in WWII…17 hours. On the way home the received a message that the war was over. Bob was discharged December 7, 1945…4 years to the day that the war had started for the US.
Reed enlisted in the V-7 Officers’ Training program in December 1942 and was sent to Columbia University. After completing that program was sent to Harvard for a one-year Navy Supply Corps program. When he finished this program, Ensign Strimple was assigned to the new cruiser, Duluth where he became paymaster for this 1500-man ship. Reed met Ravenna Rotarian, Hugh Riddle on the pre-commissioning detail of the Duluth when he saw a Ravenna license on a bicycle parked by the ship. They have been life long friends. They sailed through the Panama Canal to Join Admiral Halsey’s 57th Fleet. While in combat operations around Okinawa, Reed was in the famous Okinawa typhoon, which sunk 2 destroyers, bent the flight deck of a carrier, and nearly tore the bows off of 2 cruisers, including the Duluth. After 90 days of repair, they were back in action, and shot down 2 Japanese aircraft on August 14, 1945, the last day of the war. Two weeks later, the Duluth was anchored in Tokyo Bay, and Reed and Hugh walked through the streets of Tokyo. Reed completed his service in January 1946 as a LT.
Dick joined the Navy V-7 in June of 1943 and was sent to the University of Notre Dame. He was commissioned an Ensign in June of 1944. After additional training at Ohio State, he was assigned to the sub tender USS Howard W. Gilmore, AS-16 and spent the remainder of the war travelling more than 27,000 miles throughout the Pacific.
John enlisted in the Army Air Corps July 1942, but wasn’t activated until January 1943. Had his first flight in April 1943 in a Piper J5. He was classified as an Aviation Cadet at the end of June and soloed a PT19 in September. Soloed an AT17 in January 1944 and got his wings and 2nd LT commission on March 12, 1944…just 14 months after enlisting. He qualified in B25s, B17s and B29s…and spent a year instructing new pilots. Flew the East Coast searching for enemy subs and once flew a 500-mile cross-country in a B-25, at a maximum altitude of 200 feet. Transferred to the Inactive Reserves November 12, 1945.
This concludes a brief description of the Kent Rotary World War II Veterans. Let us never forget the veterans of what Tom Brokaw has called "America’s Greatest Generation." I hope you feel as I do that these men are all heroes.
Group 3. Currently Active Rotary Club of Kent Members Who Served in the armed forces in the Post-WWII Era.
Howard T. Boyle II
Howard served in the USS Army from October 17, 1972 until October 9, 1974. He did his Basic Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana and his Advanced Individual training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma – 15E, Pershing Missile Crewman. His permanent duty station was as Custodial Agent, 74th US Army Artillery Detachment, D Team, Lagerlechfeld, Germany. Pershing missiles were a field grade tactical nuclear missile deployed by NATO during the 1960s through the fall of the Berlin Wall. The missiles were operated by the German Airforce and had a range of 450 miles. They were intended to be used in support of the army. The American Army was on site at all times, holding custody of the nuclear warhead on the missile at quick reaction sites, as well as in numerous bunker areas. That is why we were referred to as custodial agents. The missiles were at all times under multiple control of the NATO, the host nation and the US Government. During the entire time of deployment, no Pershing missile was ever fired with hostile intent. Howard spent his entire time on duty in a beautiful area south of Augsberg, west of Munich and north of Garnish, Germany. The Mayor of their town married Linda and Howard and they spent the first year of their married life there. They both have many fond memories of their time in Europe.
Bill was in the US Army from 1951 to 1953, rising from Private to 2nd LT. He served in Korea with an Ambulance Company. After the war, he became
Commanding Officer of an Ambulance Company and made many trips into North Korea to bring out our Prisoners or War. Later, he transported MASH MD's to district villages in Korea to care for villagers. He said, that this was the start of his interest in working with the medically under-served around the world, as he has done for so many years as an Ophthalmologist.
Hal served in the US Army from 1954-56 in Giessen, Germany in the 364th Medics. He was assigned to the Third Armored Division. Hal was a Medical Supply and Narcotics Control Specialist. Hal said, I have no special stories to tell, but I got to travel all over while assigned in Germany."
Joe enlisted in the Army in 1967, along with his buddy, David Joy, as a part of the US Army’s buddy system program. The program was advertised as one where buddies could join and serve together. After attending Basic and Advanced AIT in Fort Knox, Joe was sent to the DMZ in Korea with the 2nd Battalion, 38th Infantry, 2nd Division from 1968 until 1969. One of Joe’s bad memories of Korea was the nightly playing of Pueblo Captain Butcher’s spying confession played on loud speakers nearly every night over loud speakers by the North Koreans. On a more positive note, Joe got to see his buddy David once in Korea! The buddy system really worked! After Korea, Joe was transferred to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri from 1969 to 1970 where he served in Company C, Third Battalion Staff, as a Drill Instructor. Joe’s favorite story during his drill instructor assignment, involved a new 2nd Lt. waking Joe in the middle of the night to tell him that his platoon of recruits on bivouac had gone AWOL. Joe had the Lt. Snap his fingers and from the surrounding trees came the sounds of 25 recruits shouting "Who, Who." It seems that the young men would not stop talking in their tents after taps and Joe had made them sit in a tree for the night pretending to be owls. Joe was discharged in 1970 as a Staff Sergeant.
James P. Myers
Jim found himself eligible for the draft upon graduating from Ohio Northern University College of Pharmacy in 1954. Although he missed the draft during the Korean War, due to his enrollment in the College of Pharmacy, Jim was drafted soon after graduation and was sent to the Texas "war zone." Jim claims that he should have received "overseas pay" because he was sent to such a remote area of Texas for his post-basic training assignment. Jim's draft date was January 25, 1955 and the GI Bill was due to end January 31, 1955. This resulted in there being an enlistment frenzy that the government had not anticipated. As a result, all of the training sites were swamped beyond capacity. Jim was assigned to Fort Knox, but was in a "holding pattern," because there were no uniforms, nor classes to take. Eventually, Jim was assigned to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. Although Jim was at first excited to be spending the winter in Texas, he soon discovered that he was being assigned to the Logan Hills section of Fort Bliss. It seems that this area had been used to incarcerate German prisoners of war during WWII, until the Geneva Convention ruled this site to be unfit for human habitation. It was unfit for German prisoners, but not for Jim's outfit, who had to spend the winter there. Jim said he stayed behind barbed wire, in four man huts, which had large holes in the walls, allowing wind and sand to be their constant companions. The quarters were tight, and one of Jim's cell, er, hut mates, had just returned from the hospital with measles and was still sick. At the end of basic training, Jim returned to Kent to marry Sally Wolcott on April 16, 1955. Their honeymoon was to be their drive back to Texas, and on their second night of their honeymoon in Louisville, Kentucky, Jim discovered that the warm feeling he had been experiencingâ€¦ was measles! Sally lived near base and Jim got to visit her on selected weekends, or for an occasional evening visit lasting only several hours. After basic training was completed, Jim eschewed his company first sergeant's request to stay at Fort Bless as the company clerk and the first sergeant said he would insure that Jim would be sent to the worst assignment he could find for him. He kept his promise and, Jim was sent to Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas a small, dirty army town. Jim and Sally adjusted and had a good time there. So many pharmacists were sent to Fort Hood that Jim did not get to practice pharmacy, and became a company clerk after all. Jim got to participate in the largest peacetime maneuver in the history of the army, "Operation Sagebrush." Jim won the base-bowling trophy while at Fort Hood and said that Fort Hood's greatest notoriety came when Elvis was assigned there in late 1957. Jim and Sally visited Killeen, Texas on their 45th wedding anniversary and Jim said, "Killeen had grown from a dirty little Army town to a large dirty army town." Jim attained the rate of SP3 and was honorably discharged on 24 January 1957.
Glenn attended the NROTC program at the Ohio State University from 1953-57 and was commissioned an Ensign in the US Navy in 1957. Glenn was accepted to flight school in Pensacola, Florida, but after four months in the program, the Navy changed their contract with flight students from three years to five and one half years, and Glenn selected the option to return to the fleet. He was a plank owner on the USS Heritage (LSD-34) which was home-based in Little Creek, Virginia; served one and one half years on the USS Plumas County (LST-1083) which was home-based in Long Beach, California, making two seven month Far East Tours; and, served as Administrative Officer for Naval Beach Group One (An eleven hundred man group consisting of the Pacific CBs, Boat Units and Beach Masters) in Coronado, California. Upon his release from active duty in 1960, Glenn continued to serve in the Naval reserve, holding three Commands, serving as Group Commander for the Akron, Ohio area and serving as Inspector General of Readiness Command Five (consisting of units in the States of Ohio, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia). Glenn retired as a Captain in the Navy in 1985 after 32 years of continuous naval service (4 Midshipman, 28 Commissioned).
Jim states, "I was the PX Officer for two years (1956-1957) at the England Air Force Base, Alexandria, Louisiana. During this period I was under investigation, but exonerated, because our Bachelor Officers’ Quarters burned down." I asked Jim if he was sure that this was the statement he wanted included in the Rotary Military Story and he said, "That says it all!"
George served in the U.S. Army from 1964 when he was drafted until 1966. At the time he was drafted, George was was attending the University of Pennsylvania on a part-time basis and working for the City of Philadelphia. He was employed as a clerk-typist.
During his time in the military this Philadelphia native was sent south to Fort Jackson (SC), Fort Gordon (GA), and Fort Benning (GA). Jackson was the induction station and Gordon was where he took basic training. While in the service George had temporary assignments at Port Clinton, OH for the annual rifle and pistol matches in 1964. Other temporary assignments were in Steward Air Force Base, Bolling Air Force Base, Richards-Gebaur AFB, Lackland AFB, and Randolph AFB. George was assigned to all of these temporary sites because when he reported back to Fort Benning after the rifle and pistol matches he was reassigned to Thule, Greenland AFB where he made the base basketball team. The base team came stateside to play in the air force sector, region and ultimately All-Air Force Tournament. His team finally lost in the double elimination tournament at Randolph at the All Air Force Tournament. Their two losses were by a total of four points. Finally, after returning to Thule, George finished out his tour of duty at Offutt Air Force Station in Omaha, NB. George said, "I entered the Air Force as a Private and came out with an Honorable Discharge, Good Conduct Medal and the rank of Specialist 4. I had a great experience… traveling and meeting people. The best part was I had the GI Bill and the means to pay for a college education."
Walter E. Strawman
Walt went on active duty with the Ohio National Guard in November 1953. He attended Basic Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky and Advanced Basic Training at Military Police School at Fort Gordon, Georgia. Next, he was assigned to duty at Fort Jay, Governors Island, New York City, New York, as a Sergeant in the Military Police Detachment stationed at Times Square working as Desk Sergeant and Patrol Sergeant. After that assignment, Walt worked as an investigator in the Provost Marshall’s Office, New York Area, in the court section typing reports and transferring service personnel released from the civic authorities to the military authorities. Following his discharge from active duty in September 1955, Walt returned to college.
Upon graduation from high school in 1946, Paul had his army physical when he turned eighteen. He was classified 1A and was set for induction. Two weeks before he was to be drafted, the Draft was discontinued because WW II had ended. Paul then went to college (at that wonderful school up north), graduating in 1950, just as the Korean War broke out. He was drafted and received infantry training with the 14th Infantry Regimental Combat Team at Camp Carson, Colorado. Following completion of his training, he was assigned to the 179th Army Band, the post band for Camp Carson. Paul met his wife, Gwyn, while stationed at Camp Carson. The second year of his two years of duty was with the United States Army Band in Washington, D.C. Following his discharge, Paul returned to college for graduate study.
Walter "Bob" Watson (See last report)
Gene served in the U.S. Air Force from March 1954 to March 1956. He entered active duty as a 2nd Lt., having been in AFROTC at Ohio State. Gene had a one-year tour of duty in Korea, plus stateside time in New York, Florida, and Wisconsin. He served in the U.S. Air Force from March 1954 to March 1956. Gene was in an Air Force non-flying unit… an Aircraft Control & Warning squadron. Their mission was to use land-based radar to guide fighter-bombers to tactical targets such as bridges, airfields, and troop concentrations. They also used radar to assist fighters in air-to-air attacks on enemy aircraft. Gene said, "My military time, although brief, was a great experience."
Walter "Bob" Watson
(Note: Walter’s report was placed last because of its length. He prepared this first person report for his children, and since he is the 2002-2003 President of the Rotary Club of Kent, was permitted to submit this extraordinarily long report!)
I enlisted in the United States Air Force in the fall of 1953, during the Korean War, following one year at Kent State University where I majored in music and journalism.
I was sent to Sampson AFB, Geneva, NY, one of two Air Force Basic Training Bases—the other was Lackland AFB, San Antonio, TX—where I took my basic training.
It will be helpful to understand a little bit about Sampson before going on. The base, which was a Navy training site during WW II, sat on the East Side of Lake Seneca, half way between Geneva and Ithaca as one traveled North to South. It sat half way between Rochester and Syracuse as one traveled east - west. There is no longer any sign of the base, since the entire area has been converted to a New York State Park. At the height of its existence as a basic training base, there were approximately 10-12,000 personnel stationed there.
Following basic, I was assigned to the General Instructors School at Sampson where I spent three months training to be a classroom instructor in such subjects as military history, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and other basic military subjects. On the day of our graduation from GIS, we were told that because of the shortage of Tactical Instructors (TI =Drill Sergeants), we were going to be assigned Tactical Instructors for a period of 90 days after which we could return to classroom assignments if we so desired.
And so it was that after 90 days I was given the option of returning to my original assignment. To the surprise of almost everyone who knew me as a happy, but kind of shy person, I elected to train troops rather than teach in a classroom. And for two years I continued to amaze just about all of my superiors, because my flights (90 men every 60 days) were among the best on the base, and it was a very large base. I enjoyed marching and frequently won drill competitions. I was recognized for my effort to improve race relations—the citation I’m most proud of, since I received it in 1955, well before the height of the Civil Rights Movement— and the scores of my men on barracks inspections, field exercises, and firing line were always high. As a result I was promoted each time I became eligible.
From early in my time as a permanent party on the base, I became active in the Sampsonaires, an all male chorus that sang as a PR ensemble for the Air Force throughout the East. Among our many appearances were those at the World Premier of the movie, The Strategic Air Command, at the Paramount in New York City and an appearance on the Arthur Godfrey Television Show. Before I left the base, I had become the accompanist for this group, replacing John Herr, who became the first organist for the newly completed Air force Academy in Colorado Springs.
During this time I also became the accompanist for the Cornell University Air Force ROTC Glee Club and appeared in concert with that group. (The men introduced me to my first real bathtub gin!) I also began studying piano with George King Driscol at Ithaca College at this time.
Although the Tactical Instructor assignment was challenging, I found myself hanging around the Air Force Band barracks on an increasingly frequent basis. Eventually, the commander, Arnold Gabriel, who later became the Conductor of the US Air Force Band, Washington, DC, asked me if I wanted to transfer to the band, since there was a need for a piano player in the jazz band. I transferred, but the catch was that I had to learn a marching band instrument to stay in the band. Since the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, was not too far away, I decided to learn to play the trombone and made weekly trips to Rochester to study with one of country’s finest trombone teachers, Donald Knabb. And I did learn to play pretty well—well enough to play commercial gigs on trombone when I was discharged.
It was during my year in the band that I moonlighted in a jazz club in Syracuse on the weekends. The band was Cy Simpson and His All-Stars, and I was the only white person in the otherwise all black Embassy Club (no longer there since it was leveled during an urban renewal project).
Little did I know when I transferred to the band that the Air Force was going to close Sampson at just about the time I had one year of active duty left on my enlistment. I was given the choice of going to Saudi Arabia or Goose Bay, Labrador. I don’t like heat especially, so I went to Labrador, which was, as it turned out, a good move. There I could take an on-base college credit course through the University of Maryland Extension Division, learn to arrange for a large jazz ensemble, save money for college by playing several nights weekly for the officers and NCO clubs, and read. I also got to play with some well-known stateside entertainers who came to the base through the USO, most notably, Red Ingle of Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women fame (Spike Jones). I also took one correspondence course through the Armed Forces Institute (University of Wisconsin) and learned to type during the year at Goose Bay.
It is very difficult for me to relate to the combat that my friends experienced during those years, and about the only time I came close to anything resembling real trouble was during the Suez Canal Crisis. Goose Bay was a Strategic Air Command Base, and we knew that it was an especially critical base for support of SAC bombers. General Curtis LeMay, famous AF "bully," was on base from time to time, which only pointed out the importance our location. But, the crisis passed. During this time one of our extra duties was to provide cold weather gear to SAC personnel when they arrived in Labrador unprepared to for 40 blow zero temperature. That’s another story. The rest of our duties consisted of regular rehearsals, playing a variety of military functions on both the American and Canadian sides of the base, and playing for a multitude of functions which can best be called morale concerts.
So, military service for me was an interesting time in my life. I felt as though I had made a contribution to my country, but in retrospect those were very important four years for my personal development. Following my honorable discharge as a staff sergeant in 1957, I enrolled as a music and journalism major at Ohio University and the rest, as they say, is history.
Rotary Club of Kent Military Summary as of Fall 2002