THE RARE BREED |
Recognizing Area Veterans Of World War II
Thanks For The Memories
BY BERT WEST
In our five and a half decades as a newspaperman, there have been many memorable events this writer has covered and/or written about. Number One in being both the most memorable and the most enjoyable has been over the past 9-10 months while coordinating the stories of the World War II Veterans for this Rare Breed series.
This is one writing assignment I hate to see end.
I do not count the stories as my writing. I just assembled them from the information that the Veterans themselves provided, either directly, or thru a loving relative. We tried as much as possible to write the stories "in their own words."
When we first began publicizing the series and publishing the forms outlining the type of information wanted, we had no idea how many World War II Veterans there were in the Palacios area or from the area but living elsewhere. Also, we did not know how many would respond.
From May 8, 2002‹ when the first article was published‹ thru the conclusion of the series on Jan. 1, 2003, a total of 36 consecutive weeks, there were stories and photos from 45 World War II Veterans who were either living in the Palacios area, or were living in the area at the time they entered service but living elsewhere when they submitted "their" stories.
In addition, information was submitted on three World War II Veterans,‹ two by family members of deceased Veterans and one by a Veteran who had no Palacios-area connection other than he was stationed at Camp Hulen on the day of Pearl Harbor.
Despite not meeting the series guidelines, someone had gone to the trouble of preparing and submitting the information, and the three were certainly from that "Rare Breed generation." We included their stories at the end of the series.
By branches of the military, the 48 total Veterans featured consisted of 20 who served in the Army, 12 in the Army Air Force, 11 in the Navy, three in the Marines and two in the Coast Guard. One Veteran first joined the Merchant Marines, then switched to the Army.
The 48 served all over the world, from India and China to all areas of the Pacific theater, the Aleutians, the Philippines, Japan, Africa, Europe and valuable assignments in the United States. They stormed beaches and enemy foxholes; flew through flack, fought off enemy fighter planes, scaled walls, cliffs and mountains; kept tanks, planes, boats and jeeps in combat readiness; taught farm boys and fresh-faced city kids everything from close drill to flying airplanes; liberated POW camps; treated the injured and wounded; cleared mine fields; survived bombs, grenades, shell blasts, kamikaze attacks and snipers.
During the series we already knew or were told of other WWII Veterans either presently living in the area or from the Palacios area and now residing elsewhere‹ but, their information was never submitted. We wish "their story" could have been included, but it was strictly up the Veteran or his/her family or friend, to submit the information.
Sometimes only the barest of information was submitted by or for a Veteran. Some expanded with more details. Some brought in discharge papers, clippings and even history books about their division, regiment, battalion, etc. Some also brought in several photos (wish we could have used more than what we did).
Several of the contributions to the Rare Breed series were instigated by loving grandchildren (or, in one instance, an equally loving grand-niece) of the Veterans; plus many by sons and/or daughters‹who prodded their father.
We tried to schedule their stories in the order received, or to coincide with the week of their birthday. Three of the Veterans, Jimmie Cunningham, Al Hudson and George Kana, died before their submitted information could be published. When that occurred, we moved "their story" up to the next issue.
We had the privilege of meeting most of the Veterans who brought their information to the Palacios Beacon office. A number of the others we "met" over the telephone, when we called to request more information or to clear up a question.
These "guys" were great to meet and to work with! We say guys, although there was one woman, Joan Holmes Crews. We never met her as she mailed in her information. But, we did exchange letters, when requesting a little more information and pictures.
An untold story we did learn during the series was that there was a deceased Palacios Veteran who had been a POW of both the Germans and the Japanese.
An extra special highlight during the series was last June when the Palacios Beacon invited area WWII Veterans to come to the historic Luther Hotel for a first-ever group photo . Twenty-nine Veterans showed up. Thanks to the refreshments and hospitality offered by Billy and Dolly Hamlin, it became a tremendous "get-acquainted" social.
"This is great. We ought to do this every year," one of the Veterans said. Hopefully, it will be done again this year.
Stories on each of the Rare Breed Veterans have been added weekly to the Palacios Beacon's worldwide Internet web site. As a result, a number of the Veterans have been contacted by other Veterans and/or their families not only in this country, but in such places as Australia, France, New Foundland, and Guam. Some WWII battalions, divisions, squadrons, etc., also have sites on the Internet and some have requested, and received, permission from the Beacon to add stories from the series that featured their members to their website For instance, the article on Duane Corporon can also be found at www.450thbg.com
Joe Drastata's story about being a member of the troop carrier squadron that aided the liberation of the Los Banos prison camp in The Philippines brought an e-mail from a man wanting to contact Drastata. The man said his father was among those liberated, just one day before the Japs had planned to execute all of the prisoners. Another e-mail was from a man in Georgia, who said he was writing a book on WWII Veterans and wanted to contact Drastata about the Los Banos liberation (which happened on the same day the famous flag was raised on Iwo Jima). In addition, Drastata's story in the Palacios Beacon series is now on exhibit at the Admiral Chester Nimitz World War II Museum in Fredericksburg..
The Texas Historical Commission is starting a webpage on Texas Veterans of World War II. It will have a link to the Palacios Beacon's series. An article about the Rare Breed series will be published in the March edition of the worldwide-circulated World War II magazine.
Many of the Veterans have expressed thanks to us for printing their story. We thank them for allowing us to tell their story‹ and, we join the community and all America, for that matter, in thanking them for their service and dedication to their country.
Finally, we offer the following tribute, written by Father Dennis O'Brien, Sergeant, U. S. Marine Corps, to all who have and are serving America in the military:
"It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
"It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
"It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who gives us freedom to demonstrate.
"It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag."
Lastly, to paraphrase the trademark song of Bob Hope, the great entertainer of troops through three wars, this is for all those who contributed to the Rare Breed stories: "Thanks for your memories."
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