Leaving high school as an inexperienced and restless seventeen-year-old, Uel Smith—like most his age—was simply searching for a break from the monotony of his rural Missouri surroundings. What he quickly discovered, however, was an adventure below the ocean’s surface that placed him in an uncomfortable proximity to a Cold War era foe.
“My friends were talking about joining the Navy,” recalled Smith. “I was only seventeen at the time and it didn’t make a difference where they were going—I was going to follow.”
He traveled to St. Louis to enlist in June 1956, and was soon on his way to boot camp at the United States Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland. (The training site burst into existence during World War II and closed in the early weeks of 1976.) While in training, leadership asked if anyone was interested in becoming a submariner. Responding with an emphatic “Yes!”, Smith was sent to complete the submarine physical.
Following his graduation from boot camp, he was given orders and $14 in travel money to attend submariner school at New London, Connecticut. During the eight weeks of training that ensued, Smith received instruction in escape procedures and the basic operating environment a sailor would encounter on board a submarine.
“We didn’t have any books in sub school,” Smith noted. “We’d walk into class in the morning and the instructors would write on the blackboard what they wanted us to learn that day.”
Upon completion of his training, he received orders to report for service on the USS Cubera—a diesel-powered submarine built during the Second World War. Smith boarded the vessel at Norfolk, Virginia, on a Sunday evening. The freneticism of his travels resulted in the young sailor not having eaten in over a day, but he recalls the generosity of his fellow sailors upon his arrival.
“I walked down the hatch and many of the crew were watching a movie and eating chicken out of a big pan,” Smith said. “Someone asked me if I wanted some … I was starving. That was some of the best chicken I’ve ever eaten,” he quipped.
An element of a naval group whose primary mission was to search for Russian submarines, the USS Cubera coordinated with carriers and destroyers on the ocean’s surface to monitor enemy submarine activity. As part of his duties and responsibilities, Smith’s battle station assignment was that of a torpedo loader.
“The conn (command) would contact me with firing information and I would input the information into the TDP (torpedo data computer),” Smith said.
Fortunately, the young submariner maintained, he never had to fire a torpedo in circumstances outside of a training environment. After a year on Cubera, Smith was told that he would have to qualify in another duty position and he made the decision to become a cook.
“I didn’t have to go to school to become a cook…all of my training was done through on-the-job training,” he noted.
Not long thereafter, Smith was on a weekend pass in Norfolk, Virginia, when, through a “stroke of luck,” he met a yeoman serving aboard another submarine who indicated they were looking for a seaman. In November 1958, Smith was approved for transfer orders to serve on the USS Growler—a cruise missile submarine.
“Our purpose was quite different,” Smith recalled. “As a missile submarine, the Russians would be searching for us instead of us looking for them.”
Throughout his year-and-a-half on the Growler, Smith participated in many exciting missions, but the most memorable was the vessel’s journey to the Russian coast.
“We were part of patrols off the coast of Siberia and stayed about 50-feet below the surface of the ocean,” Smith said. “There were intelligence guys on board and we never really knew what they were there for.”
According to Smith, the submarine would often ascend just enough to allow photographs to be taken of the Siberian coast through the submarine’s periscope.
“I don’t know what would have happened to us if we’d have been caught,” he stated. “I really didn’t want to find out.”
With their mission completed, the Growler returned to port in Hawaii. Smith was discharged in June 1960 and returned home to Jefferson City where he began working for Cowley Distributing the following month. He remained with the company for 44 years and retired in 2004.
With thoughts focused on time he spent below the water’s surface during the Cold War and the potential dangers he survived, Smith has never been hesitant to recommend military service to all young men and women.
“I hold my head a little higher now because I know that I did my duty,” Smith said. “People should realize that the only reason we have the freedoms we do is that there are those who are willing to stand up and volunteer their service.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The men of the United States who took to the skies to fight in World War I demonstrated a profound courage to not only crawl into the cockpit of a flimsy airplane and risk being shot down or killed, but volunteering to do so with little more than a decade of science and technology to support their fledgling aviation efforts.
Despite the lack of an appreciable military aviation program in the United States during the early period of World War I, many embraced the opportunity to fly for the French and British in the war, including a young man from Missouri who earned the coveted distinction of “flying ace.”
Henry Robinson Clay Jr. was born November 27, 1895 in the community of Plattsburg, Missouri, a small town north of Kansas City. He went on to graduate from high school in 1913 and later attended the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he participated in Army ROTC and was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity.
“In June 1916 he received an A.B. degree … followed with a year of law at Texas State University,” reported the Plattsburg Leader (Plattsburg, Missouri) in their September 24, 1920 edition. The paper added, “Two months after our country’s declaration of war, he enlisted in the ground school of aviation at Austin.”
According to the July 27, 1919 edition of the Austin American-Statesman, the School of Military Aeronautics of the University of Texas, in which Clay chose to enroll, “was the first effort made by university authorities to aid the Government in the training of aviators.” In addition to training pilots, the newspaper stated that “(e)arly in 1919 over 1,200 cadets were in training at the school and it represented the largest air service training school in ground instruction in the United States.”
The nation’s entry into the air war in Europe was a rather harsh experience, explained David A. Anderton in his book “The History of the U.S. Air Force.” He wrote, “No American-trained airmen fought in the skies of France until more than one year after the entry of the United States into the war.” Anderton also wrote about the perilous conditions Clay and his fellow American airmen were soon to encounter.
“The airmen flew castoffs from the French and British air arms, outmoded airplanes whose performance ranged from indifferent to dangerous. Spare parts were lacking; they were improvised …”
Clay completed his aviation training in July 1917 and was sent to New York to board a troop ship bound for England. Following his arrival overseas, he trained for several months to prepare for the combat conditions he would encounter in the skies over France. Sadly, much of the training provided in the U.S. lacked a focus in critical facets of combat including aerial gunnery.
“He was put over the German lines April 6, 1918, ranking as 2nd Lieutenant and then Captain; July 1st, 1918 he was made Flight Commander of the 148th Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps …” reported his hometown newspaper, the Plattsburg Leader, on September 24, 1920.
The young aviator flew missions aboard a Sopwith Camel, which was “among the most produced, versatile and ubiquitous combat aeroplanes of its time, serving over land and sea from England to Mesopotamia, as well as post-war revolution-convulsed Russia,” noted Jon Guttman in his book aplty titled “Sopwith Camel.”
The iconic WWI fighter was a single-seat biplane powered by a rotary engine with two forward-firing Vickers machine guns for its armament. It had the potential maximum speed of 115 miles per hour with a range of 301 miles.
Lt. Clay distinguished himself on a number of occasions, surpassing the five aerial victories needed to earn the accolade of fighter ace. His prowess as an aviator not only allowed him to survive in a deadly battle front, but earned him a coveted British medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, for extraordinary heroism in aerial combat.
“Gorrell’s History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917-1919,” explained that on August 16, 1918, “while (Lt. Clay was) leading his patrol, they were attacked by six Fokker Biplanes near Noyon. Clay shot down one in flames and with his (group) drove the others East.” The book went on to describe Clay’s aerial victories on August 27 and September 4, 1918, noting that he was responsible for the destruction of five enemy aircraft and proudly citing he “exhibited on all occasions admirable qualities of leadership and has moulded his flight into a most effective fighting unit.”
Although the specific number of aerial victories Clay celebrated vary between historical books and newspaper accounts, The Aerodrome, a website dedicated to the the history of WWI flying aces and the historic aircraft they piloted, credits eight aerial victories to the Missouri-born pilot.
When the war came to an end with the signing of the armistice, the aviator remained overseas on the staff of Col. Harold Fowler, chief of the Air Service for the occupational forces. He later spent time in Chaumont, France, to assist in writing a manual for aviation tactics; however, on February 1st, 1919, he reported for his new duty assignment in Coblenz, Germany. The aviation hero soon fell ill and was instructed to report to the local hospital. He unexpectedly died from pneumonia in Coblenz on February 9, 1919, having reached only 23 years of age. Though initially interred overseas, his remains were returned to the United States the following year.
"Beautiful and fitting was the tribute paid by Plattsburg and Clinton County on Monday, September 20th, 1920 to our hero, Capt. Henry Robinson Clay Jr….” reported the September 24, 1920 edition of the Plattsburg Leader.
In mournful tribute to their fallen hero, the paper added, “The remains were brought to his old home for burial and a throng of people, estimated at from two to three thousand, came to honor our illustrious American Ace, who fought valiantly through the war … only to succumb to pneumonia (and) thus ending a brilliant and brief career.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
Wyman S. Basinger has a reputation that endures following his years of service as sheriff of Cole County, earning him the distinction as a firm, but fair, law enforcement official. His engagement with a number of organizations in the community hardened his noble reputation; however, few realize that his spirit of public service was developed and forged during his service with the Marine Corps, which earned him a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts during World War II.
Born in Cedar City on August 10, 1922, Basinger went on to graduate from. Jefferson City Senior High. According to his registration card, the 19-year-old was employed by Montgomery Ward in Jefferson City when he registered for the military draft on June 30, 1942. Rather than wait on a determination of his local draft board, Basinger “enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps (on September 1) 1942, serving 31 months with the First Marine Division in the South Pacific,” reported the Jefferson Post-Tribune on January 3, 1968. “He participated in four major campaigns, including New Britain and New Guinea,” the newspaper further explained.
In late December 1943, the 23-year-old Marine was embroiled in the thick of combat when “the 1st Marine Division landed on the western tip of New Britain to seize an important airfield at Cape Gloucester,” wrote Trever Dupuy in “Asiatic Land Battles: Japanese Ambitions in the Pacific.”
According to a history of the 1st Marine Division listed on the website of the U.S. Marine Corps, the division was “the first ashore at the Battle of Cape Gloucester on 26 December 1943; and continued fighting on the island, at such places as Suicide Creek and Ajar Ridge, until February 1944.” Although the next battle of the war for 1st Marine Division, the Battle of Peleliu, is considered the bloodiest and most costly of the war in terms of lives with the division losing 1,749 Marines in 10 days of fighting, Basinger was fortunate to survive without any injuries. Sadly, the providence that had protected the Marine evaporated during the division’s next major battle—the Battle of Okinawa.
On April 1, 1945, “more than 60,000 soldiers and US Marines of the US Tenth Army stormed ashore at Okinawa, in the final island battle before an anticipated invasion of mainland Japan,” notes an article by the National World War II Museum. “After a largely unopposed initial advance, US forces soon encountered a network of Japanese inland defenses.” During the intense fighting that unfolded in the next two and a half months, Basinger was wounded when struck by shell fragments on one of his hands. On June 18,1945, he incurred a more serious wound when peppered by shell fragments across his back. He survived and recovered from his injuries; however, approximately 12,000 of his fellow Americans were killed during the struggle to take Okinawa.
While on furlough from the Marines Corps, Basinger married the former Frances Virginia Hunter on August 21, 1945, during a ceremony in Kansas City, Kansas. The Marine sergeant received his discharge on November 9, 1945, and shortly after his return to Jefferson City, embarked upon a career as a printer with the Commercial Printing Company. He began to acquire law enforcement experience as early as 1949, when he became a member of the American Legion Police—an organization comprised of volunteers who assisted the local police force in times of emergency or when additional officers were needed.
The Daily Capital News reported in their January 4, 1968 edition that the World War II veteran had been “recalled to active duty in the Korean War…” He was stationed in California, where he “served as a weapons and demolition instructor” for Marines preparing for combat overseas until receiving his second and final discharge on March 11, 1952.
Shortly after his return to Jefferson City, he embarked upon a life of volunteerism when elected president of the Jefferson City Jays Booster Club, coached the American Legion junior baseball team and was a deputy sheriff for a number of years. Additionally, he was an active in several local veterans' organizations including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and the Marine Corps League.
Basinger left his career as a printer in 1968 when he was elected Cole County sheriff. While serving his fifth consecutive term as sheriff in 1986, he died from a massive blood clot after he was involved in a vehicle accident when responding to an emergency call near Brazito.
A section of State Highway 179 was designated the Wyman S. Basinger Memorial Highway in 2006 through Senate Bill 990, which was sponsored by the late Senator Carl Vogel of Jefferson City. Additionally, the VFW Post in St. Martins, Basinger-Sone Post 1003, is co-named in honor of the late Marine,
“Wyman and Frances never had any children of their own and I think that allowed them to do so much for so many kids in the area,” said Becky Hunter Ambrose, Basinger’s niece. “He often dressed up as Santa Claus around Christmas and visited homes where a child might be having a problem or there was a single parent living there.”
She continued, “He was so respected that I can remember at his funeral visitation, there were lots of men who came through the line and said things to my Aunt Frances like, ‘Wyman arrested me a bunch of times but kept me from getting into real trouble.’ When the hearse and procession left the church and drove past the old jail, a jailer and two trustees stood on the steps of the jail and saluted.” Softly, she added, “Not many sheriffs would be treated that way.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Born in 1928, Andrew Boehmer of Rich Fountain was little more than a year old when his mother unexpectedly passed away, leaving their father with six children to raise. Difficult years would follow as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 brought about a lean time known as the Great Depression and farmers in Osage County joined scores of their counterparts nationwide struggling to extract a living from their land.
The youngest of six children, Boehmer grew up to witness his three older brothers depart for military service because of World War II—one of whom, Stephen, died in 1944 after drowning off the coast of Italy while serving with the U.S. Army.
“As I understand it, my father was basically raised on the farm by his older sister, Catherine,” said Gene, the oldest of Boehmer’s children.
His son further explained that little information exists regarding his father’s early years and his subsequent military service because of a fire decades ago that destroyed many of the family records and mementos. Like his siblings, Boehmer attended Freeburg High School. The young farmhand also followed in the footsteps of his older brothers when he traveled to the courthouse in Linn, Missouri, on March 15, 1946—his eighteenth birthday—to register with his local draft board as required by the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940.
He returned briefly to his work in “self employed farming,” as noted on his draft registration card, while his older brother Sylvester remained in the Navy until April 1946 followed by his brother Louis, who did not receive his discharge from the Army until October 1946. The call to service that had come for his three older brothers arrived for the youngest Boehmer on July 5, 1946, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army at Scott Field, Illinois—a U.S. Army Air Corps training site that became Scott Air Force Base on January 13, 1948.
“By the onset of World War II, Scott Field was well on its way to earning the title of Communications University of the Army Air Forces and adopted the slogan, ‘The best damn radio operators in the world,’” according to a fact sheet available on the official website of Scott Air Force Base.
An article appearing in the September 19, 2018 edition of the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), reported that by the close of World War II, “Scott Field Radio School had produced an astonishing 77,370 radio operators/mechanics for the war effort, including Allied nations, such as France, China, the Netherlands, and several Latin American nations.”
For several weeks, Boehmer remained at Scott Field to complete communications training and went on to earn the designation as a “Message Center Clerk.” In early October 1946, after only three months in the U.S. Army, he was sent to the West Coast to board a troop ship bound for service overseas. Arriving in Japan on November 4, 1946, he was assigned to the 25th Signal Company under the 25th Infantry Division. Following the example of his older brother Louis, who had served as a military policeman in Japan months earlier, Boehmer became a soldier in the Army of Occupation.
The 25th Infantry Division had participated in a number of bloody battles of World War II including campaigns in the Central Pacific, Northern Solomons, Guadalcanal and the Philippine island of Luzon. The division was sent to Japan in October 1945, a year prior to Boehmer’s arrival. At the time of Boehmer’s arrival, the 25th Signal Company was located in the Japanese city of Osaka—an area that “had suffered several bombing damages, but a number of large, modern buildings remained,” which were secured for use by the occupational forces, noted the book The 25th Division and World War 2.
Throughout the next several months, Boehmer and the soldiers of the 25th Signal Company provided communication support to the military organizations under the command of the 25th Infantry Division scattered across Japan. In early October 1947, after spending a year overseas, a 19-year-old Boehmer received orders to return to the United States. Receiving his discharge as a technician fifth grade (tech corporal) at Fort Lawton, Washington, on October 29, 1947, he returned to Rich Fountain, married and became father to six children.
“He lived in Freeburg for awhile and had a shop where he did mechanic and body work,” said Boehmer’s oldest son, Gene. “We later moved to Jefferson City and he worked a number of years for McKay Buick.”
As Gene recalled, his father was later employed as part of a crew that traveled throughout the United States painting bridges but in the early 1960s, he moved to the state of California to perform bodywork at a Buick dealership. He eventually settled in Iowa, where he passed on August 31, 1977, when only 49 years old. His body was returned to Missouri and interred in the Sacred Heart Cemetery in Rich Fountain.
In the years since his passing, his son has come to realize that the fire that consumed many important records was a contributing factor to little information remaining of his father’s military experience.
“I don’t know anything about what he did while he was in the service and my siblings don’t know either,” Gene Boehmer said. “He never talked about his Army service while we were growing up, and because of the fire and his death at such a young age, he was never able to give us any insight about what he experienced. It’s a relief to know that we can learn a little bit about him through other sources,” he added.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
‘He never talked about it’ - Osage County veteran served with occupational forces in Japan after WWII
Louis Boehmer was not yet three years old when his mother passed away in 1929. Years later, he joined his three brothers and two sisters in helping their father work the family farm near Rich Fountain, watching as one of his older brothers, Stephen, was drafted into the U.S. Army, later deploying overseas and writing home about his experiences in Italy.
On January 17, 1944, an 18-year-old Boehmer traveled to the courthouse in Linn, Missouri, to register for the draft. Nine days later, his older brother drowned off the coast of Italy after the military vessel he was aboard hit a mine. The family had little time to mourn his loss since Sylvester—Louis’ other older brother—received his draft notice in December 1944 and went on to serve in Guam with the U.S. Navy.
“In papers that I have,” said Betty Dickneite, one of Louis Boehmer’s daughters, “it indicates that our father was scheduled to report for his pre-induction military physical at the Linn County Courthouse on January 4, 1945.”
While his older brother continued to serve in the U.S. Navy, Louis Boehmer was inducted into the U.S. Army at Jefferson Barracks on April 19, 1945, leaving only one of the four Boehmer brothers, Andrew, back home.
Betty Dickneite went on to explain, “My father was first sent to Camp Livingston in Louisiana, where he completed his basic infantry training followed by the instruction to become a military policeman with Company A, 140th Battalion of the 35th Regiment.”
Named in honor of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, the individual who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Camp Livingston became an infantry replacement training center during World War II and was the site of training for more than 500,000 troops on its sprawling 47,000 acres.
Spending a little more than five months at the Louisiana post, World War II ended approximately a month before Boehmer received orders to deploy to Japan to serve as a military policeman with the occupational forces. Shortly after his arrival overseas in late October 1945, he was assigned to the 237th Military Police Battalion.
As an article from the National World War II Museum explained, “The military occupation of Japan by the Allied Powers lasted from 1945-1952. Supposedly a joint occupation by international powers, it was primarily carried out by U.S. forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.”
During this transitional and uncertain post-war period, a strong military presence was maintained while trials were conducted for Japanese leaders of the war followed by the demolition of factories that had produced weapons and munitions for the war effort.
“Documents in my father’s military records show that he served for six months in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater,” said Bonnie Higdon, another of the veteran’s daughters. “They also note that part of his duties were patrolling roads and assisting in enforcing military rules and regulations governing traffic and military personnel.”
His daughter went on to explain that their father was also responsible for performing a host of additional law enforcement activities including assisting the civilian police in maintaining order, apprehending law breakers and receiving and escorting prisoners to their places of confinement.
While in Japan, Boehmer’s father fell ill and the soldier was unable to return home prior to his passing from colon cancer on February 5, 1946. However, he was eventually transferred back to the United States in mid-March 1946 but had to remain in the Army until receiving his discharge at Ft. Riley, Kansas, on October 23, 1946. By the time he received his discharge from the Army, Boehmer’s older brother, Sylvester, was already out of the Navy but their youngest brother, Andrew, had received his draft notice and was inducted into the U.S. Army in July 1946.
“He and my mother, Marie Elizabeth Haller, were married in February 1948,” said Betty Dickneite, when speaking about her father. “I’m sure they knew one another before the war because they didn’t grow up too far apart.”
In the years following his overseas service, Boehmer and his wife settled in Freeburg and went on to raise three daughters. He was later employed by Quaker Windows & Doors, becoming a foreman for the company. Sadly, the 50-year-old veteran died from a massive heart attack on August 11, 1976 and was laid to rest in Holy Family Cemetery in Freeburg.
Betty Dickneite explained that although her father was hesitant to share many details about the time he spent with the U.S. Army in post-war Japan, he remained proud of his military police service and, like many veterans, maintained a collection of mementos to remind him of those experiences.
“He was a member of the American Legion and my mom was a member of the auxiliary,” said Dickneite. “Although he never talked about it—it just wasn’t something he discussed around the house—he had pictures from his Army days hanging on the front wall of the living room.” She added, “We didn’t fully realize how important it was to him until years later when we decided to do a little redecorating and took the pictures off the wall and put them in the box in the shed.” With somber pause, she concluded, “Although he never said anything to us about it, we could sense how much that collection of military items meant to him.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The years prior to World War II extracted a heavy price on the Boehmer family as they toiled to maintain a farm near the community of Rich Fountain. Sylvester Boehmer, one of six children, mourned the loss of his mother who passed when he was only ten years old and was later only able to finish the fifth grade since he was needed to help his father work their farm.
Tragedy again struck in January 1944 when Sylvester’s younger brother, Stephen, drowned after the vessel he was aboard struck a mine and sunk off the coast of Italy while he was serving with the U.S. Army. This loss remained fresh in the family’s thoughts when Sylvester received his draft notice months later and was assigned to the military branch whose primary mission was on the seas that had taken his brother’s life.
“My father entered active service with the U.S. Navy on December 6, 1944,” explained Mary Kay Hager, one of Sylvester Boehmer’s two children. “He entered the service from St. Louis,” she added.
The 25-year-old recruit was sent to the U.S. Naval Training Center at Great Lakes, Illinois, spending the next several weeks undergoing the basic training requirements to earn the revered title of “sailor.” He was then sent to Camp Peary, Virginia, which at the time was surging with recruits who would serve in naval construction battalions known as “Seabees.” Shortly after his arrival on the East Coast, documents maintained by Boehmer’s family indicate his temporary transfer to the West Coast and subsequent orders that would lead to an overseas deployment.
“We know some of what was going on from letters my father wrote home during the war,” Mary Kay Hager said. “He wasn’t engaged to my mother, Alvina Pope, at the time, but he would write to her and also to his father and sisters.”
In a written summary, Sylvester’s son, Stephen (named in honor of his uncle who died at sea in WWII), noted that on April 2, 1945, his father wrote from San Bruno, California and “talk(ed) about being a guard for a WAVES barracks, bank and post office.” He added, “In his May 22, 1945 letter, he says he is ‘somewhere in the Pacific.’”
Correspondence received by family the following month established that Boehmer was assigned to Naval Supply Depot 926 on the island of Guam. According to an article on the Naval History and Heritage Command website, Guam had to be “captured from the enemy and cleared of debris before construction could begin.”
In his book Guam 1941 & 1944: Loss and Reconquest, Gordon L. Rottman explains, “The seizure of Guam in December 1941 was one of the Imperial Japanese armed forces’ first victories in the Pacific War…. The July 1944 battle followed on the heels of the American assault on Saipan and the Battle of the Philippines Sea, which advanced the U.S. forces into the heart of Japan’s pre-war territories.”
As the book related, Guam was considered a critical military objective and the subsequent supply depot built there became one of fifteen scattered throughout the Pacific during the war. Additionally, it was “capable of supporting one-third of the Pacific fleet” and possessed “the replenishment storage necessary to restock every type of vessel with fuel, ammunition, and consumable supplies...”
“We remember (Sylvester) telling us that he served in Guam on a small shuttle boat that helped transfer supplies from the larger ships in the harbor to the unloading facilities located on shore,” recalled his daughter, Mary Kay Hager.
Boehmer wrote to his family on September 15, 1945, approximately two weeks following the surrender of Japan aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. He said that he had what his fellow sailors referred to as “the best job on the island of Guam,” learning to operate small boats under the guidance of the “Cox” (coxswain)—the sailor in charge of the craft. He would again write in January 3, 1946, advising he was still stationed on the island but looked forward to returning home. Less than a month later, his sister wrote a letter to the War Department pleading for Boehmer to be released from service since their father, Frank, was very ill and hospitalized.
Although there were four brothers in the family, Stephen had died in the service in early 1944 and Louis was stationed in Japan with the U.S. Army, which left only their youngest brother, Andrew, to assist with the farm responsibilities.
Sadly, their father passed away from colon cancer on February 5, 1946 and Sylvester did not receive his discharge until April 23, 1946. Less than three months after Sylvester’s return home, Andrew was drafted into the service and Louis did not receive his discharge from the Army until October 1946.
“The letters my father wrote back to my mother have been lost,” Mary Kay Hager sadly noted. “But it wasn’t long after he was discharged that they were married … on June 15, 1946.”
In addition to becoming the father to two children, Boehmer eventually moved his family to Jefferson City. He later became a mechanic and worked a number of years at the former McKay Buick, from which he retired. An active member of the American Legion and VFW, he passed away July 20, 2000 and was laid to rest in Resurrection Cemetery.
“My father and his siblings had a rough upbringing in losing their mother, the death of a brother in the service and then their father, but I know that he was quite proud of his service,” said Mary Kay Hager. “I can remember he saved his uniform and had a display made for his medals.” She added, “And even though he never spoke about his service much to me, I think it is an interesting story of four brothers who had to serve and a family that was greatly impacted by war.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The 1960s were a tumultuous period for U.S. naval forces embroiled in intelligence-gathering operations during the Cold War. Dangers abounded for Navy personnel that included tragedies such as the USS Thresher—a nuclear-powered attack submarine lost on a sea trial because of an electrical system malfunction, claiming the lives of 129 sailors and civilians. Such catastrophes did not appear to influence the decision of one aspiring Missouri sailor, who, despite any perceived hazards in pursuing such a calling, forged ahead to become an officer and entered the submarine forces.
Growing up in Jefferson City in the 1950s, Laughton Smith assumed the reflection of many young children of the era. He attended a local Presbyterian church and actively participated in the Boy Scouts, helping conduct classes in boating during summer camps.
“‘Laughton,’" being a rather high-sounding name for such a natural guy, gave way to ‘Smeed’ early in Smeed's grade school years,” noted a brief bio for Smith in the 1965 edition of The Lucky Bag—the yearbook for the United States Naval Academy. The yearbook went on to explain, “Laughton has always had a winning personality, with a bright smile and heartwarming enthusiasm.”
Graduating Jefferson City High School in 1960, Smith hoped to attend the U.S. Naval Academy; however, fellow classmate Jim Ayers—the principal nominee—was selected. In the interim, Smith attended classes at the University of Missouri-Columbia, until early summer of 1961, when he received his own appointment to the academy.
“There were several of us from Jefferson City who graduated around 1960 and ended up going to a military academy,” said Ayers, childhood friend of Smith. “Laughton and I went to the Naval Academy while a classmate of ours, Robert Davenport, went to the Air Force Academy and was lost in Vietnam” He added, “Joe Hemmel from Helias also went to the Air Force Academy a year ahead of us and was lost in 1967.”
Additionally, William Hentges, a 1959 graduate of Helias High School, went on to receive his commission and graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1963.
In 1965, Smith graduated from the Naval Academy and went on serve as a lieutenant junior grade at Groton, Connecticut. On April 8, 1967, the young sailor embarked upon yet another great adventure of his life when marrying the former Jane Victoria Graham at the Immanuel Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware, the bride’s hometown.
“We were only a grade apart at the academy so I saw him often,” said Ayers. “We both ended up assigned to nuclear submarines during our naval careers.”
The April 9, 1967, edition of the Sunday News and Tribune reported that Smith “will report in late April to the nuclear submarine ‘Scorpion’ which is home ported in Norfolk, Va.” The article also explained that following their honeymoon in Vermont, the couple would reside in Norfolk.
The USS Scorpion was a 3,500-ton nuclear attack submarine and although “the Navy had always portrayed the 252-foot-long sub as a gleaming showpiece,” it was long overdue for an overhaul, as noted in the book “Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage.” The authors also wrote, “(T)he crew had taken to calling her the ‘USS Scrap Iron’” because of mechanical issues such as “oil leaks in the hydraulic systems and seawater seeping in through the propeller shaft seals.”
During the early months of 1968, the “Scorpion was one of only four of the Atlantic Fleet’s submarines that was still waiting to be refitted with … safety features” that were identified following the loss of another nuclear submarine, the USS Thresher, nearly five years earlier. Despite not having these safety upgrades completed, the U.S. Navy continued to have the submarine perform Cold War missions.
On May 27, 1968, the U.S. Navy conveyed that the USS Scorpion was missing and that they had last radioed their position six days earlier. The June 6, 1968, edition of the Charlotte News (Charlotte, North Carolina) reported, “At that time … the sub was 365 miles south-southwest of the Azores, approaching the pinnacles and gulfs of an underwater mountain range.”
The May 29, 1968 edition of the Jefferson City Post-Tribune reported that Laughton Smith, who was serving as the submarine’s communications officer, had written his sister weeks earlier that their “craft was having trouble with its communications equipment” and that he had been busy “getting the equipment back in shape.”
Speculation abounded as to the cause of the mysterious disappearance of the submarine with a complement of 99 crew members. It was the height of the Cold War and an initial suspicion was that it had been torpedoed by a Soviet submarine or surface vessel, while others believed it might have struck an underwater mountain or ridge. Following a five-month search, the wreckage of the vessel was eventually located in more than 10,000 feet of water 400 miles southwest of the Azores (in the mid-Atlantic); where more than eight dozen sailors remain in their watery grave. Although the Navy prepared a report in 1968 detailing its findings regarding the submarine’s loss, it was withheld from the public for a quarter-century.
“This week, the Navy released a report saying the Scorpion may have been destroyed by its own torpedo,” reported the Springfield News-Leader on October 29, 1993. “The report concluded of the accident, ‘The torpedo was released from the tube, became fully armed and sought its nearest target, Scorpion.’”
James Ayers sorrowfully explained, “Of the four of us from the Class of 1960 in Jefferson City who went on to our respective military academies, I was the only one who survived my period of service.” He added, “Laughton’s loss truly struck a chord within me because he was my best friend in high school and our families had been so close. He was only 26 when he disappeared, and it is easy for the community to forget that. I want to make sure that the community is aware of his service to the nation and remembers his sacrifice in addition to all others who died during their service as well.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The fourth of six children, Stephen Boehmer grew up with an intimate understanding of both hardship and hard work. His mother passed away when he was only five years old and, when not attending the local one-room Reichel School near the Osage County community of Rich Fountain, he joined his siblings in assisting their father in completing various chores around the family’s farm.
As the years passed, Boehmer graduated from Freeburg High School in 1941 and, several weeks later, registered for the military draft with his local draft board in Linn. Returning to his employment at Uncle Willie’s Café in Rich Fountain, he became the first of the four Boehmer sons to enter the service when drafted into the U.S. Army at Jefferson Barracks on February 18, 1943.
“His family was very close, I think because of the passing of their mother,” said Diane Rackers, one of Boehmer’s nieces. “He also wrote home and spoke about having enjoyed attending dances in the Rich Fountain area,” she added.
The 19-year-old draftee was sent to Camp Sibert, Alabama, to complete several weeks of basic training. Dedicated on Christmas Day 1942, Camp Sibert became the primary training camp for chemical warfare soldiers during World War II and closed shortly after the end of the war in 1945.
“In June 1943, after three months of basic training, he was sent overseas, headed to North Africa after passing through England,” said Diane Rackers.
Following his arrival in North Africa, Boehmer eventually received assignment to Company D, 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion, who had been in the country since May 11, 1943. A brief period of invasion training ensued and the young soldier soon entered combat as part of the Allied invasion of Sicily, supporting numerous attacks and counterattacks using such weapons as the 4.2-inch mortar.
Diane Rackers explained, “In a letter that was later sent to Stephen’s father by Lt. Alfred H. Crenshaw, he wrote, ‘Stephen saw many grueling days of combat. Throughout all of this he acquitted himself in a manner that is a credit to both you and his country.’”
Remaining stalwart in the face of heavy resistance, Allied forces pushed northward into the Italian mainland and were able to secure the port of Naples in addition to vital airfields as part of a nearly three-month campaign named “Operation Avalanche.” In a letter dated November 17, 1943, Boehmer indicated he was “sleeping in foxholes in wet clothes and blankets” with bullets “whistling” above his head. Ten days later, he wrote of another “enemy” the men of the battalion faced—the weather, with rain falling regularly and creating “an awfully lot of mud.”
In his book, Bastard Battalion: A History of the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion in World War II, Terry Lowry notes that Daniel Shields, one of Boehmer’s fellow Company D soldiers, “said it rained so much he could not stay in his foxhole and eventually sought shelter in a church.”
During Christmas of 1943, Boehmer wrote home that he received a welcome respite from combat operations and was able to attend midnight mass while on a five-day pass, during which he had the opportunity to sleep in a bed and watch some films. The following month, on January 25, 1944, he was one of more than 600 men to board LST 422—one vessel in a convoy of thirteen ships that departed Naples for the Battle of Anzio. Early the next morning, LST 422 encountered inclement weather and high winds, which blew the ship into a known minefield; the resulting explosion caused the ship to break in two and sink off the Italian coast.
“Stephen (Boehmer) was reported missing in action in Italy,” said Diane Rackers. “In a letter sent by Lt. Alfred Crenshaw, he explained that Stephen ‘was aboard a ship that was destroyed about three miles off the enemy coastline and had to be abandoned.’” Somberly, Rackers added, “The letter went on to state that the water was very rough and after a ‘hard fought contest,’ he finally ‘succumbed to the overwhelming might of the sea.’”
One of several hundred casualties, Boehmer’s body was recovered and was initially interred in the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy. His remains were returned to the United States in 1949 and re-interred at the Sacred Heart Cemetery in Rich Fountain, the veteran’s home parish. Following his death, Boehmer’s three brothers were all drafted into the military because of World War II, surviving their service and returning home to marry and raise children.
Decades have since passed since Boehmer lost his life in a violent storm off the Italian coastline; however, his nieces and nephews have found ways to honor the memory of an uncle they never met.
“Stephen was in the military for only 11 months when he gave his life for ours—a deed we must all remember in thought and prayer,” said Betty Dickneite, one of Boehmer’s nieces. “That is why we held a special ceremony at his gravesite on November 3, 2018—74 years after his death—to present his Purple Heart, Missouri WWII awards and a memorial notebook to his brother’s son, Stephen, who was named in his honor.”
Stephen’s sister, Mary Kay Hager, added, “We know that he will cherish these items and it is our family’s hope that they are passed on to his heirs as a remembrance of Stephen Boehmer’s sacrifice for the United States of America.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
The Missouri National Guard has before struggled with unique political concerns due a blending of both state and federal authorities. This organization has labored to maintain its distinction as the state militia, which has led to some curious situations such as one characterized by a conflict between a former state governor and the late Colonel Edwin Batdorf during the Spanish-American War.
Born near Dayton, Ohio, on October 4, 1853, Batdorf moved to Kansas in 1871, where his father operated a hotel. Years later, the July 28, 1898 edition of the Newton Daily Republican (Newton, Kansas) reported, the young Batdorf moved to St. Louis to clerk in a hotel and “afterward engaged in the commission business …”
In addition to working full-time, Batdorf became a private with the First Regiment—a former Missouri National Guard regiment located in St. Louis—and quickly rose through the ranks to become an officer. The budding officer soon discovered, however, that military organizations were subject to funding uncertainties originating from the state capitol in Jefferson City.
“On May 23, 1887, the First Regiment was disbanded owing to the fact that the State Legislature failed to provide for its support,” notes the 1934 book History of the Missouri National Guard. The book adds, “In the late summer of 1887, through the efforts of Lieutenant Edwin Batdorf, a battalion was organized, which was later expanded into a regiment and became the First Regiment, National Guard of Missouri.”
After becoming colonel on June 21, 1893, Batdorf did not enjoy a peaceful tenure in uniform and his reputation was scarred by altercations with the state leadership over his vocalized concerns, the most notable relating to the formation of the Missouri National Guard Association. During the meeting that formed the association in January 1897, Adjutant General of the Missouri National Guard, Brigadier General Joseph Wickham, became the organization’s chairman. As noted in the January 3, 1897 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it was proposed that the colonels of the state’s (then) four regiments and the captains of the two artillery batteries serve as vice-presidents.
Col. Batdorf “at once took violent objection to it on the grounds that Battery A, which had only seventy members, was awarded as great a representation as the First Regiment, with its membership of 700,” the newspaper explained. Following this incident, Batdorf and many officers of the First Regiment chose to boycott the newly formed association.
The expression of Batdorf’s concerns certainly did not endear him to state authorities but the arrival of a major mobilization of troops the following year would provide him yet another opportunity to distance himself from any favor with both the adjutant general and governor. As noted in the 1939 edition of the National Guard Historical Annual, State of Missouri, during the Spanish-American War, Missouri was given the allotment of 5,000 volunteers as part of the president’s call for 125,000 volunteers on April 22, 1898, one day following Congress’ resolution of war with Spain.
The First Regiment became one of six Missouri regiments and a light battery of artillery mobilized during the conflict. Col. Batdorf and the men of the First mustered into federal service at Jefferson Barracks on May 13, 1898 and then left their St. Louis assembly site on May 19, 1898, bound for Camp George H. Thomas at Chickamauga Park, Georgia. Despite the rather lackluster circumstances the regiment experienced while at camp in Georgia, any privations they were forced to endure were overshadowed in the newspapers by altercations between Batdorf and Missouri Governor Lon Stephens.
Appointed as an acting brigadier general during the greatest part of his Spanish-American War service, Batdorf and several officers of First Regiment quickly drew the ire of the Missouri’s governor when they refused to accept officer commissions issued from the governor. Gov. Stephens received more unwanted news when Secretary of War Russell Alger submitted a ruling essentially nullifying the state commissions and affirming “the regiments were to remain as mustered in from the Stated Guards…,” reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 16, 1898.
Months later, the First Regiment returned to St. Louis, never having left the United States during the brief war. It was at this time Gov. Stephens gained somewhat of a victory over Batdorf when he reorganized the regiment and excluded Batdorf from the new command structure. However, Batdorf again set the newspapers abuzz when he filed suit against the governor, seeking $50,000 in damages because of a “number of interviews with Gov. Stephens printed in various newspapers of St. Louis reflecting (unfavorably) upon Col. Batdorf as an officer and a gentleman,” wrote the St. Post-Dispatch on September 21, 1899.
The lawsuit was later dismissed and the colonel faded from public light until 1903, at which time Adjutant General W. T. Dameron, following the expiration of Gov. Stephens’ term, added Batdorf’s name to the honorary roll of retired officers of the Missouri National Guard.
In the years after his release from the National Guard, Batdorf’s life gained some semblance of normalcy as the married father of one son served as treasurer for the former Forest City Building Company in St. Louis.
The retired colonel received further recognition in 1920, seven years prior to his death, when Adjutant General Harvey Clark issued him a special medal authorized by the Missouri Legislative Assembly for the state’s veterans of the Spanish-American War.
Col. Batdorf passed away on January 14, 1927, when 73 years old, at Westgate Hotel in St. Louis and was laid to rest in his native state of Ohio. Though much of his embattled service with the National Guard has been forgotten, the words of another Missouri governor 20 years following Batdorf’s death stressed the importance of preserving the state’s military legacy, however controversial.
In a letter to the 49th Annual National Encampment of the United Spanish War Veterans in 1947, Gov. Phil Donnelly stated, “We revere the memory of the men who volunteered in Missouri Regiments in the Spanish-American War …,” adding, “(and) I am sure the pages of history will record your services, and the campaigns in which you engaged …”
Jeremy P. Ämick is a military historian and author of the recent Arcadia Publishing release “Missouri in World War I.”
His hair may have grayed and his “ol’ knees have tightened up a little,” but 97-year-old James Shipley of Tipton clearly recalls many of the details of his service with an all-black fighter squadron in World War II, an experience that bestowed he and his military colleagues with coveted titles of “Tuskegee Airmen” and “Redtails.” The role he played during World War II have made him a sought after speaker, affording him opportunites to describe the lecacy of his service with the famed flight group that fought overseas for some of the very freedoms they were denied back home.
“Other than the time I was in the service, I have lived in Tipton my entire life,” said the veteran. “When I was a kid, I attended Harrison School, which was for the black students in the area since the school system was segregated back then.” He continued, “We never had any race problems growing up … that I can remember. We’d go over to the homes of the white kids to play marbles and they’d come over to our homes to play. Once in awhile, one of the kids might call us a name and you’d throw rocks at them, but the next day you were playing together like nothing happened.”
Throughout the last several years, as the impressive wartime record of the Tuskegee Airman rose to prominence through books and films, Shipley has traveled far and wide to regale audiences with his country-born wisdom, revealing the contributions that he and his fellow African American airmen made during the war with generations of individuals who never lived through the days of segregation.
“While I was growing up, some of my older relatives took the time to show me how to work on engines,” he said. Pointing to a tree near his house, he added, “They’d hang motors from that ol’ tree right over there and that’s where I first learned how to become a mechanic and tear those engines apart.”
During World War II, he enlisted with an “all black air force” after meeting a military recruiter at the post office in Tipton. He later served in Italy as a crew chief and mechanic with the Tuskegee Airmen, maintaining historic aircraft such as the P-51 Mustangs that later became celebrated for their successful escorts of American bombers on bombing missions. After receiving his discharge in 1946, the veteran mirthfully recalls meeting a lovely young woman from Boonville named Mildred, when accompanying his father to a track meet in the late 1940s. He and Mildred were married in 1949 and raised two sons and a daughter.
Grinning, he explained, “I can remember when Millie and I got married because it was the year after I bought a 1948 Chevy.”
Like many young men returning from war, Shipley set his sights on endeavors that would afford him opportunities to supplement the meager income he earned as a mechanic. One such memorable account involves a rather elderly horse and seven dollars.
“Shortly after the war, I decided I was going to buy a horse to plow up some ground to plant roasting ears (of corn) to sell,” he explained. “I found this old horse in Syracuse (Missouri) and paid seven dollars for it.”
The horse, he recalled, was so old that it had lost all of its teeth. After making the purchase, he then rode the horse the five miles back to Tipton.
“It turns out that I was severely allergic to the horse,” his face lit up in recollection. “Not long after I got back, I swelled up really bad and had to go to the doctor to be treated.”
At the time, the local physician was “a really old Army doctor” who reached into his bag, removed a syringe and administered an injection to the suffering Shipley. Applying what Shipley called “Civil War medicine,” the doctor then charged the young, aspiring farmer seven dollars for the treatment he was given.
“Well, I didn’t really know what I was doing and fed the horse whole corn,” he said. “Since he had no teeth, he couldn’t chew it up and he ended up dying. Then,” he concluded, “I sold the horse to a local fertilizer plant for seven dollars … and that’s my story of the seven-dollar horse.”
Following his marriage, he and Mildred purchased a two-bedroom house in Tipton for $200 that is located next to the Harrison School he attended as a youth. In the years that followed, their family grew and they built additions onto their home, where they continue to reside to this day. Eventually, he was hired as a mechanic with Co-Mo Electric in Tipton, retiring after 29 years of employment with the company. His background and legacy have led to his becoming a celebrity in the Tipton area and, early this year, he graduated with the Tipton High School class of 2020 since he was unable to finish school decades ago because of his WWII service.
Recalling some advice he gave one of his nieces several years ago, a young lady who went on to excel academically and has since become an attorney, Shipley’s frank and sage words continue to resonate as powerfully for all citizens just as they applied to his own postwar endeavors.
“If you work hard, you can make it in life,” I told my niece. “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.