The tools for success - Television broadcaster Dick Preston values experiences found in the Army Reserve
Local television broadcaster Dick Preston has been a consistent staple in the Mid-Missouri daily news diet for over 40 years. And while the veteran news anchor continues to keep the public informed of developing local and national events, Preston asserts that part of what has helped him succeed in his career began with training he received in the armed forces.
Born in St. Louis in 1945 as Richard Preston Kettenbrink, he was raised in the Webster Groves area and developed an early interest in journalism.
“In grade school I made up my own newspaper and would deliver it to some of my friends on my bike,” noted Preston.
Working for the school paper in his high school years, Preston graduated from Webster Groves High School in 1963 and enrolled in the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia in fall of the same year. While attending college, the veteran explained, students were required to participate in two years of the Reserve Officer Training Corps program (ROTC).
“It (ROTC) was something that we all just had to complete,” stated Preston. “I was in the Air Force ROTC and remember doing drill and parade exercises while marching around the (Francis) Quadrangle on campus.”
As he continued his studies, Preston began working part-time as the news director with the KTGR radio station in Columbia. Graduating from MU in 1967 with a degree in journalism, he began working full-time with the radio station shortly thereafter. However, his work in radio was somewhat short-lived when, in January 1968, he was hired by the KRCG 13 television station as an announcer and continuity writer.
“I did things live on the air that they would tape now,” Preston explained. “I would read and write commercials and sometimes filled in on sports and weather,” he added.
For a brief period, Preston was introduced to the public through an iconic Mid-Missouri television program known as “Showtime.”
“The show was a program for local children and it was done all live,” Preston said. “I co-hosted the show for a year with Jane Campbell before it was taken over by Bill Ratliff.”
But the broadcaster’s life would soon take a slight shift from his civilian employment endeavors after he visited with a friend from journalism school.
“My friend told me about this Army Reserve unit in Columbia,” shared Preston. “He said that it was really a good deal; it was a medical unit and that they would train you in a specific field.”
After enlisting in the Reserves, Preston noted that it took almost a year for him to secure a basic training slot as it was the height of the Vietnam War and training prioritization was given to active duty soldiers being prepared for overseas deployments. The delay, however, worked well for the new enlistee as it gave him time to learn some of the basics of the military lifestyle. In August 1969, he attended special 2-week training program at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, for new enlistees waiting to complete their initial training.
“We stayed in old army barracks that had bathrooms with a line of toilets,” explained Preston. “In some ways it was actually worse than actual basic—they had us clean the entire place with a toothbrush…and we never had to do that in basic,” he quipped.
In October 1969, the veteran completed basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood. From there, he traveled to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, in January 1970 to complete his advanced individual training as a military clerk typist.
“The Fifth Army Headquarters was located there at that time,” Preston said. “January on Lake Michigan was very cold and I remember the thirty below wind chills.”
As part of his training as a typist, Preston and his fellow students would spend four hours a day for eight weeks typing under the instruction of an older civilian woman. In the afternoons, they worked in a military office filing, reviewing documents and engaged in other administrative tasks.
“We trained on the old manual typewriters and I got to where I was typing 83 words per minute,” he recalled. “I was second best in the class; the best was a court reporter from Kansas,” he smiled.
Preston graduated from the clerk typist training in March 1970 and returned to work in the news department at KRCG, where he was immediately able to apply the skills learned in the military to his civilian career in preparing news reports. The reservist continued to train with his unit one weekend a month while working full-time with the station, which soon gave him an appreciation of the balance between work and military often made by members of the Reserve and the National Guard.
His unit, the 5503rd, was structured to provide support services for active duty units that were called up and was primarily comprised of doctors and medical personnel. Throughout the years, Preston continued to attend exercises during which his unit would train with their active duty counterparts at various military hospitals. Part of the unit’s weekend drills involved conducting physical exams at the University Hospital for military personnel in the process of joining various units or needing annual physicals to attend summer camp.
He continued to work in an office environment filing medical reports and providing administrative support to the medical staff. In October 1974, he completed his enlistment and was discharged from the Army Reserve.
During the ensuing years, the veteran broadcaster has continued using his military-acquired skills working in several capacities such as a reporter, producer and anchor.
In the rare moments he has had some spare time, Preston has served on the board of Riverview Cemetery in Jefferson City and has also been the board president for the Missouri School of Religion.
In discussing his brief military experience and the impact it can have on one’s career, Preston stated, “The military gives you a broader education and understanding not necessarily experienced by the general public. As I experienced in my training, it’s good for everyone to do a little sacrificing … and gain the confidence to know that they can accomplish more than they first believed possible.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The final analysis - Local veteran became chief petty officer in Cold War Navy, trained young sailors
“My Sailors are students and I am their teacher. I guide and influence the lives of these young men and women. In the final analysis, I will determine the quality of these sailors”—poignant affirmations of “The Chief Petty Officer’s Pledge” that have for decades defined the life and work of local U.S. Navy retiree Bill Buehrle.
A 1955 graduate of Jefferson City Senior High, Buehrle was fully prepared to marry his fiancée after high school, but being unable to locate suitable employment to support a family, he looked to the military for the means to achieve financial stability.
“I enlisted in July 1956 and they sent me to basic training at Great Lakes (Naval Training Station) in Illinois,” he explained. “Then,” he added, “It was on to several months at basic sonar school in Key West Florida, learning basic electronics and using sonar equipment to locate submarines.”
Upon completion of his initial training in May 1957, the following month Buehrle married his fiancée but the couple soon said their temporary goodbyes when Buehrle received assignment to the USS Bearss (DD-654)—a Fletcher-class destroyer built during World War II moored in Portsmouth, Virginia, for an overhaul.
“The guy I relieved wasn’t assigned to the ship once I got there and before he had left, had basically torn apart the weapons systems and sonar,” said Buehrle. I had to put them back together and that was a great education because I had to learn everything quickly.”
While assigned to the ship, the sailor went on to participate in several cruises in locations including the Mediterranean and the North and South Atlantic. However, he affirmed, the most interesting was the crew’s participation in “Operation Argus” in 1958.
“They sent us with a group of ships somewhere off the coast of South Africa,” recalled the veteran. “They detonated nuclear missiles high in the atmosphere; it was the brainchild of some scientist that believed that the detonations would form a shield that would interfere with the electronics of Russian weapons,” he added.
Following the series of atmospheric nuclear tests, Buehrle explained, the USS Bearss navigated to a location under the detonation area where scientific personnel used equipment to measure radiation levels. This, Buehrle maintained, likely caused some of the cancers he and his fellow sailors experienced in later years.
“The long and short of it is I’m still here and that’s all that counts,” he grinned.
In 1960, the sailor and his wife welcomed their first and only child, a daughter they named Karen. The same year, Buehrle reenlisted and received orders to serve as an instructor for anti-submarine warfare at the Fleet Training School in Norfolk, Virginia. His next assignment came in March 1965, when he was sent to the Fleet Training Group at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, spending the next year assessing the combat capabilities of the crews of various naval vessels and achieving the rank of chief petty officer.
“My commander thought I needed more education and I was sent to a 26-week advanced electronics course in Key West in the summer of 1966,” said the former sailor. “Halfway through, they pulled me out of the course and reassigned to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington, D.C.” He continued, “That was probably the most important and rewarding assignment of my career. I was the guy that assigned enlisted personnel to their duty stations, whether it was duty on ship, shore, in recruiting or to a school,” he said. “What I did in that position impacted a lot of careers.”
Sadly, in 1971, an unexpected personal tragedy struck when the Buehrle’s lost their 10-year-old daughter to Ryes Syndrome at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. The following year, the grieving father was transferred to the Naval Material Atlantic Command in Norfolk.
“My job was to train both civilian and naval personnel on the planned maintenance for equipment used in the Trident sub program, which was a new type of missile being developed,” he said. “That’s what I did until retiring with my 20 years of service,” he added.
Throughout the next several years, the veteran lived in Virginia and was employed by defense contractors until forming his own consulting company in 1981. In 1983, he went to work as a program and department manager for Computer Sciences Corporation, remaining there until 1996.
“My wife’s health was really beginning to decline at that time so we sold our home and moved back to Missouri,” he said. Sorrowfully, he added, “I became her caregiver for the next few years and she passed away in 2003, on the same day our daughter died 32 years earlier.”
The veteran has since met and married Rosalie, and the couple continues to reside in Jefferson City. His decades of service to the nation, Buehrle sagely explained, were defined by his responsibility as a chief petty officer to provide the greatest guidance possible to up and coming sailors based upon his own treasure of experiences.
“The military gave me purpose in life,” he proudly affirmed, “and a satisfaction that I could use my God-given skills to help others better themselves. And,” he continued, “I learned how to manage projects and it seems like I’m still managing several aspects of my life to this day by using the lessons provided by the Navy.” He added, “As our pledge states, ‘I am a Chief Petty Officer in the United States Navy … I serve my country and her people with pride and honor.’ And I am certainly proud that I had the opportunities that I did in the service.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
‘Made me a better person’ - Retired banker gained valuable experience as artillery officer in Korean War
Harold Westhues does not hesitate in acknowledging the early lessons in hard work he accrued while growing up on a farm near the small town of Glasgow, Missouri. These experiences, he asserts, were a driving force behind his resolve to work his way through college and were later supplemented by the invaluable training and education he received while serving with the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
“While I was attending the University of Missouri (in the early 1950s), the Korean War was going on and I realized that I might be drafted—some of my friends had already been drafted,” said Westhues. “Because of this, I decided to complete the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program and get my commission as an officer.”
Graduating with his bachelor’s degree in finance and marketing in 1953, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and, in August the same year, was sent to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, for artillery school. He remained there for nearly 16 weeks receiving instruction in battle planning and the operation of the 105mm howitzers.
“They taught us all aspects of the howitzers including how to serve as a forward observer and calling in artillery on defined targets,” Westhues said. “When we graduated training, they lined us up and told us where our duty assignment would be; half were going to Europe and the rest to Korea. “ Pausing, he added, “When they announced my name, it was for Korea.”
Following a few days of leave back home in Glasgow, Westhues traveled to California and boarded a plane to travel to his overseas assignment. They made brief stops in Honolulu and Wake Island before finally arriving in Yokohama, Japan. From there, the group rode a bus to a military base in Tokyo, where they received a week of indoctrination training to prepare them for their approaching duties.
Japanese trains then transported Westhues and a group of his fellow soldiers to the port in Sasabo, Japan, stopping briefly in Hiroshima so they could witness the devastation from the atomic bombings a few years earlier. They then boarded a transport and sailed to Pusan, Korea. It would take another locomotive ride followed by a trip in the back of a military truck before Lt. Westhues finally arrived for duty with his new unit—C Battery of the 555th Field Artillery Battalion—in late December 1953.
The armistice resulting in the cessation of hostilities in the Korean War had been signed a few months earlier. At the time of his arrival, Westhues’ battery was in reserve but continued to undergo a comprehensive regimen of training to ensure they were “prepared to fight in case combat broke out once again,” Westhues said.
Shortly before the armistice in July 1953, an estimated 70,000 Chinese soldiers attacked the sector the 555th Field Artillery helped to defend and the artillerymen were simply overwhelmed by sheer numbers. When the battle came to a close days later, the battery had incurred 58 casualties either killed or captured.
“One of my earliest duties was to teach classes to these soldiers—these heroes—who had been completely overrun during some of the most intense fighting of the war,” he said. “I learned by working with these men … listening when they wanted to talk, and I grew as an officer rather quickly because of it.”
The “Triple Nickel,” which the 555th was nicknamed, later moved under the centralized command structure of the 3rd Infantry Division. Under this new configuration, they provided light artillery support alongside the Greek Expeditionary Forces, the latter of whom fulfilled the role of infantry.
“We were moved to a location in the Ch'orwon Valley and setup in old artillery positions there,” Westhues said. “I was a forward observer with a team of three other soldiers—a Jeep driver, a sergeant and a corporal.” He added, “My job was to coordinate with the Greek infantry and identify reference points in the valley in case we had to call in artillery strikes on enemy targets.” Westhues continued, “The Chinese forces were out in front of our positions and had us outnumbered five to one. Part of our responsibilities were to detect and monitor any enemy troop movements and also to continue our training to maintain our skills.”
In December 1954, Westhues’ overseas assignment ended and he was sent to Ft. Lewis, Washington, where he remained for the next several months to help stand up a new division for service in Alaska. The young officer received his discharge as a first lieutenant in May 1955. After returning home, the veteran was employed by Glasgow Savings Bank for eight years before moving to Jefferson City in 1967, spending the next 41 years in service as president of Jefferson Bank of Missouri. He married Donna in 1970 and the couple raised two sons, Rick and Dan.
When speaking of his military experience from decades past, Westhues sagely explained that it was a period of valuable lessons with enduring relevance during his career in the banking industry.
“In my situation, I knew that failure was not an option. I took my commission (as an officer) seriously and I learned a lot about how to administer and run an operation … and how to make sound decisions using good judgment.”
Reflecting on the soldiers with whom he served, he added, “I was proud of them—they were all great men. They made me a better person and even under the harshest of conditions, they found a little humor in their circumstances and managed to make the situation better.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
‘For our liberty’ - National Guardsman from Central Missouri killed in First World War
The name Layton Longan has been all but erased from the memory of the Mid-Missouri community since the young man, who was killed in 1918 while fighting in World War I, has little more than a small grave marker to perpetuate his legacy. Yet a historical society located in a small French village memorialized Longan and several American servicemembers who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their freedoms.
In an email to the state department of the American Legion, Hubert Martin, president of a historical society in Alsace, France, sought information on the life of Longan so that he could be honored during memorial events in September 1918, along with four dozen other American soldiers who fell in battle in the mountains of Alsace during WWI.
Born on a farm north of California near Kliever, Missouri, on October 23, 1894, Longan was the youngest of three children. In 1916, his father passed away and the following year the United States entered into the First World War. As evidenced by his registration card, the 22-year-old fell into the age group required to register for the military draft on June 5, 1917. At the time of his registration, Longan had worked six months for a farmer in Jamestown although he resided in the community of Tipton; however, on July 2, 1917, he traveled to Sedalia and “enlisted in the Missouri National Guard … and with this organization was inducted into Federal Service …” reported the California Democrat on June 23, 1921.
Assigned to Company D, Sixth Missouri Infantry Regiment, the book “History of the Missouri National Guard,” explains that both the Third and Sixth Missouri Infantry Regiments were consolidated to form the 140th Infantry Regiment under the 35th Division during WWI, and moved to “Camp Doniphan, a horseshoe-shaped site on the hard sands of Oklahoma, within the Fort Sill Reservation …”
Longan and his fellow soldiers had many hardships cast upon them by Mother Nature prior to their deployment overseas, spending the first part of their service in Oklahoma battling dust, which was followed by “particles of snow, mingled with the blowing sand (that) cut the skin like a knife.”
The cycle of adversity continued “with an epidemic of spinal meningitis, forerunner of the nation-wide epidemic of Spanish influenza of the next year,” bringing yet additional misery to the soldiers who were in the final stages of preparing for the uncertainties of trench warfare.
In April of 1918, the men of the regiment boarded trains, eventually arriving in Hoboken, New Jersey, “where we quietly marched up the gangway into the (troop) ships that were to be our home for the next two weeks,”wrote Evan Alexander Edwards, regimental chaplain and historian, in his book “From Doniphan to Verdun: The Official History of the 140th Infantry Regiment.”
Edwards goes on to explain that the soldiers of the Missouri regiment were soon in France and embued with the desire to join the fray after witnessing wounded soldiers being transported on a Red Cross hospital train.
“The sight sobered us, and increased our desire to get to the front,” he revealed.
The regiment, including Longan, received their first “look at the Germans through the sites of (their) rifles” when they moved to the trenches in the latter part of July 1918. They soon received their bapistm of fire under German artillery barrages and attempted raids on their trenches, the latter of which were repelled with their American Enfield rifles. For the next several days, artillery bombardments endured, eventually taking the life of young Private Longan on August 14, 1918. As the regimental chaplain explained, Longan—and several of his fellow soldiers killed in the attacks “were buried reverently, their bodies laid to rest with loving care” in a cemetery near the small village of Linthal, France.
In a letter to Longan’s mother dated August 15, 1918, Lt. Albert G. Gardner—a Chicago native and commander of Company D, 140th Infantry Regiment—wrote, “We, the young manhood of our great free nation, are fighting for the liberty of our country and the world.” He added, “Your son lost his life in the face of the enemy. His duty to his country, to his home, and to his God is nobly done.”
The early days of trench warfare by the regiment became the end of watch for many, but the survivors went on to fight in several major engagements of the war, remaining in Europe through the spring of 1919. Longan, however, did not return home until two years later when, as reported by the California Democrat on June 23, 1921, his remains were returned to the U.S. and interred in the New Salem Cemetery north of California.
Private Layton Longan—a young farmboy from Moniteau County who answered the nation’s call to colors during the “war to end all wars”—may not be memorialized in any magnificent marble or bronze monuments, yet a small historical society in France is striving to ensure that his sacrifice, and that of his contemporaries, endure in the memory of the French people.
“I’m looking for information about each soldier (who died in action near Linthal),” wrote Hubert Martin, president of the historical society in Alsace, France, who used Longan’s story during WWI commemoration ceremonies in Linthal in September 1918. He added, “I send you my best greetings from France and thank you so much for helping us not to forget all these soldiers who lost their life for our liberty.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
A motive of preservation - Air Force pilot from Tipton killed in action during Vietnam War
As a young man growing up in Tipton, James Franklin Lang possessed a fascination with the skies—an interest that later led to his enlistment in the Air Force and eventual service during the Vietnam War. The conflict may have unexpectedly cost the young aviator his life; however, memories of his infectious personality and positivism still resound in the reflections of his siblings.
“He was smart and loved the stars and the sky … he could point out all of the constellations,” recalled Paulette Fischer, the late veteran’s younger sister. “He was also very funny and passionate about everything he did,” she added.
Born November 22, 1941, Lang was the fourth of nine children. Following his graduation from Tipton High School in 1959, he spent a year attending college at the University of San Diego before transferring to the University of Missouri-Columbia. While in college at Columbia, Lang began his journey toward an Air Force career while participating in the Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC), eventually receiving a promotion “to cadet first lieutenant and assigned to the post of Squadron Administrative Officer,” as noted in the February 14, 1962 edition of the Jefferson City Post-Tribune.
“He took pilot lessons while he was in ROTC and already had his pilot’s license by the time he was commissioned,” said Gene, one of Lang’s younger brothers.
Upon graduation in 1963, Lang received his commission as a second lieutenant and traveled to Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma, where he completed his flight training and went on to earn his “wings” as an Air Force pilot the following year.
“Jim went to an Air Force base in Florida and flew fighter jets for awhile,” said Gene. “He then transferred to Biggs Air Force Base (now Biggs Army Air Field located on Ft. Bliss in El Paso).”
As his brother explained, while stationed in Texas, Lang met and married Alice Cordero on January 6, 1966 and the couple soon welcomed into the world their only child, Gregory.
“After his assignment in Texas, Jim was sent to Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Michigan,” said his brother. “There he was flying B-52s when he got orders for Vietnam.”
Beginning his overseas combat tour on February 5, 1968, Lang was stationed at Da Nang Air Base with the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron, flying solo observation and reconnaissance missions in the cockpit of a Cessna O-2A Skymaster—a small, twin-engine aircraft designed to allow for clear ground observation. But on April 28, 1968, less than three months into his foreign service, Lang was killed in action when his unarmed aircraft was struck by enemy ground fire during a night mission, crashing in the Thua Thien Province of South Vietnam. The May 1, 1968 edition of Sedalia Democrat notes that Lang was initially “reported missing in action.”
“I was 16 at the time and it was a school day when they came and got us out of class and sent us home,” said Paulette. “It seems that everybody in town was at our house—every minister and pastor, too—when they told us he was missing.” She added, “I had the silly optimism from the time they told us he’d been shot down to the time his body was found that he was somehow still alive.”
In the book Leave No Man Behind: The Saga of Combat Search and Rescue, the authors describe a mission into the A Shau Valley in early May 1968 to “investigate a recently detected crash site,” which was confirmed to be Capt. Lang. However, they were unable to recover the body until a month later.
“I remember it was on a Saturday when a blue Air Force car pulled up in front of our house with two men in uniform and a priest inside,” said Paulette. “They asked if my parents were home and I told them that dad was at work and mom was at church.” Somberly, she added, “That’s when my optimism was over.”
A memorial mass was held for the fallen airman on June 22, 1968 at St. Andrews Catholic Church in Tipton, after which Lang’s family traveled to El Paso for burial of Lang’s remains at Ft. Bliss National Cemetery. In the years since Lang’s passing, his wife has remained living in Texas. Her son, who now has two sons of his own, has spent many years as a schoolteacher and administrator in Texas.
In 1988, twenty years after his crash, the Veterans of Foreign Wars memorialized the fallen Air Force veteran by naming their post in Tipton in honor of the community’s native son—the Capt. James F. Lang Post 5085. (The VFW post has since disbanded.)
Recently, the Lang family received a letter from an Air Force veteran from Florida who operated radios used to communicate with reconnaissance pilots during the Vietnam War. As noted in the letter, on the day Lang went missing, the radio operator “tried all day to contact (Lang) with no reply.” It was not until years later, on Memorial Day of 2015, that the veteran found information regarding Lang’s death through a Vietnam memorial website.
For his siblings, preservation of Lang’s history of military service and legacy of giving to others has been the paramount motive behind sharing his story throughout the years following his passing.
“Telling his story keeps him alive … it preserves his memory and the history of all he was able to accomplish in such a short life,” said his sister, Paulette.
With a momentary hesitation, his brother Gene concluded, “Talking about him makes me think about what he did with his life. He shared with so many people; he was thoughtful, helpful and truly happy; he brightened the lives of so many people and hopefully they have gone on to share his light with others.”
On November 11, 2018, the community gathered in the Tipton City Park to dedicated a monument as an enduring tribute to the service and sacrifice of James Franklin Lang.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
More than statistics - Eldon veteran serving with engineer battalion becomes first area casualty of Vietnam
Sifting through documents on his kitchen table, Eldon resident Mike Wood paused to grab the telegram his parents received more than 50 years ago regarding the death of their oldest son in Vietnam. Then, grasping a small piece of paper with handwritten notes on it, Wood stated, “These are the names of the other Eldon men killed in Vietnam—Richard Claxton, Jimmy Lester and Arthur Wood.” He added, “There were more than 58,000 killed in the Vietnam War and each one of them has a story.”
Jim Wood was born in Eldon on September 2, 1947, the oldest of four brothers. His father, Joe Wood, had served with the U.S. Navy in World War II and was well known in the community for repairing electronics and operating Woods Radio and TV for more than 50 years. Graduating from Eldon High School in 1965, Jim Wood was a tour guide at Stark Caverns (known for many years as Fantasy Caverns) near Eldon and later began a management trainee program with the local Mattingly Brothers Store—a company that ran five-and-dime stores in several small towns.
“In terms of age, I was two years younger than Jim so we were close,” said Mike Wood. “I can remember that in the summer of 1966, when Jim had been drafted but was not yet inducted into the Army, we took a trip to the Southwest (United States) in his 1960 Chevy that he had bought for $900.” Wood added, “He was proud of that car and during the trip, the muffler and the tailpipe fell off and we had to wire it up for the trip back home. When that happened,” he chuckled, “I think some of Jim’s pride in that car diminished.”
Entering active military service in the U.S. Army on October 19, 1966, Jim Wood was sent to Ft. Leonard Wood to complete his basic training. From there, he received orders for Vietnam and assigned to the 19th Engineer Battalion of the 45th Engineer Command.
“I remember taking Jim to the airport in Kansas City to leave for his service in Vietnam,” said Mike Wood. “I can still see that plane taking off … and that Jim was not at all bitter about having to go; he saw it as his duty. Before he got on the plane, he said ‘I’ll see you in a year.’”
A brief history on the website of Ft. Knox, Kentucky, notes that in March 1965, the 19th Engineer Battalion “deployed to Vietnam in an amphibious landing on the beaches of Qui Nhon”—a coastal city in central Vietnam. The battalion’s primary mission became to “upgrade highway QL-1 from virtually a dirt trail to an all-weather road from Qui Nhon to Bong Son.”
When he arrived in Vietnam on March 22, 1967—two years after the 19th Engineer Battalion first landed in country—Jim Wood was appointed to run the Post Exchange at the base camp at Qui Nhon because of the managerial retail experience he had acquired prior to entering the military.
“It is my understanding that it wasn’t a major retail operation like one you would have seen at a major Army base,” said Mike Wood. “It was a small camp out away from things and Jim said they often had problems getting supplies to stock the store.”
While Wood ran the camp exchange, the soldiers of the battalion continued forward with construction projects designed to improve roads in the region. As the young soldier from Eldon neared the end of his one-year deployment to Vietnam, he trained up his replacement to run the exchange and then spent his final few days in country as security for the battalion’s construction equipment.
On February 15, 1968, while acting as security for a bucket loader operator traveling to a fill site along National Highway QL-1 south of Sa Huynh, Vietnam, Wood became the first casualty of the Vietnam War from Eldon, Missouri.
“As they neared the site they were suddenly fired upon by hidden Viet Cong riflemen,” wrote Capt. Larry S. Bonine in a letter addressed to Wood’s parents dated March 17, 1968. Bonine added, “His comrades rallied around him and medical aid was summoned immediately but to no avail.”
The commander’s letter was accompanied by communication from the battalion’s chaplain, Capt. James T. Jackson. He noted that two memorial services were held for Wood on February 17, 1968—the first for the company to which he was assigned in the final days of his Vietnam service and a second at the base camp where he had run the camp exchange, “at the request of his many friends that knew him there.” The chaplain added, “I met Jim shortly after my arrival in the unit, nearly eight months ago, and came to know him very well. He was liked and respected by everyone who knew him and we all feel his loss very deeply.”
As Mike Wood explained, “When they returned his body a couple of weeks later, his funeral service was held at First Baptist Church here in Eldon and I think so many people showed up to it that they couldn’t all get in. Since he was the first local Vietnam casualty, it was really a shock to the community.”
Time has done little to erase Mike Wood’s memories of his older brother—a young man adored by his family and, who looked forward to coming home from the war. However, despite the loss of a “typical rural boy that loved sports, hunting and fishing,” he recognizes that his brother and others who died in Vietnam will always be more than a statistic.
“Jim had a story, just like all the other citizens who were killed in Vietnam,” said Mike Wood. “When he had to go overseas, even in the midst of an unpopular war, Jim never questioned the politics of the situation but rather saw it as his duty.
“Even after 50 years,” he added, “it’s still tough to think about his loss.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Fellowship of combat - U.S. Army paratrooper killed in action during second tour in Vietnam
March 30 of each year has been designated in Missouri law as Vietnam Veterans Day, a brief moment in time designed to encourage Missourians to observe the day with appropriate events, activities and remembrances of those who served during the Vietnam conflict. Most profound of these efforts, however, are instances spent in reflection of the more than 1,400 Missourians who lost their lives during the war, as families and friends strive to ensure the sacrifices of their loved ones never fade from public awareness.
“We grew up in a family of 10 kids—five boys and five girls,” recalled Tony Bamvakais, while discussing the life of his older brother, John Bamvakais, Jr. “Our father had served during World War II and John (Jr.) wanted to follow in his footsteps,” he added.
The Bamvakais family moved to Jefferson City from St. Louis in 1963, where their father served as a staff officer with the Missouri National Guard’s 35th Command Headquarters.
“My brother (John Bamvakais, Jr.) attended Jefferson City High School and enlisted in the Army after he graduated in 1965,” said Tony. “What’s interesting is that for the brief time he was in the service, he actually followed in our father’s footsteps because he went on to serve in the same unit that our father had served in during World War II.”
Completing his basic training at nearby Ft. Leonard Wood in early 1966, Bamvakais then traveled to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for his advanced and airborne training. Assigned to 4th Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade, Bamvakais soon received the opportunity to apply in combat the skills he had acquired during his training. He deployed to Vietnam in July 1966 and joined the paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade who had earned the distinction as the first U.S. Army ground combat unit committed to the war upon their arrival the previous year.
Bamvakais and his fellow soldiers would make history once again when participating in an offensive known at Operation Cedar Falls—which, has since been recognized as one of the largest American ground operations of the war. During the operation, nearly 16,000 U.S. soldiers from the 1st and 25th Infantry Divisions, 173rd Airborne Brigade and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, joined 14,000 South Vietnamese troops in an effort to disrupt insurgent operations in the area of Thanh Dien Forest Preserve and the Iron Triangle—a 60-square-mile area of jungle believed to contain communist base camps and supply dumps in the vicinity of Saigon.
Beginning January 8, 1967, the operation lasted for 18 days and led to the wounding of Bamvakais on January 12 when he was “hit in the right foot by hostile arms fire while on a combat operation,” as noted in the January 14, 1967 edition of the Daily Capital News. The injury resulted in his treatment at a forward medical area and receipt of his first Purple Heart.
Later that summer, after finishing his one-year tour, Bamvakais briefly returned to Jefferson City to visit his family. However, demonstrating the zeal of determination forged in fellowship of combat, he volunteered to serve an additional six months in the Southeast Asian country he had just recently departed. Shortly after his return overseas, the September 29, 1967 edition of the Jefferson City Post-Tribune reported that the 20-year-old soldier went “missing in action Thursday after a search and destroy mission ….” His father, then a lieutenant colonel with the National Guard, received the disheartening news in a report from a senior Army advisor at Ft. Leonard Wood.
His brother explained, “(On September 28) he was on patrol with his unit. They were crossing over a river on a rope bridge when he was shot, fell down into the river and disappeared,” Tony Bamvakais solemnly noted.
Days later, the fallen soldier’s remains were recovered and returned to Jefferson City. Following the funeral service held at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on October 10, 1967, he was temporarily laid to rest at Resurrection Cemetery with military honors provided by the Missouri National Guard. In 1968, Bamvakais’ parents returned to their hometown of St. Louis, at which time they had their son re-interred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
“I still have those memories of us growing up in St. Louis when me and John played Army in some alley and would use 2x4s for bazookas,” Tony laughed. “It just seemed as if he was just meant to be a soldier some day.”
Tony explained that although his older brother’s dedication to his country resulted in the forfeiture of his life, one of the most enduring tributes was the support that poured forth from their Mid-Missouri community.
“The funeral was packed,” he said. “I remember that it was so busy that people were still leaving the church even after the funeral service at the cemetery had already ended. “But what was most profound,” he paused, “was that even at a time when so many Vietnam vets returned home only to be unfairly judged and called horrible names like ‘baby killers,’ that never happened in Jefferson City. Everyone in the community was wonderful; they were very supportive and recognized that he had made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Bamvakais was awarded posthumously a second Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal and Armed Forces Honor Medal, and is recognized on Panel 27E/Line 23 of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
A Final Tribute Former - U.S. Navy Vessel Named in Honor of Missouri WWII Veteran
As a young man coming to age in pre-World War II small-town America, mid-Missouri resident Eugene “Gene” Earle Amick, Jr. possessed a strong sense of family, duty and patriotism. Born in the community of Boonville on January 26, 1919, Amick served as both a mentor and role model for his younger sister, Joanne Amick Comer, who now resides in Texas. She recalls the genuine interest her older brother often displayed regarding her well-being.
“Gene taught me how to ice skate on a lake in a nearby park, taught me that if I punched a hole in a top of a soft drink bottle and sucked my soft drink through the hole it would last longer…and taught me how to play touch football,” recalled his younger sibling.
The interest in his young sister did not diminish with the passing years. Even after Gene left to attend college, which included studies at the University of Missouri - Kansas City and William Jewell College (graduating from the latter in 1941), he assisted his sister in establishing her own soda pop stand and allowed her to retain any profits; so long as she did not consume too much of the product between her sales.
Her brother eventually made the decision to join the Navy Reserve less than three months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Amick completed his initial training and was appointed as a midshipman in February of 1942. He was then commissioned as an ensign on May 14, 1942, after successful completion of the officers’ candidate course at the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipman’s School at Northwestern University. Following his departure for military service, Gene continued to provide guidance to his younger sister. She recalls her brother giving her a Tootsie Toy naval fleet upon his departure for training and explaining to her the proper placement of the ships within the fleet so to best protect the battleships.
Comer (his sister) fondly recalls keeping a small flag fastened to a wall above the bookcase on which her diminutive fleet rested—and the letters she received from her brother, while he was out to sea, encouraging her to keep the flag flying high above the fleet of which he was now a part.
Ensign Amick was married on May 17, 1942, only a week prior to reporting to his new assignment as the communications officer onboard the USS Astoria. During August 1942—three months following his marriage—the young officer’s cruiser was attacked by the Japanese while U.S. naval forces fought to protect American beachheads off of Savo Island, which is part of the Solomon Island chain off of Guadalcanal. During the shelling that ensued, Radio Station No. 1 was demolished and all hands killed. Ensign Amick was commanding radio station No. 2. and realized that in order to get his radio station up and running so that communications could be reestablished, he would need two communication reels that were located in the now demolished first station.
The ensign dashed through a barrage of shellfire and miraculously reached the first station where he was able to locate the two reels. But when making the return trip to the second station, he was struck by shellfire and killed instantly. A fellow sailor told Gene’s father that when his son’s body was found, the young ensign, ever dedicated to performing his duties, was still clutching both reels.
The USS Astoria, although surviving the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway was sunk by the Japanese on August 9, 1942, carrying with it 219 U.S. sailors who were considered killed or missing. Amick, although considered missing in action since his body was not recovered, is memorialized on Tablets of the Missing in the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.
In honor of the young sailor’s bravery and ultimate sacrifice, the U.S. Navy chose to name a ship in his honor: the USS Amick (DE-168). The ship was laid down on November 30, 1942 (meaning the first parts of the keel were placed on the dry dock where the ship was to be built) and officially launched on May 27, 1943. The destroyer escort served the remainder of the war and on September 2, 1945, she eventually played host to the unconditional surrender of the Palau Islands by Japanese forces —the same date of the formal surrender by Japan aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
The USS Amick served in various naval capacities where it even operated as part of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. The aging vessel was sold to the Republic of Philippines in 1976 and—according to online naval sources—was scrapped in 1989.
A handful of former sailors who served on board the USS Amick attended a reunion a few years ago and dedicated a plaque at the National Museum of the Pacific War in honor of the vessel.
From the annals of Second World War arose several accounts of heroism by young men and women who would never again witness the shores of America. Many of these sacrifices have been preserved for posterity; however, few servicemembers have been bestowed such a tribute as to have a naval vessel christened in their honor.
The USS Amick may have been relegated to the scrap yard of distant memory, but the sacrifices made by a young Mid-Missouri native in securing our precious freedoms resonates as loudly now as it did more than seven decades ago.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
Lt. George A. Whiteman - Sedalia airman killed at Pearl Harbor was Missouri’s first WWII casualty
The memory of many notable events and people from Missouri’s military history is preserved through marble shafts, statues and various types of monuments. One local community, however, came together after the Second World War to ensure the sacrifice of one of their native sons killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would live on for ages through the naming of Whiteman Air Force Base (AFB) near Knob Noster, Missouri.
The story of Whiteman AFB begins with the birth of George Allison Whiteman on October 12, 1919 in the small town of Longwood, located several miles north of Sedalia. He went on to attend local grade schools and graduated from Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia. According to the December 7, 1971 edition of the Sedalia Democrat, Whiteman made the decision to attend the Rolla School of Mines “because the Armed Forces told him if he attended college he could enter the Army Air Force as an officer, and might possibly become a pilot.”
Spending two years matriculating at Rolla, the article goes on to explain that the aspiring pilot was informed by military recruiters he was “too light” to serve in the Army Air Corps. Not discouraged, Whiteman enlisted in the Coastal Artillery but was eventually able to join the Air Corps and was sent to pilot training at Kelly Field in Texas. On November 15, 1940, he earned his pilot wings and commission as a second lieutenant.
Adventure appeared to be on the horizon for the new officer when he was assigned to a unit at Hamilton Field, Calif., that was scheduled for service on Martinique—a French island located in the Caribbean—but when the unit’s commander requested six pilots to volunteer for service in Hawaii, Whiteman’s fate was soon established.
Arriving in Hawaii in the early part of 1941, Whiteman and his fellow volunteers traveled to their assigned duty stations at Wheeler Army Airfield located on the island of Oahu adjacent to Pearl Harbor. In an interview with the staff of the Sedalia Democrat that appeared in print on December 7, 1958, Maj. Charles King—who served with Whiteman in Hawaii—shared the details of the aviator’s death.
“The (Japanese) plane swooped low and strafed some of the men who were swimming and then zoomed away,” noted King, adding, “that while the men were running back to the unit to report the incident, word came through to load ammunition in the Curtiss P-40s and disperse them in the area.”
King went on to explain that while men were rushing out to load ammunition on the planes, “12 Japanese Zero’s started strafing the field” while Whiteman, the first pilot to reach his aircraft, “climbed in and started the engine.”
The account given by King further notes that Lt. Whiteman headed for the runway without having the time to grab his flying suit equipment or giving the gun crews time to replace the gun cowling on his aircraft. While proceeding down the runway, King stated, two Japanese pilots spotted Whiteman’s P-40B, named “Lucky Me,” and began strafing the aircraft with machine-gun fire. Although Whiteman’s plane was able to lift off, he was attacked head-on by the Japanese pilots. As King described to the newspaper, “The lieutenant veered his plane to the right and tried to make a belly landing on the beach, but a combination of Japanese bullets and the fire resulted in a flaming crashing and Lt. Whiteman’s death.”
The first Missourian killed in World War II, Whiteman was laid to rest in the Schofield Barracks Post Cemetery in Hawaii on December 9, 1941. The airman’s remains were later returned to Missouri and reinterred in Sedalia’s Memorial Park Cemetery. A year following his death, Whiteman’s parents received the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals posthumously awarded to their son.
While Whiteman’s parents attempted to cope with the grief from the loss of the oldest of their eight sons, they were again visited by tragedy when Whiteman’s younger brother, Marshall, was killed in action on April 9, 1953 while serving with the Marine Corps in the Korean War.
According to the Sedalia Convention & Business Bureau, the Sedalia Glider Base was established in November 1942, approximately two years after Lt. Whiteman graduated from his flight training. Undergoing several expansions and changes in the ensuing years, in 1954 the Air Force announced it was seeking nominations from civic groups for the renaming of the airfield.
“The United States Air Force plans to rename the Sedalia Air Force Base in memory of some nationally prominent deceased figure,” reported the Sedalia Democrat on June 24, 1954. The article further noted, “Sedalians feel the qualifications for the name of Whiteman are fulfilled with his acts at Pearl Harbor when he endeavored to take his plane into the air and fight the invaders.”
During a dedication and renaming ceremony on December 3, 1955, the Sedalia Air Force Base underwent the official transition to Whiteman Air Force Base, nearly fourteen years following the death of its namesake.
Newspaper reports subsequent to Whiteman’s death characterized the inspiration provided by his sacrifice at Pearl Harbor as hundreds of aviation cadets wished to expedite their training to avenge the attack that took the Sedalia airman’s life.
In a letter of condolence to the parents of Whiteman printed in December 10, 1941 edition of the Sedalia Democrat, Missouri Secretary of State Dwight Brown expressed not only his appreciation for the sacrifice made by Whiteman, but summarized his affection for the valiant and patriotic manner in which Whiteman’s mother viewed the unexpected loss of her son.
“I have read with interest the statement credited to you: ‘We have got to expect to sacrifice our loved ones if we want to win this war,’” Brown wrote. He added, “These are the words of an American woman devoted to the American way of life. Your expression is an inspiration to every man and woman in the land.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
‘He gave his life’ - Moniteau County soldier killed during Battle of Leyte in World War II
In his days of youth growing up on a small farm between the rural communities of Latham and Fortuna, Missouri, Kay Hofstetter remembers his older brother Gilbert leaving home to help his grandparents on their nearby farm. During WWII, his brother would again leave, this time to serve his nation. This departure, Hofstetter said, resulted in his brother laying down his life in service to his country, leaving behind grieving parents and eleven siblings to carry on his memory.
“He was the second oldest of twelve kids,” said Kay Hofstetter, describing his family. “Everybody liked Gilbert; he had coon hounds and he and his buddies enjoyed going coon hunting when they had the opportunity,” he added.
While working on his grandparent’s farm, the 21-year-old Gilbert Hofstetter was inducted into the U.S. Army at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, on October 14, 1941. From there, he traveled to Ft. Riley, Kansas, and completed boot camp and went through cavalry training. Weeks later, the young farm worker from Mid-Missouri was sent to Ft. Bliss, Texas, where he and his fellow soldiers were assigned to the 7th Cavalry Regiment and continued to train as horse cavalry. This would become, however, the last time many of these soldiers were to serve on horseback during the war.
A website dedicated to the history of the 1st Cavalry Division and its subordinate units explains that in February 1943, “the entire 1st Cavalry Division was alerted for an overseas assignment as a dismounted unit (foot soldiers).”
Several months later, in June 1943, Hofstetter and the soldiers of the division traveled to California and boarded troop ships. A few weeks later, they arrived in Australia and completed several months of amphibious and jungle warfare training. In January 1944, they left for New Guinea and, weeks later, sailed for islands to the north, where they would soon acquire their first taste of combat against Japanese forces.
“The next important step in General MacArthur’s plans was a proposed landing in the Admiralty Islands, lying west of New Britain,” wrote Trevor Dupuy in his book “Asiatic Land Battles: Japanese Ambitions in the Pacific.” He added, “The Admiralties were important because of their airfields and harbors …”
The 7th Cavalry Regiment exemplified the stalwart courage of the American soldier during the Admiralty Campaign, performing assault maneuvers and later conducting “mop up operations … all over the northern half of Los Negros Island,” the previously mentioned 1st Cavalry website explained. This was followed by the invasion of Manus Island, all of which resulted in 43 dead and 17 wounded for the regiment by the time the campaign ended on May 18, 1944.
Hofstetter had received his baptism of fire and for the next five months, conducted extensive training in preparation for yet another major combat operation of the war—the Battle of Leyte in the Philippines. Operating under the 6th U.S. Army, Hofstetter and the men of the 7th Cavalry Regiment were part of a force totaling nearly 100,000 combat troops that on October 20, 1944, following naval bombardment of the eastern coast of the Philippine island, began to “sweep toward the beaches of a front eighteen miles long,” wrote Dupuy.
“Gilbert was killed on October 21 (1944),” said Kay Hofstetter, when describing his older brother’s overseas service. “According to one of the soldiers that served with him, he was shot by a sniper.”
Shortly thereafter, back home in Missouri, Hofstetter’s family would discover the callous manner in which families were at one time informed of the death of a loved one serving in the military.
“When he was killed, I can remember seeing my mother walk down to get the mail and then going to sit down on the steps,” said Kay Hofstetter. “I could tell that something was wrong and I went and got my dad.” With a somber pause, he lowered his head and added, “It was the telegram from the Army saying that Gilbert had been killed. I don’t know how my mom stood it.”
The recipient of a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, Corporal Hofstetter was first laid to rest in the Philippines inside the Leyte Military Cemetery. However, in February 1949, his remains were returned to the United States and buried with full military honors in the Jefferson City National Cemetery following a service held in California, Missouri.
While recounting details of the funeral ceremony held decades ago, Kay Hofstetter noted, “I just remember seeing both the flags—the U.S. and the Army flag—on each side of his casket. He also had two Army guards standing by his casket and it was a very impressive site for a young boy.”
In the years following Gilbert Hofstetter’s burial in Jefferson City, Kay Hofstetter explained, his mother never missed an opportunity to visit her son’s grave every Memorial Day until her passing in 1993—a tradition that the late soldier’s younger brother strives to carry on.
“He gave his life in service to his country and for me. On Memorial Day, it’s not a sacrifice to go to Jefferson City to honor his memory,” said Hofstetter. “I have always gone and will continue to do so as long as I can.”
Jeremy P. Ämick 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.