While glancing at his wife of many decades, Earl Tisdale mirthfully explained, “I wouldn’t trade her for all the tea in China.” He went on to discuss his service in World War II, at which point the fondness shared by the couple becomes evident, having survived the separation of military service and growing ever stronger throughout the years.
Raised in north St. Louis, Tisdale graduated from Ferguson High School in 1943. His father, who was acquainted with a local draft board member, was then informed that his son’s draft number would soon be selected.
“That’s when I decided to join the Marines because it has always fascinated me and I figured it would allow me to have at least some control over my military career,” said Tisdale.
The 17-year-old enlistee traveled to San Diego in early August 1943 where he “went through the routine” while completing his basic training. From there, he was assigned briefly to a Marine Air Squadron at Miramar, Calif., before traveling to Norman, Okla., for several weeks of aviation “Ordnancemen’s School” at the Navy Technical Training Center.
“We learned how to handle all different kinds of ammunition used on airplanes, including bombs,” Tisdale explained. “We learned how to fuse and defuse them … and that was no fun.”
The next destination in his military career was with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point, N.C., in the spring of 1944, where he spent several months applying the training that he had received while in Oklahoma.
“I stayed at Cherry Point until September 1944, and that’s when they sent us overseas aboard a freighter,” he said. “Our first stop was at Majuro (Atoll) in the Marshall Islands and I stayed there for a few months loading ammunition on planes coming in off the aircraft carriers,” he added.
On the island, Tisdale recalled, a storm brought with it strong winds that destroyed their food supply. Though a supply ship was dispatched to replace the lost provisions, during the several days that it took for it to arrive, the Marines were forced to rely upon a single, plentiful food source.
“Some of the guys climbed the trees and collected coconuts that we were able to eat until the ship came in to bring us food,” he said. “I got so tired of eating coconuts and to this day cannot stand to eat one,” he grinned.
The young Marine went on to spend several weeks working at an airfield on Kwajalein Island. He was then sent to Guam and detailed to guard Japanese prisoners.
“The Japanese were still up in the hills and occasionally came down into our camp, hiding and killing some our GIs,” he somberly recalled. “Some of them were able to get our boys before we were able to get them … it was a terrible situation.”
While stationed on Guam, Tisdale and his fellow Marines learned of the end of the war with Japan following the use of the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Within a few weeks’ time, he was sent back to the United States and received his discharge at the Naval Air Station in Glenview, Illinois, in August 1946, having achieved the rank of staff sergeant. Following his discharge, Tisdale’s life focused on two important factors: building a career and continuing his relationship with Ann, the girlfriend from whom he had been separated for three years because of his World War II service.
“We decided not to marry before the war,” he said, “just in case something were to happen to me while I was in the service.”
On November 21, 1947, he and Ann were married and a young Tisdale began to provide for his family by selling paint for a company in the St. Louis area. In an effort to establish a more stable income source, he soon enrolled at Washington University and completed an aeronautics course. He was later employed with McDonnell Douglas and spent 35 years with the company coordinating the delivery of completed aviation components for aircraft such as the F-4 Phantom and F-15 Eagle. Following his retirement in 1982, the father of two daughters remained in Ballwin and began working part-time in the funeral business, from which he eventually retired at 86 years old.
In 2011, Tisdale and his wife relocated to Jefferson City, Missouri, as the advent of age necessitated they reside closer to their children.
In discussing his service during World War II, Tisdale explained that although he believes that the service he performed in the military was not nearly as significant as that of other young Americans, it was a responsibility that needed to be fulfilled.
“I think that because the Japanese attacked our country, it was our duty as Americans to protect it; I think that’s the way most people felt back then. I don’t feel like I was in danger like some of the boys that invaded certain areas and such, but I did what I was asked to do.” With a brief pause, he noted, “I can remember being overseas and waiting for letters from Ann. We didn’t seem to get letters all that often … they just didn’t seem to get to us.”
His wife softly added, “Naturally I was worried about his safety during the war. At that time, all of my friends were in the service and you just worried about them all and prayed they made it home safely.”
Tisdale passed away on September 12, 2018. The 93-year-old veteran was laid to rest with full military honors in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
More than three quarters of a century has transpired since the United States entered World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the years since this historic event, many of the men and women who served in the military during the war have passed away and, in some circumstances, were laid to rest before their personal accounts of service to the nation could be shared. Fortunately, some service members, such as local Army veteran Theodore Stubinger, have family members who were devoted to preserving the stories of the sacrifices made by their loved ones during the tumultuous period of the Second World War.
Born on a farm north of Russellville on December 26, 1915, Stubinger was the son of an Austrian immigrant and attended the local school while growing up. As he entered adulthood, he began to explore a vocational interest that would transition to a career several years later, his niece, Dorothy Rockelman, said in a 2017 interview prior to her death.
“Before he was in the service,” Rockelman said, “he worked as an automobile mechanic at one of the garages that used to be in Russellville—the old MFA garage that was once located downtown, I believe.”
Stubinger’s journey to military service began with The Selective Training and Service Act, which was implemented in 1940 and required the “registration of all males between the ages of 21 and 35,” explained Roger William Little in his book “Selective Service and American Society.” The author went on to state that “in the first registration more than 16 million men registered”—a staggering number that included the 24-year-old Stubinger.
The budding mechanic was married to his sweetheart, Verneda Kirchner, on October 26, 1941. Several weeks later, the nation entered WWII but it was not until the following year, on December 30, 1942, that Stubinger was inducted into the U.S. Army at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.
“I never heard him talk about his time in the service or anything from the war,” said Rockelman, describing the modest amount of information the family has regarding her uncle’s military service.
The former soldiers’ military discharge papers indicate his assignment to the 671st Tank Destroyer Battalion, a unit that was activated at North Camp Hood (now Ft. Hood), Texas, on June 12, 1943, according to an official unit history. The battalion trained at the camp’s Tank Destroyer Unit Training Center, whose primary mission was to provide specialized training in maneuverability and armored warfare. This included familiarity with such weaponry as the 75mm gun and the M10, the latter of which was an early model tank destroyer.
During the training period, Stubinger became one of the mechanics for the tank destroyers. His capabilities, and that of his fellow mechanics, was demonstrated in unit records denoting the battalion’s maintenance section was “considered the best of any battalion in the TD BUTC (Tank Destroyer Basic Unit Training Center),” scoring an impressive 490 out of 500 points on the rating scale used in assessment.
Later in their training, the battalion received the newer M18 Hellcats—a minimally armored tank with top speeds of more than 55 mph and armed with a 76mm cannon.
For the next several months, the battalion conducted field exercises and maneuvers at Camp Swift, Texas, in addition to field training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Despite the war in Europe having ended during their training, the battalion anticipated serving in the Pacific. They left Kentucky by rail and arrived in Seattle, Washington, in late December 1944 to prepare for overseas deployment.
Lt. Col. Allerton Cushman, who served as the battalion’s commander, wrote in the February 1946 edition of The Field Artillery Journal that the 671st “arrived in Leyte (Philippines) in the summer of 1945 and immediately began intensive training …” In his article, Cushman goes on to explain that the battalion received the newer M-36 Tank Destroyers while in the Philippines and began training as “corps artillery, infantry assault guns,” learning the “technique of adjusting fire … exactly the same as conventional field artillery …”
While still training, the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, thus heralding the end of the war and rendering unnecessary the need for the continued service of the battalion. Stubinger boarded a troopship in early January 1946, returning to the United States and receiving his discharge at Ft. Leavenworth the following month. After the war, Stubinger came back to Russellville and reunited with his wife. The veteran was later employed as the shop foreman for Vanosdoll Motors and American Motors in Jefferson City. In 1991, his wife passed away and he later remarried; however, Stubinger passed away on January 28, 1994 and was laid to rest in the cemetery of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lohman.
With no children to carry forth his story of service to the country in World War II, Stubinger’s extended family hopes that they can take up the mantle of preserving and sharing his proud legacy of service to the nation he loved.
“I didn’t get to know Ted until later in life,” said Beth Rockelman, the veteran’s great niece. “I wish I could have known him much sooner and have had the opportunity to learn more about what he did when he was younger, especially during the war.” She added, “He was such a wonderful man and I believe that he and many others deserved a lot more recognition than what they got when he came home from the war.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The summer of 1961 should have been an enthusiastic period for Lohman area resident Melvin Stubinger as he had recently graduated from Russellville High School and prepared to embark upon establishing a career for himself. However, with the military draft a pervasive reality for men of his age, he realized there was an important decision he needed to make.
“It was one of those situations where you knew that Uncle Sam was going to get you sooner or later, so I decided to go ahead and enlist to get it out of the way,” Stubinger explained.
With a grin, he frankly added, “I decided to join the U.S. Army because I figured it was about the easiest branch of service to get into at that time.”
Taking his oath of enlistment in St. Louis on July 29, 1961, the young recruit was soon aboard a bus and on his way to Ft. Leonard Wood for basic training. Several weeks later, he traveled to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma for advanced training in “artillery surveying.”
“That was a situation where the Army decided they needed me in a specific job and that’s where they put me; I didn’t have any choice in the matter,” he affirmed.
During the two months he was at the Oklahoma post, Stubinger and his fellow soldiers spent many hours in both the classroom and participating in field training exercises to learn how to operate a theodolite—a device that helped them complete the calculations that were provided to the gunners who directed the fire of large guns such as the 155mm howitzer. When his initial training was completed in December 1961, Stubinger was sent to San Diego and boarded a military transport bound for the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Upon his arrival, he was assigned to Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 13th Artillery located at Schofield Barracks—a U.S. Army installation established in 1908 to provide for a mobile defense of Pearl Harbor and the island.
Settling into the routines of Army life, Stubinger recalls that his battery soon began a cycle of training exercises and maneuvers to maintain their respective proficiencies of firing and supporting the howitzers.
“We would go out and practice firing the guns while set up in the middle of sugar cane and pineapple fields on Oahu,” Stubinger said. “There were many times when they had to limit the amount of powder they could use in the projectiles because sometimes there just wasn’t enough space to fire the guns at full capacity,” he added.
Once a year, Stubinger further explained, the battery would conduct a month-long training exercise on the “Big Island” of Hawaii. They would load their equipment on LSTs and set up on lava fields, which was an open area that afforded them more space and less restrictions when firing the howtizers. While stationed on Oahu, Stubinger was also assigned to a funeral detail supporting the burial of veterans in the National Cemetery of the Pacific in the Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu. Some of these funerals, he explained, were not only for local veterans who passed away, but also for the internment of remains that were located of World War II veterans killed in Pacific battles.
“The way the sound carried in the Punchbowl whenever they played Taps at a funeral just made the hair stand up on the back of your neck,” said Stubinger. “It was one of those experiences that you never forget.”
During his tour in Hawaii, the young soldier also had the opportunity to visit Pearl Harbor and witnessed many remnants of the devastation that resulted from the Japanese attack in World War II.
“You could still see oil slicks in the harbor because of the liquids leaking from the sunken ships,” he said. “There were a lot of buildings, including our barracks on Schofield Barracks, which still showed bullet damage from the strafing from Japanese airplanes.”
In July 1964, Stubinger packed his few belongings and boarded a Navy LST (Landing Ship, Tank) bound for the West Coast. Upon his arrival back in the United States, he received his discharge papers from the Army and returned to Mid-Missouri. In the years that followed, Stubinger married, raised two children and completed a 34-year career with a local telephone service company. He and his wife, Joan, visited Hawaii in the early 1990s; however, it had become virtually unrecognizable to the former soldier.
“The pineapple and sugar cane fields were all gone and even the parade fields we had at Schofield were covered with new housing complexes built for the military members stationed there,” he said. “Even along the highways, rows and rows of houses had popped up and I could no longer tell when we went from one town to another … it all just ran together.”
Time may now separate the veteran from his initial experience as a soldier in Hawaii, but as Stubinger explained, there remain many poignant memories of his youthful military experience that will not diminish despite the passage of years.
“The one thing I learned is that pineapples taste a lot better when they are ripe out of the field,” he chuckled. “But seriously, my time in the Army was important because it really made me grow up since I was on my own and the decisions that I made were mine to own.” He added, “And there was the prestige of being selected to serve on the funeral details in the Punchbowl. For me, there was nothing more important than making sure those who served received the appropriate final honors they had earned.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
In 1953, David Rackers was on a boat passing under the Golden Gate Bridge heading home from the Korean War when he made a promise to himself –all his memories of the war would be left on the other side of the bridge to make room for the new ones he would make when he returned home. Several decades later, Rackers made good on his promise; the memories of a conflict that earned him a Purple Heart medal and three Bronze Stars have not been easily resurrected.
A 1948 graduate of St. Francis Xavier School in Taos, Missouri, Rackers noted that he and many of his friends were so filled with post-World War II patriotism after finishing school that they chose to enlist in the military.
“I tried to get into the Marines,” said Rackers, “but was flat-footed and they wouldn’t take me.”
He soon began farming part-time while also working for his father’s heating business in Jefferson City, that is until the wartime draft secured for him an opportunity he was previously denied. Receiving a draft notice in August 1951, Rackers was soon on his way to Camp Crowder where he spent the next couple of months performing “good duty” and processing into the Army.
“They kept me there for so long because they said they couldn’t find any boots to fit me,” he said, smiling. “But then I got shipped to Schofield Barracks (Hawaii) for boot camp before shipping out to Korea in (early) 1952.”
With only basic combat training behind him, the inexperienced private was assigned to Company I, 15th Infantry, which was operating in an area along the Yalu River. Rackers quickly received his baptism of fire participating in patrols and maneuvers—one, specifically, which would land him in the hospital. On August 15, 1952, after participating in a river crossing while moving toward a mountain believed to be the site of North Korean forces, Rackers and a group of fellow soldiers came under enemy rifle fire.
“I can’t tell you what was on that mountain,” he said, “because we never made it there.”
Taking a bullet in his left hip, Rackers was evacuated and sent to a hospital in Japan, where he remained for the next few weeks to be treated for his wound. After his release, the soldier was awarded a Purple Heart medal and returned to his unit to be placed “back on the front lines.”
However, he was granted a reprieve from combat when he was pulled from the front lines on Christmas Day (1952) and told to grab his gear because he was being discharged from the military.
“I was in such a hurry to get out of there I just grabbed my stuff and got on a troop train,” Rackers said. “I later found out that I had grabbed the wrong duffle bag,” he grinned.
Boarding a troop ship in Tokyo, Rackers made the 28-day sea voyage home and was soon passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, arriving back on American soil to embark upon the promise of a new life. The combat veteran was discharged from the Army in May 1953. He spent several decades working in the heating and air-conditioning business and, in later years, worked as an instructor with Nichols Career Center and drove a bus for the Blair Oaks school district.
In 1956, he married his fiancée, Ann, and the couple raised six children.
“I didn’t know him back when he was in the Army, but I could always tell that he was proud of his flag,” said Ann, discussing her husband’s service.
Several years ago, Rackers had the opportunity to visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., as part of the Central Missouri Honor Flight—an event, he says, accurately reflects many of his combat experiences.
“That made tears come to my eyes … seeing the memorial,” he said. “It really takes you back; it looks so much like it did back when we were on patrols.”
And despite his efforts from many years ago to leave behind the memories of his combat service, the realization of what he and others accomplished for their country prevails upon his conscience.
“It’s all just really a shaky memory, but I realize that we did something important to help keep our nation strong, and I have never regretted being a part of it all. It was an experience that taught me to take the good with the bad and to keep on going even when the times got tough.”
The 90-year-old veteran passed away June 16, 2020.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Missouri veteran James Rackers may have received his draft notice after World War II officially concluded; however, his subsequent military experiences would carry him to both a historic Missouri military training site and to an overseas city that was decimated less than two years earlier by an atomic bomb that brought an end to the war in the Pacific.
Raised near the community of Taos, Missouri, Rackers finished an eighth-grade education at nearby St. Francis Xavier School and spent the next few years helping his parents work their farm. The war came and went during this period, but the draft finally caught the young man and pulled him from his country surroundings.
“I had gotten a six-month deferment because of the farm work but they finally got me,” he recalled. “I was inducted into the U.S. Army in December 1945 at Ft. Leavenworth (Kansas) and then they sent me to Camp Crowder for training,” he added.
Located near Neosho, Missouri, Camp Crowder is now a Missouri National Guard training site comprising more than 4,300 acres. During WWII, it became a major Signal Corps training site that grew to encompass nearly 43,000 acres and, by some estimates, was home to more than 40,000 troops during the height of the war. After completing his basic training at the southwest Missouri post, Rackers began a regimen of Signal Corps training as a lineman, learning to scale the poles to hang communications wires. But as his training progressed, he was assigned as a truck driver within the 3247th Signal Base Maintenance Company.
“We were only at (Camp) Crowder for a few months before they said they were going to shut down the camp since the war was over,” said Rackers. “A lot of the barracks there were already sitting empty.”
His company soon loaded trucks and convoyed to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where, Rackers explained, they were told they would be watching prisoners of war. Instead, they received orders a couple of weeks later sending them to Ft. Dix, New Jersey.
“We weren’t there very long … just long enough to do some machine-gun training, if I remember correctly,” Rackers said. “Then we got orders for Japan and they sent us by bus to Grand Central Station in New York. From there,” he continued, “we took a troop train all the way to Camp Stoneman in California.”
A week following their arrival on the West Coast, Rackers and his fellow soldiers boarded troop ships, spending the next two weeks sailing for their destination of Yokohama, Japan. While aboard the ship, the young soldier recalls becoming “so seasick I thought I was going to die.”
Following their arrival in Japan in November 1946, where they were to serve as part of the occupational forces, Rackers was assigned to a U.S. Army camp situated near the base of Camp Fuji. As became his duty during his stay at Camp Crowder, he served as a truck driver and began hauling many items to include 50-gallon barrels of heating oil and lumber used for a specific purpose.
“There was a Japanese man living there who had actually been raised in the United States,” said Rackers. “He owned a sawmill and I would take a team of Japanese workers—many of them former Japanese soldiers—to pick up lumber at the saw mill and to bring it back to the camp.”
The lumber, he went on to explain, was used to crate and package military equipment to be shipped back to the United States. Once completed, Rackers and his crew would then haul the crates to locations where they would be unloaded from his truck and loaded on waiting ships for final shipment overseas.
“Our camp was about 20 miles or so from Hiroshima and we were able to visit the area and take photographs,” he said. Little did he realize, the exposure would have lasting effects on his health and that of many of the soldiers with whom he served.
During the summer of 1947, the U.S. Army continued to trim down its force structure since the world was no longer at war. Rackers soon received notice that he would be returning home. In June 1947, he boarded a troop ship bound for Ft. Lawton, Washington, receiving his discharge from the military on August 6, 1947. He returned to the farm to help his father and was able to “save enough money to buy a tractor.” In 1951, he married his fiancée, Mardell, and the couple went on to raise four children. Through hard work and perseverance, he and his wife have “made a decent living” by running their own farming operations.
Years have passed since his service in the U.S. Army ended, but the consequences of his overseas service emerged through respiratory problems he has developed, which are attributed to his exposure to ionizing radiation. Many of his fellow veterans have, sadly, passed from cancers and other related ailments from their own service near areas such as Hiroshima.
The veteran has continued his service as a life member of the VFW, serving two terms as commander of his local post. When reflecting on his extensive past, Rackers affirms that moments from his brief time in the U.S. Army have never faded and are sculpted into his permanent memories.
“For a farm kid, I got to see a lot of the world and learned a lot of things that I didn’t know when I left home for the Army,” Rackers said. “Pausing, he added with a grin, “The one thing I sure do remember quite clearly is they didn’t pay us a whole heck of a lot back then. I made a dollar a day, that’s all I got. But it was all a valuable experience.”
Rackers passed away on June 15, 2019, and was laid to rest in the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Cemetery in Taos.
Jeremy P. Ämick is a military historian and the author of several military history books.
Born in 1940 on a farm in Maries County, Arnold Sandbothe came of age in a family of seven brothers and three sisters, watching as two of his older brothers left for service in World War II while another was wounded during the Korean War. As the years passed and he went on to graduate from Vienna High School in 1958, it seemed like only a matter of time before he and his other brothers would fulfill the family legacy of serving in military.
“After high school, I spent some time working construction jobs in St. Louis,” said Sandbothe. “While I was up there, I decided that I would also serve and joined a local engineering unit of the Army Reserve,” he added.
Completing his boot camp at Ft. Leonard Wood, the young soldier anticipated receiving orders to remain at the fort to complete advanced training in a military engineering specialty; instead, he was handed orders for finance school at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana.
“I was shocked that I wasn’t staying for engineering school, but when one of the officer’s asked me who I knew to get in that school, I realized it would be alright,” he grinned.
He returned to St. Louis for a few months after completing his finance training but soon decided to return closer to home, moving to Jefferson City when he was hired full-time at the former McGraw-Edison Company. In April 1960, he transferred to the Missouri National Guard and was assigned to Company B, 735th Ordnance Battalion, which in late 1962 transitioned to the 1035th Ordnance Company.
“My older brother Ray, who had been wounded in Korea, was working full-time in the state headquarters for the Missouri Guard and told me about a full-time job as a federal technician in the warehouse. I applied and was hired, and worked there for about a year when I was offered a promotion to work in the stock control section for the United States Property and Fiscal Office for the Guard.”
Continuing his full-time work for the National Guard while taking college accounting courses in the evenings and drilling with the 1035th on weekends, he was encouraged to consider Officer Candidate School (OCS). He was accepted for OCS and completed his training in June of 1966. Receiving his commission as a second lieutenant, he had to make a critical career decision.
“There was not a compatible officer slot for my full-time federal technician job at that time … and if I waited for one to come available, I might be passed over for appointment,” he said. “So, I became a second lieutenant with the 1035th as my drilling unit, and was eventually hired full-time with the Missouri Credit Union League.”
His full-time employment with the credit union required him to relocate to Kansas City and, for a number of years, he commuted to Jefferson City to drill with his unit on the weekends. When a command and control headquarters element was organized in Kansas City, he received a transfer to a slot as a captain in the early 1970s. While living in Kansas City, he met and married Linda Nolker Huyett in 1977. Throughout the next few years, his military career continued to progress while he fulfilled several leadership roles until receiving appointment as commander of the 205th Military Police Battalion in the summer of 1986.
“I had completed my branch training as an ordnance officer but the new position required that I take my basic and advanced course as a military policeman,” said Sandbothe. “I became a major and eventually a lieutenant colonel before leaving the MP Corps of the Missouri National Guard in 1989.”
Working full-time with the credit union and performing his part-time military duties as a commander with the military police, Sandbothe realized he would have to be at least halfway finished with Command and General Staff College (CGSC) if he wished to qualify for promotion to colonel.
“During my battalion command time with the MP Corps, I spent many of the few free weekends I had taking CGSC courses and, by the time I left my command there, I had finished a college degree in addition to CGSC.”
Although qualified and selected for promotion to colonel, the state did not have any available officer slots at that grade. Sandbothe then made a decision that led him back to where his military career began—the Army Reserve.
“I transferred to the Army Reserve and was able to receive promotion to colonel,” he said. “I stayed with them until retiring from the military in 1994 with credit for 30 years of service. Also,” he added, “I worked for the Missouri Credit Union Association for 32 years before retiring as senior vice-president in 1998.”
The veteran has come to recognize the distinct moments that appear to define the differences between the years he spent as an enlisted soldier and those as a commissioned officer, each of which seems to provide him with specific types of memories.
“As an enlisted soldier in my early-to-mid-20s, I was a typical enlisted soldier who had quite a bit of fun but did what I had to do,” he said. “But I really didn’t grow up until I went to OCS and they made a gentleman out of me—if that was possible!” he laughed. “I am proud of my fellow Guard members who I met and served with over the years. Working together made each of us better citizens.
However, the most important aspect of his military career has not been the climb through the various ranks, but fulfilling a legacy that began with his father and has been carried forth by he and his brothers.
“My father was in WWI and each of my six brothers served in the military in some capacity,” he said. With a chuckle, he added, “When you think about that, I had no choice because what an embarrassment it would be if I hadn’t served as well.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
After graduating high school in Kansas City, a young Lon Gilbert Amick followed his older brother’s footsteps by attending William Jewell College in nearby Liberty. Two years later, he made the decision to transfer to the University of Missouri in Columbia, where he participated in the ROTC program and gained valuable experience as an actor that would benefit him during World War II.
Enlisting in the U.S. Army on July 31, 1942, Amick was granted a deferment until the following year so that he could complete his bachelor’s degree in journalism. His military records indicate he entered active service on March 23, 1943.
“My oldest brother, Eugene, was killed August 9, 1942, while serving as a communications officer on the USS Astoria during the invasion of the Solomon Islands,” said Amick’s younger sister, Joanne Comer. “They commissioned the USS Amick (destroyer escort) in his honor and Lon was able to get leave from his training to attend the launching on May 27, 1943.”
Amick traveled to Camp Wolters, Texas, in the spring of 1943, spending several months in training to prepare him as an infantryman to replace those lost in combat—a military specialty that he would leave behind shortly after his arrival overseas. The 21-year-old soldier boarded a troopship in early July 1944, making the two-week journey across the ocean. In an undated letter sent home during the war, Amick provided a candid description regarding the unpleasant conditions of his two-week trip across the Atlantic.
“The ship was crowded, terribly crowded,” wrote the soldier. “Dice, thick smoke, field equipment, sentiment, homesickness, dirty stories, raucous laughter, and ever-present loneliness amid thousands was much in evidence.”
Disembarking the ship in Liverpool, England, in July 1944, his group soon made their way to a marshaling area and days later boarded landing craft bound for Omaha Beach, which, the month previous, served as ground zero for death and devastation during the famed D-Day landings.
“My first job in France was loading ammunition,” the soldier wrote. “They needed it badly and several of the men that came in with me were immediately put to work. The front was six miles away.”
The area along the Normandy coastline continued to buzz with activities to provide service and support for soldiers engaged in combat on the front lines of combat. During a rare break in the action, Amick glanced at an advertisement that captured his attention.
“I noticed a (pamphlet) looking for stage talent and walked down to that building—a tent in the field,” he wrote in a letter to his parents. “(I) demonstrated a few imitations and ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and was told to perform in a show—I did, and the rest you know,” he added.
The young soldier was transferred to 6817th Special Service Battalion (with whom film star Mickey Rooney was assigned during the war) and began traveling across Europe with a small performance troupe comprised of actors and band members. Their early shows, he explained, “were laughable” with musicians being recruited from foxholes and bandstands constructed from empty rations crates. Their group quickly blossomed with a full band to compose music for their shows. They provided entertainment in venues ranging from theaters to “bomb-cratered villages” in addition to “a circuit of hospital and Red Cross clubs.” When the war ended the following spring, he was reassigned to duties more aligned with his journalism degree from MU.
“(I) am putting out a paper for the depot now,” wrote Amick to his parents in a letter dated September 22, 1945. “I am enclosing a copy of the paper. I have marked what I have written simply because I know it will interest you... The paper is exactly what the doctor ordered. I am myself again.”
Pfc. Amick remained in Europe for several months after the war, boarding a troopship for his return home in February 1946. On March 2, 1946, he received his discharge from the U.S. Army through the separation center at Fort Dix, New Jersey, having accrued nearly 20 months of overseas service. Integrating back into civilian life, Amick married the former Naomi Campbell in 1950, and the couple raised five children. In the years after the war, he remained somewhat active with local theater groups but this interest appeared to have evaporated when he became president of a national fundraising firm in Kansas City.
According to the November 23, 1972 edition of the Word and Way, “Amick joined the staff of William Jewell College in February 1971, a an officer of the administration. At the college he served as director of development and was in charge of the donor support program, alumni services, and public relations.”
“Lon was killed in an automobile accident on October 23, 1972 when he was 52 years old,” said Joanne (Amick) Comer, the veteran’s sister. “He told me when I was younger to spend two years at William Jewell, like he did, and then get the experience of a big university.” Smiling, she added, “So I ended up at KU, where I met my husband, Ralph.”
The veteran can no longer share direct accounts of his experiences during World War II—a fascinating journey that began as a replacement in the infantry and transitioned to service as an actor and work with a military newspaper. He left a legacy behind through letters and reflections that demonstrate a soldier prepared to embrace his circumstances.
From Camp Wolters, he wrote, “Somewhere there must be a wise man of the mountain that knows why the human race can’t live in peace. What is, is—and I’m prepared for my share of whatever it is to be, without regret, without enthusiasm.” Displaying wisdom beyond his years, he concluded, “Mine is completely a soldier’s inevitable attitude. The future doesn’t worry me, because I’m resigned to what comes … if God has endowed me with what talents I possess, I’ll use them.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Jake “The Snake” Roberts for decades combatted substance abuse issues. His recovery process, he believes, provides an example of hope to military veterans who may be struggling with addictions. Roberts road to recovery was inspired through the assistance of a friend, Diamond Dallas Page, and his DDPY fitness program. Courtesy of Jake Roberts
When Jake “The Snake” Roberts dragged a lumpy cloth sack into the wrestling ring, many an opponent fearfully trembled while the audience cheered since everyone realized it held a monstrous python named Damian. For years, Roberts’ achievements in the ring—highlighted by his finishing move, the “DDT”—propelled his career to lofty heights while he silently struggled with debilitating addictions. Decades later, the wrestling icon descended into a physical and emotional abyss until a wrestler he had once mentored helped him regain control of his life and health.
“I’ve been there—through the addictions and pains—and believe my experiences help me connect to veterans going through similar situations,” said Roberts during a recent interview. “Many of these troops returning from their service overseas are having problems and just maybe my story, my resurrection, can give them some hope.”
Roberts explained that a history of concussions is one form of injury he has the misfortune of sharing with many veterans. Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI), and the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center reports there were “nearly 414,000 TBIs among U.S. service members worldwide between 2000 and late 2019.” The center added, “TBI can include a range of comorbidities, from headaches, irritability, and sleep disorders to memory problems, slower thinking, and depression. These symptoms often lead to long-term mental and physical health problems that impair Veterans' employment and family relationships, and their reintegration into their communities.”
“Back in my day of wrestling, they didn’t pay any attention to concussions,” Roberts said. “I wrestled for 35 years and probably had 120 concussions … or maybe more. “We were hit with real metal chairs because they were just a tool of the ring. Let me tell you, I gave and received a lot of punishment in the ring.” He continued, “And that takes its toll on your mind and body. Pretty soon, you start looking for things to help with the pain, and that’s where the addiction really begins to take shape and it has consequences for the entire family.”
For decades, Roberts embraced both drugs and alcohol as an emotional crutch, searching for “that next great thing” that would make him feel even better than before in an effort to suppress the unyielding discomfort.
“I was an adrenaline junkie like so many wrestlers,” said the WWE Hall of Famer. “Many people who serve in the military are adrenaline junkies as well, and when they leave that structure and are away from the service, they look for something to replace that adrenaline that was lost.”
An article on the Department of Veterans Affairs website explains that from “the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 1 in 10 returning veterans seen in VA have a problem with alcohol or others drugs.”
The website of the National Veterans Foundation also reveals some alarming realities regarding the challenges faced by many veterans. "Prescription drug abuse is on the rise among veterans because many are treated with powerful narcotic pain medications for injuries. Over time, veterans can become dependent on these drugs and eventually an addiction can develop. Alcohol abuse and addiction is also more common among the military population while some other substances are used far less frequently and are far less of an issue.”
For many years, Roberts has supported members of the military by visiting bases such as Fort Polk, Louisiana; Robins Air Force Base, Georgia; and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, growing in his respect for their service to the country and the sacrifices they have made.
“They really beat themselves up during their service just like I did in the ring … and it catches up to you,” he said. “I had reached a point that I was down and out and was addicted to cocaine and alcohol; I had not felt good about myself in 20 years,” he added.
Living on the brink of despair and hopelessness, his life changed for the better through the assistance of a wrestler he once mentored—Diamond Dallas Page (DDP). His friend moved him to Atlanta and introduced him to a fitness program recently branded DDPY, which resulted in noticeable improvements.
I finally began to like myself—I was spitting out positive words instead of negative ones,” Roberts said. “The exercises got my blood moving and I began to feel better. You do it for a week and you see yourself doing things you couldn’t do before.” He added, “When I do the program, it gives me that spark that I need as an adrenaline junkie and, just like that, your body starts to change; you lose weight and you begin to feel good about yourself!”
His transformation and recovery have been captured in the documentary “The Resurrection of Jake the Snake.” The tumultuous experiences that defined many years of his life culminated in defeat of his most difficult opponent—addiction. Now, he hopes to share his story far and wide, confident it may inspire the recovery of veterans facing similar struggles.
“There was a lady who came up to me and thanked me for sharing my story,” he explained. “Although her husband had died two years earlier, she said that my movie inspired him to put down the bottle and he didn’t drink for the seven years prior to his death. She said it was the best seven years of their entire marriage.” He concluded, “My life has been full of ups and downs, fights and bouts, but it feels good knowing that it can show others, especially veterans, that there is hope for their own recovery.”
DDP supports veterans by offering a 50 percent discount on all DVDs and the DDPYogaNow app. For more information, visit ddpyoga.com or DDPY.com
Veterans seeking crisis assistance and resources can contact the Veterans Crisis Line toll free at 877-273-8255.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Not defined by disability - U.S. Army veteran overcomes debilitating brain injury incurred in WWII (Part 2)
Leonard Jaegers, who was at the time engaged to the former Helen Wankum, was seriously wounded in combat during WWII. He and Helen were united in marriage in December 1945. Helen stood by her husband for decades, helping him operate a successful retail business in Meta in addition to working diligently to help him recover from a severe injury incurred in WWII. Courtesy of the Jaegers family
Author's note: This article is the final in a two-part series regarding the military experiences of WWII veteran Sergeant Leonard P. Jaegers.
Sergeant Leonard P. Jaegers, after being shot in the skull on April 6, 1945, during combat in World War II, was presumed dead and his body moved to an area and laid among several other soldiers killed in action. Fortunately, a chaplain discovered the wounded Jaegers was still alive and the immediate medical attention he received is credited with saving his life.
“Years later, he told a family friend that while he was on the battlefield in Germany, he made the promise to God that if He let him live, he would work for Him until he died—and he kept that promise,” said Jaegers’ daughter-in-law, Helen.
This period was also very tumultuous for another Helen in Jaegers’ life, Helen Wankum, to whom he was engaged prior to the war. When word was received that the family could come visit the injured Jaegers at Bushnell General Hospital in Brigham, Utah, his mother, fiancée and family friend, Bud Loethen, left their homes in Meta and took a train headed west. The injury left Jaegers with severe memory loss, paralysis on his right side and significant speech limitations. Upon their arrival at the hospital, the recovering soldier did not recognize his visitors, but after a couple more visits, he recalled who they were and was pleased to see them.
Years later, his former fiancée wrote of her time at the hospital, “During one of (our) visits, I told him that we were engaged and his injury didn’t make any difference to me and that one day we would be married. This information improved his attitude.”
Undergoing several surgeries on his skull and brain, the next several months continued an intense regimen of physical and speech therapy followed by his transfer to a hospital in Framingham, Massachusetts. As Helen, his fiancée at the time, explained in some of her later writings and recollections, he would at first walk by pushing a wheelchair since he was unable to grip a cane. Eventually, Jaegers’ abilities improved to the extent he was allowed to return home to Meta, where his fiancée remained true to her commitment. On December 27, 1945, Leonard Jaegers and the former Helen Wankum were united in marriage and, as the years passed, became the parents of seven children.
“One thing that impresses me about our father,” said his son, James, “is that although he received a military pension and didn’t have to work, he wanted to get up in the morning, shave, and get dressed to show his kids that fathers were supposed to have something to do.”
In addition to traveling to locations such as St. Louis to undergo physical, speech and occupational therapy, Jaegers was described as a man that was always on the move and eventually found employment at a drug store in Meta. This job afforded him opportunities to rebuild his confidence while recovering from his injuries. With improvements in his motor skills and speech also came the return of many of his past memories; however, Jaegers would always suffer from headaches and never regained the use of his right arm. As his children explained, although he enjoyed his work at the drug store, he aspired for something more, which was achieved through the help of the love of his life, Helen.
“Our father always wanted to open a store of his own, so he and mom opened Jaegers Shoes and Apparel in August of 1959,” said Robert Jaegers. “They frequently traveled to Springfield (Missouri) and loaded their station wagon with wholesale merchandise that they brought back to the store in Meta to sell.” Pausing he said, “They operated that store for 26 years.”
Reflecting on the promise the young soldier had made on the World War II battlefields of Europe, the Jaegers’ family explained that he strived to fulfill the promise of service that he had made to God.
“He and mother were always volunteering in some capacity,” said his son, James. “They volunteered at least one day a week at the VA hospital in Columbia and were very involved in the church and community organizations.” He added, “Years later, when he and mother traveled to Texas for the winter months, they volunteered three days a week at the VA hospital in San Antonio.”
In later years, Jaegers enjoyed attending military reunions and, during one such event held in Pennsylvania, met the individual responsible for having saved his life.
“(We) were surprised to meet the Army Medic who helped treat Leonard as he lay wounded on the German battlefield so many years ago,” wrote Jaegers’ wife in a document maintained by the family. “Not only was he surprised Dad had made it, but the fact that he could walk and talk. He stated that it was a miracle.”
The 89-year-old Jaegers lived a rich life, passing away November 2, 2010. His beloved wife, Helen, passed away less than two years later on July 25, 2012. The couple lie at rest in Hawthorn Memorial Gardens in Jefferson City.
The courage and determination of their father has left an indelible impression on his children, but they also realize his success in overcoming great physical challenges was a team effort not achievable without the assistance of their mother.
“Our father always felt blessed with the life that he had been given,” said Robert Jaegers. “He seemed to be on the move all the time and never sat still for very long. “Through great will and determination, he was able to improve.” He concluded, “But it was our mother who was always there for him—it was her devotion and support that truly helped him recover from his war injuries.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
Author's note: This article is the first in a two-part series regarding the World War II experiences of the late Leonard P. Jaegers.
The mission of the Silver Star Families of America—a Missouri-based non-profit—has always been to remember, honor and assist the wounded, ill or dying of our Armed Forces from all wars. In this spirit, the story of one local veteran truly personifies this endeavor and features a young man suffering a grievous wound in combat during World War II, who was able to overcome adversity and live a long, productive life through the assistance of medical professionals.
His story of love and determination begins in the rural Osage County community of Meta, where a young Leonard P. Jaegers, the oldest of seven children, grew up on his family’s farm.
“When my father received his draft notice and had to report to Jefferson Barracks (St. Louis), he was engaged to my mother, Helen Wankum, who grew up near him on a neighboring farm,” said Jaegers’ son, Robert.
Military records indicate the 21-year-old Jaegers was inducted into the U.S. Army on August 17. 1942, and, after being given a few days to travel home to help his father put up hay on the farm, returned to Jefferson Barracks to complete his basic training. In a summary of Jaegers’ service written by his late wife, it was noted that the young soldier “boarded a train and headed west for Denver.” His wife went on to note that he was assigned to the military police department; however, after volunteering to serve in the kitchen and impressing the mess sergeant with his culinary abilities, Jaegers was sent to cooking school at Ft. Riley, Kansas.
“Dad said that he thought that he had it kind of easy being a cook and decided that he wanted to get into some of the ‘rough’ stuff,” said James, another of Jaegers’ sons. “That’s when he volunteered to be a combat engineer and the Army sent him to Ft. Leonard Wood for more training,” he added.
The new duty assignment provided the soldier with a slate of new skills soon identified as those needed to replace the combat losses from fighting during the Battle of the Bulge. He departed Ft. Leonard Wood on Christmas Eve of 1944, bound for Paris, Texas, for six weeks of infantry training. In early February 1945, Jaegers received a brief delay en route to his next duty assignment, affording him a few days back home to visit with his family and fiancée.
His wife wrote, “On the last night of his leave, we went to a dance and Leonard asked the band to play ‘Over the Way Waltz,’ and we danced and danced. Little did we realize that this would be the last time that we would ever dance together again,” she solemnly explained.
Boarding a train in Jefferson City, Jaegers said his goodbyes to his fiancée and family and made the trip to Camp George E. Meade, Maryland. Two weeks later, he was transferred to Camp Shanks, New York, and boarded a transport ship bound for France. Shortly after his arrival in LeHavre, France, he was processed as a replacement soldier with Company F. 310th Infantry Regiment of the 78th Division.
“Mom’s records state that our father and several of his fellow soldiers boarded box cars and rode the train for several days to the front lines,” said his son, Robert. “He wasn’t there for very long when he became part of a mission that affected him for the rest of his life.”
On April 6, 1945, after the regiment was recovering from an exhausting battle against unwavering German forces, Jaegers was in a foxhole with two of his friends when bullets began whizzing by them. His fellow soldiers were killed while one bullet penetrated Jaegers’ helmet, striking him in his skull. Since Jaegers lay unresponsive and had brain matter dripping from the severe wound to his scalp, he was presumed dead and his body removed from the foxhole and placed next to a group of soldiers who had been killed in battle.
In a fortuitous moment, a chaplain who was blessing the bodies of the deceased observed that Jaegers was still alive, calling for a medic to come and provide immediate assistance. The medic placed the brain matter back into Jaegers’ skull and then wrapped the wound.
“Our father lost his memory when he was wounded and did not recall much of the fighting years later,” said James Jaegers. “Dad’s military records show that he was first evacuated to a field hospital in Germany and was later sent to France and then England for treatment. The chaplain sent the family a letter saying our father was alive but was in serious condition.”
Jaegers was eventually transferred back to the states, arriving in New York and taking a train to Brigham City, Utah, for care at Bushnell General Hospital. The veteran’s wife wrote years later, “The Red Cross nurse wrote to us about his condition.” She further detailed the seriousness of her fiancée’s wound, writing, “He had more surgery on his head. … His right side was paralyzed. He couldn’t talk, walk, read or write. The nurse advised us not to come for a visit until he was a little better.”
The days ahead were difficult and filled with both burdens and victories for the wounded soldier as he struggled to regain the abilities that had been torn from him. It was also a stressful period for his fiancée and his family, as they tried to determine the roles they would play in ensuring his recovery.
“It was a difficult time for my father and also for our mother,” said Robert Jaegers. “But in the coming years, their perseverance and love were promising in our father’s recovery and greatly improved his quality of life.”
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.