Arthur Boorman’s inspirational story has essentially ascended to celebrity status, gaining close to 50 million views on YouTube in recent years. A veteran of the U.S. Army, his health fell into a state of neglect following his discharge and he was on a path to an early grave. He acknowledges that an unintended discovery during an internet search connected him to an individual who helped turn his life around and inspired his achievement of fitness goals once thought unattainable.
A native of Maryland, Boorman enlisted in the U.S. Army in the late 1970s because “it was what my family did,” he remarked of the motivation behind his decision to serve.
Completing his basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, he attended additional training at Ft. Devens, Massachussetts, Ft. Benning, Georgia, and other posts. The soldier participated in multiple overseas tours in Europe and the Middle East in addition to other deployments. Stateside, he served at locations such as Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. As a paratrooper, he served with reconnaissance teams who monitored enemy activity but were not intended to engage the enemy. He added, “Our function was to patrol and conduct surveillance in areas prior to the troops coming in.”
His service continued through the Gulf War; however, the pace of his military activities led to injuries resulting in his disability discharge in the mid-1990s. At the point of discharge, he had invested seventeen years of his life to the U.S. Army.
“I was hurt and had slowed down a lot,” Boorman recalled. “I did not want to get out of the Army but I had no real choice.” Solemnly, he added, “It was a frightening period because the Army was my career and I did not know how I would take care of my family.”
Married with two sons, the next few years were full of ups and downs for the erstwhile soldier while he made the transition to a new career. Possessing a bachelor’s degree, he returned to school to complete a master’s degree in education. He became a certified special educator and a math teacher, a position he holds to this day.
“I was trading one mission for another—leaving the Army and embarking upon a new purpose in teaching,” he said. “The people who I saw making the most difference in the lives of young persons were teachers and that’s something I wanted to do as well.”
Despite the satisfaction that came with pursuing a calling in education, Boorman admittedly struggled with issues related to post-traumatic stress and physical injuries from his military service. Although he did not seek escape through drugs or alcohol, he became sedentary and was eating excessively. His unhealthy lifestyle resulted in the evolution from a former 185-pound soldier to a 390-pound veteran riddled with mobility issues. Within a short period, he reached the point that he required leg braces and other supportive devices to walk and was unable to perform such simple tasks as wrestling around with his children.
“I was eating myself into a grave and making bad choices,” he starkly recalled. “I realized my actions were demonstrating that I valued food more than my family, and I did not like what I was doing … I did not like me.”
In the quest for assistance, he began scouring the internet for methods to relieve the pains he was experiencing and happened upon information regarding a fitness program developed by professional wrestler Diamond Dallas Page (often referred to as “DDP”).
“At that time, he had a program called YRG but it has since become DDPY,” he said. “There was an article about the program and how it was helping others so I ordered the DVDs to try it for myself. DDP sent me an email and we began communicating back and forth.”
Initially, DDP requested some pictures of Boorman in his obese condition to garner an idea of his current physical capabilities. DDP then tailored an eating and exercise program that worked around Boorman’s disabilities in addition to ensuring he was committed putting in the work. Within ten months, Boorman was able to shed 100 pounds.
“My body started changing … but it didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “It wasn’t the DDPY fitness program alone; it was the associated eating plan as well. It’s been a battle to keep the weight off and DDPY isn’t a one-time deal, it’s a lifelong commitment.”
Boorman was eventually able to regain his physical independence and no longer requires the supportive braces. His amazing transformation was captured in a YouTube video that has inspired countless others—including disabled veterans—to pursue their own weight loss and fitness goals.
The veteran is now employed as a special education teacher and proudly self-identifies as a “geek,” running a science-fiction club at his school, writing science-fiction stories in his spare time and has even dedicated a room in his home to his massive comic book collection.
When reflecting on the viral YouTube video that has made him an unexpected fitness inspiration, Boorman admits that it has at times felt like a burden; however, he believes he has a responsibility to help others just as he was given assistance during his time of need.
“Diamond Dallas Page saved my life, there’s no doubt about that in my mind,” he said. “When the YouTube video shared my story with the world, it became a little terrifying for me because I started getting all of these phone calls and messages—and I still get them.” Pausing, he added, “I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t gone through the pain, but succeeding through DDPY has been a great experience that has encouraged me to help others through their fitness struggles just as Dallas was there for me.”
DDP supports veterans by offering a 50% discount on all DVDs and the DDPYogaNow app. For more information, visit www.ddp.yoga.com or www.DDPY.com.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
‘Every day is Veterans Day’ - Professional wrestler helps change the lives of veterans through fitness
Diamond Dallas Page (DDP) has never been one to let age define his goals—he entered professional wrestling when he was 35 years old and now, after turning 64, remains an example of fitness potential for everybody from professional athletes to those simply yearning to take control of their lives by regaining strength and flexibility in addition to weight loss.
His daily activities often place him in contact with military members who have not only inspired him to participate in morale visits to military bases overseas, but to offer an unprecedented discount for veterans investing in his enhanced DDP Yoga fitness program (recently branded DDPY), which he describes as “yoga for people who wouldn’t be caught dead doing yoga.”
Page recalled, “My father and grandfather were both veterans. Growing up, I wanted to join the Marines, but like so many things in our lives, it didn’t work out.” He added, “But when I later became involved in professional wrestling, it provided me with several opportunities to give back to our veterans.”
In 1998, after being slammed into the mat during a World Championship Wrestling (WCW) match, the future of his career came into question when he discovered he had incurred severe damage to vertebrae in his lower back and might never again wrestle.
“I saw three different spine specialists and each one said my career in wrestling was finished,” said Page. “There was always the possibility of spinal surgery, but that can end up causing severe damage.”
While recuperating at home and pondering his next step, Page’s wife at the time encouraged him to consider trying yoga. Although he affirmed that he was the type of guy that “wouldn’t be caught dead” engaged in such a fitness endeavor, the excruciating pain he experienced helped change his outlook.
“At first, I learned to engage my muscles quite by accident and noticed that it increased my heart rate,” he explained. “Then, I created several modifications along the way and incorporated slow-burn movements and calisthenics into my fitness program. It became a fusion of many approaches and increased my strength, flexibility and endurance.” Excitedly, he added, “Within three months, I was back in the ring.”
Throughout the next several years, Page refined the fitness regimen that helped return him to the ring, eventually morphing into DDPY. The the fitness model has not only helped fellow wrestlers such as Chris Jerico return to ring following injuries, but has introduced him to a veteran whose experiences have inspired countless others in their recovery journeys.
“Several years ago, early in the development of what is now DDPY, I personally contacted everyone through email who invested in the program,” said Page. “In the email, I asked them to respond to six questions, which Arthur Boorman did … and his answers amazed me.”
Page went on to explain that Boorman submitted pictures of himself, revealing he was at the time both morbidly obese and unable to walk without the assistance of crutches and supportive devices. Many of his injuries, Boorman explained, were from his service with the U.S. Army during the Gulf War.
“I didn’t know if I could help him, to be honest with you,” he said. “But I was able to give him a lifestyle change that not only included my fitness program, but an eating plan as well. He certainly changed his life and lost about 140 pounds in ten months … and no longer needs the braces!” he exclaimed.
The weight loss Page has witnessed throughout the years by those using his DDPY is what he describes as a “side effect.” He noted, “I inspired one guy to change his life and Arthur has gone on to inspire millions to change theirs.”
The flexibility and strength Page reclaimed through his tailored fitness endeavors have allowed him to continue his professional wrestling career. Additionally, his popularity as an athlete among members of the armed forces has motivated his participation in several morale visits at military bases overseas.
“I’ve been to Iraq three times and once to Afghanistan,” he explained. “I would take the world title belt with me on the trips and pose for photographs with the troops—I loved doing it!” he enthusiastically remarked.
During one these troop visits, he posed for photographs with a young soldier, Sergeant Christopher C. Simpson, who explained that he was a dedicated fan of the wrestler.
“On a flight home from one of my trips, I got an email from Simpson’s uncle,” Page recalled. “The title of the email read something like ‘Diamond Dallas Page fan killed in the line of duty.’”
The 23-year-old Sgt. Simpson was killed on March 17, 2008, while serving in Iraq. Tears streamed down Page’s face as he read the email from the Simpson’s uncle, inspiring him to contact the fallen soldier’s mother.
“His mother responded to me and I went to visit with her; we helped raise money that was used to dedicate a park in Virginia in his memory,” he said. “There is a picture of him, Sgt. Simpson, hanging in my home and I will never forget him and all that he sacrificed for us.”
Page explained that he is surrounded by veterans on a daily basis and is eager to hear stories of how DDPY has helped many of them reclaim their lives. In respect for the service they performed and the difficulties they have endured while in the military, he gives back through affordable access to his fitness program.
“My program works and the results speak for itself—it’s not a gimmick or a bunch of smoke and mirrors,” he affirmed. “Because of this, I am not one to give a break on the price and am not one inclined to offer discounts.” He continued, “But every day is Veterans Day here at DDPY and I give veterans a 50% discount off the program all of the time.” Pausing, he concluded, “It’s my way of giving back to those who defend our freedoms.”
For more information on DDP Yoga visit www.ddpyoga.com or www.DDPY.com.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
During her formative years in Centralia, Missouri, Marcella “Marcy” Ng humorously explained that she was raised as a “drug baby”—she was drug into church on Sunday morning or any other time the church doors were open. Raised by her grandparents, Ng affirmed that it was this early immersion in Christian faith that provided her with the foundation to help usher her through difficult times in both her military career and personal life. Graduating from Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri, in 1974, the world began to unfold when she applied for three different universities and received acceptance letters from each one. After visiting with teachers at her former high school, she made the decision to attend University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“There were several people in my family who had served in the medical field as nurses so I wanted to become a doctor,” she said. “That all changed after I became involved in the ROTC program in college,” she added.
Excelling within the military structure, Ng went on to serve as a leader in the cadet corps and was selected to attend U.S. Army Airborne School prior to her senior year at the university. It was during her ROTC training, however, that one of her instructors encouraged her to not only consider a military career, but also contemplate becoming a pilot.
“When I graduated with my English degree in December 1978, I was honored with begin a distinguished military graduate, commissioned a second lieutenant and then sent to Ft. Eustis, Virginia, for the Transportation Officer Basic Course,” she explained. “From there, I traveled to Ft. Rucker (Alabama) to begin flight school.”
It was during her flight training that she was advised that she possessed an unexpected distinction among her training class.
“At some point, I was completing my in-processing at Ft. Rucker and one of the clerks said to me, ‘You’re the first one of you all to come through here,’ which was his way of saying that I was the first African American woman to go through flight school.”
For the next nine months, Ng and her fellow aspiring aviators were introduced to the TH-55 training helicopters before progressing to the larger UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopters that were prevalent in the skies during the Vietnam War. While in flight school, she met Dennis Ng and shortly after her graduation in November 1979, the couple married. With little time to celebrate their recent nuptials, she was sent to Stuttgart, Germany, and received assignment to the 394th Transportation Battalion.
The next three years were a medley of intriguing assignments with Ng spending time as an executive officer in the headquarters and headquarters company in addition to fulfilling the duties of motor officer and dining facility officer. However, she recalls that not every aspect of her time in Germany is a glorious memory.
“I learned that I was the first black officer and first woman in the unit,” she said. “I served under a commanding officer who, in the nicest terms, lacked integrity and I was eventually disqualified from flight service because of discrimination … but I let it go because I lacked any solid proof.”
Despite the stresses of this period, Ng maintains that God was always at work in her life and continued to open new doors. She returned to the United States in 1983 to complete the Transportation Officer Advanced Course and within the next year assumed command of her own company at Ft. Hood, Texas. Proving her competency as a leader and demonstrating her organizational abilities in her professional endeavors, her personal life grew as she and her husband became parents to three children and were blessed to remain stationed together during a large part of their individual military careers.
Her progression as an officer continued in the ensuing years while she performed duty in locations such as Korea and, in 1989, was assigned to the 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Ft. Ord, California. During this period, she was sent briefly to Panama in support of infantry brigades shortly before “Operation Just Cause”—the U.S. invasion of Panama.
“In 1991, I was promoted to major and later completed my Command and General Staff Officers Course,” she explained. “I truly had an enjoyable career filled with a number of great duty assignments, but one highlight was when I was selected as executive officer and acting commander for the 24th Transportation Battalion at Ft. Eustis.”
Her career eventually resulted in promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel and included time in command of a transportation battalion at Ft. Hood. Although she continued to enjoy her career and the varied opportunities it offered, in September 2000, she made the decision to retire.
“It was time to settle down with my children,” she said.
She now lives in Texas and enjoys spending time with her husband, who also retired as a lieutenant colonel. Even though she no longer maintains the frenetic schedule of an Army officer, she has gone on to serve as a director of a pregnancy center and currently manages an event venue owned by her family.
Although her life, rich in treasured memories, might serve as a template of encouragement for others, Ng maintains it is her walk with God that has provided her enduring peace and established the path for her career.
“If my experiences of getting through all the hard knocks during my military career can serve as an inspiration for other black women, then that is fantastic,” she said. “But there is someone else responsible for giving me the opportunities I enjoyed. There were many tough times when I wanted to give up, and so I prayed and spoke with the Lord and he then spoke to my heart … he encouraged me to stick it out. When I started praying and following after the Lord,” she added, “that’s when my career and life begin to change for the better.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
All too often, veterans of WWII describe their service in a manner that moderates the importance of the contributions they have made, dismissing any notion of heroism or stellar performance. Though he admits that he is proud of his service as a pilot during the war, Jefferson City, Mo., veteran Charlie Palmer chose to summarize his own military experience with the simple, straightforward assertion, “I did my bit, what I was trained to do.”
Born in Plainfield, New Jersey, in 1924, Palmer explained that the majority of his early years were spent living with his sister and her husband since his father died when he was a child and his mother was in failing health. He went on to graduate from high school in 1942 and, during the heart of World War II, made the decision to take the Air Corps exam “because I wanted to be a pilot,” he affirmed.
“There really is no easy answer as to why, but the best way that I can explain it is that I just liked the idea of flying; I liked airplanes and my heart always seemed to be set on that notion,” he said.
After passing the battery of required military exams and physicals, the aspiring aviator officially entered service at the induction center at Fort Dix, New Jersey, followed by his transfer to the Air Corps Training Command in San Antonio, Texas. It was here, the veteran explained, that he underwent additional testing to determine his suitability for service as a pilot, bombardier or navigator.
“I passed all of the tests and qualified for pilot,” Palmer recalled. “That’s when I started several weeks of pre-flight training and we began to receive instruction in subjects such as math, Morse code, aircraft recognition and map reading.” He continued, “Then they sent me to an airfield in Muskogee, Okla., for several weeks of primary flight training. That’s where I learned to fly a Fairchild PT-19, which was a twin-seat plane with an open cockpit.”
Soloing on this first aircraft after eight hours of instruction, the aspiring pilot’s training progressed when he was transferred to Greenville, Texas, for basic flight training in the Vultee BT-13, learning more advanced techniques including formation flying, cross country and night flying. He progressed to twin-engine training in Houston, Texas, where he earned his wings and was commissioned a second lieutenant. For the next several months, he continued his training aboard additional types of aircraft at several airfields throughout Texas. Eventually, he received assignment to Barksdale Field near Austin, where he refined his aviation skills aboard a Douglas C-47 military transport aircraft.
“Basically, I spent most of my time in the United States training at several different locations for about six to eight weeks at a time,” Palmer said. “I then went overseas from Alliance, Nebraska, to Chalgrove Field in Oxfordshire, England in December 1944.”
As Palmer explained, he was assigned to a Pathfinder unit. This duty, he further noted, required the pilots to take off when visibility was limited, fly a mission that included dropping resupplies or paratroopers, and then returning to their home base, all of this under instrument conditions. This overseas assignment also resulted in their aircraft flying supply missions during which Palmer helped deliver hundreds of five-gallon cans of gasoline for the assorted vehicles and tanks that General Patton’s Third Army used in its relentless push across Southern Germany.
“One mission that I distinctly remember flying was with the 15th Airborne Division and named ‘Operation Varsity,’” he said. “We flew a couple of minutes past the Rhine near Wesel, Germany and dropped paratroopers to reinforce the British troops that were already there and then returned to base.” He added, “There were other groups that had to fly further on to make their drops.” Pausing, he solemnly concluded, “They were getting shot up something terrible. I thought for sure that I was going to get hit on that mission, but we all made it back.”
Following the war’s end in May 1945, Palmer flew several non-combat missions before returning to the United States in early June 1945. He completed the remainder of his service as a C-47 instructor in Battle Creek, Mich., training new pilots until receiving his discharge on December 5, 1945. The former aviator went on to attend college at the University of Newark (now Rutgers University), earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration. In the ensuing years, he pursued a sales career path, which included working for such companies as Warner Lambert, Monsanto, and Bank Building in St. Louis, 7-Up in Clayton and later as an independent training consultant.
He and his wife have resided in Jefferson City for many years, where he has remained active in the community by volunteering with the Lewis and Clark Task Force (serving seven years as the organization’s chairman), JC Parks and Recreation and Missouri Archives.
The veteran affirms that when reflecting on his service, he does not view himself as having done anything “special” during the war, instead he chooses to lavish credit on his fellow soldiers and aviators who did not make it home. However, he recognizes that the brief time he spent as a military pilot did teach him the significance of preparation.
“There were always things that we had to learn so that all of us would be ready,” Palmer noted. “During the training, I never felt like we were being rushed through; I could tell that they wanted us to be prepared for whatever we might face. That’s demonstrated when I lost an engine on a takeoff and landed safely. You had to master your aircraft and if you weren’t prepared, you had a problem. To that end,” he affirmed, “I am proud to say that I was a pilot—there’s no question about that!”
The 95-year-old Charles "Charlie" Franklin Palmer passed away on November 24, 2019.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
‘Different backgrounds’ - First generation American served with U.S. Army rocket battalion in Cold War
As a first-generation citizen of the United States, Dennis Oppenheim learned at an early age that opportunities might present themselves in the most unexpected fashion. Raised by Danish immigrants in the bustling city of Chicago, he soon discovered the valuable lessons provided to him through service in the Cold War-era armed forces.
“I started high school in Chicago in 1953 but decided to quit school in 1955 and went to work for a year,” Oppenheim recalled. “On my eighteenth birthday (March 1956), I was required to sign up for the draft but decided to enlist in the U.S. Army the following month,” he added.
As the veteran explained, the Army offered a three-year enlistment period whereas the Navy and Air Force required a new recruit to commit to a term of four years. Shortly after signing his enlistment papers in April 1956, he boarded a bus for Fort Leonard Wood to complete eight weeks of basic training. Upon graduation, he was granted twelve days of leave to return home before reporting to his next duty assignment at Fort Bliss, Texas.
“They placed me in the 550th Field Artillery (Battalion) and I started out training as a launcher crewman with the ‘Honest John’ rocket,” Oppenheim said.
The MGR-1 Honest John was a nuclear-armed surface-to-surface rocket developed in the early 1950s and later adapted to use conventional and chemical warheads. It is considered the first tactical nuclear weapon of the U.S.
Following his arrival at the Texas base, the decision was made to convert his military occupational specialty to that of atomic warhead specialist and he was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to learn the skills associated with his newly appointed duty assignment.
“It was supposed to be a four-week course that they crammed into two weeks,” he said. “In order to launch the rocket, you have to complete a sequence of steps using boxes with switches and lights. During the training, we had to demonstrate that we were able to complete the entire launch sequence in five minutes.”
The young soldier returned to Ft. Bliss for a number of months to continue refining his skills as part of a rocket crew; however, his battalion was sent to White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico, where they spent approximately nine months performing launch exercises. While in New Mexico, he was able to finish the high school studies he had deserted a few years earlier by earning his GED. Once the battalion returned to Ft. Bliss from their training at White Sands, there was little down time to be enjoyed since Oppenheim and a small group of soldiers was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for a unique training assignment.
“They sent us to Fort Bragg to make a training film for the airborne troops to demonstrate the use of the ‘Little John,’” Oppenheim said. The MGR-3 Little John, he explained, was a smaller artillery rocket system designed for deployment in airborne assault operations.
Weeks later, he returned to Ft. Bliss but the battalion was soon on their way to the country of Panama for another unexpected opportunity—the testing of a new warhead design for the Honest John.
“We spent a couple weeks in the middle of the jungle,” he recalled. “The warhead we tested would come apart near the target and shoot out a bunch of smaller balls that flew in different directions and then exploded.” He added, “We had targets set up and fired two separate test rockets while we were there to measure the amount of damage they could inflict on enemy forces.”
The exercise in Panama would become his final temporary duty assignment since he returned to Ft. Bliss and finished out the remainder of his enlistment in April 1959. Despite the offer of reenlistment and travel to Turkey to teach the rocket system to Turkish soldiers, he admitted he was homesick and ready to return to Chicago.
For more than 18 years, Oppenheim was employed by the Chicago Transit Authority and, in 1976, married his fiancée, Jan. Wishing to leave the “rate race” of Chicago life and to raise their children in a quieter environment, the couple moved to Jefferson City in the summer of 1977.
“I worked for the Department of Corrections for about 18 months and then went to work for the old Capital City Water Company, spending 22 years with them,” he said. “In 1981, I enlisted in the Missouri National Guard and became a cook until retiring from there in 1998.”
In addition to having worked part time as a cook at St. Peter Interparish School and with Jefferson City Public Schools, Oppenheim and his wife have volunteered with Operation Bugle Boy—a nonprofit organization that honors veterans, military members and first responders. When asked about the impact of his service with the U.S. Army during a Cold War period that was sandwiched between the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the first-generation American asserts that it was for him an honor to have had the opportunity to serve the nation that was first home to his parents.
“I just love this country and everything it represents,” Oppenheim said. “I loved being in the Army and all of the wonderful people that I came into contact with because of it.” In mirthful reflection, he concluded, “We all came from different backgrounds and communities but learned how to work together to get the job done. To this day, I can still remember all the names of most of the people that I served with.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
‘Full of professionals’ - U.S. Army veteran of Vietnam War achieves rank of colonel in National Guard
Beginning on a small dairy farm in Henley, moving forward with service with the U.S. Army in Vietnam and ending with a lengthy career in the Missouri National Guard, the life and experiences of Noland Farmer are like many whose stories of military service followed a twisted and unpredictable route. Born just days following the end of World War II, Farmer went on to graduate from Eugene High School in 1963, and embarked upon his employment endeavors when hired by the state.
“I did that for about a year and found out I wasn’t going to get rich,” he chuckled. “One of the guys I worked with said that he could get me a scholarship at Lincoln University if I wanted to pursue my education.”
Enrolling at the university in 1964, Farmer not only attended classes, but participated in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program while working part-time for the state at the Division of Welfare.
“With the Vietnam War going on, I figured it would be a matter of time before I was drafted and thought that if I was going to be sent, I might as well go as an officer,” he explained.
In the spring of 1968, he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in agriculture with a minor in biology and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He began his active duty commitment several months later when he was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for armored officer basic course. He spent the next four months learning all aspects of the operation and maintenance of tanks. When his training was finished in 1969, he received his first duty assignment with an armored cavalry squadron at Ft. Carson, Colorado. He was appointed the supply officer with overall responsibility for managing the fuel, ammunition, rations and clothing for the squadron.
“In November (1969), my orders came down for Vietnam,” he said. “I was flown to the base a Phu Bai and, after in-processing, I was sent to the base at Huế.” He added, “They found out that I had an education and background in agriculture and assigned me to a civil affairs unit.”
Lt. Farmer helped lead a team of soldiers responsible for teaching South Vietnamese civilians various aspects of farming including methods used to grow corn, raise chickens and gardening. Additionally, he mirthfully recalled, an unofficial element of his duties was taking care of the commanding general’s banana tree. A few months into his overseas duty, he was granted a compassionate reassignment to return home for a family emergency. For the remainder of his enlistment, he served at Ft. Leonard Wood in a section that processed soldiers apprehended for AWOLs (Absent Without Leave).
“My two-year commitment ended in November 1970, and I received my discharge from the Army,” he said. “I came back home and was working as a microbiologist for the Division of Health when I received a letter from the United States Army Reserve, stating I had four years left on my reserve obligation.”
When Farmer explained the letter to his brother-in-law, which also noted he would be assigned to a reserve unit for training, it was suggested he enlist in the Missouri National Guard as an officer with the 1035th Heavy Equipment Maintenance Company since they were short a platoon officer. In April 1971, he joined the Guard and became the platoon leader for the company’s Service, Evacuation and Supply Section, which recovered ground equipment in need of repairs in addition to providing repair parts for the company during training missions.
“I was promoted to captain and became the commander for the 1035th from 1974 to 1977,” said Farmer. “I worked full-time with the state until April 1979, when I went to work full-time for the Missouri National Guard,” he added.
In addition to serving in a part-time military capacity with the Command and Control Headquarters in Kansas City for three years, the soldier’s assignments included service as the executive officer for the 735th Maintenance Battalion in Jefferson City. His full-time military duties with the National Guard included working at the Combined Support Maintenance Shop from 1979 to 1993, when it was located on Industrial Drive prior to the Missouri National Guard headquarters move to the east end of Jefferson City near Algoa.
“Following the move, I was promoted to colonel and became the Surface Maintenance Manager responsible for the ground equipment for the Missouri National Guard with the exception of aviation assets,” he explained.
Retiring in 1996, Farmer worked ten years for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources before his final retirement in 2008. The married father of two children jokingly explained, “These days, I spend time with my wife, Mary, do a little hunting and a little fishing—but as little as possible because I’m retired!”
There are many aspects of his military career that possess enduring qualities, the most important of which have been the friendships he fostered during those years.
“I met a lot of great people in the military, especially in the 1035th!” he exclaimed. “Many of these people have remained my friends throughout the years and, in fact, one guy I’ve know for 50 years is still my insurance agent.” He added, “The 1035th was a collection of professional talents. Anything you needed to seek advice on was available in that unit—bankers, plumbers, electricians, welders, carpet salesmen … basically all trades and careers fields. That’s why I loved the guard; it was full of professionals.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Having surpassed his 100th birthday this past April 4, Fay Holt has a accrued a fascinating catalog of experiences to reflect upon, ranging from growing up on a farm near Dixie in the 1920s to serving with an African American military police company in World War II. Some of these memories are pleasant while others are defined by hardship; regardless, he moves forward with a humorous perspective on where life has carried him throughout the decades.
“I used to be 200 pounds and I’m a long way from that now,” he grinned. “You get to my age and you start drying up a little bit,” he laughed.
Holt explained that as a young boy, he received an eighth-grade education at a local Methodist church in the days of Jim Crow, when black children were not allowed to attend the local white school. He then began his career working on a local farm, clinging to aspirations of someday embarking upon his own agricultural endeavors. However, the summer of 1942 brought with it major changes when he received a letter that led to his induction into the U.S. Army. Arriving at Jefferson Barracks in July 1942, Holt was sent to Camp Whitside—a military site once located on Fort Riley, Kansas.
“We took our basic training there and were part of an all-black outfit … including our instructors,” recalled Holt. “The walls of our barracks were wooden with canvas tops and we learned self-defense and even how to shoot 12-gauge shotguns.”
While at Camp Whitside, Holt and his fellow trainees were assigned to Company A, 743rd Military Police Battalion. Throughout the next several months, the soldiers of the company continued in their specialized training while learning to guard prisoner of war camps and performing police-related functions such as traffic control. The application of their months of training arrived in early August 1943, when they boarded trains that carried them to the East Coast. From there, they boarded troop ships that soon sailed for Algeria.
“There were a lot of people that got sick on the boat going over, but not me!” he proudly exclaimed. “When we got to Algeria, it was hot, burning the devil out of us,” he grinned in reflection.
Upon their arrival in North Africa, the battalion engaged in a number of security duties, later serving at a location in Tunisia. Shortly thereafter, the battalion departed on troop ships bound for Naples, Italy, where they received a less than friendly welcome.
“Once we got off the ship, we were running for cover and toting our shotguns,” he said. “We scrambled to a nearby building because there were mortar rounds going off all around us.”
The battle that unfolded upon their arrival soon settled down and they resumed activities similar to those conducted in North Africa—guard duty, security and traffic control for secure areas. Although there were occasions when Holt believed he might have to shoot an aggressive prisoner of war, it was the local children who left an enduring impression on him.
“I really felt for the kids over there in Italy,” he solemnly explained. “A lot of them didn’t have anything to eat and several times I’d give them my food.” He softly added, “I hate to see somebody go hungry, especially a child.”
The war in Europe ended in May 1945, and the 743rd Military Police Battalion prepared to board ships bound for the war raging in the Pacific. Fortunately, the Japanese surrendered and the battalion was redirected back to the United States. After their arrival on the East Coast in late November 1945, Holt was sent to Jefferson Barracks and discharged a few days later. In the years that followed, he married, built a home in Guthrie and went on to raise six children; however, Holt explained, he was never able to pursue his desired career as a farmer.
“I tried farming at first but I could never make enough money at it to support a family,” he said.
Eventually, the veteran spent several years driving a truck and working as a police officer for the New Bloomfield Police Department. He later embarked upon a career as a guard at the former Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, retiring after 26 years of employment. His golden years have provided him time for many relaxing activities, but he most enjoys playing checkers at his retirement community in Eldon, proudly declaring that he has earned the coveted distinction of “checkers champion” because of his achievements in the game.
Though having recently achieved the rare distinction of being a centenarian, Holt claims there is not a specific practice that has led to his longevity, but affirms he enjoys drinking a can of beer every day. Additionally, he explained that many of his fellow veterans may possess unwavering memories of their own service, but he has forgotten much of his own because of activities occurring after his discharge.
“I am proud of my military service and all that we did during the war,” said Holt. “But looking back on all of it, I can’t tell you much of what happened because it wasn’t something that I sat around thinking about when it was over.” He further noted, “When I got home from the war, I had to go to work because I had a family to take care of and back then, let me tell you … that was some tough work. I didn’t have time to sit around and think about the Army,” he chuckled.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
June 6, 1944—the Allied invasion on the beaches of Normandy begins. This date, known as “D-Day,” generally conjures up images of Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) dropping their back gates and releasing a wall of gritty soldiers onto a beach bursting with shellfire and loaded with deadly hurdles … all in an effort to help free a nation held in the clutches of a German occupation that had devastated much of Western Europe. What is oftentimes missing from these electrifying battle images, however, is the visage of the U.S. Merchant Marine—a fleet of champions who surrendered an inordinate amount of blood and youth throughout the cycle of this great conflict.
“Our ship, the T.B. Robertson, arrived with the rest of the invasion force and anchored just off of Utah Beach, recalled Rhoads. “ We started to take fire from German 88mm mortars and had to move back about a quarter-mile or so.”
But the Navy, who had taken control of the vessel on which Rhoads served, did not provide the young seaman or the rest of the mariners aboard with very much information regarding the conflict they would soon be supporting.
“I really didn’t know that we were going to be part of the invasion until we got there,” the former mariner grinned,” but our ship ended up being used as the port director for Utah Beach (on D-Day).”
Reflecting on his journey from Mid-Missouri to the high seas, Rhoads credits a couple of factors for his decision to become a Merchant Marine.
“Jobs were scarce at that time and there wasn’t a lot of work to be found,” Rhoads explained. “I wanted to serve my country but I was having some medical problems with my legs at that time and I wasn’t sure if the military would take me. So I ended up in Kansas City where I signed up for the Merchant Marines.”
The Merchant Marines is a network of privately-owned vessels that are registered and operated under the American flag, serving as an integral part of our country’s commerce. They ship goods both to and from foreign ports and—in a time of war—can be mobilized into national service in order to deliver supplies to the U.S. military and its allies. Realizing the importance of transportation assets during a war, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the mass production of what was to be known as Liberty ships (the same type of vessel on which Rhoads would consequently serve) and established the U.S. Maritime Service in order to train individuals to operate these vessels.
In 1942, the U.S. Coast Guard—through Presidential Executive Order—was given the authority to train Merchant Marines. The following year, Rhoads attended training at the United States Maritime Service Training Station in Sheepshead Bay, New York.
“During my entire time in service,” he explained, “I went by the last name of ‘Rhodes’ instead of ‘Rhoads’ because the doctor spelled my last name wrong on my birth certificate.”
Following completion of his training, Rhoads was assigned to a ship as a mess man (cook) and participated in many of the convoys which were traversing the Atlantic Ocean during the war. The veteran vividly recalls his ship shuttling supplies around various English ports only to later discover that they were not actually shipping supplies; instead, naval observers were watching the ship’s movements to determine if German spies were monitoring its activities.
Although the veteran wasn’t ever engaged in direct combat, he witnessed his fair share of action and close calls during the D-Day invasion.
“One day there was a bunch of us on the deck of the ship trying to watch a dogfight between German and American aircraft that was taking place in the clouds overhead,” he said. “Some of the ships had focused the fire of their 20mm guns in an attempt to take out the German planes.” He continued: “All of a sudden several of the planes—both American and German—burst out of the clouds and flew right into the path of the shells being fired from the ships. A couple of the planes fell out of the sky towards our ship…they just barely missed us.”
Rhoads went on to serve as a merchant mariner for more than three years and eventually returned to Centertown to continue his life with his wife, Mabel, whom he had married prior to the war, in addition to his son, Richard, who had been born during his absence. He later began his career as a lineman with Capital City Telephone Company, retiring from Sprint as a field engineer in 1983 after 31 years of service.
During the late 1940’s he assisted in raising funds to establish the American Legion post in Centertown (now closed) even though he was not eligible to join since Merchant Marines were at that time still considered civilians and not veterans. This changed in 1988 when President Ronald Reagan signed legislation recognizing Merchant Marines as veterans and thereby extending eligibility for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Rhoads then became a member of his local Legion post and went on to serve as the post chaplain.
In reflection, the former mariner expressed his satisfaction with the profound sacrifice made by many of his fellow crewmen. During the war, the Merchant Marines experienced the sinking of 1,554 ships—losing 9,300 crewmembers. This equated to a casualty rate of 1 in 26, which was a higher percentage than any branch of military service.
“I had heard rumors that we were losing one out of every three ships to German submarines, but you didn’t think about things like that. You just focused on doing your job,” stated Rhoads.
The 91-year-old veteran passed away in 2014 and was laid to rest with full military honors in Centertown Cemetery.
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The son of Italian immigrants, Lawrence Peter Berra grew up in the historic Italian district of St. Louis known as “The Hill,” where he was given the nickname of “Yogi” by a friend noting his resemblance to a snake charmer seen in a movie of the era. Berra spent countless hours of his youth playing baseball in the sandlots of St. Louis, enjoying the company of neighbors such as Joe Garagiola, who himself earned a World Series ring as a St. Louis Cardinal in 1946. Berra went on to establish himself as a celebrated player after entering the New York Yankees farm system in 1942, but his career was initially delayed when he entered the Navy in World War II, and went on to participate in the famed D-Day landings.
In the 1952 book written by Joe Trimble and aptly titled “Yogi Berra,” the late baseball icon noted that he was playing baseball for the Norfolk Tars—a New York Yankees affiliate—near the U.S. Naval shipyards along the coast of Virginia, when he received orders to take his military examinations at the Army Induction Center at Richmond, Virginia. Passing his physical, Berra explained that the inductees were asked what branch of service they wanted to join, with the Yankee prospect finding the U.S. Navy the most appealing.
“But when we finished the physical and knew we passed, the officer told us that anyone who took the Army got a three week’s extension of time before being sworn in but that the Navy guys would only get one week,” noted Berra in the aforementioned biography. He added, “So I took the Army, because I wanted to go home for a while. It didn’t quite work out that way, however.”
A warrant officer who coached the Norfolk Naval Training Station team heard about Berra, and needed replacements for his players who had been shipped to overseas assignments. He was able to wield some influence and change Berra’s branch selection. Separation papers accessible through the Missouri State Archives note Berra was inducted into the U.S. Navy in Norfolk, Virginia, on September 23, 1943, a little more than four months following his eighteenth birthday.
Completing his initial training at Bainbridge, Maryland, a twist of fate ensured that Berra never played for the Norfolk team despite the wishes of the warrant officer who changed his assignment. Berra soon received orders for the Navy Amphibious Training Center at Little Creek, Virginia, arriving in January 1944.
“The Amphibious Training Base (also known as ‘Little Creek’) was the center for all types of amphibious training and the training of ship's crews …,” noted an article on the website of the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. The article went on to explain, “In a commendably few months the trained men who were to land fighting forces from Africa to Normandy were ready for sea. During World War II over 200,000 Naval personnel and 160,000 Army and Marine Corps personnel trained at Little Creek.”
In March 1944, following two weeks of additional amphibious exercises at Lido Beach, Long Island, Berra was aboard LST 508 (Landing Ship, Tank). Traveling in a convoy to Glasgow, Scotland. Following his arrival, Berra spent the next several weeks training for amphibious assaults and, prior to D-Day, was assigned as a gunner’s mate aboard the attack transport USS Bayfield. An article by the Naval History and Heritage Command explained, “… (The) Bayfield and the other transports reached their designated positions early on the morning of the 6th (June 6, 1944, D-Day) and debarked their troops. Once the troops left Bayfield, she began service as a supply and hospital ship in addition to continuing her duties as a flagship.”
As part of a group of vessels launched from the Bayfield, Berra was aboard a 36-foot rocket boat operating off Omaha Beach prior to the landing of ground troops, firing upon and neutralizing German shore batteries. Berra noted in his biography, “There wasn’t time to be scared. My job was loadin’ the gun, which was mounted on a little deck toward the back of the boat.”
Surviving a major amphibious assault that cost the lives of thousands of his fellow service members, Berra went on to serve with the Navy in Italy and, in July 1944, arrived in North Africa. He went on to participate in the Allied invasion of Southern France known as “Operation Dragoon.” While aboard a rocket boat, a couple hundred yards off the coast of Marseilles, Berra and the group of boats in his attack group began firing upon a resort hotel used to conceal a German machine gun nest. During the exchange of fire, Berra was nicked in the hand by a German bullet—a war wound he never reported. When later asked about the wound, Berra responded that he did not apply for a Purple Heart because “I didn’t’ want to scare my mother,” he recalled in his 1952 biography.
Berra spent the next several months in Bizerte, Tunisia, before returning to the U.S. in January 1945, where he was assigned to the Navy base at New London Connecticut. It was here that he was placed in “Welfare and Recreation,” and began to play baseball for the Navy. He received his military discharge on May 7, 1946.
In the years that followed, Berra entered the annals of baseball legend not only because of his abilities as a player, but also for his colorful and unique quotes such as, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” As was common with many veterans of the WWII era, the Hall of Famer did not boast of his time in the military despite the pride he maintained for having served his country.
In a June 1, 2005, interview with the Academy of Achievement, the former Yankee slugger known for his simplistic descriptions, said of his D-Day experience, “Fortunately enough, nothing happened to us. We were lucky.” Berra added, “I wasn’t scared. Going into it, it looked like the Fourth of July.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
‘I just wanted to help’ - U.S. Army veteran of World War II was part of first wave of landings on D-Day
There are a number of reasons an individual might choose to enlist in the military—a sense of duty, money for college or the pursuit of a career. Regardless, Jack Sandwith explained that his own decision to enter the military in the heat of World War II was at the behest of his two older brothers, both of whom were drafted.
“My two older brothers were preparing to leave for the service and told me to come with them on a little vacation,” Sandwith grinned. “They then instructed me to say that I wanted to be in the infantry so that we could all serve together.”
Making the decision to leave during his junior year of high school in Baxter Springs, Kansas, the aspiring soldier enlisted in the U.S. Army but soon discovered that even the best of plans may undergo unexpected changes.
“Somebody decided that all of us brothers probably shouldn’t all be serving together,” he said. “They placed one of my brothers in the Marines, one in the Air Force and they kept me in the Army,” he chuckled.
The 17-year-old arrived at Camp McCain in Grenada, Mississippi, in December 1942, where he underwent several weeks of basic training. While there, he was assigned to the 149th Combat Engineer Battalion and soon traveled to Ft. Pierce, Florida, for amphibious maneuvers.
“While we were training in Florida, they would take us out three miles or so and put us in rubber boats,” said Sandwith. “We would then try to make an assault on Ft. Pierce as part of our exercises,” he added.
The young men of the battalion then traveled to Camp Pickett, Virginia, receiving an introduction to the type of assaults they were to perform on the beaches of Normandy the following year. It was here the soldiers participated in two mock amphibious invasions aboard landing craft in Chesapeake Bay. Days after Christmas 1943, the battalion boarded troop ships at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and became part of a large convoy that zigzagged across the Atlantic Ocean for several days. Destined to join the battle raging in Europe, they arrived in Liverpool, England and continued their training by performing maneuvers along the English coast.
“We then ended up moving up to Peyton, England—south of London—where groups of us lived in homes with local residents,” said Sandwith. “That’s basically where we stayed until the invasion,” he sagely recalled.
Scores of accounts exist that chronicle the horrors of D-Day, much of which was experienced by Sandwith on that fateful morning of June 6, 1944. Arriving at Omaha Beach by landing craft with the first wave of troops, the veteran noted that the opening stages of the planned assault were less than glorious.
“It was low tide when we came in and our landing craft ran aground,” said Sandwith. “We had a company of men on board and the back gate would not come down to let us off.” Solemnly, he added, “When we jumped off the craft, we dropped into twelve feet of water and I had to cut off the stuff I was carrying to keep from drowning.”
The bodies of dead American soldiers were strewn throughout the water and along the beach, but Sandwith made it to shore through the crossfire of German machine guns. He navigated through a minefield by using a path worn in the sand and followed a trail up the cliffs of Normandy, where he and other troops began clearing out German machine gun emplacements. When he paused from the action, he noticed his boot was full of blood and later discovered he was shot through the ankle. A medic wrapped the wound and Sandwith continued in his battlefield service, later receiving his first Purple Heart for the injury.
“When we began pushing toward Germany, I would help clear minefields,” said Sandwith. “I used a flamethrower to burn the grass off the minefields and then you could see the patterns of the mines the Germans had laid out.” He added, “Once we knew where they were, we could neutralize them.”
In April 1945, following his company’s crossing of the Rhine River, Sandwith and two of his fellow soldiers sought shelter in an old building after they came under attack by German mortars. When mortars struck the building, his fellow soldiers were killed while Sandwith was blown through a window.
“I spent 7-1/2 months in the hospital and lost my left eye because of that incident,” he said. “That became my second and final Purple Heart.”
Receiving his discharge from the Army at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, in 1946, the former soldier completed a fascinating career building levees in Holland that had damaged from the war, constructing dams throughout the United States and later assisting in the construction of a water reservoir in Colorado. The widowed father of five children notes that even if “mayhem” seems most aptly to characterize his time in World War II, he realizes it was a collection of frenetic events never again to be experienced.
“I had never been in a situation like that in my life and we sure encountered some tough fighting,” he affirmed. “I was just a young kid who had a machine gun in his hands.” With a grin, he concluded, “I was only 5’ 5” when I went in and weighed about 105 pounds. Honestly, I didn’t think I could do much more than shoot a gun. I just wanted to help—that’s all.”
Jeremy P. Ämick is a military historian and author of several historical works.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.