Soon after graduating from high school in Alton, Illinois, in the spring of 1970, an 18-year-old Teddy Sigite received a letter stating that Uncle Sam had plans to bring him into the military through the draft. Instead, he and two of his friends decided to voluntarily enlist in the United States Marine Corps, thus beginning an adventure that introduced him to a new and innovative aircraft.
“I don’t really know why we decided to join the Marines instead of waiting to be drafted,” Sigite chuckled. “Who knows why you did the things that you did when you were so young.”
After finishing boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, he was sent to Camp Pendleton, California, for additional training in infantry tactics. While there, he recalls his training cycle being extended by several weeks due to an unanticipated medical development.
“We were quarantined twice because of spinal meningitis, so we ended up being there longer than normal,” he said. “I can remember that we had to go to the mess hall to eat after all of the other Marines were finished and then cleaned our own dishes (to keep from exposing others).”
In the early weeks of 1971, the young Marine received orders to report to Millington Naval Air Station in Tennessee, undergoing several months of training to qualify as an aviation machinist mate. While there, he was introduced to the fundamentals of flight and basic maintenance procedures before moving on to advanced training to learn how to work on jet engines. During this timeframe, Sigite recalled, he and other trainees were provided opportunities to work on the turbojet engines of a Douglas A-4 Skyhawk—a light attack aircraft that was initially developed for the Marines and Navy nearly two decades earlier.
From there, he transferred to his first duty assignment with a squadron at the Marine Corps Air Station at Merritt Field in Beaufort, South Carolina. Upon arrival, he soon discovered he would be working on an aircraft that had undergone its first flight only three years earlier—the AV-8A Harrier. Manufactured by Hawker Siddeley in the United Kingdom, the Harrier became the first vertical take-off combat airplane to enter operational service. The Harrier was equipped with angled jet pipes that not only allowed it to take-off and descend vertically, which negated the need for runways, but also had the ability to hover in mid-air.
“The squadron I was with had a very interesting composition,” said Sigite. “I was in the engine department, and there were other departments such as avionics, hydraulics, ordnance. Each department,” he added, “had two Air Force personnel assigned to it, because the Air Force was considering purchasing the Harrier as well.”
Since the aircraft was new and the Marine Corps was becoming familiar with its maintenance requirements, capabilities and limitations, technical representatives from Hawker Siddeley were also assigned to the base. Adding to the unique mix was the Marine, Navy and Royal Air Force pilots working together to learn to pilot the Harrier.
“While I was stationed there, we ended up with 45 planes in about two years,” he said. “They eventually started another squadron and they took 15 of our aircraft right off the bat to get it going.”
The Harriers that were purchased from overseas were crated in sections, which were flown to the United States in Air Force transport planes. The Harriers were then assembled and Sigite assisted in running tests on the engines in addition to performing any scheduled maintenance.
“They put on several air shows because the Harrier was so new and interesting,” explained Sigite. “I can also remember going out to China Lake Naval Air Station in the Mojave Desert with the squadron for about three years in a row, so that we could conduct training exercises.”
Part of the squadron’s training regimen included participating in maneuvers aboard aircraft carriers stationed along the East Coast. Additionally, he completed a four-month training cruise aboard a carrier that traveled to Greenland and Portugal, all the while working to keep the Harriers on board in operational condition.
In early 1974, Sigite’s squadron was preparing to deploy to Japan, but since he had less than six months remaining in his enlistment, he was transferred to Marine Attack Squadron VMA-231 at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, North Carolina. In September 1974, he received his discharge from the Marine Corps. The following year, he married his fiancée, Carol, and the couple has since raised a son and a daughter. Sigite was employed for 32 years as a machinist for a company in the St. Louis area that produced a bottles, insulation, shingles and associated products. In 2008, he and his wife moved to Holts Summit to be closer to her family.
“Several years ago, I saw an ad in the paper that noted the American Legion in Jefferson City was looking for some part-time help,” he said. “I have been working here for several years as a cook, but I am also a long-time member of the Legion.”
The time spent working with the Harriers was a fascinating experience for a young, mechanically-inclined Marine. Not only did the aircraft inspire a sense of awe through its demonstrated capabilities, but revealed to Sigite the dangers associated with its operation.
“There were about three pilots that were killed while I was stationed at Beaufort,” he said. “It was a dangerous aircraft and there was no flight simulator for training, so the pilots needed to know how to fly.”
He added, “But it was always so interesting to work with something that was new. The time I spent working on the Harrier opened up my ability to learn and I soaked it all up like a sponge.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Born in 1917 and later attending school in the Missouri communities of Mountain Grove and Chillicothe, a six-feet-tall, strapping young Robert L. Faurot made the decision to attend the University of Missouri-Columbia. During the late 1930s, he established himself as a star halfback in the university’s football program under the guidance of his brother, legendary college head coach Don Faurot. Robert played as part of the Big Six Conference team in the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1940. A few weeks later, with war on the horizon, he left college during his senior year to volunteer to train as an aviator. This decision would result in a shocking sacrifice that later inspired his older brother to enlist.
Faurot completed his primary flight training at Tulsa, Oklahoma, and underwent his basic aviation training at Randolph Field, Texas, in the weeks following his enlistment. He and his fellow Air Corps cadets learned to pilot their 450-horsepower training airplanes under the guidance of seasoned instructor pilots, which included an introduction to night flying. In early September 1940, he qualified to transfer to Advanced Flying School.
“Robert L. Faurot … is now a lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve Air Corps according to announcements reaching his friends in Chillicothe this week,” reported the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune on November 16, 1940. The newspaper added, “Lieut. Faurot … received his commission yesterday in graduation exercises held at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas. He has completed the course of training for the Army pilots and has taken his place in the reserves.”
The young aviator was assigned to the 39th Pursuit Squadron of the 31st Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan. While there, he was among a small group of pilots selected to travel to England and fly as observers with the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, gaining flight experience in fighter planes such as the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane.
“Returning to the U.S. and back again with the 39th Pursuit Squadron, (Faurot) flew many hours in the new P-39 Bell Airacobra during the military maneuvers held (during the summer and fall of 1941) in the southeastern U.S.,” explained the website of the 39th Fighter Squadron Association.
Briefly assigned to Baer Field at Fort Wayne, Indiana, the association’s website noted that following the attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), Faurot and the crews of the 39th Fighter Squadron received orders to report to the West Coast. From there, they transferred to Australia to prepare to enter the war. Records reveal that Faurot was soon flying the Lockheed P-38 Lightning—a single-seat American fighter with distinctive twin tails. By June 1942, he and his fellow airmen were engaged in combat with Japanese aircraft.
The Kansas City Times reported of Faurot on January 13, 1943, “For several weeks he has been in action on the New Guinea front, where he is deputy commander of his squadron. He became an ace in his first fourteen days of action there …”
“Lieutenant Robert Faurot was credited with a bizarre kill of a Zero fighter at Lae Aerodrome in New Guinea,” wrote Martin Caidin in his book Fork-Tailed Devil: The P-38. He added, “As far as we know, it turned out to be the first Zero kill made by the P-38; and my logs and diaries indicated the date was November 26, 1942.”
Sadly, the twenty-five-year-old ace pilot from Missouri was killed on March 23, 1943, during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea after engaging Japanese Zeroes. The enemy aircraft were strafing U.S. airmen parachuting from a B-17 bomber that had just been shot from the sky.
Faurot and two of his fellow P-38 pilots embraced the element of surprise when shooting down the Zeroes that attacked their comrades, but subsequently revealed their presence to a larger group of Zeroes in the area. They were quickly overwhelmed and shot down; Faurot's aircraft crashed into the Bismarck Sea off the coast of New Guinea and his remains were not recovered. Initially, the pilot was considered missing in action, but it was eventually determined he was either killed in attack or died because he was wounded and unable to escape his sinking aircraft. Captain Faurot was posthumously promoted to the rank of major in January 1944.
During a ceremony held at Harris Field in Cape Girardeau (an area used as a training site for military pilots in World War II) on February 5, 1944, Faurot’s parents were presented with his awards, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal and Purple Heart.
His loss inspired his older brother, Don Faurot, to temporarily abandon his position as head coach at MU to enlist in the U.S. Navy. Eventually, all three of Robert Faurot’s brothers would serve in the military during the war. His family’s legacy of service aside, the young aviator did not live to witness yet another honor bestowed upon him.
Faurot's close friend and fellow pilot, Maj. Horace S. Carswell Jr., was killed in action October 26, 1944, while participating in a bombing run in China aboard a B-24 bomber. Months earlier, while mourning the loss of Capt. Faurot, Carswell sought to ensure the memory of his departed friend would not be erased from history.
“Robert Ede, the son, was born while Major Carswell was stationed at Clovis Army Airfield,” reported the Forth Worth Star-Telegram on November 24, 1944. “He was named for Carswell’s closest friend, Capt. Robert Faurot … fighter pilot who was shot down in the Battle of Bismarck.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
In the early 1940s, Don Faurot was enjoying a successful career as the head football coach at the University of Missouri-Columbia. During the call that came for recruits to serve in World War II, he easily could have avoided military service because of his age and a physical impairment. But, only a few months after his younger brother, Robert, went missing (and was later declared killed in action) while serving with the U.S. Army Air Forces in the South Pacific, he resolved to serve his country in uniform.
“While he was growing up in Mountain Grove (Missouri), he lost two fingers on his right hand in a farming accident,” said his son-in-law, Dick Hazell. “The Navy was hesitant to take him, but he was persistent and somewhere down the line they relented.”
Commissioned a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve in St. Louis on June 18, 1943, Faurot soon said his goodbyes to his wife and three young daughters before reporting to the University of Iowa (Iowa City) as head coach for the “Seahawks”—the football team for the U.S. Navy pre-flight school. Faurot quickly embraced a game schedule that was as challenging as many he endured in previous coaching years at the University of Missouri. It did not take long for him to usher his Seahawks team to victory by utilizing many of the effective plays he had developed and refined, such as the “Split-T” formation.
“The man who removed the patches from Missouri’s football pants and guided the school into the best society is coming back,” reported the Minneapolis Star in their October 15, 1943 edition. “Last year the Tigers beat the Seahawks 7-0 on Bob Steuber’s long touchdown dash. That places Faurot in a unique position of seeking revenge for a setback he engineered himself.”
The skills he demonstrated when leading Missouri to conference titles in 1941 and 1942 helped Faurot lead the U.S. Navy Seahawks to a defeat of the Missouri Tigers with a score of 28-7. Losing only to Notre Dame by a single point, Faurot assisted the Seahawks in earning the ranking of second in the nation in 1943. A few weeks following his loss to Notre Dame, Faurot praised the Irish as the greatest team to play football and maintained their coach was the best in the game.
After Faurot’s successful season came to an end in Iowa, he received a transfer to Monmouth College in Illinois. The Johnson City Press (Johnson City, Tennessee) wrote on January 19, 1944 that he “will have charge of physical training at the Monmouth (Navy) Pre-Flight School.”
At the time of his appointment at Monmouth College, it remained uncertain whether Faurot would return to coach the Iowa Seahawks in the fall. However, in late summer 1944, the Navy announced Faurot’s transfer to Jacksonville, Florida, to coach the football team for the naval air station located there. Sometime during this period, Faurot received the disheartening news that his younger brother, Major Robert Faurot, was no longer considered missing in action and was now presumed dead by the War Department.
By early summer 1944, the Navy officially announced that Faurot would not be returning to Iowa Pre-flight; instead, the position was given Lt. Commander Jack Meagher—a former Notre Dame player who had played a year of professional football for the Chicago Bears and, more recently, was head coach for Auburn. Several weeks later, a Naval release stated “Faurot (will) soon take charge of the Jacksonville (Florida) naval air station team,” reported the Tampa Tribune on August 31, 1944. The naval station team, known as the “Jacksonville Fliers,” played admirably, but did not enjoy the success that their coach had delivered the previous year, ending the season with four wins and three losses.
The following year, the war came to an end and Faurot was assigned to the commissioning detail as the athletic officer aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat noted that Faurot would remain in the Navy for a short time to accrue enough points to qualify for discharge.
Dick Hazell, who later married Faurot’s oldest daughter, Jane, explained, “While on the Roosevelt, he would take the sailors out on deck of the ship to do their calisthenics.”
News of his release from the U.S. Navy was not long in coming when he returned to Columbia in late November 1945 to take back the reigns of coaching the Missouri Tigers. Shortly after his return from the service, tragedy struck when his newborn son died on December 27, 1945.
The former sailor was head football coach for MU until 1956, followed by several years as the university’s athletic director. He received induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1953 and the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1961. Perhaps his greatest moment was having Faurot Field at the university named in his honor in 1972. In 1995, Faurot passed away at the esteemed age of 93 and lies at rest alongside his wife and son in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal. Dick Hazell explained that his father-in-law, though known for his football career, was proud of the opportunity to have served his country in a time of war.
“He and all three of his brothers served during the war,” said Hazell. “And his patriotism shows by the fact that although he did not have to serve because of the loss of his fingers, he wanted to do his part … especially after the loss of his younger brother.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Stretching along Railroad Avenue in downtown Russellville is a large storefront, crowned with a section of red bricks that boldly displays the name “Schubert.” This structure, which is well over a century old, serves as a memorial of sorts to an enterprising young man who contributed greatly to the development of a church and the early growth of the surrounding community.
Michael Schubert was born near Taos in 1859. He experienced hardship in his early years when his father, John, died during the early part of the Civil War. The young private, a member of the Cole County Home Guards, had been on guard duty by a railroad bridge in Osage City when he was struck by a train on August 7, 1861.
Several years later, his mother died from smallpox, leaving young Michael and his sister, Kate, orphaned. Throughout the next several years, he buckled down and worked hard to earn an education. In the book The Heritage of Russellville in Cole County, Reba Koester explained that the formal education Schubert received “amounted to only a few years in the public school and a few months in a private German school.”
“At the age of 24, he was associated in the mercantile business at Decatur,” explained the book written for the sesquicentennial celebration of Russellville in 1988. Decatur was once a thriving community with a mill, hotel and other businesses located south of Russellville along the South Moreau Creek.
Frederick “Fritz” Steffens, a German immigrant and businessman in Decatur, took the young Schubert under his wing and taught him how to operate a successful business. Schubert also garnered from Fritz an interest in the funeral profession. After spending four years in Decatur, he moved to Barnett and purchased a stock of goods so that he could operate his own store.
Schubert fell in love and, in 1889, married the former Mary Schneider from his hometown of Taos. Sadly, Mary was only twenty-seven years old when she died in 1893, and was laid to rest in Big Rock Cemetery in Barnett. Still reeling from the loss of his beloved, Schubert chose to build his business in the nearby community of Russellville, which was experiencing a period of unprecedented growth because of the railroad.
The next several years were a whirlwind of activity for the entrepreneur. In 1895, he became one of the organizers of the Russellville Exchange Bank, the first financial institution of the community. For two years, he worked as a cashier at the bank but then chose to focus on other possibilities. Schubert was also present during the formation of Trinity Lutheran Church in Russellville in the fall of 1995. A booklet printed in 1995, celebrating the church’s one-hundredth anniversary noted, “John Buchta and Michael Schubert were elected as first deacons.” Additionally, Schubert was listed among the first contributors for the new church.
One of his earliest business endeavors was establishing the Schubert Funeral Service in 1896. Gus Steffens, the son of the Decatur businessman who had taken Schubert under his wing, opened his own funeral home in Russellville several years later.
Between his spiritual and business engagements, Schubert again found love and married the former Emma Kautsch on May 10, 1897. She was of great support when he began to actively expand his businesses.
In 1897, he realized his mercantile building was no longer large enough to accommodate his booming business and added to the brick-faced structure to provide additional space for inventory. For several years, he was a business associate of Frank Weiler, and operated under the name Schubert and Weiler Mercantile Company.
“On June 22, 1911, Frank Weiler sold his one-fourth interest in the firm…,” explained Russellville’s sesquicentennial book. “The Schubert Mercantile was lighted by electricity the second week of October 1915. The store now had the appearance of a metropolitan store, having all the modern conveniences such as electric lights, toilets, heat, water, etc.”
The father of several children, Schubert’s second son, Hugo, entered the mercantile business with his father in 1923. Hugo also continued his father’s funeral business, and completed embalming school in 1924 to assume management of Schubert Funeral Home. Both the Steffens and Schubert funeral businesses were later purchased by James Scrivner and Jewell Stevinson, of Stover.
Michael Schubert, a great visionary of the Russellville community, lived to see Trinity Lutheran Church expand from its small lot on Marion Street to its new brick church, parsonage and small white schoolhouse located on the southside of State Highway C. Following his death on February 17, 1937, the body of the seventy-seven-year-old businessman was laid to rest in the cemetery of Trinity Lutheran Church outside Russellville, which he had helped establish years earlier. Shortly after his death, his widow donated the property upon which the Trinity Lutheran Parish Hall was erected.
Schubert’s son, Hugo, continued to operate the mercantile business until selling it just days before his death in 1959. The business was later purchased by Arthur Jungmeyer, whose son, Don, utilized the building to operate a grocery store that served the community for many years.
Michael Schubert's contributions to the growth of Russellville cannot easily be described or measured, but a portion of his legacy still remains in his former business building downtown, Trinity Lutheran Church and his home on the southeast corner of Smith and Minnie Streets.
It is the legacy of a young man raised in dire circumstances, who sought to immerse himself in the education provided through perseverance and hard work, thus building a loving family and church, while rising to the zenith of success in the community he chose as home.
Jeremy P. Ämick is writing a series of articles highlighting the history of the Russellville area in honor of Missouri’s bicentennial.
When Denny Banister graduated from college in Warrensburg in 1966, the young man’s life could have taken many interesting directions. Only recently married to his fiancée, Madelyn, with whom he had grown up in St. Louis, the young man chose to pursue a long-held interest in the military by enlisting in the U.S. Navy.
“I was sent to San Diego in May 1967, for boot camp,” recalled Banister. “While I was there, I was selected to serve as a journalist because of the broadcasting and radio experience I had acquired during an after college,” he added.
After completing his basic training, he received orders to report for Rota, Spain, arriving in country in late summer 1967. Several months later, his wife joined him at their new overseas home.
“They assigned me as the station manager for the radio station on the base,” he explained. “The naval base was very interesting and the radio station was located down by the pier.” He further noted, “We were part of the Armed Force Radio and Television Service and carried their transcribed programming.”
Additionally, Banister went on to explain, he spent much of his time as a disc jockey and developing local programming.
“One memorable moment was when I interviewed an admiral with the Spanish navy and the interview was conducted through an interpreter. On another occasion, I interviewed for the base newspaper a prince in the line of Spanish royalty.”
On other occasions, the sailor was called upon to host and introduce various entertainment acts who were visiting the military base during USO shows. During what became a three-year assignment in Spain, Banister’s wife gave birth to their son on Christmas Day of 1968.
“My family and I were able to get some time off and travel to Austria, Switzerland and Germany—we really got to see a nice chunk of Europe,” he said. “But then I received orders for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the summer of 1970, so my wife and son went back to St. Louis while I finished the next two years of my assignment.”
While in Cuba, he was once again assigned to the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, working as the radio station manager and as a member of the television evening news team.
“I remember when I arrived at Cuba and they were ferrying me to the station, I thought to myself, ‘Here I am, serving during the Vietnam War and spending my time as a journalist, while many of my friends are in the Vietnam War.’ It was a surreal moment,” he added.
The United States soon began to draw down forces as the end of the Vietnam War approached and, in September 1972, Banister received his discharge from the Navy. When returning to St. Louis to reunite with his family, his parents were in the process of retiring to the Lake of the Ozarks. During a trip to visit them, a voice he heard over his car radio soon shifted the direction of his post-military career.
“We were going to see my parents when a guy I used to broadcast with during college came on the radio station in Fulton,” he said. “So I stopped by the station to see him and the general manager there was another guy I had worked with in commercial radio.”
Banister would spent the next six months working at the station in Fulton, followed by five years with KLIK in Jefferson City. Missouri Farm Bureau then hired him in 1976, where he would go on to retire as assistant director of public affairs after thirty-five years of employment.
“I had been out of the Navy for eleven years and working for Farm Bureau when I realized that I really missed the service,” explained Banister. “Initially, my decision to leave the Navy was because I was tired of being away from my family but when I was working in radio, there were no holidays and you were always moving to other stations if you wanted opportunities for advancement.”
Enlisting in the Navy Reserve in St. Louis in 1983, Banister remained in the service until retiring on this sixtieth birthday in August 2004, having completed a combined 28 years of military service.
“The Navy Reserve offered me several fascinating opportunities like working temporary orders at different naval broadcasting facilities and covering events like Fleet Week and air shows with the Blue Angels—the Navy’s flight demonstration team.” He added, “I also got to go on sea duty frequently.”
His experiences, the veteran sagely explained, have made it difficult for him to share with others his own story of military service.
“As a journalist it was part of my job to tell the stories of others,” he said. “If you focus on yourself, then you’re missing the story.” He added, “But while I was in the Navy, I never stopped learning. I had the privilege of working with individuals from many professional backgrounds and I learned from them, taking those new skills back to my full-time employer. It all tied together quite well.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
A twenty-three-year-old Amil Vernon Wittenberger was living in Jamestown and working for the Missouri Highway Department when he received some sage advice from a supervisor who believed the U.S. would soon be drawn into World War II—voluntarily enlist and have some choice in the direction of your military career. Heeding the suggestion, Wittenberger was inducted into the U.S. Army Air Corps at Jefferson Barracks on December 27, 1940.
“From Jefferson Barracks, he was sent to Chicago for aircraft maintenance training at a site known as Aeronautical University,” said the veteran’s son, Denny Wittenberger, who has painstakingly researched and detailed his father’s military service.
When his initial training as a mechanic was completed, the young airman was transferred to Selfridge Field, Michigan, where he was introduced to maintenance requirements for the P-40 Warhawk, a single-engine fighter manufactured by Curtiss-Wright. As the late veteran’s son explained, his time at the Michigan airfield introduced him to a group of iconic aviators who performed some of the most legendary aviation missions of the war.
“While he was there, they were assembling the P-40s for the Flying Tigers, who distinguished themselves defending China while fighting the Japanese,” said Denny Wittenberger. “My father told me years later that he volunteered to join them, but they declined his offer because at that time, he had not yet received the required training and experience.”
This only delayed his inevitable deployment overseas, and the mechanic was soon sent to the next destination in his military aircraft maintenance instruction—Dale Mabry Field near Tallahassee, Florida. It was here that he transitioned to working on another fighter aircraft, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Several weeks later, he reported to Eglin Air Force Base (Florida), where he refined his skills by continuing to perform maintenance on the P-47s.
“He and my mother, whom he had known before the war, were married during this timeframe and while my father was performing his military duties on the base, my mother taught school on the campus of the University of Florida,” said Denny Wittenberger. “Dad wasn’t there much longer because he was transferred to Lakeland, Florida, to learn maintenance on the new P-51 Mustangs,” he added.
In his book Allison-Engined P-51 Mustang, Martyn Chorlton wrote of the aircraft, “It was popular with all who flew it and no less popular with those who kept it flying.” The author further noted, “The increased range was a godsend and the increased speed a bonus …”
Assigned to the 458th Squadron of the 506th Fighter Group, the training Wittenberger received thus far culminated in combat application when the squadron received notice they were deploying to Iwo Jima in early 1945. U.S forces had captured the islands at a great cost in lives, and the U.S. Navy Seabees Construction Battalions were rebuilding Japanese runways to accommodate the squadron’s aircraft.
“Their aircraft began providing fighter escorts for the B-29s during long-range bombing missions against Japanese targets,” explained Denny Wittenberger. “These missions were often eight hours round-trip and sometimes included strafing missions if a target of opportunity was identified,” he added.
Achieving the rank of master sergeant, Wittenberger became the line sergeant for the squadron, having the responsibility for the overall maintenance for the planes of the squadron along with the eighty-four personnel and twenty-seven planes under his supervision and care. For the next several months, until the Japanese surrender, Wittenberger and his crew worked long hours to ensure their planes were ready for the next day’s missions. In a citation Wittenberger received from the commander of the 458th Fighter Squadron in September 1945, it was noted he “established a brilliant record of leadership” in addition to “… laboring many arduous hours at night with poor lighting facilities, (and overcoming) all obstacles confronted him.”
The veteran would be awarded two Bronze Star medals “for meritorious service in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States …”
His son explained, “After serving four years and ten months on active duty, my father received his discharge on November 9, 1945. He returned to Jamestown and began life as a farmer while also operating the Jamestown Mercantile for a number of years.”
The veteran and his wife went on to raise one son. In later years, Wittenberger became a union electrician for Meyer Electric, retiring after working at the Callaway Nuclear Plant. Prior to his passing in 1993, his son explained, the veteran attended some of the reunions held for his squadron.
“There was a saying by one of the airman that the 506th was one of the last fighter squadrons to fight since they got there in early 1945, and the first ones forgotten,” said his son. “And when I attended the reunions with my father, it seemed like the pilots got all of the attention and the maintenance people were overlooked.” He added, “When those planes returned from a mission back in the war, those maintenance crews worked all night to make sure they were ready to go on the next mission. There were an incredible number of man-hours invested in that effort and I just want to make sure the dedication of my father and the maintenance crews is never forgotten.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Leaving high school as an inexperienced and restless seventeen-year-old, Uel Smith—like most his age—was simply searching for a break from the monotony of his rural Missouri surroundings. What he quickly discovered, however, was an adventure below the ocean’s surface that placed him in an uncomfortable proximity to a Cold War era foe.
“My friends were talking about joining the Navy,” recalled Smith. “I was only seventeen at the time and it didn’t make a difference where they were going—I was going to follow.”
He traveled to St. Louis to enlist in June 1956, and was soon on his way to boot camp at the United States Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland. (The training site burst into existence during World War II and closed in the early weeks of 1976.) While in training, leadership asked if anyone was interested in becoming a submariner. Responding with an emphatic “Yes!”, Smith was sent to complete the submarine physical.
Following his graduation from boot camp, he was given orders and $14 in travel money to attend submariner school at New London, Connecticut. During the eight weeks of training that ensued, Smith received instruction in escape procedures and the basic operating environment a sailor would encounter on board a submarine.
“We didn’t have any books in sub school,” Smith noted. “We’d walk into class in the morning and the instructors would write on the blackboard what they wanted us to learn that day.”
Upon completion of his training, he received orders to report for service on the USS Cubera—a diesel-powered submarine built during the Second World War. Smith boarded the vessel at Norfolk, Virginia, on a Sunday evening. The freneticism of his travels resulted in the young sailor not having eaten in over a day, but he recalls the generosity of his fellow sailors upon his arrival.
“I walked down the hatch and many of the crew were watching a movie and eating chicken out of a big pan,” Smith said. “Someone asked me if I wanted some … I was starving. That was some of the best chicken I’ve ever eaten,” he quipped.
An element of a naval group whose primary mission was to search for Russian submarines, the USS Cubera coordinated with carriers and destroyers on the ocean’s surface to monitor enemy submarine activity. As part of his duties and responsibilities, Smith’s battle station assignment was that of a torpedo loader.
“The conn (command) would contact me with firing information and I would input the information into the TDP (torpedo data computer),” Smith said.
Fortunately, the young submariner maintained, he never had to fire a torpedo in circumstances outside of a training environment. After a year on Cubera, Smith was told that he would have to qualify in another duty position and he made the decision to become a cook.
“I didn’t have to go to school to become a cook…all of my training was done through on-the-job training,” he noted.
Not long thereafter, Smith was on a weekend pass in Norfolk, Virginia, when, through a “stroke of luck,” he met a yeoman serving aboard another submarine who indicated they were looking for a seaman. In November 1958, Smith was approved for transfer orders to serve on the USS Growler—a cruise missile submarine.
“Our purpose was quite different,” Smith recalled. “As a missile submarine, the Russians would be searching for us instead of us looking for them.”
Throughout his year-and-a-half on the Growler, Smith participated in many exciting missions, but the most memorable was the vessel’s journey to the Russian coast.
“We were part of patrols off the coast of Siberia and stayed about 50-feet below the surface of the ocean,” Smith said. “There were intelligence guys on board and we never really knew what they were there for.”
According to Smith, the submarine would often ascend just enough to allow photographs to be taken of the Siberian coast through the submarine’s periscope.
“I don’t know what would have happened to us if we’d have been caught,” he stated. “I really didn’t want to find out.”
With their mission completed, the Growler returned to port in Hawaii. Smith was discharged in June 1960 and returned home to Jefferson City where he began working for Cowley Distributing the following month. He remained with the company for 44 years and retired in 2004.
With thoughts focused on time he spent below the water’s surface during the Cold War and the potential dangers he survived, Smith has never been hesitant to recommend military service to all young men and women.
“I hold my head a little higher now because I know that I did my duty,” Smith said. “People should realize that the only reason we have the freedoms we do is that there are those who are willing to stand up and volunteer their service.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The men of the United States who took to the skies to fight in World War I demonstrated a profound courage to not only crawl into the cockpit of a flimsy airplane and risk being shot down or killed, but volunteering to do so with little more than a decade of science and technology to support their fledgling aviation efforts.
Despite the lack of an appreciable military aviation program in the United States during the early period of World War I, many embraced the opportunity to fly for the French and British in the war, including a young man from Missouri who earned the coveted distinction of “flying ace.”
Henry Robinson Clay Jr. was born November 27, 1895 in the community of Plattsburg, Missouri, a small town north of Kansas City. He went on to graduate from high school in 1913 and later attended the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he participated in Army ROTC and was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity.
“In June 1916 he received an A.B. degree … followed with a year of law at Texas State University,” reported the Plattsburg Leader (Plattsburg, Missouri) in their September 24, 1920 edition. The paper added, “Two months after our country’s declaration of war, he enlisted in the ground school of aviation at Austin.”
According to the July 27, 1919 edition of the Austin American-Statesman, the School of Military Aeronautics of the University of Texas, in which Clay chose to enroll, “was the first effort made by university authorities to aid the Government in the training of aviators.” In addition to training pilots, the newspaper stated that “(e)arly in 1919 over 1,200 cadets were in training at the school and it represented the largest air service training school in ground instruction in the United States.”
The nation’s entry into the air war in Europe was a rather harsh experience, explained David A. Anderton in his book “The History of the U.S. Air Force.” He wrote, “No American-trained airmen fought in the skies of France until more than one year after the entry of the United States into the war.” Anderton also wrote about the perilous conditions Clay and his fellow American airmen were soon to encounter.
“The airmen flew castoffs from the French and British air arms, outmoded airplanes whose performance ranged from indifferent to dangerous. Spare parts were lacking; they were improvised …”
Clay completed his aviation training in July 1917 and was sent to New York to board a troop ship bound for England. Following his arrival overseas, he trained for several months to prepare for the combat conditions he would encounter in the skies over France. Sadly, much of the training provided in the U.S. lacked a focus in critical facets of combat including aerial gunnery.
“He was put over the German lines April 6, 1918, ranking as 2nd Lieutenant and then Captain; July 1st, 1918 he was made Flight Commander of the 148th Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps …” reported his hometown newspaper, the Plattsburg Leader, on September 24, 1920.
The young aviator flew missions aboard a Sopwith Camel, which was “among the most produced, versatile and ubiquitous combat aeroplanes of its time, serving over land and sea from England to Mesopotamia, as well as post-war revolution-convulsed Russia,” noted Jon Guttman in his book aplty titled “Sopwith Camel.”
The iconic WWI fighter was a single-seat biplane powered by a rotary engine with two forward-firing Vickers machine guns for its armament. It had the potential maximum speed of 115 miles per hour with a range of 301 miles.
Lt. Clay distinguished himself on a number of occasions, surpassing the five aerial victories needed to earn the accolade of fighter ace. His prowess as an aviator not only allowed him to survive in a deadly battle front, but earned him a coveted British medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, for extraordinary heroism in aerial combat.
“Gorrell’s History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917-1919,” explained that on August 16, 1918, “while (Lt. Clay was) leading his patrol, they were attacked by six Fokker Biplanes near Noyon. Clay shot down one in flames and with his (group) drove the others East.” The book went on to describe Clay’s aerial victories on August 27 and September 4, 1918, noting that he was responsible for the destruction of five enemy aircraft and proudly citing he “exhibited on all occasions admirable qualities of leadership and has moulded his flight into a most effective fighting unit.”
Although the specific number of aerial victories Clay celebrated vary between historical books and newspaper accounts, The Aerodrome, a website dedicated to the the history of WWI flying aces and the historic aircraft they piloted, credits eight aerial victories to the Missouri-born pilot.
When the war came to an end with the signing of the armistice, the aviator remained overseas on the staff of Col. Harold Fowler, chief of the Air Service for the occupational forces. He later spent time in Chaumont, France, to assist in writing a manual for aviation tactics; however, on February 1st, 1919, he reported for his new duty assignment in Coblenz, Germany. The aviation hero soon fell ill and was instructed to report to the local hospital. He unexpectedly died from pneumonia in Coblenz on February 9, 1919, having reached only 23 years of age. Though initially interred overseas, his remains were returned to the United States the following year.
"Beautiful and fitting was the tribute paid by Plattsburg and Clinton County on Monday, September 20th, 1920 to our hero, Capt. Henry Robinson Clay Jr….” reported the September 24, 1920 edition of the Plattsburg Leader.
In mournful tribute to their fallen hero, the paper added, “The remains were brought to his old home for burial and a throng of people, estimated at from two to three thousand, came to honor our illustrious American Ace, who fought valiantly through the war … only to succumb to pneumonia (and) thus ending a brilliant and brief career.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
Wyman S. Basinger has a reputation that endures following his years of service as sheriff of Cole County, earning him the distinction as a firm, but fair, law enforcement official. His engagement with a number of organizations in the community hardened his noble reputation; however, few realize that his spirit of public service was developed and forged during his service with the Marine Corps, which earned him a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts during World War II.
Born in Cedar City on August 10, 1922, Basinger went on to graduate from. Jefferson City Senior High. According to his registration card, the 19-year-old was employed by Montgomery Ward in Jefferson City when he registered for the military draft on June 30, 1942. Rather than wait on a determination of his local draft board, Basinger “enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps (on September 1) 1942, serving 31 months with the First Marine Division in the South Pacific,” reported the Jefferson Post-Tribune on January 3, 1968. “He participated in four major campaigns, including New Britain and New Guinea,” the newspaper further explained.
In late December 1943, the 23-year-old Marine was embroiled in the thick of combat when “the 1st Marine Division landed on the western tip of New Britain to seize an important airfield at Cape Gloucester,” wrote Trever Dupuy in “Asiatic Land Battles: Japanese Ambitions in the Pacific.”
According to a history of the 1st Marine Division listed on the website of the U.S. Marine Corps, the division was “the first ashore at the Battle of Cape Gloucester on 26 December 1943; and continued fighting on the island, at such places as Suicide Creek and Ajar Ridge, until February 1944.” Although the next battle of the war for 1st Marine Division, the Battle of Peleliu, is considered the bloodiest and most costly of the war in terms of lives with the division losing 1,749 Marines in 10 days of fighting, Basinger was fortunate to survive without any injuries. Sadly, the providence that had protected the Marine evaporated during the division’s next major battle—the Battle of Okinawa.
On April 1, 1945, “more than 60,000 soldiers and US Marines of the US Tenth Army stormed ashore at Okinawa, in the final island battle before an anticipated invasion of mainland Japan,” notes an article by the National World War II Museum. “After a largely unopposed initial advance, US forces soon encountered a network of Japanese inland defenses.” During the intense fighting that unfolded in the next two and a half months, Basinger was wounded when struck by shell fragments on one of his hands. On June 18,1945, he incurred a more serious wound when peppered by shell fragments across his back. He survived and recovered from his injuries; however, approximately 12,000 of his fellow Americans were killed during the struggle to take Okinawa.
While on furlough from the Marines Corps, Basinger married the former Frances Virginia Hunter on August 21, 1945, during a ceremony in Kansas City, Kansas. The Marine sergeant received his discharge on November 9, 1945, and shortly after his return to Jefferson City, embarked upon a career as a printer with the Commercial Printing Company. He began to acquire law enforcement experience as early as 1949, when he became a member of the American Legion Police—an organization comprised of volunteers who assisted the local police force in times of emergency or when additional officers were needed.
The Daily Capital News reported in their January 4, 1968 edition that the World War II veteran had been “recalled to active duty in the Korean War…” He was stationed in California, where he “served as a weapons and demolition instructor” for Marines preparing for combat overseas until receiving his second and final discharge on March 11, 1952.
Shortly after his return to Jefferson City, he embarked upon a life of volunteerism when elected president of the Jefferson City Jays Booster Club, coached the American Legion junior baseball team and was a deputy sheriff for a number of years. Additionally, he was an active in several local veterans' organizations including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and the Marine Corps League.
Basinger left his career as a printer in 1968 when he was elected Cole County sheriff. While serving his fifth consecutive term as sheriff in 1986, he died from a massive blood clot after he was involved in a vehicle accident when responding to an emergency call near Brazito.
A section of State Highway 179 was designated the Wyman S. Basinger Memorial Highway in 2006 through Senate Bill 990, which was sponsored by the late Senator Carl Vogel of Jefferson City. Additionally, the VFW Post in St. Martins, Basinger-Sone Post 1003, is co-named in honor of the late Marine,
“Wyman and Frances never had any children of their own and I think that allowed them to do so much for so many kids in the area,” said Becky Hunter Ambrose, Basinger’s niece. “He often dressed up as Santa Claus around Christmas and visited homes where a child might be having a problem or there was a single parent living there.”
She continued, “He was so respected that I can remember at his funeral visitation, there were lots of men who came through the line and said things to my Aunt Frances like, ‘Wyman arrested me a bunch of times but kept me from getting into real trouble.’ When the hearse and procession left the church and drove past the old jail, a jailer and two trustees stood on the steps of the jail and saluted.” Softly, she added, “Not many sheriffs would be treated that way.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Born in 1928, Andrew Boehmer of Rich Fountain was little more than a year old when his mother unexpectedly passed away, leaving their father with six children to raise. Difficult years would follow as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 brought about a lean time known as the Great Depression and farmers in Osage County joined scores of their counterparts nationwide struggling to extract a living from their land.
The youngest of six children, Boehmer grew up to witness his three older brothers depart for military service because of World War II—one of whom, Stephen, died in 1944 after drowning off the coast of Italy while serving with the U.S. Army.
“As I understand it, my father was basically raised on the farm by his older sister, Catherine,” said Gene, the oldest of Boehmer’s children.
His son further explained that little information exists regarding his father’s early years and his subsequent military service because of a fire decades ago that destroyed many of the family records and mementos. Like his siblings, Boehmer attended Freeburg High School. The young farmhand also followed in the footsteps of his older brothers when he traveled to the courthouse in Linn, Missouri, on March 15, 1946—his eighteenth birthday—to register with his local draft board as required by the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940.
He returned briefly to his work in “self employed farming,” as noted on his draft registration card, while his older brother Sylvester remained in the Navy until April 1946 followed by his brother Louis, who did not receive his discharge from the Army until October 1946. The call to service that had come for his three older brothers arrived for the youngest Boehmer on July 5, 1946, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army at Scott Field, Illinois—a U.S. Army Air Corps training site that became Scott Air Force Base on January 13, 1948.
“By the onset of World War II, Scott Field was well on its way to earning the title of Communications University of the Army Air Forces and adopted the slogan, ‘The best damn radio operators in the world,’” according to a fact sheet available on the official website of Scott Air Force Base.
An article appearing in the September 19, 2018 edition of the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), reported that by the close of World War II, “Scott Field Radio School had produced an astonishing 77,370 radio operators/mechanics for the war effort, including Allied nations, such as France, China, the Netherlands, and several Latin American nations.”
For several weeks, Boehmer remained at Scott Field to complete communications training and went on to earn the designation as a “Message Center Clerk.” In early October 1946, after only three months in the U.S. Army, he was sent to the West Coast to board a troop ship bound for service overseas. Arriving in Japan on November 4, 1946, he was assigned to the 25th Signal Company under the 25th Infantry Division. Following the example of his older brother Louis, who had served as a military policeman in Japan months earlier, Boehmer became a soldier in the Army of Occupation.
The 25th Infantry Division had participated in a number of bloody battles of World War II including campaigns in the Central Pacific, Northern Solomons, Guadalcanal and the Philippine island of Luzon. The division was sent to Japan in October 1945, a year prior to Boehmer’s arrival. At the time of Boehmer’s arrival, the 25th Signal Company was located in the Japanese city of Osaka—an area that “had suffered several bombing damages, but a number of large, modern buildings remained,” which were secured for use by the occupational forces, noted the book The 25th Division and World War 2.
Throughout the next several months, Boehmer and the soldiers of the 25th Signal Company provided communication support to the military organizations under the command of the 25th Infantry Division scattered across Japan. In early October 1947, after spending a year overseas, a 19-year-old Boehmer received orders to return to the United States. Receiving his discharge as a technician fifth grade (tech corporal) at Fort Lawton, Washington, on October 29, 1947, he returned to Rich Fountain, married and became father to six children.
“He lived in Freeburg for awhile and had a shop where he did mechanic and body work,” said Boehmer’s oldest son, Gene. “We later moved to Jefferson City and he worked a number of years for McKay Buick.”
As Gene recalled, his father was later employed as part of a crew that traveled throughout the United States painting bridges but in the early 1960s, he moved to the state of California to perform bodywork at a Buick dealership. He eventually settled in Iowa, where he passed on August 31, 1977, when only 49 years old. His body was returned to Missouri and interred in the Sacred Heart Cemetery in Rich Fountain.
In the years since his passing, his son has come to realize that the fire that consumed many important records was a contributing factor to little information remaining of his father’s military experience.
“I don’t know anything about what he did while he was in the service and my siblings don’t know either,” Gene Boehmer said. “He never talked about his Army service while we were growing up, and because of the fire and his death at such a young age, he was never able to give us any insight about what he experienced. It’s a relief to know that we can learn a little bit about him through other sources,” he added.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.