Category Archives: Veterans Day

Burying our Own

=5

by COL Zolton Krompecher                 9 November 2020

 “…Such, such is death; no triumph; no defeat; / Only an empty pail, a slate rubbed clean,/ A merciful putting away of what has been.”  –Charles Sorley, Killed in Action, World War I

 

Visit any military cemetery and you’ll find rows of headstones, perfectly aligned, like a military formation.  In these sanctums all are equal.  During a trip to Arlington, I visited Section 60 and pointed out to my children the different religions of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan…all died wearing our Nation’s uniform.  But what of those left unclaimed?

I never served with Corporal Samuel Barnes, nor did I stand in formation next to Private First Class Nathaniel Thompson or share rations with SGT Randall B. Shorter.   I served with none of these veterans but attended their funerals with others who did not know them either.

Recently, motorcycle riders—led by local law enforcement and a hearse—weaved their way through traffic to deliver the remains of unclaimed veterans to their final resting place.  While we might not have served with them, we knew who they were. 

Shared stories

At some point, veterans leave the familiar for the unknown where drill sergeants loudly introduce themselves before reducing recruits to their most base.   Later, they form friendships while sharing stories of girl/boyfriends and dreams of the “good life” following discharge.  Ironically, life is sometimes easier following orders.

With DD-214s clenched in hands many service members journey into the civilian world to jobs, schools and arms of loved ones: for others adjustment proves difficult. Military life often requires shifting into high gear for stretches of time and some find it difficult to downshift, becoming stuck with destinations lost in the fog of addiction and loneliness. In the end, they are alone…until now.

Army veteran Carl Horn sent an “all hands” message asking for attendance at the burial of unclaimed veterans: “What a tribute that would be for four of our own who have no one else to lay them down in peace, God’s love, and thanks for a job well done.”  The message reminded me of a note sent years ago from Ms. Blanca Trevino of San Antonio exhorting folks to attend the funeral of Ms. Molly Jane Hoff who served as an Army nurse in the Korean War.   Whether it was hope for absolution or sense of duty, I began attending these funerals. 

The Last Formation

At the cemetery bikers exchanged handshakes with suits, Knights of Columbus sat with Blue Star mothers and active duty stood at attention with private citizens; all came to honor the dead who deserved a sense of noblesse oblige.  Service members Kevin Sweeney (USMC), Cherice Carter (Navy), Brandon Cuffee (Army) and Lieutenant Trimeka Thomas (Navy) saluted the remains, and Ms. Jean Ray Williams sang “Mansions of the Lord” before rifles cracked and the final notes of Taps whispered to the dead they could sleep easy in the company of friends, their missions complete. 

Not long ago these veterans were seen but unnoticed.  Today we claim them.  We honor them.  They are our sisters and brothers, and we bid them goodbye.  Perhaps a child or parent reading this can take comfort knowing their loved one was remembered.

Since none had a fitting obituary, I place the names of some of the unclaimed here: SGT Randall Shorter, Army, age 62;  CPL Samuel Barnes, Army, age 87 (Korea 1953-55);  SPC James Hutchens Jr., Army, age 56 (1980-83); Seaman Eugene Williams, Navy, age 80;  LCpl Lawrence Zimbelman U.S.M.C. (1960-66); Petty Officer William Barron, Navy (1979-1991); Private First Class Nathaniel Thompson, Army (1974-1977).

Zoltan “Z” Krompecher presently serves in South Carolina where he lives with his family.  These views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Army.  

A Good Simple Life

=270

Dateline November 16th, 2016

by Silent Warrior 6

Gone are the days in our country when a former Solider could raise a Family of five on an 80 acre grain and livestock farm, but that’s exactly what Robert (Bob) C. Sullivan did after his service in WWII. Bob was a Soldier, a farmer, a husband, a father, a bus driver for the community school , and my grandfather.

Bob was a common, hardworking, humble man. He never met a stranger and always had a smile on his face. Never in a rush – he always took the time to visit with his neighbors, friends and Family. I’m proud to say that Bob was a member of this Nation’s Greatest Generation, and he provided for his Family in the “Middle” or “Forgotten” rural farming community in the Midwest.

In 1943 Bob left the hills and hollers of Greene County, Indiana answering the Nation’s call to defend the freedom our country enjoys today. He served with honor and courage as an 81mm Mortarman and Infantryman in Company H, 260th Infantry Regiment, 65th Infantry Division. The 65th was heavily involved in combat operations as Allied forces made the final push in Germany toward the end of the war. Bob’s unit spearheaded the attack into Central Europe and Rhineland – successfully defeating German forces. He earned the Combat Infantryman Badge and a Bronze Star for his service before being injured in a Jeep accident on the Autobahn, returning back home in 1946.

Like many Soldiers returning from war, Bob hoped to someday start a Family and live the American dream. Two years later he married and their love endured for 56 years. Their children and grandkids serve as their legacy today.

Bob was an extremely proud father. He placed his Family 1st and always helped out if called upon. He loved his Family, the farm and he loved to driver his school bus. He was a successful farmer and drove the school bus for 45 years. Over 2,000 kids rode Bob’s bus. If you ever had the privilege of riding his bus – I guarantee you received good lessons in discipline and respect. You would be held accountable for your actions but he would earn your respect.

Service in the Army and to our Nation is something unique I shared with my Grandpa Bob. Like many veterans, Grandpa Bob didn’t talk much about the combat he saw, only that he saw “enough (combat)” and further added “I don’t say too much about it, what happened and all that stuff. Some fellows won’t say anything.” Grandpa did share that his outfit joined the front at the Siegfried Line, then crossed the Rhine River into Germany, securing towns while searching house to house. He saw mountains and forest as we went up and down searching. A Jeep accident resulted in Bob being sent back to a hospital in Metz, France and eventually back to Southern Indiana where he lived the American dream- a good simple life.

 

A Soldier’s Lesson

=333

Dateline November 11th, 2016

by Colonel Zolton Krompecher
Behind newspaper headlines proclaiming the divisiveness of America are obituaries that may surprise readers when they learn of celebrities, artists and athletes who once served in uniform. Lee Marvin, Gene Wilder, Rod Serling, Leonard Nimoy, Bea Arthur, J.D. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway, Joe Lewis, Harriet Tubman, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams wore the uniform. Among living veterans are Ice-T, James Earl Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Morgan Freeman, Drew Carey, Dennis Franz, and Charles Osgood. The realization they served in the military is not so far-fetched. Writers and musicians tell stories through pen and notes while actors assume a character’s role, and military service provides a lifetime of experience. Service also reminds us that Americans share more in common than papers would lead us to believe.

When I hear the word “veteran,” I think of my Grandpa Austin.
No title preceded my grandpa’s name, nor was he a celebrity, just a man from a region of Appalachia that was largely white, protestant, and poor: a place where people scratched out livings on hell’s half acre by farming spits of land, mining coal and doing what it took to put food in bellies. It is where dirt roads and creeks bisect fields and everything is walled off by the hills. When war called, he went because he believed in America…even if he didn’t always agree with the politics.

Private Austin Davis was a member of the Red Ball Express, a unit comprised mainly of black Soldiers who risked their lives providing supplies and medicine to keep the living from joining the dying. Many, no doubt, felt the sting of Jim Crow but still served. Despite faults, they must have recognized America’s potential to change was worth the fight.

I don’t believe my grandpa saw himself as a minority, because Soldiers share in the communion of placing the collective above self. Together they are introduced to barking drill sergeants who turn worlds upside down. Drill Sergeants understand how duress teaches recruits that green is the only color that matters and that long days at the range, forced marches, and waking up in open bays with all of humanity instills compromise when sharing four toilets, six showerheads and eight sinks (not all operable). Unlike college or civilian life, one can’t drop a class or quit when life becomes uncomfortable. Success is found in teamwork.

Friendships are further refined when sharing cups of coffee out of canteen cups during German winters or swapping stories of home and dreams for tomorrow in deserts and jungles, drop zones or ships located far from land. A lot can pass in conversation during a long night’s guard duty. That’s when redemption arrives in the form of lifelong friendships tempered by fire and loneliness.
My grandma gave me the map my grandpa carried with him Europe along with a list of the names and addresses of the men in his platoon.

Life pushed those Soldiers in different directions, but they returned to the farms, factories and classrooms and witnessed the Civil Rights movement and integration of the military and organized sport. Some watched the first black man take the inaugural oath, evidence that America was worth fighting for then and still is today. Soldiers know the value of subsisting on endurance and faith when times get tough. In a wisp, they were gone from each other’s lives in 1945, as if God placed them together to teach them that all men bleed and all our brothers, especially when tomorrow seems a distant dream.
Some veterans advertise service through bumper stickers and apparel. Others are more private, placing dog tags in keepsake boxes or hanging uniforms in attics, but place two veterans from different generations and socio-economic backgrounds in a doctor’s waiting room and listen. Chances are you’ll hear stories of basic training or serving in the same unit (or post) years apart.

We don’t all support the same political party or celebrate the same faith, but veterans understand that selfless service—whether in uniform or otherwise—is the kindling that stokes democracy and gives light in a world sometimes threatened by the darkness of entitlement and ignorance.

My grandpa arrived home from the war and moved to the city where he returned from work every night to a house on the corner. Later he witnessed white flight. Like a good soldier he remained at his post, living out his days as one of the few white families in the neighborhood. I remember him on the front porch swing, waving and talking about the Buckeyes with folks in the neighborhood. I learned more on that front porch than I ever did in any classroom.
I also learned that you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers.

Colonel Krompecher remains on active duty and keeps in touch with Soldiers he met thirty years ago while being “introduced” to Drill Sergeant Posey.

My Veteran

=44

Dateline November 10th, 2016

by COL(R) Steve Beckman

My Veteran was born in Weir, Mississippi on a winter morning in the late 1920s (There are no “Frosty Morns” in that part of Dixie). He was baptized Ludwig Armstrong Beckman III (LAB), the son of a Presbyterian Minister and grew up in the Great Depression.

In 1945, while attending Jones County Junior College, his Spanish Teacher (and member of the local Draft Board) told LAB, “your number will come up this week for the Army!” LAB promptly caught a bus that afternoon to Jackson to talk to the Navy recruiters. He raised his hand, took the oath and after his Dad drove to Jackson to bring him a change of clothes and his toothbrush, was off to Navy Basic Training.

LAB spent his Navy tour as a radar operator at Argentia, Newfoundland (lots of frosty morns there), and rose to the exalted rank of Petty Officer 3rd Class before mustering out in 1947.

LAB took advantage of the GI Bill and attended Mississippi State University. When the Korean War broke out, he stayed in ROTC and was commissioned an Artillery Officer upon graduation in 1951. While training at Ft. Bliss someone asked, “who wants to be a pilot?” Before long, LAB had earned his wings and found himself flying a L-19 artillery observation plane over the (still very hot) Korean DMZ in 1953.

LAB ignored his Mom’s advice to “fly low and slow,” survived his tour and went to Ft. Sill to learn to fly helicopters (where he also met and married his wife).

After several years of flying in Italy, New York and Alabama, LAB put his Accounting Degree into practice by joining the Finance Corps and in April 1965 he found himself in Saigon, South Vietnam. Two days before he was to fly home in April 1966, the Viet Cong drove a truck bomb into his hotel. He survived, but LAB knows exactly what Iraq and Afghanistan Vets feel about VBIEDs.

After 21 years of service, LTC Beckman retired from Active Duty, but he didn’t stop serving. He spent over twenty-five more years as a 5th grade teacher and serving his church and community in Lawton, Oklahoma.

Along the way, LAB had two sons, one of whom recently retired as an Army Colonel, and he is the grandfather of two Army Captains.

Like so many of his generation, LAB answered the call, served proudly in peacetime and war, and when his military service ended, worked to make his community and nation a better place.

My Veteran, is now really retired and living large in Little Rock, Arkansas. This quiet hero, from the Greatest Generation, has gone by many names and titles, but I’m proud to call him Dad.

Steve Beckman