Category Archives: Veterans Stories

Stories from interview with WW2 and other combat veterans from Caldwell County, Texas






By Todd Blomerth

Imagine yourself as a visitor to Carlsbad Caverns National Park seventy-five years ago, on a tour requiring a long walk down into its vastness. Upon arriving in the Big Room, one of its largest galleries, imagine being seating at a huge formation dubbed the ‘Rock of Ages’ as Park Rangers extinguish all lights, and a recording of the hymn of that name is played. You realize what total darkness really is. Feel yourself blinking as the lights come on, expecting to laugh as you savor a new experience that will help your mile-long trek back to the surface as the tour ends. Then try to imagine your thoughts as a somber Park Ranger announces that he has just received the news that the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. Imagine the screams of a fellow tourist before she passes out – her son is stationed at the huge Navy base there. Imagine your world changing forever. Private Curtis Owen of McMahan, Texas experienced that on December 7, 1941.

Born in 1919, Curtis was the third of four boys born to Odus and Elizabeth (Handley) Owen.  He attended school in McMahan until the ninth grade. His last two years (high school went to the 11th grade in those days) were completed in Lockhart in 1938. Growing up in the Depression, the family kept food on the table farming cotton with mules and horses. Given the cost of horse feed, he often wondered “who was working for whom.”

By 1940, it was becoming obvious to many that America would end up in another war, in all likelihood against Germany. Young men were required to register for the draft in September of that year. As a farmer, Curtis could have claimed a deferment. He chose not to. Despite a farm accident in 1938 that caused the loss of a finger, he also obtained a waiver and, at the suggestion of his family physician, Dr. Joe Coopwood, enlisted in the National Guard’s 36th (“Texas”) Infantry Division’s 141st Infantry Regiment’s Medical Detachment, of Lockhart.

Almost immediately after enlisting, Private Owen became part of America’s belated awakening to our country’s dangers. Along with other National Guard units, the 36th Division was mobilized to national service, on November 25, 1940. It is hard to conceptualize today just how unprepared for war our country was. Worldwide, nations had been at war all through the 1930s. For years Americans refused to acknowledge the reality that, like it or not, ultimately our country would have to fight. Training facilities were non-existent. With obsolete equipment and a poor organizational setup, and the total unpreparedness of military officials everywhere, the Division’s attempt to mobilize quickly went FUBAR, or “fouled up beyond all recognition.” The Lockhart Medical Detachment and the Lockhart infantry unit, Company F, were first housed in tents on a drill field where Lockhart’s American Legion Hall is now located. The Medical Detachment’s commander, Major Abner Ross MD, recruited a local cook, and his men ate at their camp. Company F’s men were not so lucky, having to march to the Carter Hotel on the downtown square three times a day for their meals.

In March of 1942 the division’s many units, coming from armories from El Paso to Texarkana, were united at Camp Bowie, near Brownwood. Located in old cotton fields, the camp’s water and gas lines still lay exposed. Men were housed in 5-man tents. For the next six months “we played like we were at war,” said Curtis. Maneuvers in Louisiana showed how unprepared our military was. Trucks were painted white and designated as “tanks.” Bombing raids on the infantry were made with sacks of flour. In November of 1941, Curtis was selected to attend Surgical Technician schooling at Ft. Bliss’ Wm. Beaumont Army Hospital in El Paso. He learned about plasma, sulfa drugs, and emergency care for the wounded. During a weekend break, his class was bused to Carlsbad Caverns. It was on that tour that he found out his country was at war. On December 20, 1941, he graduated tied for first in his class.

The 36th Division trained at Camp Bowie, in the Louisiana Maneuvers, at Camp Blanding, Florida, in the Carolina Maneuvers, and finally at Camp Edwards, Massachusetts. Then its men and equipment were loaded onto ships at New York and sent to Oran, Algeria, in April 1943. Dr. Coopwood, now a major, was the141st’s regimental surgeon. More training ensued, some for amphibious landings, in the squalor and heat of North Africa. By 1943 Private Owen had become Staff Sergeant Owen, and was the senior NCO of the 141st’s 2nd Battalion medical aid station.   Thomas William Hazen, a subordinate who became a close friend described Curtis like this: ‘Sgt. Owen, the steady one, who tried to keep this motley group in order, was known as “Colonel.” His Texas drawl was so pronounced I think it sometimes made him laugh with the rest of us.’

The British and Americans invaded Sicily on July 9, 1943. The 36th stayed in Africa. Would the Texans ever get into the war? All too soon, they did. The 36th Infantry Division was bloodied – and badly – on September 9, 1943 in the Allied landings at Salerno, Italy. The Italians had just surrendered. However, the Germans were aware that it was going to happen, and took over defensive positions. They were waiting when the landing occurred. It was a near disaster, and a foretaste of the debacle called the Italian Campaign. After securing the beaches, bitter fighting continued until the Germans retreated into the mountains north of Naples. The 36th was pulled out of the line to rest and refit in October, and then put back in November, replacing a badly battered 3rd Infantry Division. It fought northward, was pulled off the front line again and then moved by ship to assist in the breakout from the disastrous Anzio beachhead. In July 1944, it was pulled out of the line again, and took part in the landings in Southern France the following month. It raced north in an attempt to cut off retreating Germans. In October 1944, the point system allowed Curtis to come back home for a thirty day leave, which only started once he got to the US. The leave kept him out of the war for nearly five months, because of the transportation difficulties in getting to and from the European Theater of Operations. During this interlude, he married. Curtis and his family were (and continue to be) members of Bethel Primitive Baptist church. At a church conference, he met his future wife, Edith Morrow. Born in Cuero, Edith was raised in the South Texas town of Sebastian, where her father farmed. Curtis and Edith dated until the war separated them. While on leave, Curtis traveled to Sebastian and asked for Edith’s hand in marriage on a Sunday. They were married three days later on December 13, 1944. Curtis’ parents did not attend the small wedding – he had borrowed the family’s only vehicle and wartime rationing made travel problematic. McMahan is a close-knit community, and many families are interwoven. He says jokingly, “I had to leave home to keep from marrying a cousin!”  He rejoined his unit in March of 1945 as it fought through the Siegfried Line. He was in the Brandenburg Alps, at Kufstein, Austria when Germany surrendered in May 1945.

Curtis looks back on his service in World War II with the eyes of a historian. He sees and interprets much of what he endured as part of the big picture. Nevertheless, I asked him of certain instances in his service remain seared in his memory. He paused, and then shared with me some of them.

The Allied landing at Salerno, Italy on September 9, 1943 – His medical detachment rode into the beach on a British landing boat. When the bow ramp dropped, he and everyone on the landing craft were near-casualties. A German machine gunner sprayed bullets at them. Fortunately, the enemy gunner was entrenched too low, and when he depressed his weapon, his rounds struck sand dunes at his front instead of young Americans. Curtis hit the ground, only to feel something kicking him in the side. Rolling over, he looked up at a British MP yelling at him, “Son, get up and off this beach. The bullets won’t kill you unless they hit you.” He got off the beach, but not far that day.

The “utter chaos” (Curtis used that term a lot in his discussions about the war) of Salerno, where the 36th and 45th Infantry Divisions were nearly pushed into the sea – US Navy destroyers cruised close to shore, depressing their guns to drive off the advancing German tanks. The aid station was set up at water’s edge because of the fierce resistance to the landing. The badly wounded were turned over to Navy corpsmen at the beach and evacuated to waiting ships, all the while under fire. Then it was up the ‘soft underbelly of Europe,’ where in Curtis’ words, “there was just one mountain after another.” Mignano, Altavilla, Mt. Rotundo, San Pietro, Sanmucro, and the Rapido River became bywords for misery and death.

The constant replacement of his men – “Each line company was assigned three medics,” he told me. “I lost many of them. Some were killed. Some were wounded.” Many times infantrymen were pulled out of companies and made stretcher-bearers. Toward the end of the war, personnel shortages were so critical that prisoners in army guardhouses were returned to the line, if they agreed to behave. The Medical Detachments got some of them too. They usually did a good job.

The necessity of finding a place for medical facilities –  “We were usually around one mile from the front lines,” he said, “which was well in range of artillery.” If lucky, they found suitable structure where medics and doctors could work in blackout conditions. But weren’t structures also artillery registration points – in other words, targets? “Well, yes, but that was a chance we had to take so we could work on the wounded.” Until prodded, Curtis said nothing of his Purple Heart – he took shrapnel in a hand in late 1943. The picture below, taken from Hazen’s book, “Medicos Up Front – With the 36th Texas Infantry Division,” shows the 2nd Battalion’s aid station in November and December 1943.

For 43 days, in mud, rain and snow, and with mortar barrages which missed (but barely) Sgt. Owen’s men struggled to save lives. Hazen describes their existence:


The Aid Station was located on a mountain trail impossible to reach by jeep and several hundred yards from a point where a jeep could get in. there is where we established our collecting point to be used sparingly during daylight. (light discipline was strict). At night a jeep would bring water and food to the collecting point and then take the dead in body bags (mattress sacks) back to Graves Registration for burial. In order to evacuate the severely wounded promptly in daytime, our drivers had to chance being observed. …One canteen of water was each one’s ration for the day and it was used for drinking and cleanliness. Our clothing could not be changed for 43 days.

The death of Lockhart’s Dr. Joe Coopwood – Major Coopwood was not required to visit aid stations, but he did, and regularly. He was at the 2nd battalion’s Aid Station the day before he died. His last words to Sergeant Owen as he left were, “I’ll see you day after tomorrow.” It didn’t happen. The 141st’s regimental surgeon was killed at regimental headquarters by long-range artillery the following day. “He was like a father to us. His death really affected me. I knew he was different from other doctors. Before going to medical school he had attended VMI. He was a soldier’s soldier.”

The horrific blunder of the Rapido River crossings of January 20 and 21, 1944 – The 36th’s commander, General Fred Walker, told higher authorities that attacking across a river into the main German defensive positions would be suicide. Despite this, he was ordered to move two of his regiments across the swift moving stream and then attack the entrenched enemy. The two attempts turned into a slaughter, as men and rubber boats were riddled with artillery and machinegun fire. Although a toehold was made, the survivors had to retreat. Of the 6000 men involved, over 2000 were wounded, killed or captured The Germans suffered less than 300 casualties. Three days later, a four-hour truce was called, so the Americans could recover their dead. Sergeant Owen was ordered to dispatch two medics with a white flag, where a truce had been arranged. “I recall the silence,” he said. Almost continuous artillery fire had, for a brief moment in time, ceased. “After four hours, the truce was over with, and things started back up again.” Curtis understates his own involvement. Hazen remembers that ‘[a]s might well be expected, Sgt. Owen told the captain that he could ask none of us to go unless he himself went also. [The detachment commander] said that he would not permit the sergeant to go for he felt that these two men might not come back. The captain could ill afford to lose the services of Sgt. Owen.” He would later receive a commendation for “exceptionally meritorious conduct” for his work evacuating the wounded the following month.

The horrors of Kaufering, one of the many Dachau sub-camps – Although Nazi extermination camps were in Poland and elsewhere, Germany was home to over 20,000 labor, transit, and concentration camps between 1933 and 1945. The camps in Germany used Jews, Gypsies, political and social undesirables, and Russian POWs, as forced labor. Hundreds of thousands vanished due to starvation, disease, and outright murder. Like other Allied units, the 36th came upon the horrors of unbelievable inhumanity. Beginning in 1943, Kaufering’s inmates – mostly Jews – were forced to excavate underground facilities for fighter aircraft production. As the Allies approached in late April 1945, the SS forcibly evacuated surviving inmates and murdered those too ill to move. Curtis and thousands of other GIs witnessed these horrors. Of his experience, Curtis says little, just shaking his head.

Starving displaced persons and freed inmates from concentration camps – After Dachau, the Division was on K rations. The GIs did not have spare food to distribute to the thousands of displaced persons and camp survivors that were, seemingly, everywhere. Sergeant Owen, the erstwhile farmer, knew something about places where these unfortunates might find some stored foods. He “suggested” to some that they look in Germans’ cellars. Many did, finding stores of potatoes, which they were able to boil and eat. They also discovered schnapps and wines, and some got quite drunk very quickly.

German autobahns filled with enemy soldiers marching to surrender in late April and early May – The average soldier knew their country was defeated. Only fanatical SS units thought otherwise. SS men hung or shot “defeatists.” Curtis recalls one group explaining that they had to kill several SS men so they could surrender.

The countenance of captured Nazi SS soldiers: “I only saw a few,” he tells me. “But the ones I did see had dead eyes.”

The emotional and psychological costs of war: War became unreal. “If you thought about it too much you would go stark raving mad,” he recalled. “You see so much suffering your mind goes blank.” But not perfectly. By the end of the war, if he saw someone badly wounded, “I had to get up and leave.” The war’s horrors stayed with him afterward. When asked, Curtis acknowledged quietly it took a toll on him. As we talked, Edith nodded.  Although not discussed, she too witnessed Curtis’ suffering in those years. He told me the hours spent alone as a farmer helped put the demons to rest. There is no doubt that a strong and loving wife and family, and a deep Christian faith helped as well.

After Germany’s surrender in May, 1945 hundreds of thousands of GIs spent months awaiting transportation home. Most finally went by ship. Tech Sergeant Curtis Owen (he had been promoted) got lucky and hopped a ride on a four engine bomber. With fueling stops at Marseilles, Casablanca, the Azores, St. John, and Presque Island, it reached Boston. Then it was by train to San Antonio. He arrived home on August 1, 1945. At last, his war was over.

Ed Horne, the local Farmall dealer, knew Curtis was a returning veteran, and put his name at the top of the list for a new two row tractor. He continued to farm for sixty years.

Curtis and Edith celebrated 71 years together recently. They have been blessed with three children (Diane Ross, Beverly Coates, and Tom Hazen Owen), seven grandchildren, and fifteen great grandchildren. Curtis and Edit h now reside at the Golden Age Home. Their warmth and kindness are infectious. They and their family have done much to enrich Caldwell County. Drop by some time.

Curtis and Edith Owen and Their Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren

ADDENDUM 11-15-17 

I wrote this story in February of 2016. I visited with Curtis today at a local nursing facility.  He recently fell and broke his pelvis. He was recovering nicely. His bride of 72 years had recently passed away. Curtis continued, at the age of 98, to be mentally sharp as a tack.  We discussed world affairs, and Curtis expanded a bit on the effects of the war on him. “There were a lot of funerals i didn’t attend [after the war]. I’d seen too much.”







Todd Blomerth

            It was early 1953. The Allies were locked in vicious combat with communist forces along a line across the Korean peninsula.  Ten miles inside enemy lines, Captain Stan Reece was in the back seat on an AT6 “Texan” artillery spotter aircraft. After flying over thirty missions, the 6147th Group commander had made Captain Reece the group’s operations officer. The unit’s casualty rate was too high, and as operations officer, Captain Reece was told to check out each pilot, to ensure all were qualified and performing at the high standard needed. Stan sat in the rear seat of the two-seater aircraft, where an Army forward observer usually was placed. He was evaluating the skill and proficiency (we’ll call him Jones), trying to ensure Jones would not be another casualty while providing the US Army with an aerial platform for forward observers.

Very concerned about the Jones’s too-casual attitude about the enemy’s willingness to shoot down “low and slow” unarmed intruders, Captain Reece instructed him to make corrections. Before that could happen, the AT6 took 37mm antiaircraft rounds that damaged its right wing and flipped the aircraft onto its back. Smoke poured into the cockpit  Jones failed to respond to Reece’s intercom, and Captain Reece was forced to take over piloting the wounded airplane. Flinging open the canopy to clear blinding smoke, Captain Reece fought to regain control of the damaged aircraft,. He prayed the wounded bird would get the two back across the front lines before it came apart. Fortunately, it did.

“Where were you when I needed you to flying the airplane?” he frantically demanded of Jones. Finally responsive, Jones meekly replied, “I was scared.”. “Well I was too,” responded Captain Reece. “But you still have to fly the plane!”

As Captain Reece landed, the ground crew furiously waved him away from revetments and parked aircraft. It turned out that the anti-aircraft rounds had ignited white phosporus rockets under the aircraft’s wings, used to spot enemy positions. The ground crew’s well founded fear of an horrific explosion and fire was not realized. Fire crews extinguished the flames, as a forward observer pilot and his evaluator leapt from the plane. Captain Reece made sure Jones never flew with the unit again. It was a tough call, as Jones was a friend, but the only one to make.

Sixty-four years later, Colonel Stan Reece sat in his living room, telling me of his life. Now ninety six years old, he expresses some doubt as to why he is being interviewed. “I don’t think my career was all that interesting,” he tells me.

This is his story. You decide for yourselves whether his belief is correct.

Horace Stanley “Stan” Reece was born in the community of Martin’s Mill, Van Zandt County, Texas on September 21, 1921. He was the oldest of five children of Flake Elijah Reece and Nettie (Lancaster) Reece. Flake and Nettie taught school for a period of time.  Flake was also a farmer, but later moved the family to Athens, Texas where he owned a garage. Stan and his younger siblings, Charles, Billy, Bonetia and Mary Jo all graduated from Athens High School.  Like all children of the Depression, Stan knew about hard work. When he wasn’t in school, he worked for his dad as a mechanic. He graduated in 1940, and then worked construction in Ft. Worth and at Camp Wolters.

    Flight Cadet Reece – Eagle Pass, Texas

On June 30, 1942, Stan was sworn into  the United States Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet.  Because of training facility shortages, he was told to go home. “They said they’d call me in a month,” he recalls. He worked in his dad’s garage for almost six months before he received orders to report to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center (later Lackland Air Force Base). Stan took to the air naturally. Without bragging, he calmly states, “I was a very good pilot.” After Basic at Brady, Texas and Primary at Waco Airfield, he finished second in his class at  Advanced training at Eagle Pass Army Airfield. With over twenty hours already in a high-powered P-40, he hoped for a combat assignment. Enamored with the monstrous P-47 Thunderbolt, he tried for an assignment flying that fighter. No luck. Then he applied for a unit flying the magnificent P-51 Mustang. Again, no luck. The Army Air Forces had other ideas. 2nd Lieutenant Stan Reece was assigned as an instructor pilot at Randolph Army Airfield, outside of San Antonio. It was a bitter disappointment, but just one of the breaks. He loved flying, and was a natural teacher.

                                       Edith Clark Reece

The stateside duty proved a blessing in disguise. In mid-1944 he was diagnosed with osteomylitis. Prior to the advent of strong antibiotics, the best someone with this dangerous bone infection could hope for was to survive with an amputation. Stan was lucky, as penicillin was coming available. It still took fifteen months in the hospital to be cured. “They didn’t know how long I had had the infection in my leg before it was discovered,” he recalls. By the time he was released in October of 1945, the war was over. The interminable time recovering was not all a loss. Stan met and married a beautiful Army officer (and nurse) – Edith Clark, from Prairie Lea. Their happy marriage lasted for sixty-six years. Edith died in 2011. They have two children. Ralph was born in 1946. Jacqueline was born in 1948.

Because of his skills, Stan was one of the small minority of pilots who were allowed to stay in the Army Air Force after World War II, as the services drastically reduced manpower. The newly married pilot, soon to be a father, was assigned to post-war Germany, first in Wiesbaden, and then in Kassal. He had several assignments.

Then the Soviet Union and its East German lackeys began closing road and canal access to areas of Berlin controlled by the French, British, and Americans. With one and one half million Soviet troops surrounding the former capital of Nazi Germany, Stalin felt sure that he could force the Western Allies out of Berlin, subjecting its citizens to the communist rule beling inflicted on East Germany. The Americans and British undertook to fly into the beleaguered city over 6000 tons daily, of food, supplies and coal. In was considered an impossible task.

Beginning in late June, 1948, with C-47 Dakotas, and later with C-54s and other, heavier transports, pilots flew narrow air corridors at three minute intervals, day and night, for almost one year. Airplanes got one shot at landing. Upon landing in West Berlin, engines were kept running, air crews remained in their transports, as Berliners unloaded the precious food and supplies. Then it was an immediate take-off and return to friendly territory.  A missed approach meant returning to West Germany, fully loaded. There was no room for error.

Despite Soviet harrassment, eventually the Airlift was moving over 11,000 tons a day! In April of 1949, the Soviets gave up. Berliners actually had a surplus of food and supplies. Stan Reece flew over twenty flights in and out of Berlin. His younger brother Charles, also an aviator, was part of the all-out effort. The Airlift is one of the proudest moments in our nation’s history.

Captain Reece was then assigned to Tinker Air Force Base as an instructor pilot. He had flown and mastered all sorts of aircraft. A small sampling: P-40, P-47, and P-51 fighters; A-26, B-25 bombers; C-47, C-54 transports, AT-6 trainer. Because of the rush to get pilots into aircraft in World War II, and the budget and manpower cuts afterward, training had suffered grievously. Stan recalls that “many of these pilots, including some who’d flown in World War II, weren’t trained properly.”  What better man to help fix the problem than someone of Stan’s stature and reputation?

Then, war in an unexpected place threw the United States in a frenzied effort to save South Korea from subjugation by North Korean, and later, Chinese communists. Bidding farewell to his wife and kids, Captain Reece arrived in the war-torn Korean peninsula in 1952. He was assigned to the 6147th Tactical Control Group. He flew unarmed AT-6 “Texans” over enemy lines, with an Army artillery forward observer onboard. In over twenty-five missions, he was shot at “plenty of times” but never hit.  That is, until he was a check pilot for “Jones,” and was almost shot out of the sky over  enemy lines.

In September of 1953, Captain Reece was back in the States. The 1950s were a transition period for the United States Air Force. Propeller driven aircraft were phased out, and jets of all types were tested. There were fewer straight winged aircraft, as jets’ speeds required swept wings. Thousands of aircraft were moved back to the continental United States from overseas. Some were scrapped, some were sold to friendly countries, some were given to Air National Guard units, and some were retrofitted. Stan was part of this complicated and often dangerous task. Between 1953 and 1962,  Stan took on hundreds of ferrying operations.


Assigned to the Military Air Transport Command (MATS) and its 1708th Ferrying Wing, he coordinated and flew transports to and from overseas air force units. One trip nearly got him killed. He and his crew flew a new C-119 to Japan. They exchanged it for one that was on its last legs. Taking off, the overloaded aircraft needed all the runway and overrun to make it into the air. Then, the crew discovered that the extra 900 gallon tank in the fuselage was leaking fuel. Stan was piloting a potential fiery bomb. It turned out that someone had installed a fuel vent pipe the wrong way. Remaining cool, Stan landed the plane without incident. The crew fixed the problem, and made it to Hawaii before the tired bird gave up the ghost. He and his crew caught another flight home.

After an assignment at Andrews AFB, Major Stan Reece and family spent three years in Japan, where he commanded the 531st Fighter Squadron flying F-100s. Later, as the Wing operations officer. He oversaw pilots flying RF-101s, and AD-102s. As he recalls, most of his pilots were “a bunch of kids.” They were lucky to have a proficient and demanding boss, who expected nothing less than the best, and made sure they achieved it. The Wing was equipped with nuclear weapons.

Stan knew that to move up the promotion ladder, it was expected that he be proficient in all areas of aviation. Often that meant accepting assignments to non-glamorous jobs. Because of his willingness and skill, he was often picked to ‘clean up’ situations, particularly those where pilots’ lives were in danger because of inefficiency or poor training standards. The 1960s found him and the family at Eglin AFB in Florida, in another of those roles.

His next assignment put Lieutenant Colonel Reece back in Germany. He was the first commander of the 7th Air Special Operations Squadron,  tasked with supporting the 10th Special Forces, one of the first Green Beret units. Comprised of a hodgepodge of propeller-driven aircraft, and designed for special operations, the squadron’s pilots and crews helped the SF forces conduct airborne training operations. “A large percentage of the Special Forces unit were first generation Americans from Eastern Europe. They spoke with thick accents. They hated the communists,” recalls Stan. Maximum flexibility best describes the operations of the Squadron. It was a heady time, as the United States continued its experiment with small and specialized forces. Stan spent two and a half years as squadron commander. His Army counterpart was “an old OSS [the World War II predecessor to the CIA] colonel. We got along famously.” Practice for insertions and extractions behind the Iron Curtain, providing air support for British Special Air Services commandos, conducting parachute drops, and retrofitting aircraft for unorthodox warfare made life, in Stan’s word, “interesting.” That has to be a understatement

Military spouses have unenviable roles to play. Stan was transferred many times during his career.  Even when assigned to one base, duties often took him away from his family. A full-time mom who often had to parent alone, Edith was the rock that kept the Reece family together. Edith’s duties expanded when Stan was a unit’s commanding officer.  She then became a mentor, advisor, and, occasionally, a shoulder to cry on. It was tough duty, and  deeply appreciated. Stan is unstinting in his praise of Edith. “Edith was a stabilizing influence on many young wives,” Stan recalls.


Between 1966 and 1968, Lieutenant Colonelr Stan Reece commanded the 492nd Tactical Fighter squadron, based in England. Flying F100s, the squadron participated in numerous NATO exercises. These included deployments to Bodo, Norway, Aviano, Italy, and Ishmir, Turkey.  Joint exercises, intended as training for possible response to Soviet aggression, came at the heighth of the Cold War. The training was arduous, and demanding. If war came, the Soviets had a numerical superiority that would test the very fiber of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s ability to defend the free countries in western Europe, Turkey, and Scandinavia.


It was inevitable that an aviator of Stan Reece’s ability would end up in Vietnam. Saying goodbye to Edith, he reported for duty at the Phu Cat Air Base. A new airfield, capable of jet powered aircraft, it was completed in late 1967. Lt. Colonel Reece was assigned as the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing’s operations officer. Part of the unit was the Iowa National Guard’s 174th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Equipped with the now aging and quirky F100s, the Wing flew interdiction and combat support missions. In just six months, Stan flew 135 combat missions. Most were in South Vietnam, but over thirty were in Laos, and there were a few into North Vietnam. Thankfully, he came through that experience in one piece. His final six months in Vietnam were at 7th Air Force Headquarters in Saigon.

Returning to the United States, newly promoted Colonel Stan Reece finished out a most colorful and exciting career in St. Louis, Missouri as Wing Advisor to the Air National Guard. He retired, after 30 years of service, in 1974.

Edith longed to return to her Texas and Caldwell County roots. In 1975, the Reeces purchased forty-nine acres of land outside of Luling. Anyone who knew him realized that Stan Reece wasn’t someone to sit back and let the world pass him by. He raised cattle. He served on the Luling Independent School District Board of Trustees for twenty-four years, of which nineteen he was the Board’s president. He joined the Luling Kiwanis Club in 1975 and remains active today. He was an officer on the Caldwell County Farm Bureau, and served on the Caldwell County Agent supervisory board for many years. Trying to track him a couple of weeks ago, I found him awash with plans for Night In Old Luling.

Stan will tell you his has been a blessed life. In 2014 at the young age of ninety three, he tied the knot for the second time when Madeline Manford, a dear family friend of many years and a widow, agreed to be his bride.

So this is a short-hand version of Stan’s life (so far). After reading it, I know you will agree that Colonel Stan Reece has indeed led a most incredibly interesting and fruitful life. He truly is a shining example of the best of the Greatest Generation. If you can catch him, please be sure to thank him for his service to his country and community.
















Spec 4 David Durham 1968



                                                     By Todd Blomerth


In the late 1960s, Americans became all too familiar with phrases that burned themselves into the American psyche. One phrase was “the Iron Triangle.”

An area west of Saigon, South Vietnam, and stretching to the Cambodian border, its mention mustered images of jungle fighting, ambushes, tunnels, infiltrating North Vietnamese (NVA), Viet Cong (VC), and death. To young Americans sent to fight in that area of Southeast Asia, the reality was all of these, and more.

I sat down with Dave Durham the other day, and he told me about his abbreviated tour of duty in the Iron Triangle during the Vietnam War. Dave had just celebrated his 70th birthday, and while we didn’t dwell on it, it was obvious that he was glad he has made it this far. In 1967, there was substantial doubt that he would live to see his twentieth birthday.

Dave was born on March 22, 1947 in Velasco, which is now part of Freeport, Texas. Both his mom and dad, Harold “B.H.” and Edna Iris, worked for Dow Chemical, as did most everyone in that area. Dave graduated from Brazosport High School, and then enrolled at Stephen F. Austin University in 1966. He dropped out in early 1967 and “within three weeks” received his draft notice. Like thousands of young men, he was going into the U.S. Army, and once there, into combat in Vietnam.

The United States had allowed itself to be sucked into the vortex of a new and dangerous kind of war in Southeast Asia when it stepped into a role abandoned by the French. Since the end of World War II, guerilla warfare had ebbed and flowed as France, a colonial power, resisted attempts at the creation of new and independent countries in French Indochina. Finally, after a disastrous defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the French gave up, leaving a power vacuum that was, largely, filled by communist and communist-leaning nationalists in the new countries of Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. As part of the negotiated departure of the French, Vietnam was cut in two, with a demilitarized zone divided communist North Vietnam from the pro-Western South Vietnam. This did little to dissuade communist Viet Cong (VC) and their North Vietnamese allies (NVA) from continuing a war of “liberation” in South Vietnam.

The United States and the West stood by as Stalin gobbled up once-free countries in Eastern Europe. Communist Chinese seized power in 1949, kicking the Nationalists off the Asian mainland.  To many, the communists’ efforts in Vietnam were part of a continuing effort at world domination that had to be stopped. Vietnam became to some extent a ‘proxy’ war. The United States and its allies supported South Vietnam. Communist China and the USSR gave its support to South Vietnamese communist insurgents and the North Vietnamese. By the time Dave Durham was drafted, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen were engaged in a bloody and widening war.

Dave did Basic Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) followed. Basic and AIT was ‘brutal,’ Dave recalls. When the new soldiers marched, they were required to yell “Kill” every time their right feet hit the ground. It was just one of the many ways that civilians were indoctrinated to become combat soldiers. Most of the training cadre consisted of combat veterans. They knew what the young men would be up against, and did their best to toughen up the recruits and draftees. However, as Dave says, “nothing can duplicate the misery and horror of war.”

While at Fort Polk, Dave met and became friends with Joe Golf, an Italian-American from Chicago. Fresh out of AIT at Ft. Polk’s “Tigerland”, they were assigned to Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. Shortly after arrival in-country, the Regiment was re-assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, known as “Tropic Lightning.”

The “Regulars,” as the 22nd Infantry was called, had a proud heritage stretching back to the War of 1812. In 1967 two of its battalions operated out of Dau Tieng, a large fortified Base Camp, also home to mechanized infantry and Army of Vietnam (ARVN) units. Only 40 miles from Saigon, the Camp lay just to the east of the Saigon River. A mountain range, dubbed ‘the Razorbacks’ lay to its northwest. To its north and east was a vast Michelin rubber plantation.  The 22nd Infantry had been in Vietnam since 1966 and had seen much combat. In March 1967, some of its units were involved in a vicious battle at Soui Tre, where over 700 NVA and VC were killed attacking a forward fire base.

Dave processed in at Saigon. Then a C-130 transport flew him the short distance to Dau Tieng’s airfield.

PFC Durham was given a choice: be a machine gunner, an ammo bearer, or be point man on combat patrols. He chose point man. Why did he choose this most dangerous of assignments? “The M-60 machine gun is heavy. Ammunition is heavy. I didn’t want to lug that stuff around.” The Viet Cong moved mostly at night – the Americans mostly during the day. Serving as point man on a patrol meant that Dave quite possibly would be the first man to detect the enemy – and the first man to be detected by the enemy. Not happy with an M-16 in that role, for a time Dave traded for a Stevens short barreled shotgun. Lethal at short range, it proved more burden than benefit. “Shotgun shells are heavy,” recalls Dave. “I could only carry so many. In one fight I ran out of ammunition.” He went back to using the M-16. He could carry many more bullets than shotgun shells.

Active patrolling and search and destroy missions were two methods of taking the war to the enemy. While he was at Dau Tieng, Dave spent most of his time in the field. Troopers would come in, clean up, sleep in sandbagged barracks, let off a little steam – and then repeat the process. There were many contacts with the enemy. Dave recalls being in at least six firefights in his short time at Dau Tieng.  Dau Tieng was near the terminus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The trail actually consisted of hundreds of routes from North Vietnam funneling weapons and fighters for attacks on US and South Vietnamese targets.

Rubber Tree Plantation

Charlie Company kept extremely busy. Road convoys traveling “Ambush Alley” required security. Enemy forces were always present, and battles were common. American patrols crossed rice paddies, which was highly dangerous. In the wide openness, men were  easy targets. Search and destroy missions searched out the enemy miles from Dau Tieng. Patrols roamed the huge Michelin rubber plant, occasionally encountering workers collecting rubber from the trees. “We never knew if the workers were also VC. We were in the middle of a war and this French company was still operating this huge plantation. And being allowed to do it by the VC. It was very weird.” Another combat veteran of that era, Harry Foster, recalls that Americans felt that Michelin was quietly paying off the communists so it could continue its operations.

Odd memories of combat bubble up sometimes. Dave remembers the Army’s mosquito repellent. It came in small rubber squeeze bottles. “It didn’t work on mosquitoes. But it came in handy for keeping snakes away.” He recalls his unit setting up night ambushes, and hearing snakes slithering toward his position. “I’d squeeze that stuff toward them. They hated it, and would slither off in another direction.” He also recalls the shortage of gun oil for M-16s. “They never gave us enough of it. It was oily, so we’d use the mosquito spray to keep our rifles lubricated. It worked.”

The VC and NVA created a labyrinth of tunnel systems in the Iron Triangle; some extended for miles. Some even went into Saigon. It was not unusual for an American patrol to uncover a hidden tunnel opening. This would be blown closed. First, someone had to ensure no enemy lurked inside, waiting to pop out and attack. Who better to do it that someone slim, agile and willing to be a point man? “They’d hand me a pistol and a flashlight, and I’d go check it out.” Responding to the inevitable question about fear and serving as a “tunnel rat” Dave said simply, “I was scared the whole time I was in Vietnam.”

In late October of 1967, Dave came down with a respiratory infection, and was put on light duty for a week. Coming back from another 25th Division base a few miles away at Cu Chi, he was grabbed up on November 1, 1967, and put into a squad going out for a night ambush patrol. A similar thing happened to his buddy Joe Golf. “I had come in from the field with ear infection,” Joe remembers. “Next thing I knew, I was in on a night ambush patrol.” Dave and Joe knew no one else in the eleven-man squad. “I didn’t know anyone except Joe,” Dave said. “I guessed the others were in a different platoon in C Company.” Research shows that in fact, most if not all of the men in this put-together group weren’t even from C Company.

When on combat missions, normal unit integrity was an absolute necessity. As an example, if you were with 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, you trained with that platoon and company, and you went on operations with that platoon and company. You knew your buddies’ capabilities and shortcomings. You knew your officers and NCOs.

Dau Tieng’s base security patrols were a different story. The September 4, 1967 edition of the 25th Infantry Division’s newspaper, “Tropic Lightning News” tells how these patrols were assembled:

Mixed Nightly Patrols Provide BC Security

DAU TIENG – When the nightly ambush patrol leaves the 3d Bn, 22d Inf, lines at Dau Tieng each evening, it’s a mixed bag indeed – representative of every contingent in the battalion.  Along with the ubiquitous medic may go a truck driver, a 4.2 mortar man, an operations clerk, a mechanic or radio repairman, or any of the multiple trades which make the modern infantry battalion function.  It’s a training mission for new replacements and the last time out for the old.
While the main infantry elements are on missions far afield, the ambush patrols carried on by these “instant” units are vital in the security of the “Tropic Lightning’s” third brigade base camp.


Joe Goff was ordinarily a Charlie Company assistant machine gunner. On November 1, 1967, Joe told me in his pronounced Chicago accent, “I was carrying an M-16.” Joe continued, “We weren’t expecting anything.” Ambush patrols went out nightly to keep the enemy off guard, and prevent infiltration near the military base. No one wanted to see action. The main concern for the GIs was staying alive.

Leaving during daylight, and moving less than three miles from the Base Camp, the patrol set up for an ambush along a suspected infiltration route somewhere in the Michelin plantation. In groups of threes or fours, soldiers were arrayed in three-prong ambush formation. Trip flares and anti-personnel mines were set up.

Joe and Dave were together with two other troopers they didn’t know, sharing the same poncho liner to stay out of the mud. It was Joe’s turn to sleep when all hell broke loose. “I was asleep and the next thing I knew, someone was covering my mouth with a hand. The VC were about fifteen or twenty feet away. Then a radio mike was keyed, and the world exploded.”

Dave’s memory is similar, but not exactly the same. “We ambushed an enemy unit that turned out to be much larger than our patrol.” He remains unsure of whether the enemy was VC or NVA, or a combination of the two.

Either way, the result was same. “An RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] hit the two men next to me,” Dave recalls. “There were killed instantly. I was hit by shrapnel that wasn’t stopped by their bodies.” His friend Joe, also wounded, pulled him twenty meters back into relative safety, as all hell broke loose. Somewhere in the process, Joe lost his M16 in the mud. Grenades were thrown, gunfire erupted… and then suddenly, it was over. The enemy disappeared into the night, leaving the shaken survivors to their misery. Because the patrol had (possibly) “gone out the wrong gate at Dau Tieng,” in the words of Golf, it wasn’t found until morning. The patrol’s medic ran out of morphine. One soldier’s wounds kept the survivors awake all night with his screams of pain. “With the screaming, there was no question the enemy knew where we were. We were afraid they would come back,” Dave recalls. It was a very long night. Joe remembers firing off a flare as dawn approached. The patrol was eventually found, possibly by a mechanized infantry unit, the 2/22, (the “Triple Deuce”) also from Dau Tieng.

Dave remembers the sound of chain saws. Rubber trees were cut down to allow medevac helicopters in to airlift the wounded. A wounded man medevaced out with Dave constantly screamed in pain. And then stopped. The soldier was either given sufficient pain medication, or died. Dave doesn’t know which.

Initially, Dave was treated at the Division’s medical facility at Cu Chi. Shards of metal had peeled his nose open. The skin was folded back, and sewn up. Because of the chunks of skin torn from his legs and one arm, he was flown to a larger hospital in Saigon for skin grafts. Eventually, PFC Durham was evacuated to an even larger facility outside of Tokyo, Japan.

For several months after the surgeries, he needed a cane to support his walk. Then one day, he received orders —- to return to Vietnam. Fortunately, his treating physician intervened. “You’re still walking on a cane. I’ll take care of this.”

Orders were changed, and instead of Vietnam, the recovering soldier spent the rest of his overseas duty in South Korea. His memories of Korea are pleasant, although the “the whole area I was in smelled of kimchi and honey wagons!”

PFC Miller

Because he never returned to his outfit, Dave never knew what happened to the rest of the patrol. He’d heard that eight men were killed. In fact, the best evidence shows two soldiers died violently – the men next to him who’d taken the brunt of the RPG round when it exploded. They were David Tucker, a 20 year-old from Rock Hill, South Carolina. He was in Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3/22. He is buried at Red Hill Baptist Church Cemetery in Fairfield, SC. The other was 23 year-old Earl Bertmann Miller, a B Company soldier from Missouri. He is buried at St. Bridget’s Cemetery in Pacific, MO.

One veteran with Charlie Company recently recalled the patrol survivors returning to Dau Tieng, and “looking pretty beat up.” But the names of other members of the patrol? Apart from Joe Golf, we still don’t know. Despite the best efforts of reunion locators for Charlie Company and others, they perhaps have been lost in the fog of war and time.

In February 1968, Specialist 4 Durham returned to the United States, out-processing at Ft. Lewis, Washington. It was time to pick up the pieces of his life. He flew back to Texas on a commercial flight, and, as required, in uniform.  As he walked past the ticket counter at Houston’s Hobby International Airport, he was confronted by a gauntlet of screaming anti-war protesters. “I’d been gone, and wasn’t aware of everything going on at home.” He was spat on and called “every vile name in the book.” He was thankful his parents were waiting for him elsewhere in the airport, and didn’t have to witness the shameful incident.

Dave returned to Lake Jackson, and re-enrolled in college, eventually graduating from Southwest Texas State University. He also married the love of his life, Nan Rives. He has been in the office supply business for years. Nan recently retired as an art teacher from the San Marcos School District. Dave and Nan have two children. Their son Cole lives in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a professional weight and strength trainer for the AAA Louisville Bats, in the Cincinnati Reds organization. Their daughter Mattisyn (Mattie) lives in Austin.

Dave Durham’s buddy Joe Golf continues to suffer from PTSD. “I can’t sleep at night unless someone is up and awake.” Dave still has shrapnel in his arms and legs. A knee occasionally locks up from the damage it received. His right arm and leg both remain gouged and scarred from the RPG explosion. He’s dealt with the mental issues well over the years, although, as he reminds me, “War is not normal. You can’t go into a war and come back ‘normal.’” Dave Durham has for the most part put the war behind him. What still hurts after fifty years was the way he was treated when he arrived in Houston, Texas. Unlike many veterans, Dave hasn’t been involved in unit reunion groups.

Spec 4 Dave Durham was blessed to return home alive. Over 50,000 of his countrymen weren’t so lucky. Dave doesn’t talk much about his military service. He is a quiet man who feels he was just doing his duty. Be sure to thank him for his service to his country. It is long overdue.

Dave Durham -2017


Tommy w MG


By Todd Blomerth

He is 91 years old now. When he speaks about his life you sense that despite his chronological age he is much younger at heart. He is a quiet and modest man, not prone to boasting. He tends to minimize a series of events that few of us can imagine living through.  His is a story worthy of recalling.

His name is Thomas C. Holland. Tom, or Tommy, as he goes by, was born in Lockhart in 1922. He has been a resident of Caldwell County almost all his life. Tommy’s dad, Cleveland (he went by “Cleve”) was a respected construction supervisor for Holland Page, a large construction company and traveled extensively to job sites in Texas and Oklahoma.  Tommy and his younger sister Georgia were mostly raised by Albert and Myrtle Schneider. The Schneiders lived at 1217 Woodlawn Street in Lockhart. Cleve often helped Caldwell County men get jobs during the late 30s and during World War II. During summer breaks and after high school graduation, Tommy would travel with his dad and work with construction crews. Georgia would occasionally travel with them. Bridge City and Lubbock were two of the places he worked. Slight and wiry, Tommy shoveled a lot of sand and gravel for concrete jobs. He had to be tough. There was no pre-mix in those days.

In 1942, Uncle Sam sent an invitation to Tommy to join his armed HOLLAND - HARLINGEN 1943forces. In other words, he was drafted. When he was three, he had fallen into a wash pot. The burns scarred an arm. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Army thought the scarring had limited his strength and mobility. Much to his disgust, after basic training he was assigned as a clerk at an army airbase in Mississippi. In December of 1942 he was reevaluated. He reiterated to the Army doctors that there was absolutely nothing wrong with him, and that he wanted to be allowed normal duties. He got his wish. Knowing it was a quick way to earn sergeant’s stripes, he opted for gunnery school. After graduation from gunnery school in Harlingen, Texas, the Army sent him to aircraft mechanic school as Keesler Army Air Base in Mississippi. Then, because he applied to be a pilot, he was enrolled in the University of Alabama under the Army Air Force aviation cadet program. Designed for young men with only high school educations, it was intended to help turn them into “officers and gentlemen.” After six months of college level courses, he was transferred to an airbase in San Antonio. Pilot graduation rates often depended on the number of pilots needed. With an over abundance of pilots at the time, Tommy did not become ‘an officer and a gentleman.’ Instead, he was assigned as a tail gunner on a B-17 and sent to MacDill Field in Florida to begin crew training.






Standing, L-R

S/Sgt Bernard Duwel, ENG

Lt. Charles Pearson, B
Lt. WIlliam Hoyer, P
Lt. Joseph Syoen, CP
Lt. John Riddell, N

Kneeling, L-R:
Sgt. Thomas C. Holland, TG
Sgt. Floyd Broman, WG
S/Sgt Walter Degutis, WG
Sgt Edward Thornton, WG
S/Sgt Thomas Burke, BTG

His ten-man crew began training on Boeing Aircraft’s B-17. Dubbed the Flying Fortress, it was a magnificent aircraft, and was rightly loved by those who flew in her. The crew became close, as one would expect. They trained as if their lives depended on it-because it would. The life expectancy of a bomber crew in Europe was aboutRattlesden-07-may-1946 two weeks. In late May, 1944 the crew received its orders assigning it and their bomber to the U.S. 8th Air Force’s 709th Bombardment Squadron, 447th Bombardment Group based at Rattlesden, England near Bury St. Edmunds.  Lt. Hoyer’s crew was given a brand new B-17 at Hunter Field outside of Savannah, Georgia. Because the B-17 was a four-engine aircraft, the crew flew the extremely hazardous northern route across the Atlantic, through Newfoundland and Greenland. Weather was problematic to say the least. Along with other aircraft, their bomber was grounded in Greenland by winds so violent the crew had to feather the propellers to keep the engines from being damaged. In the midst of the horrific weather, word came on June 6, 1944 that the Allies had invaded German controlled Europe.  Despite the weather, base officials told the many stranded crews to head to England. And so they did.

Much to the crew’s disappointment, upon arrival in England, their brand new B-17 was taken away from them. It would be used by more experienced crews. They would be stuck with whatever aircraft was assigned them. Like all fresh aircrews, the Hoyer crew was split up for its first missions, in order to ensure the crewmen and pilots were familiar with combat formations and tactics. Tommy’s first mission, on June 24, 1944, was either to Blanc Pignon Ferme or Wesermude – he can’t recall which as there were simultaneous attacks planned. Neither was successful, and both bomber formations came back with their bombs, as neither target was visible through heavy cloud cover.b17g

His second mission, on June 25, 1944, again with another crew, was to Area #1 of Operation “Zebra.” After a 2 a.m. briefing, the Group’s B-17s flew to Vercors, west of Grenoble, France. Instead of dropping bombs, the planes dropped 420 canisters containing ammunition, supplies, and weapons for the French resistance fighters in the area. Several OSS (the forerunner of the CIA) agents also parachute jumped in.

On June 28, 1944, and again with another crew, Tommy manned the tail guns for a run toward a target in France. Weather obscured the primary target so an airfield at Denian/Prouvy, France was hit instead.

On June 29, 1944, the Hoyer crew was reunited for its first combat mission. The target was an oil refinery at Bohlen, Germany. The crew briefing was at 2:30 a.m. At 4:50 a.m. dozens of Flying Fortresses, loaded with 100 pound bombs, started taking off. With the intercom-connected crews donning oxygen masks and heated tail gunnerclothing, the B-17s lumbered to an altitude of 24,000 feet. They were supported by fighter aircraft. German Bf 109s and Focke Wulf190s shot down many bombers during the war, but the greatest danger by far was anti-aircraft artillery. Nearing Bohlen, flak from German anti-aircraft guns began reaching for the Americans. Tommy had been told that if you saw flak, you were probably okay. However if you could hear it, you had better watch out. He could hear the flak “very well.” Just as Lt. Charles Pearson, the plane’s bombardier, finished releasing the bombs, flak hit near the Number 2 engine. Some of the crew was injured by shrapnel. Fuel streamed back, and then erupted in fire. Lt. William Hoyer’s last words heard by Tommy were, “let’s bail the hell out of this thing.”

44-6027 GOING DOWN
44-6027 GOING DOWN

ship crash goodThe B-17 tail gunner was the most isolated member of the crew. He did have one advantage however – his own escape hatch. Tommy didn’t need to be told twice. Throwing off his oxygen mask, helmet, and intercom connections and snapping on his parachute, he jettisoned the escape hatch and flung himself out of the plane. The shock of the parachute deploying knocked him unconscious momentarily. When he came to, he was floating under a canopy deep in enemy territory.  “I seemed to all alone,” Tommy remembers. “I wondered if my insurance would pay off if something else happened.”  Since he was alive, he worried that his dad and the Schneiders would not know for some time that he had survived.

Lt. Pearson was blown free of the plane as it exploded. He had chuted up, and although badly battered, survived. Cameras were mounted in various aircraft to record bomb strikes and anti-aircraft sites. In this instance, Tommy’s B-17, aircraft number 44-6027, was photographed falling out of the sky. Lt. William Hoyer and seven other crewmen all died a fiery death high over Germany.Arndt Teichmann - later Lt

Things got even more interesting when Tommy hit the ground. A welcoming committee of angry German farmers armed with scythes approached him as he landed in a hay field. It looked as if he would be chopped to pieces. He was rescued by someone his bombs had intended to kill – a German soldier. Lt. Arndt Teichmann (shown here as he appeared in 1939) waved off the farmers with his weapon and took the relieved tail gunner into custody. . (Arndt Teichmann would later be captured by the Russians and somehow survive the hell of Stalin’s gulag, coming home in 1948).

Tommy was put in a farmer’s child’s playhouse, and Lt. Pearson, much the worse for wear was then brought in. Lacerated on his face and head, he also probably had broken ribs.

His captors were gentle. He was given some bread and margarine, and a bit of sausage. He asked for water in English, and instead was given a glass of beer.

Tommy was first taken to Nobliz, a Luftwaffe airfield. Then to Wetzler, where German intelligence officers interrogating him. “Hell, they knew more about our organization than I did. I just told them I was a new crewman.”  The interrogation did not last long. The Germans knew crewmen didn’t have a lot of secret information to impart. The Germans took his electrically heated boots, and gave him a pair of shoes.

Eventually, Tommy arrived at Stalag Luft IV, a German Prisoner of War camp at Gross Tychow, Eastern Pomerania (now Poland). Inadequate shower facilities, heating, and clothing, spotty distribution of Red Cross parcels, bad food, overcrowding and poor medical attention were the order of the day. Escape was not remotely possible. Boredom reigned among the nearly 8000 American, and the thousand or so British, Polish, Czech, French and Norwegian POWs. The men slept in barracks designed for 160 men but holding 240 or more. Each barrack had a two-hole latrine, to bealagerphoto2 used only at night. During the day, POWs were required to use open-air latrines, with pits cleaned by Russian POWs. The daily ration consisted of bread bulked up with sawdust, a soup made with a mixture of potato, turnip, carrot, rutabaga, kohlrabi and horsemeat. The men also received cooked barley and millet once or twice a week. Most camp guards were benign, but some, with nicknames like Big Stoop, Green Hornet, and Squarehead, were known to be sadistic. Guards also would open Red Cross parcels and steal the best of the food before turning them over to POWs. Most of the POWs lost about between 15 and 20 pounds during captivity here. Upper respiratory infections, diphtheria, diarrhea, skin diseases, jaundice, meningitis were common. As bad as this was, at this stage of the war, the German populace in cities wasn’t faring much better.

By early 1945 terror gripped Germans in their eastern provinces. The Soviet Union’s huge armies were driving for the heart of Germany, and revenge was their byword. While German soldiers fought desperately, civilians fled east. On February 6, 1945, some 8000 men imprisoned at Stalag Luft IV were told they could take what they could carry, and then were marched west as the camp was evacuated. The ordeal became known as “The Black March.” To the distant sound of Russian artillery in the east, over 8000 POWs began a forced march across East Prussia, Poland, and almost to Hamburg. The ordeal began in one of the coldest winters in European history, and lasted for nearly three months, on a trek nearly 600 miles long. Divided into sections, the prisoners zigzagged west.

Marched during the day, they were housed in barns, or in open fields. Some men became violently ill from drinking from fecal laden ditches. Pneumonia became endemic. Food usually consisted of potatoes which were sometimes eaten raw if no firewood could be found. The sick were often carried in farm wagons. In the camp, Tommy had become good friends with Floyd Jones, another B-17 crewman. Jones was a great scrounger. His skill proved very useful. Jones stole two bottles containing water for a farmer’s bees. He and Tommy drank the water, and kept the bottles to brew dandelion tea. They ate raw soy beans. On March 28, 1945 many of the men were crammed onto a freight train at Ebbsdorf, sixty to eighty to a boxcar. Many men were wracked by dysentery but the cars remained locked until the train arrived at Stalag 357 near Fallingbostel on the afternoon of March 30. Another move was ordered by the Germans for those fit to continue. Tommy, too sick to travel, was excused by an American doctor. Floyd wasn’t, so he made himself sick by smoking all the cigars in a Red Cross packet, and vomiting on the doctor’s desk. It worked. Five days later, British forces liberated the camp. The ordeal was over.

Tommy returned to Lockhart after the war, planning to go into construction like his father. Instead, he became an auto mechanic with the local Dodge / Plymouth dealership. In 1960 he purchased a service station property from Charlie Kelly on South Main, and transitioned into small engine repair. He married Opal Lackey on November 24, 1946. The couple was blessed with two daughters and a son. His daughters became school teachers, and his son, a trouble shooter for Waukesha Pearce. Opal passed away in 2007.

Tommy got his pilot’s license in 1949. Beginning in the early 80s, he built or partnered in ownership four airplanes. No longer an active pilot, he still has an ownership interest in a kit-built aircraft hangered at the Lockhart airport. And he still fixes lawnmowers and chainsaws on South Main. Drop by and say hi some time.

tommy in one of his kit planes

Tommy takes off in a kit built aircraft.

tommy in shop

Notes: This story was published in the Lockhart Post Register and the Luling Newsboy Signal in August of 2014. Tommy passed away on January 7, 2016 at the age of 93. It was a privilege to have known him.



Del & award
Del Tally with the “Oscar’ of Safety Awards – FELLOW
Lt. Col. Delmar Tally, VNAF Advisor 1971

by Todd Blomerth



Todd Blomerth


I visited with Del Tally and his wife Betty in the bank a couple of months ago. As we visited, I mentioned my continued desire to interview veterans. I knew Del had served in the military, but at the time I was concentrating on World War Two veterans, and had not asked him about his service. Within the space of five minutes, I knew he had some stories that needed remembering. He and Betty graciously said I could visit them at their home. However, before that happened, Del wanted me to ‘read up a little ahead of time.’ Within a week of re-contacting Del, he dropped off two volumes on the A-37 Dragonfly, an aircraft I was completely unfamiliar with. I had some homework to complete.

            Delmar Tally was born in Lockhart on June 13, 1932, to Lonnie Erbin (“L.E.”) Tally and Bertha Mae (Harris) Tally. Del was the youngest of six children. Three died in infancy. The others were Nona (Romine) and A.L.  The first years of Del’s life were spent in Bateman, just across the Bastrop county line. L.E. was a barber, and had a small dairy. Del is proud of his five generations of Texas ancestors.

             Rural students in the 40s faced many challenges. Schools were small and scattered. The days of consolidated districts with financial resources were mostly in the future. While living in Bateman, Del first attended elementary school in Dale. Then the family moved closer to ‘town’ – three miles south of McMahan off a rutted road that would later become Highway 86. Del traveled on horseback to McMahan School every day until he completed the eighth grade. Bused in from McMahan to Lockhart for high school, he somehow managed to take care of chores on the home place and still play football. He was a hefty 130 pound halfback. He graduated in 1951 and enlisted in the United States Air Force. Older brother A.L. was already a pilot in the USAF, and I’m sure this was one of the incentives to join.

            In 1952, Del was accepted into pilot training. As an aviation cadet he transitioned from primary trainers into more complex and powerful aircraft at Bainbridge Air Base, GA  and at Webb AFB in Big Spring, TX.  He graduated #2 in his class and became an instructor pilot.  He trained many American, Turkish, Italian, and French student pilots.  He married his High School sweetheart, Jessie Mae Efird. They had a daughter Julie Hart, a recently retired L.I.S.D. District Nurse, and son David, a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) at the Austin  Convention Center.

            President Eisenhower sent brand new T-33 and F-86 aircraft and American flight instructors to Dhahran Air Base to train Saudi Arabian Air Force crews.  There Del trained the first class of Saudi Air Force pilots in 1958.

             1st Lieutenant Del Tally’s next stop was Castle AFB in Merced, California. He showed up expecting to become a B-52 pilot. The B-52, amazingly still in service today, was just coming on line as America’s main bomber. However, the base had failed an inspection, and the young officer was assigned to upgrade the T-33 trainer program. It was Del’s first taste of safety training, and it would serve him well the remainder of his professional careers.

            While an instructor pilot at Castle, 1st Lieutenant Del Tally had a near death experience. He and a student took off, and as the T-33 jet trainer climbed off the runway, it had a ‘flameout.’ Unable to restart the engine, Del chose not to drop the fuel tanks or bail out, because of heavily populated area below. He was able to turn back toward the runway, drop the landing gear, and make a dead stick landing, unaware that his aircraft was on fire. He then avoided a fully loaded B-52 bomber taxiing for takeoff. No one was injured. It seems that Del’s penchant for safely operating complex equipment paid off, as what could have been a disaster was averted by cool thinking, aviation skill, and God’s grace.


 Newspaper headline of the near disaster   



Del explaining his maneuvers to safely land

Receiving commendation after avoiding the crash


            The next stop – Bergstrom AFB in Austin, Texas. A major’s slot as flying safety officer / assistant base operations office came open. His training and record in safety helped get the position, and the young family moved to Lockhart. The Tallys lived next door to their good friend Dr. Phil Wales on Prairie Lea Street. Sadly, Dr. Wales, diagnosed Jessie Mae with leukemia in 1964. Treatment options weren’t what they are today. She died nine months later.

            Bergstrom AFB, at the time, was a Strategic Air Command base. As the safety officer, Capt Tally flew often with B-52s during Operation Chrome Dome. During the depths of the Cold War, B-52s with nuclear weapons on board were in the air continuously, as a precaution against a Soviet Union surprise attack on the United States. The 26 hour missions, with multiple refuelings, would fly near the North Pole, approach Soviet air space, and then return to home base. Del would join the crew as an evaluator, and racked up hundreds of hours with these top secret missions. Fortunately for the world, the therm25 LT COL DELMAR TALLY CHROME DOME ROUTEonuclear weapons were never used.

            The next stop for Del and his family (he remarried in 1966 to Autie Benson) was at the headquarters for the Strategic Air Command at Offutt AFB. He was the safety officer responsible for all non-tactical aircraft, up to and including the KC-135. In 1968, he became chief of safety for the 95th Strategic Wing at Goose Bay, Labrador.

            Then, in 1970, what seemed the inevitable happened. Major Del Tally received orders to Vietnam.

But first, he was sent to England AFB, outside of Alexandria, Louisiana where he learned to fly a most unusual aircraft – the A-37 Dragonfly. In the mid-1950s Cessna developed a highly successful jet trainer, the T-37. It’s high pitched engine noise eventually got it350px-Tweet_and_Super_Tweet dubbed “Tweety Bird,” or “Tweet.” It would serve as the primary jet trainer for the US Air Force for over 50 years. With the growing military involvement in Vietnam, a tougher variant of the T-37 was developed. With more powerful engines, beefed up armor, larger wingtip fuel tanks, a 7.62 mm minigun, tougher landing gear, and three stores pylons (“hardpoints”) under each wing, this small aircraft (dubbed “Dragonfly”) would prove to be one tough and dependable bird. The A model made its appearance in the war in 1967. The more robust B model rolled out in 1968.

The South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) had, up to now, flown the01 LT COL DELMAR TALLY SKYRAIDER propeller driven A-1 Skyraider. The Skyraider was tough, and could linger over the war zone for hours providing close air support to ground troops. However, its slow speeds made it vulnerable to ground fire. VNAF would continue to fly this aircraft, but was also provided with the A-37. The airplane flew one hundred miles slower than other jets, and its slower speed enabled pilots to achieve an incredible accuracy rate – something desperately needed in the jungle warfare of the area. Armed with napalm, rockets and conventional bombs, its appearance often made the difference between death and survival for ground troops.03 LT COL DELMAR TALLY A38

During Del’s assignment at DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam as Air Division Director of Safety and Instructor Pilot advisor, he flew 300 combat missions, including three missions on a Sunday afternoon with troops in contact with “bad guys” shooting mortars onto DaNang Air Base.  This resulted in a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) award to Tally.  Other AF medals include Bronze Star and air medals (13 oak clusters).  Del still has contact with some of the squadron VNAF pilot survivors he flew with in Vietnam.


The Citation for Lt. Col. Tally’s DFC


            Lt. Colonel Delmar Tally retired from the Air Force on August 1, 1973. He is rightly proud of his service to our country. He is just as proud of his subsequent professional achievements. His extensive safety training in the military served as a departure point for a transition into industrial safety.

            Immediately after his military retirement he went to work with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Dallas and then San Antonio.

            The Austin Chapter, Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America, hired him as Safety Manager to develop and improve their member safety programs.  Numerous national safety excellence awards were received by the chapter and the member companies during his tenure as Safety Manager and Executive Director.

            The Austin AGC and Del established Construction Safety and Health, Inc. (CSHI), a non -profit company to expand safety and health services to all Central Texas companies including construction and general industry including high tech companies such as Samsung, IBM, Motorola and many others.  CSHI safety professionals assisted safety managers write their safety manuals and taught safety courses in English and often in foreign languages such as Spanish, Korean, and Japanese.  Classes were taught to over 120,000 students.

         Del is a registered professional safety engineer in California and a Certified Safety Professional (CSP). Betty is also a Certified Safety Professional. Both continue as active members of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). They met when Del was with AGC, and she was an OSHA inspector. Betty retired from OSHA and worked at CSHI as a safety consultant before Del and Betty married in 1995.  Betty was honored as one of “100 Women Making a Difference in Safety” in 2011. Del received the Society’s highest honor, the “Fellow” designation in 1997 and the President’s Award in 2013. The ASSE is the oldest and largest professional safety organization. Its goal is to create safer work environments, and prevent workplace injuries. Del also served as the national ASSE president in 1985/86. He and Betty created the Delmar and Betty Tally Professional Education Grant, which provides financial incentives for further education of safety professionals. Del retired again a few years back.

            Del and Betty don’t let grass grow under their feet. They live on a ranch Del and his brother A.L. purchased many years ago, in the home Del designed in the 1970s. Until recently, they offered their services as professional consultants in industrial and construction safety. They raise black angus cattle. Del is chairman of the Old Red Rock Cemetery where so many of his family have been laid to rest. They are members of Lockhart’s First United Methodist Church.

            Please thank Lt. Colonel Tally for his many years of service to his country, next time you see him.








   I have had the privilege of knowing J. Frederic Bell since I

came to Caldwell County in 1981. He will turn 86 on March 4, but carries himself as a man much younger. His youth spent breaking horses, plowing fields, and ranching has served him well. He still insists that he can carry the load of a man half his age. If you watch him building ramps for the disabled with the Lockhart Kiwanis Club, his determination and toughness leave little doubt that he is right.

Fred came into this world in North Dakota in 1931. It was one of the toughest of times – the northern plains were in the midst of unremitting drought and the Depression. He was the fifth child, and third son of John L. Bell and Thelma German Bell. John Bell was a sodbuster. Thelma, of a ranching family, taught school in a one room school. John met Thelma, the schoolteacher, when she boarded at John’s brother’s home. They were eleven years apart. John and Thelma farmed and ranched in Stark County, seventeen miles from Belfield, the nearest settlement. They were far from electrical lines, paved roads, running water, and – until ranchers provided poles for lines in 1934 – telephones.

 Thelma’s first child was born in 1924 with cyanotic heart disease, referred to then as a ‘blue baby.’ He died shortly after birth. The country doctor told Thelma not to have any more children – they would all turn out the same. She proved him wrong. Between 1926 and 1945, she and John were the parents of fifteen more children, including four sets of twins. After a sister and twin brothers, Fred was delivered at home by his paternal grandmother.

Stark County’s population was Scotch-Irish, Russian German, and Norwegian. They were tough. They had to be, as ranch and farm life in the Dakotas was unforgiving. Winters were long, and often vicious. The Bell farmhouse was near a cottonwood tree. It was the only living thing higher than row crops and prairie grass as far as the eye could see. John Bell had homesteaded 160 acres in 1913. As Fred recalls, money was ‘’invisible,” cementing John’s belief in land as a valuable commodity. Farm prices plummeted in the 20s, and by hard work, savvy business acumen, and much good fortune, by 1943 had accumulated seven sections (4480 acres) of land.

 Cattle in western North Dakota were a mix of longhorns, Herefords, shorthorns, and Angus. By the time he was old enough for long pants, Fred’s job at the area roundups was tending the branding fire, and handing cowboys the iron, wrapped in a wet gunny sack, that corresponded to the right rancher as the calves were branded. By ten, he was breaking horses.

The one-room school in Stark County went to the eighth grade. Fred’s older sister took high school courses by correspondence. Fred and his twin older brothers heard the same courses being taught six or seven times in that tiny school, and essentially skipped a grade. By the age of twelve, Fred had earned the state’s eight grade certificate. John Bell wanted a better chance at education for his family. In 1943, the seven sections were sold, and the family moved to Dickey County, on the other side of the state. The family continued to farm and ranch, but John and Thelma also bought a home in town.

Ellendale, the county seat, was home to a tiny teachers’ college – North Dakota State Normal and Industrial School. The college also provided high school courses. The college enrollment was tiny, and at fourteen, he was recruited to fill out the college football squad. “But I’m fourteen,” the tenth grader told the coach. “No, you are sixteen,” the coach replied. In the middle of the war, football conferences and of-age players had disappeared. The small team traveled to nearby colleges in two station wagons.

At thirteen, Fred witnessed Dick, his beloved older brother, die when the John Deere tractor Dick was driving flipped over on him. “As I walked the half-mile to the house to tell my mother, I knew I had to assume a bigger leadership role.” And he did.

John Bell bought a lumber supply business in Ellendale in 1947, the year Fred graduated from high school. Fred received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1951 from the small college. He then enrolled at the University of Wyoming.  While working on a Master’s degree, Fred met an Air Force recruiter. The Air Force was expanding its electronic warfare program. It sounded interesting, so he signed up. He was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in 1952. While stationed at Ellington Air Force Base, outside of Houston, he met his future wife, Florence “Flo” Helen Van Dyke at a jazz jam session. They will celebrate sixty-four years of marriage on September 19th. They have four living children, seven grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.

Fred’s Air Force career led him and his growing family to several assignments. He spent five years with a reconnaissance squadron07 FRED BELL B-36 at Ellsworth AFB near Rapid City. Its B-36 “Peacemaker,” was the world’s largest mass produced piston aircraft. The plane was huge, and could carry ten times the bomb-load of a B-17. The Cold War was raging, and the aircraft was one of the Strategic Air Command’s (SAC) responses to fears of a war with the Soviet Union. Many carried nuclear weapons. Others, as in Fred’s squadron, flew reconnaissance missions. With a range of nearly 10,000 miles, and a service ceiling of 50,000 feet, the recon aircraft could and often did probe (and penetrate) Soviet borders. The B-36s, with their fifteen to twenty-three man crews were placed in the far northern states for Arctic overflights. The B-36 was too slow, too complicated, and too expensive to maintain, and was soon obsolete. SAC transitioned to the jet powered B-52, which is still flying today.

Fred’s next assignment was with a combat evaluation group at Barksdale AFB, near Bossier City, Louisiana. Then it was back north, to Grand Forks AFB, where Fred flew as an electronics warfare officer on the B-52H and logged over 2000 hours. There was a brief stint at Command and Staff College in Alabama. Stability for the Bell family seemed at hand, as he was recently promoted to a major and given a staff position at Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, NC. Fred and Flo bought a house, and settled the family into what was hoped to be a long assignment. The military had other plans.

By 1965 the American commitment in Southeast Asia had grown from anti-insurgency aid to South Vietnam, into a full born war. Fifteen months after arriving at Seymour Johnson AFB, Major Bell received his new orders – he was assigned as an electronic warfare officer on an F-105 “Wild Weasel”. With a short training stop at Nellis AFB, Nevada, he was soon bound for Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base in northeast Thailand and assigned to the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron “Panther Pack.” The eight months there would prove the most dangerous and deadly period in his life.

As the Vietnam Conflict grew into what many thought was a test of the United States’ theory of ‘containment’ of communism, the Soviet Union and communist China poured more and more resources into communist North Vietnam. The supplies flowed south, nourishing warfare in South Vietnam. There is no possible way in this biography, to discuss the efficacy of US strategy in Southeast Asia, nor try to address all nuances of the politics of the era. Suffice it to say, from a tactical point of view, US planners viewed choking off supplies to the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and insurgent Viet Cong (VC), as an absolute necessity to maintaining South Vietnam as a separate country. There would later be a sense of the futility of the effort, given country borders that existed only on paper, jungles, and the full-scale commitment of North Vietnam and its allies to achieve conquest, as well as the many moral and political questions of the US’s role in the area.

            During his first years in the Air Force, Fred had taken civilian flying lessons and received his pilot’s license. The license did not endow him with the skill needed to fly a jet, but the rudiments of flying proved invaluable in the days to come.

            Fred’s arrival in Thailand coincided with increasing American commitment to stopping the North Vietnamese from conquering the south. Air operations became larger and more complex.

The overall air campaign above the Demilitarized Zone was dubbed Operation Rolling Thunder. It was conceived as a way to hammer North Vietnam into submission. Political considerations devolved, some would say, into a ‘gradualism’ approach toward air warfare. North Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, was off limits during 1965-1968, as were certain port facilities. American air power was countered by Russian and Chinese anti-aircraft artillery, and increasingly sophisticated surface to air missiles (SAMs). In 1965, the “wild weasel” concept came into being, with USAF F-100 Super Sabres playing “flashlight tag” with NVA radar and SAM sites. The plan was for Wild Weasel aircraft to lead bombing missions, and bait the NVA into turning on attack radar, and, using radar-seeking missiles, take them out before harm could come to the follow-on bombers.

F-100s weren’t up to the task, taking large casualties in a very short time. Fred says about that period, “We learned by getting shot down.” The task was then assigned to a two-seater variant of the F-105 Thunderchief, or “Thud.” Typically, four Wild Weasels would fly ahead of a bombing mission of other F-105s, with F4 Phantoms flying top cover. Hopefully, SAM and radar sites would illuminate, and the Wild Weasel aircraft could take them out with missiles before harm came to the bombing formation. Sometimes it worked. 16 FRED BELL DRAWING RADAR INSTALLATIONSSometimes it didn’t. As the electronic warfare officer, Fred was the ‘backseater” on the F-105, watching a radar screen, detecting radar and SAM launch F-105 with full combat load over North Vietnam tones, listening to radio communications, and giving instructions to his pilot and three other Wild Weasels in his flight. He was fortunate to be teamed up with Major Howard “HK” White. The two became a fearsome duo. White was an excellent pilot. Fred knew his electronic counter-measures. He also knew enough about aircraft systems that he could assist as a pilot backup           when needed. In Wild Weasel missions, attacks on military installations meant coming in very fast, and often very low. Two sets of eyes were crucial to survival. This was especially true as the NVA became familiar with the bombing routes. “Route Pack Six” was the main flight route from Thailand into the Hanoi/Haiphong area. “We were as predictable as the sun rising in the east,” said Fred.

The Americans’ predictability allowed the enemy to plant his 37mm, 57mm and 85 mm anti-aircraft batteries along known air routes. SAM missiles became more sophisticated. The North Vietnamese fighters, often flown by Chinese, also exacted a toll. Using heat seeking missiles, they would follow a fighter-bomber down, and at the vulnerable point of weapon release, shoot a heat-seeker, and then leave. The only way to avoid these missiles was by violent evasive tactics.

It was a high stakes cat and mouse game. Success for the Americans was a combat mission with no lost planes or pilots. Success for the North was disrupted bomb runs and destroyed aircraft. Both sides grew smarter the longer they dueled. USAF attacks required refueling, both inbound, and outbound. The Wild Weasel’s motto was “First In – Last Out.” Providing protection for bombing missions meant lingering over planned targets. It also meant very low fuel reserves on the return to friendly territory. KC-135 tanker aircraft weren’t supposed to enter North Vietnamese airspace. But, when necessary, they did.ROUTE PACK SIX

Route Pack Six was considered the most dangerous airspace in the world. It covered both Hanoi and Haiphong, and therefore covered the vast majority of strategic targets in the country. As noted by one commentator:

 When the air war started, the entire North Vietnamese air defense system contained twenty-two early warning radars, four fire-control radars, and 700 anti-aircraft guns. By 1967, North Vietnam was firing 25,000 tons of anti-aircraft ammunition a month. When President Johnson halted Rolling Thunder on 1 November 1968, this had grown to 400 radar sites, 8,050 anti-aircraft guns, 150 fighters (including reserves based in China), and 40 SA-2 Guideline missile sites.


            You got to got home after 100 missions, or one year – whichever came first. Fred arrived in Thailand on December 1, 1966. His first mission was on December 7, 1966. He flew his one hundredth mission on July 4, 1967.  At the beginning of his tour, when there was a shortage of electronic warfare officers and Wild Weasel pilots, he flew sixty combat missions in forty-seven days.

            Route Pack Six fighters entered North Vietnam over the Red River. To cover their approach, Wild Weasels would often use the radar-blocking range of mountains dubbed “Thud Ridge.” Popping up, they would then begin suppression missions. If a missile took out a radar or SAM site, the Wild Weasels would follow up with low level cluster bombs. Fred received a Silver Star for his actions in one Wild Weasel action.F-105 AVOIDING A SAM That day, three radar sites painted the four aircraft formation. There was a launch of two SAMs from one launch site. Then a launch from another site of two more. Then a launch from a third site of two more. “You couldn’t outrun a SAM,” he said. “But it would go 2000 miles an hour. We flew at around 600 miles an hour. We had a smaller turning radius. If you knew what you were doing, you could outsmart one.” As the EW officer, Major Bell gave instructions to the four Wild Weasel F-105s which allowed them to evade the deadly missiles. As Fred says, “It was a good day.”

F-105 with full combat load

            There were other “good days.” Once, he spotted a new airfield being constructed enroute to another target. When the powers that be finally allowed it, the Thuds came in at low level, destroying the field with its aircraft and supporting structures. Another time, there was a confirmed destruction of a SAM battery.

            Often, upon exiting North Vietnam, Fred would see smaller caliber anti-aircraft bursts just below the F105’s flight levels. “The flak bursts were as dense as any picture I’ve seen of World War II missions over Germany,” he says.

            Fred makes light of the dangers he and his compatriots faced. Ed Rasimus, who flew the F-105D, wrote a memoir called When Thunder Rolled.  He writes:

            Over six months that it took to fly my 100 missions my roommate kept a diary that listed each time we lost someone. During the tour we lost 110% of the aircraft assigned and 60% of the pilots who started the 100 mission tour didn’t finish.

Fred’s one-hundredth mission was a rare night one. “We arrived back at two a.m. Our fellow pilots and crews kept the officer’s club open for us,” he tells me. After the ritual dunking in the officers club pool, he and White rang the 100 mission bell. They were going home.23 FRED BELL RINGING THE BELL 100TH MISSION

Fred’s next assignments were interesting and far safer. While at Strike Command, he traveled to Liberia, Congo, and Ethiopia, inspecting American supported missions there. He commanded an electronic warfare training squadron. He finished his military career as an Air Force liaison officer to the Nationalist Chinese on Taiwan.

            Retirement eventually brought the Bell family to Caldwell County. Fred was executive manager for the Plum Creek Conservation District for thirty years.

            Never afraid of hard work, Fred has donated thousands of hours to his church and community. He has served in many capacities with the Kiwanis Club, both locally and regionally. He directed and acted in Lockhart Community Theater plays for over twenty-six years.

            If you are lucky enough to catch him, thank him for his service to our country.

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By Todd Blomerth

Johnny Siemering is 93 years young. Until his knees started giving him fits, you would not find him at home on Friday or Saturday nights – he would be dancing at a Hermann Sons function, or at a Community Center somewhere in the area. As it is, he is sharper than folks half his age. His love of life is infectious – spend a few minutes with him and you find yourself smiling with one of the most delightful persons in Caldwell County – of any age.

johnny-as-a-young-boy-with,Johnny was born in Maxwell, Texas in 1921. His parents, John August Siemering and Henrietta (Wink) Siemering were of German heritage. John August farmed with mules on 112 acres, and Henrietta taught school. Johnny was the oldest of five children. His sisters were Doris (Colgin) and Helen (Schmidt). His brothers were James or Jimmy, and Robert. Helen and Jimmy live in Creedmoor and Uhland, respectively. Doris and Robert have passed away.

Johnny attended school in Maxwell, and graduated from high school in the 11th grade, which is as far as secondary school went in the late 1930s. The Siemering family rarely made it into town. There was too much work to be done, and there was very little money. He, Ellis Clark and other friends would on Sunday head to the Blanco River to swim, and then roast ears of corn. It was a simpler time.

         After graduation, Johnny attended a six week farming program at Southwest Texas Teachers College, and then went to work at the Luling Foundation Farm. He has fond memories of his three years working there. Walter Cardwell Sr. was the Farm’s general manager. There were four departments – poultry, beef, farm and dairy – and he worked in all of them during his tenure. He lived in one of the bunkhouses. “We weren’t paid much, I think it started at $21 a month along with room and board, but the food was great.” Edgar B. Davis even roomed in one of the bunkhouses during one of his periods of financial difficulty. The learning experience under supervisors Mr. Prove, Mr. Tilley, and the veterinarian Dr. Redmond proved invaluable. He has fond memories of working with the Jersey cows, and the special treat of drinking the Foundation Farm’s delicious chocolate milk!!!!

Johnny was working for the Luling Foundation Farm when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He first tried to enlist in the Army Air Corps to become an aviator, but slight color blindness prevented that. So he volunteered for the newly created Naval Construction Battalions (“Seabees”). Initially, the average age of a Seabee was 37 years, because of the emphasis on men experienced in construction trades. Although much younger than the average, Johnny had substantial training and experience that made him a perfect fit for his new role as a Seabee. The U.S. Navy’s succinct description of the Seabees’ contribution to the defeat of the Axis powers doesn’t begin to reflect the admiration of the Marines who served with them in the Pacific:

More than 325,000 men served with the Seabees in World War II, fighting and building on six continents and more than 300 islands. In the Pacific, where most of the construction work was needed, the Seabees landed soon after the Marines and built major airstrips, bridges, roads, warehouses, hospitals, gasoline storage tanks and housing.

The Seabee Construction Battalion, usually comprising around 1100 men, was made up of four companies, along with a headquarters section with support personnel such as storekeepers, cooks, and medical staff. Reporting for training in December, 1942, Johnny was assigned to the 39th Construction Battalion. He did his basic trainingseabees-insignia at Norfolk, Virginia. The Virginia winter weather was bitter, and he recalled the mostly southern trainees huddling under insufficient blankets as they tried futilely to get warm in the camp’s tents at night! The 39th moved to the new Seabee base at Port Hueneme, California, and then was shipped to Hawaii. The unit arrived at Maui on September 23, 1943 and for the next 10 months constructed airfields at Kahului. The rocky terrain proved a test of the Seabees’ abilities. Johnny remembers 100 train car-loads of dynamite needed to blast out the airfields. Johnny wanted to be a part of the construction but was assigned as a guard, which he hated. Happily, he was re-assigned as a truck driver hauling grease and lubrication to construction equipment at construction sites.blasting-airfield-maui

As 1944 wore on, the Battalion’s men knew inevitably that it would be re-assigned to a combat area. However rumors flew that, no, they were going to be sent back to the mainland. Then reality reared its head. In July the Battalion got word it was going to be shipped out to some Pacific island. The Battalion moved to Pearl Harbor on Oahu in late August, and underwent some grueling but thankfully shortened Marine training. Originally scheduled for Guam, the 39th was re-assigned to Saipan. The Battalion’s men spent miserable shipboard time sailing to Saipan. Too hot to sleep below decks, Johnny and others would drag mattresses onto ship decks to try to get some rest. He vividly remembers seeing the devastation of several of the Marshall Islands resulting from the U.S. invasions of those Japanese-held islands.

 tinian-shotThe U.S. Marines landed on Saipan beginning on June 15, 1944. Met with fierce resistance, the island was not declared “secured” until July 9, 1944. Declaring an island secure did not ensure that there were no longer enemy on the island – rather, that ‘organized resistance’ had ended. The 39th Construction Battalion began embarking on September 7, 1944 at Pearl Harbor, and it arrived at Saipan on September 30, 1944.

Several other Battalions were already there, some having gone ashore with the Marines on June 15th. In the words of CMD David Moore (Ret), a Seabee who was in that early group, “The Seabees gained the respect of the Marines with their ‘can do’ attitude. They built whatever the Marines needed – roads, water supplies, barracks, fuel storage, piers, airfields and many more. “

      While missing the horrors of the landing, the 39th’s men still were witness to the physical and human devastation visited upon the island and its people. The 39th Construction Battalion would remain on Saipan for the remainder of the War.

                 Saipan’s Isely Field With B29s

Given the dicey situation with hidden Japanese defenders still holding out, the Seabees were required to carry M-1 carbines. Saipan (along with Tinian and Guam) provided the US Army Air Forces with the bases within the range for the massive airstrikes  against the Japanese home islands needed to subjugate the Japanese Empire with the new B-29 Superfortress. With its huge bomb load and fuel load, it needed long runways to reach the speeds necessary to lift off for the nearly 3000 mile round trip bomb run to Japan. Five large runways were constructed on the three islands.  The Americans also constructed a large radar station on Saipan’s highest point. Johnny’s time on Saipan stirs both good and bad memories. His best memories were of helping his fellow Seabees and the marines and soldiers on the island. The construction battalions were instrumental in creating fresh water showers. Until that time, troops had to endure the misery of tropical heat and bathing in sea water. Johnny, by now a Machinist Mate 3rd Class, was instrumental in building an ice machine. He drove a truck providing supplies to construction crews on the island. He became legendary for his hauling ice to the heat prostrated work crews, particularly at the radar station.

Johnny’ service as a Seabee contributed to a proud tradition. Again, quoting from the Navy’s history:

Although Seabees were only supposed to fight to defend what they built, such acts of heroism were numerous. In all, Seabees earned 33 Silver Stars and 5 Navy Crosses during World War II. But they also paid a price: 272 enlisted men and 18 officers killed in action. In addition to deaths sustained as a result of enemy action, more than 500 Seabees died in accidents, for construction is essentially a hazardous business.


The 39th Construction Battalion was inactivated on September 28, 1945, and Johnny came home that November. In 1946, Johnny married the love of his life, Olice Dale Bible, whose brother George, a Marine, had died on Guam. Olice had first met Johnny when she was 13 and he had come to her family’s house in Martindale on a double date. Spotting him in the livin2245g room, she immediately fell in love with him, but would have to wait until after the war to begin dating her husband-to-be. They had 61 wonderful years together. Olice died in 2007. The couple was blessed with three daughters, Ginger (Hughes), Cathy (Gideon), and Peggy (Germer). Cathy passed away in 2000. They were also blessed with many grandchildren. And friends? There are too many to count.

Initially working for the Harry Schawe gin, he then went to work for Lockhart’s Goodyear dealership after the war. He narrowly missed being killed in 1965 when a truck tire rim blew off, crushing his left leg. Dr. Tom Connolly rigged up a traction apparatus at the Lockhart Hospital and for six weeks Johnny lay in traction as weights were adjusted over his tractioned leg. Miraculously, his leg was saved. Even more miraculously, he walks without a limp even today.

Johnny went into full time farming after recovering from the explosion. He farmed milo, cotton and corn, and raised cattle until retiring. Retirement did not in any way mean that he retired from life. Johnny’s life is filled with family and friends. He was raised in Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Maxwell, and continues as an active member.

 Tell him thanks for his service, next time you see him. That is, if you can catch up with him.

Clark Elwell’s School Project Proudly Telling of His Hero’s War Service

(Thanks to John Moore, son of CMD David Moore  (deceased)  for his kind permission to use quotes from his father’s story of the Seabees on Saipan)




I want to tell you a story about someone many of us have the privilege of knowing. Fresh out of medical school, in 1944 he was sent as a young military officer to the Pacific Theater. His wartime service as a Navy physician exposed him to some of the most interesting experiences of his life – and some of the most tragic. He carries those memories with him today, at the age of 95. A venerable patriarch, well loved and deeply admired, he served our country in World War II. Not as warrior, but as a healer.

            I had the privilege of visiting with the Dr. Philip Wales in his home last month. He was kind enough to share with me some stories of life in the military. His memory is flawless. Hopefully, my historical research adequately complements it.

Philip Wales was born in Florence, Williamson County, Texas on June 19, 1919 to Prosper and Ruth Wales. His sister Lois would come along a few years later. His father was the president of Florence’s Union State Bank. Times were tough in rural Texas. Being financially ‘well off’ in rural Texas in the 1920s and 1930s was a relative term. He is very proud of his father’s legacy as a man who understood the struggles to survive during the Depression and who was willing to lend money to farmers for crops and seed. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered all banks closed for several days to prevent a run on their cash assets in what was called the Bank Holiday. It staved off what would have been a national disaster. He still remembers those times and how, because of Prosper’s stewardship, the Union State Bank survived

After graduating from high school at the age of sixteen, Dr. Wales enrolled in Abilene Christian College, intent on becoming a doctor. Upon graduation, he applied to the University of Texas School of Medicine in Galveston (UTMB). Despite excellent grades, acceptance to medical school was not guaranteed. There were only two medical schools in Texas in those days – UTMB and Baylor – and each took classes of only 100 students. With America’s entry into World War II almost assured, there were many eager to attend medical school, and undergraduates had to compete with graduate students and others with advanced training for the few spaces available. UTMB received over 1500 applications. Dr. Wales’ was one of the 100 chosen

Wanting to serve in the United States Naval Reserve, Dr. Wales enlisted while at Abilene Christian and applied for an appointment as an officer. During medical school, he carried the rank of an ensign. Upon graduation from medical school in 1943 (in an accelerated three year program) he was promoted to Lieutenant (JG) in a ceremony at Corpus Christ Naval Air Station. He excelled in school, and was a member of two fraternities, Phi Chi and Theta Kappa Psi. He also received additional training in anesthesiology.

Dr. Wales was sent to San Diego for a modified basic training for medical officers. Bachelor officers’ quarters were scarce so the government requisitioned the famous Hotel Del Coronado. One half of it provided housing for naval officers in training or awaiting transfer to other assignments. The other half was reserved as temporary quarters for families of naval personnel already shipped out. From San Diego, Dr. Wales was ordered to Point Hueneme, near Oxnard, California. Soon he was enroute to Hawaii on a convoy of troopships escorted by a cruiser and half a dozen destroyers. He remembers that the scars of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor were still very apparent as they sailed into port. Salvage operations were still ongoing. The USS Arizona entombed the bodies of 1100 sailors. It was a solemn introduction to the realities of war.

Although eventually to be based at the Navy’s huge anchorage at Ulithi, Dr. Wales and other medical personnel were temporarily assigned to medical facilities on the island of Guam. An American possession until taken by the Japanese in 1941, it had been retaken by the Marines in July and August of 1944. Although technically ‘secured,’ fighting was still going on in the hills when he arrived. Doctor Wales gives much credit to the Seabees – construction units – that were unafraid to go anywhere to build runways and facilities. They and Army engineers proved their worth in Guam. After the retaking of Guam, hospital construction began in September of 1944. There were occasional light moments. Dr. Wales tells of starving Japanese who would sneak down from the hills in stolen American uniforms and attempt to line up for chow. They would be quickly nabbed and put in the stockade – and then fed.


By February of 1945, about 9000 beds were in service at three Navy hospital and two Army hospitals. They would be needed. Dr. Wales (who was, as one might expect, nicknamed “Tex”) became part of the huge contingency of medical personnel preparing to treat those wounded in the expected attack on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. After the bloody horrors of Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Tarawa and most recently, Peleliu, planners knew very well what to expect. Medical support was better than at any time in the past.

iwo-flamethrowerThe island of Iwo Jima was honeycombed with miles of tunnels and thousands of hidden gun emplacements and covered with interlocking fields of fire. Japan had demonstrated repeatedly its contempt for the conventional understanding of warfare – in China, Manchuria, Indo-China, Philippines, and on Pacific Islands. Japan’s warriors had no intention of beach-medical-caresurrendering. There was absolutely no way to root out concealed killers moving back and forth from hidden bunker to hidden bunker. Ultimately, there were more total casualties to Marines and Navy at Iwo than to the Japanese. Almost to iwo-blood-in-foxholea man, the subjugation of the island required to extermination of the garrison of over 20,000 men. Over 800 corpsmen, stretcher bearers and doctors were killed and wounded by the defenders. There was no understanding of, or agreement with, the accords for ‘humane warfare’ (as if such a thing exists). According to a subsequent analysis by military historian Dr. Norman Cooper, “Nearly seven hundred Americans gave their lives for every square mile. For every plot of ground the size of a football field, an average of more than one American and five Japanese were killed and five Americans wounded.”  Napalm, white phosphorus and flamethrowers were often the only weapons that were effective.iwo-wounded-lifted-into-ships

            Huge hospital ships stood offshore at Iwo Jima, filling their wards with the wounded and dying. Physicians stabilized the badly wounded, and the ships, with names like Bountiful, Samaritan, and Solace, made round trips to Guam to offload the damaged men. Hospital ships had surgical suites. Amputations were common. The medical staffs worked overtime to deal with wounds and injuries from mines, bullets and artillery. Americans too were burned – by the enemy’s use of similar weapons, by friendly fire, bombs falling to close, and accidents. The horrors of burn victims were agonizing for guam-fleet-hospital-wardseveryone witnessing them.

With a specialty in anesthesiology, Dr. Wales’ expertise was an absolute necessity. The wounded that still dwell in Dr. Wales’ mind were the young Marines suffering from burns. They were treated in the ward manned by Dr. Wales and others. He saw many young Marines who were going to die. It was just a matter of when.  Heroic measures were taken to save them. Skin grafts were made when possible.  But it was often not enough. Dr. Wales reports that if there were deep third degree burns covering 30% or more of a man’s body, he would die. If his lungs had been seared, he would die. In those instances, the only care was palliative. All the medical staff could do was hydrate, provide comfort, and give morphine to ease the pain. Less that 50% of the Marines treated in his burn ward survived. “There was nothing we could do,” he said, “except try to ease the suffering.”


Dr. Wales won’t spend too much time on the sadness of seeing young men die and suffer, other than to say that it haunted him. It also gave him experience and training that he could never have duplicated in civilian life. I have no doubt that it made him a much better doctor, and a more empathetic one. How did he handle the tragedy of so many young men dying or forever horribly mutilated? “I didn’t,” he said. He was deeply saddened and depressed, and would return to the wards at night. Like every other American, he was afraid – afraid of what would happen to hundreds of thousands of young American boys when the invasion of the Japanese homelands occurred. Indoctrination of all personnel was given on what to expect – a well armed and fanatic populace where every man, woman and child could be expected to give his or her life for the emperor, and where no quarter was to be given nor expected. In short, a bloodbath of epic proportions. Its looming reality was a very real presence to every other American in uniform in the Pacific (and most of those in Europe who were to be rotated to the Pacific for the invasion).


Most of Dr. Wales’ active duty time was spent at the huge naval facility on Ulithi. The westernmost of the Caroline Islands, the Ulithi Atoll would become one of America’s best kept secret weapons. Its huge and deep waters, surrounded by forty small islands at one time provided anchorage to over 700 ships of all kinds. Deserted by the Japanese in early 1944, it was taken over by the Americans that August. Almost overnight this distant and nearly empty place was transformed – floating dry docks big enough to dry lift battleships, tenders, mess halls, supply depots, and ice cream barges.

 There was much medicine to be practiced, as Ulithi had large medical facilities as well. Nevertheless, there was also time for occasional frivolity and laughter. Being low man on the totem pole so to speak, Dr. Wales was Ulithi’s sanitation and recreation officer along with his medical duties. He still chuckles at the reaction given him when he shut down the Marines’ galley at their airbase. The commanding general got mad, but there was nothing he could do about it, so the Marines cleaned the place up and it got reopened.

            Different islands were fortified. Mogmog became an R&R place where men could drink a few (warm) beers.

            The nearby Yap archipelago had been surrounded and the Japanese force of nearly 6000 isolated. The Americans did run continuous bombing and strafing runs on Yap – and often with dire consequences to the attackers. Many were shot down.

            The islanders living on the scattered islets of Ulithi were moved to Fedraey, one of the atoll’s small islands. The islanders took it stride, and the Americans provided food and tent housing. Dr. Wales and other medical personnel would periodically take a small boat to the island to provide medical care. “They were a handsome and friendly people,” he said. The chief was paralyzed from polio, but had cadged a Japanese motorized ammunition cart which he drove around. Dr. Wales got along with him famously, in part because he brought the chief cartons of American cigarettes. He would sew up gashed heads and fix broken arms. The children enjoyed the strangers, and Dr. Wales often recruited some of the children to help him distribute the vitamins.


            Dr. Wales came back to mainland United States in December of 1945 on an aircraft carrier along with 4000 soldiers, sailors and marines housed in the hangar deck. The ship docked in Seattle. Shivering in the winter cold, he walked into town and bought two pairs of long handled underwear. He eventually took a train to Long Beach, California, and then onto Houston. Back in Texas, Dr. Wales continued as a physician in the United States Navy Reserve, retiring as a captain (naval equivalent of a colonel) after thirty years of service.

Returning from the war, he took a surgical residency in San Antonio, and later in Austin. He met Dr. Riley Ross in Austin. Riley introduced Dr. Wales to his brother, Dr. Abner Ross. As partners, Drs. Dubois, Ross and Dr. Wales opened the Lockhart Medical Center. Struck down by appendicitis in the early 1950s, he was cared for by a beautiful young nurse named Elizabeth Schneider. Wisely, he sought her hand in marriage. They married at First Baptist Church on May 1, 1952. Hundreds of Caldwell County citizens were delivered by Dr. Wales. Hundreds owe their lives to his skills as a physician and obstetrician.

The next time you see Dr. Wales, don’t forget to thank him for the healing and comfort he provided to so many American men grievously wounded in battle.




James Leslie Dilworth’s motto is, emphatically “it is not the years in life that count – it is the life in the years that count.” He certainly has lived his life accordingly. Leslie, as he goes by will be 100 years young on January 27, 2015. His life is a celebration of the endless possibilities for achievement through hard work and determination.

In Texas the Depression didn’t start in 1929. For rural Texans, times were tough long before the stock market crash of 1929. Leslie was a child of those times. His mother, Beulah Hodges, and father, John Marion Dilworth, were from the Belmont area, where John was a rancher and livestock trader. Leslie’s only sibling, his sister Grace Loise, was ten when he was born. His dad moved the family from Belmont to Luling where he also went into the feed and grocery business. Sadly, Leslie’s mother died when he was ten. When Leslie was fourteen he lost his sister. Loise and her husband were visiting in Arkansas when she became gravely ill. John took the train to see his daughter, and then sent a telegram to Luling for Leslie to come as well. Loise, knowing she was dying, wanted to see her baby brother. Leslie’s first trip from home ended abruptly in Northeast Texas when another telegram was received telling him to return home. His sister had died before he could see her.

            Leslie doesn’t remember not working. John Dilworth bought and cottonseed in his small grocery store, which required stirring to avoid spoiling and spontaneous combustion. By the age of ten, Leslie was turning cottonseed after school, and ‘there was tons of it.’ At twelve he became a Western Union messenger using his new bicycle. When school was out for the summer he chopped and picked cotton and hauled hay, many times for an African American gentleman and friend of the family, Henry Hutcheson.

            John Dilworth remarried a couple of years after Beulah’s death. Leslie and his step-mother weren’t very close. Leslie’s step-mother did not drive. Wanting to visit some of her family in Dallas, John solved the problem by assigning Leslie as her chauffeur.  Although never before having driven outside of Caldwell County off he went to Dallas.  He was fourteen. There was a bright side – he got to go the Texas State Fair.

Leslie attended schools in Luling, but did not finish the 9th grade as “the Luling schools felt they could do better without me.” I get the impression that he must have been a handful to deal with! His maternal aunts decided he needed some better supervision than what was being offered in Caldwell County, so off he went to live with one of them in Galveston, where he says he “coasted for a while.” That is hard to believe. Soon, he was back in Luling, and with no school to distract him, was delivering 50 pound blocks of ice. He moved back to Galveston where he worked 72 hours a week in a filling station, then on a dry-dock, and finally at the Buccaneer Hotel as a bellboy, where he often made 5 dollars a day in tips!  This was a princely sum.


                      Buying and Selling Cattle – 1940                              19-luling-auction-barn 

1974-In Business in Luling

Returning to Caldwell County, he first worked on a pipeline crew and then went into the cattle and hog business with his father. He also got married in 1939 to Lennah Martha Bright. They were life partners until her death in 2001.  Leslie and Lennah moved to San Antonio, where he worked for the Union Livestock Commission, while also taking care of his own cattle in Caldwell County. He and Lennah lived in San Antonio for 49 years, most of the time at 540 Westminister.

At Armor School

In 1940 time came for all young American men to register for the draft. As Leslie was married, he did not receive a call-up notice until 1943. He could have claimed a deferment, but instead answered Uncle Sam’s call on May 18th, 1943. His initial training was at Republican Flats adjunct to Ft. Riley, Kansas, a Cavalry Replacement Training Center. Once through basic and advance training, he was promoted to corporal, and then to sergeant.  Because of his maturity and an excellent training record, he was assigned as a training sergeant, where he met many interesting men, including fighter Joe Lewis.

After Ft. Riley, he was transferred to Gainesville, Texas for additional training. He applied for airborne training. The Army in its wisdom instead decided to make him an officer and a gentleman in its Armor branch, and sent him to Ft. Knox on November 27, 1944 to in its officer training program. He graduated on May 5, 1945. While at Ft. Knox, Leslie made friends with some Colombians, who would eventually return to their country. He was promised a high-paying position in the Colombian Army, once the war was over. He politely decided against that, a         13-tank                              Training Men on Armored Reconnaissance              

17-guarding-convoys                                                        On Convoy Duty

decision he still is relieved to have made. As a freshly minted second lieutenant, he was re-assigned to Ft. Riley. There, he briefly trained soldiers in armored reconnaissance and operation of various types of tanks. As a tank commander perched in the cupola, he would signal the driver-trainee with foot pressure to his back. Left foot in back – turn left. Right foot to the driver’s back – turn right. Stop – both feet to the back. You get the idea. One of his trainees wasn’t paying attention and headed for a precipice. Left foot – nothing. Right foot – nothing. Leslie used both feet to signal stop. Nothing. Then both feet HARD! Nothing. Almost crushing the driver with his feet, the tank continued over the precipice, with the cupola ring bruising Leslie badly. “I’m glad I didn’t see that fellow again.”

By now the war in Europe was over. All eyes turned to the Pacific, where the war with Japan still raged. America and its allies began preparation for invasions of Japan’s home islands. Bloody battles on Iwo Jima and other islands had left thousands of young American boys dead and wounded. On and in the waters around the island of Okinawa, the Americans were locked in the most brutal land and sea battle of the Pacific Theater. In the meantime, 2nd Lt. Dilworth was shipped to Ft. Ord, California for invasion training. Assigned as a transportation officer, he spent 30 miserable days on a troop transport, landing in the Philippines in late July, 1945. Like every other soldier, sailor and marine in the Pacific he dreaded what was about to occur. Harry Truman is Dilworth’s favorite president. Without question, he believes that President Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan saved his life and those of millions of others. He was at Base

15-with-tribesmen                                   With Bontoc Tribesmen in the Highlands      

12-some-fun-in-philippines                                                 It Wasn’t All Hard Work

14-sign                                               Dangers? The Sign Says It All               

            16-japanese-prisoners  Supervising Japanese Prisoners of War

“M” near Lingayen Bay on Northern Luzon when Japan surrendered. Assigned to a truck platoon of the 869th Heavy Automotive Maintenance Company, Leslie helped ensure that the neglected and war-battered Philippine transportation system functioned. Huge amounts of equipment were being moved to ships to be returned to the US and convoys had to deal with an often non-existent infrastructure. Leslie recalls when a tractor-trailer rig got stuck trying to make a curve on a mountain road. When efforts to free it failed, the men just jacked one side up and rolled it off the road and down the mountain. It was that kind of time and place. Japanese POWs, awaiting repatriation were used to build and repair roads. The Americans hired Filipinos to work in many capacities. The mountainous areas of Luzon were populated by many different tribal groups, including the Igorot people. Comprised of several sub-groups, including the Bontoc, they were small in stature. These remarkable “mountain people” or Cordillerans, were former headhunters. They worked closely with Americans as guides, porters and laborers. Leslie’s photo scrapbook shows his deep interest it their lives, and the mutual respect this American and his Bontoc friends had for each other.

By 1945, there were several guerilla groups fighting the Japanese, collaborators, and sometimes, each other. One very large group was the predominantly Marxist Hukbalahap (“Huk”) movement. Ray Hunt, an American who led a band of guerillas, had little use for the Huks. He was quoted by William Breuer in The Great Raid: Rescuing the Doomed Ghosts of Bataan and Corregidor:

My experiences with the Huks were always unpleasant. Those I knew were much better assassins than soldiers. Tightly disciplined and led by fanatics, they murdered some Filipino landlords and drove others off to the comparative safety of Manila. They were not above plundering and torturing ordinary Filipinos, and they were treacherous enemies of all other guerrillas (on Luzon).

There were tens of thousands of Japanese in the Luzon mountains on VJ Day. Most surrendered. Some did not. The “Huks,” as they were called, often asked for American weaponry and equipment to assist in hunting down rogue Japanese in the mountains. As the Philippines were to be given its independence in 1946, the Huks rightly feeling they were not going to be given a role to play in the new democracy, also began attacking American convoys. Leslie was in charge of security on some of the convoys, which were moving American supplies back to ports for trans-shipment to the United States. One time, he and other Americans got wind of the location of a possible weapons cache in a village. Filipino houses were built on platforms. As Leslie was about to enter one of the village’s houses, its owner became quite excited and began shouting loudly in Tagalog, the chief Filipino language. Not understanding Tagalog and convinced by the man’s behavior that he was on the scent of contraband, Leslie entered the house, only to fall through it. The man had merely been trying to warn him that his floor was rotten!!!

There was not a day that went by that Leslie did not face Luling, and wish that he was home. Once discharged, Dilworth returned to the profession of cattle buying.  He owned and operating
auction barns and feed lots all over Texas. He partnered in ranches in South Texas, and appraised herds for the Houston Agriculture Credit Corporation. Leslie helped Gus “Pinkey” and John Brown re-open the Luling Auction Barn in 1974.

With Governor Dolph Briscoe

His work schedule never remotely came close to an eight hour day. Often up at 3 am, he would move cattle, work with auction houses, and care for his own cattle in Caldwell County. The profit margin on cattle is at best a slim one. Leslie transported, bought and sold thousands over the years. He was a savvy businessman who wasn’t afraid to take chance on a new project – as long as it involved cattle. A friend to ranchers all over the state, he has known some quite prominent ones, such as Dolph Briscoe. All the time he was a loving husband to Lennah and father to his only child Virginia (Sofge). Virginia grew up asking, “Why don’t we keep the pretty cows and calves, dad?” His answer was simple – the pretty ones sold better.

Leslie “retired” at the age of 80, and tended to the home place in Caldwell County and its cattle until the age of 95. He would still be working and tending his cows, except that his legs quit cooperating with him a few years back. He has had to pass those duties along to his daughter and her husband. He herds a wheel chair now, and resides at Lockhart’s Parkview Nursing Home. Looking and acting like a man thirty years younger, this proud father, grandfather and great-grandfather will celebrate his 100th Birthday with a party on the 25th of January at Parkview. If you get a change, come by and see him some time, and congratulate this remarkable man on a life well lived. And thank him for his service to our country during World War II.

AUSTIN PITTMAN – From Marauder Pilot to Patriarch



            Austin C. Pittman favored me with two interviews over the last two years, and I finally am putting the wealth of information he provided me to good use.            He is the oldest child of Lenford and Lillie (Harris) Pittman, both from long-time families in the Dale area. Austin had two younger brothers, Lonnie and Charles.  Lenford Pittman had a variety of careers as Austin was growing up. Among other things, he ran a cotton gin and store for John Horner, and later owned and operated a dry goods and grocery store. In the early 1920s, he was a streetcar operator in the state capital. Austin was born there on November 13, 1922. The family lived most of Austin’s early life at 602 S. Commerce in Lockhart. Although raised as a Baptist, he became a member of the First Christian Church in 1939. He and Eleanor attend there today.

            Like everyone else in the Depression, when he wasn’t attending school he was working. After graduating from Lockhart High School in 1941, the first year it went through the 12th instead of the 11th grade, he went to work full-time as an assistant manager of the A&P Grocery Store in Lockhart. Knowing he would be subject to the new peacetime military draft, and along with several of his classmates, Austin travelled to San Antonio, hoping to qualify for the Army Air Corps’ pilot training program. The Air Corps’ requirement was that a young man have two years or its equivalence in college to become an officer and pilot. Austin passed the equivalency tests, as well as the physical tests. In late 1941 he became an unpaid reservist in Uncle Sam’s Army Air Corps. Told he had to wait until there were training slots available, he returned to the grocery business. The Luling A&P store lost its manager, and at the ripe old age of 18, Austin became that store’s manager, riding his Cushman motor scooter to and from Lockhart every day.

            Austin received his orders to report for training on January 26, 1943. Another Lockhart man, Newton (“Doc”) Wilson, who would later become President of Lockhart State Bank, also received his orders that day. Reporting to San Antonio, he stood in formation when the commander of the training battalion told each of the new recruits, “Look to your left. Now look toward your right. Only one of you will be left and successfully finish flight training.” Austin was determined to be the one left. Because of the continuous ramping up of the war effort, aviation training was often backlogged. So, after brief (and somewhat brutal) basic training at Wichita Falls, Austin attended “Pre-pre flight training” on the campus of Kansas State Teachers College in Emporia. The local residents opened their homes to the young cadets, and Austin has fond memories of the Kansans’ kindnesses. Then it was off to El Reno, Oklahoma, for Basic Flight Training, then to Enid, Oklahoma for Primary on a Fairchild PT-19 “Cornell,” then to Altus, Oklahoma for Advanced. Austin was an “Altus Ace,” as they dubbed themselves. He received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant and his wings in April, 1944. His mom and dad drove to Oklahoma to attend his graduation

 Austin always wanted to fly a P-38 fighter. His second choice was to pilot a Martin B-26 “Marauder.” He got his second choice, and never regretted it. The B-26 was a ‘hot’ aircraft. High wing loading and a tricycle landing gear required faster than normal landing speeds. Early versions of the Marauder were dangerous in the hands of inexperienced pilots, earning it nicknames such as “Flying Coffin,” and “Flying Prostitute” (because it was so fast and had no visible means of support). Structural modifications, stronger engines, and better pilot training reduced training deaths, but it was no aircraft for a novice. Despite bad press, the Marauder was a highly effective mid-altitude bomber, and racked up impressive records in both Europe and the Pacific. Bombing accuracy was far better than the higher flying B-24s and B-17s.

 Austin transitioned into B-26s at Laughlin Army Airfield at Del Rio, Texas.  At Barksdale Army Airfield, Louisiana he met and trained with his new crew. Each of the six men knew that their lives depended on working smoothly and efficiently.


By late 1944, the Army Air Force deemed 2nd Lieutenant Austin Pittman and his crew ready for combat. The next challenge was getting a B-26 and its crew from the United States to the European Theater, where they had been assigned to the 597th Bombardment Squadron, 397th Bombardment Group, Ninth Air Force. It was not an easy process. Austin and his co-pilot flew to Baltimore to pick up a new aircraft, then to Savannah, Georgia and on to Morison Field at Palm Beach, Florida where they picked up a celestial navigator. In the meantime, the remaining four crew members crossed the Atlantic Ocean by ship.

There were two main routes from the U.S. to the European Theater. Both were fraught with danger. The Northern Route, through Greenland and Iceland, had been closed to twin-engine aircraft since late 1942 because of high number of losses (and disappearances) due to bad weather. ascension-island-ww2The Southern Route, through South America, was somewhat safer, but not by much.  Six B-26s were send south on December 13, 1944. While not flying in formation, they were following the same route. First stop: Puerto Rico. Then it was on to British Guiana and then down to Belem, Brazil. Somewhere over Brazil, two of the six aircraft went down in the jungles, and the planes and crews were lost. Austin’s most vivid memory of the flight was the enormity of the Amazon River. After refueling in Natal, Brazil, Austin piloted his aircraft toward a speck of land called Ascension Island, in the middle of the South Atlantic. Finding the three by five mile volcanic island by primitive radio direction finders gave everyone reason for re-affirming their religious beliefs. After successfully landing at “Wideawake Airfield,” it was on to Roberts Field in Monrovia, Liberia. Then up the west coast of Africa to Dakar and Marrakech, Morocco. Winter storms kept them grounded in Morocco for over a week. In the meantime, other aircraft stacked up there awaiting clearance for England. Finally, two days before Christmas 1944, huge numbers of aircraft were released toward England. The result was, to put it gently, was ‘interesting.’ Slower aircraft had been sent out first, with faster planes staggered out later. They all appeared over the socked-in island at the same time. Unable to find the ground, Austin’s B-26 gingerly descended into the clouds, popping out nearly at building level. Because of air traffic, he had to take the plane out to sea and approach again, trying to land. After three tries, and about out of fuel, he dodged church steeples to land safely in England on Christmas Eve, 1944. It had taken the air crew eleven days to fly from the U.S. to England!


The B-26 crewmen who arrived in England by ship were aware that two B-26s had been lost in the jungles of Brazil.  Because of the weather delay in Morocco, the four were not even sure that they would see their pilot and co-pilot again. They were pleasantly relieved with Lieutenants Pittman’s and Twining’s re-appearance.

Almost immediately after settling in, the Pittman crew and their aircraft was moved, along with most of the other 597th, to forward bases in northern France. He would fly from there and after its capture, from Venlo, Holland.  Over the next four months, Austin flew twenty-two bombing missions against the enemy. Many missions were against rail yards and ammunition dumps. Some were in close support of advancing Allied troops, entangled in combat with Germans defending the Fatherland. German fighter aircraft had all but disappeared, but anti-aircraft flak could and did take a heavy toll, especially since B-26s flew at lower altitudes. Combat formations included on aircraft that discharged ‘chaff’ –aluminum strips – to confuse enemy radar. Some times it worked. Some times it didn’t. The Marauder could take punishment. After one mission, Austin counted 123 holes from anti-aircraft shrapnel in his aircraft! No one was injured, and the plane was patched up and flew again. Austin has vivid memories of two “very good days.” The first was when he was part of a mission tasked with finding and destroying a huge enemy ammunition dump near the Swiss border. Carefully avoiding neutral airspace, he and his crew unloaded their ordnance on what they suspected was the target. All hell broke loose. They had destroyed the target! Elated, he buzzed the mess hall. The Inspector General was present and was not impressed, and Austin received a small fine. A small price to pay for a highly successful mission. Austin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission.

Another instance was more mundane. His B-26 took off in formation for a mission. Upon the formation’s return the control tower had every aircraft lower its landing gear, as one had left a tire on the runway on takeoff. Sure enough, 1st Lieutenant Pittman’s plane had a shredded tire. Approaching gingerly, Austin and his co-pilot made a perfect landing, wheels down.

As the Allies advanced into Germany, airfields were quickly constructed. First priority were the runways. Housing was primitive. The men lived in tents, slept on cots, and endured miserable winter weather as best they could. Horrible weather, typical of northern Europe, and required down-time allowed aviators and crews time for some leisure activities. Austin’s sideline was playing bridge for money. And he was good at it. Sending his winnings home, he compiled a nice nest egg.

One of the saddest incidents that Austin endured was the death of two of his crewmen. On April 19, 1945, Austin was not scheduled to fly. Billy Thornblom, his RTO, and Casimir Sjaz, his bombardier, were assigned to another aircraft for a combat mission. At 4:06 p.m. a B-26G, aircraft # 43-34450, piloted by 1st Lt. Elmer Frank, took off from a field at Perrone, France.  It was loaded with bombs. The pilot apparently lifted off too suddenly, not using the full runway, and pulled up into a stall. Trying to recover, the aircraft was hit with prop wash from other bombers. The Marauder ‘mushed’ downward and pancaked 100 feet from the end of the runway, bursting into flames. Sjaz was killed in the crash. Thornblom and one other crewman escaped, but Thornblom was grievously burned. Austin was able to visit him in the hospital before he died on April 26, 1945.


Austin’s 22nd mission was on the morning the war ended in Europe. That afternoon, he had loaded with bombs for his 23rd 597th-patchwhen he was told the war was over. Because he had over 20 missions he was given the choice of transferring to the Pacific Theater, or coming home. He chose to go home. However, before he could do that, he and his aircraft participated in a huge victory celebration fly-over at Paris. He felt that getting all those aircraft where they were supposed to be was as dangerous as a mission over enemy territory. Sadly, his beloved B-26 was relegated to a mothball fleet, somewhere in France, and probably scrapped.

Loaded on a ship, Austin came home. He says that re-adjustment to civilian life came easy. He went back into business with his father and brother Lonnie, selling dry goods and groceries. Deciding to leave the family business, Austin moved to Port Lavaca where he met and married Eleanor Paul, the love of his life, in 1952. Austin owned and operated grocery stores in Lake Jackson, Angleton, and Bay City. He sold his stores and returned to Lockhart in 1967, settling on land he had purchased in the 1950s.

Eleanor heard something in the hairdresser’s (where else in a small town?) about the owner of the White’s Auto Store wanting to sell. So, almost immediately, Austin “un-retired” and successfully operated that store (and was a Cushman dealer also) until selling out in 1980. When he and Eleanor returned to Caldwell County, they found that they couldn’t drill a successful water well on their property. The solution – create a water supply corporation to that for those in the area. Austin is still chairman of the board of the Polonia Water Supply Corporation, which provides safe water to many customers north of Lockhart.

Austin Pittman attends American Legion meetings regularly. He and        Eleanor remain active members of First Christian Church. He will tell you that his has been a wonderful life. While rightfully proud of his role as an aviator in World War II, his proudest achievement is being the husband to Eleanor, and the father to six fine children – Paul, Martha (Sanders), David, Mary (Voigt), Gary, and Austin.

Next time you see him, remember that he is part of the Greatest Generation, and thank him for his service to our wonderful country.