Koetting: Farewell to veterans, friends
How do you say goodbye? I am still trying to figure that out, because I have had to say it a lot over the past year. On Memorial Day, I am reminded of veterans I have become acquainted with and ones I wish I had met. Each has left their own special mark by serving this country honorably.
• Walter M. Gordon, 78, of Sedalia, died July 25. He enlisted in the Navy for four years and then the Air Force for 16 years. He served in the Korea and Vietnam wars. He was very proud that he and four of his siblings all served in the military.
• Bennie L. Barber, 87, of Sedalia, died Aug. 25. He was a World War II veteran, serving as a flight officer and glider pilot with the 442nd troop carrier group. Though I didn’t know Bennie, I am familiar with the history of his sons, who both served in the military. His youngest son, Dan, flew 49 missions in Vietnam. One morning Bennie and his wife received word from a St. Louis hospital that Dan was dead. He had been in the hospital for 12 days, but wouldn’t let them call his parents; he didn’t want them to worry. He had symptoms of exposure to Agent Orange. I am sure living with that heartache had to be tough.
• I will never forget George Henderson, who died Oct. 15 at the age of 96. He was a Navy veteran of World War II. I initially met George after he submitted his military story. Over the years, I would see him at different events. This year something was missing at the afternoon beer garden of the Cole Camp Fair. It was George. Every year prior, he would attend so he could dance. I would tell my friends, “If a 95-year old man can dance, I can surely dance with him.” Before I knew it, he had every gal at the table on the dance floor.
• On Oct. 31, Kenneth Kehl, of Sedalia, died at the age of 92. He was the first veteran to submit a story about his Army service to me. In 1943, he was forced to leave his wife and three small children. In December 1945, he was discharged. He caught a train to Sedalia, but didn’t tell anyone he was coming home. When he got off the train, he noticed the Sedalia Christmas parade had just started. At the corner of Third Street and Ohio Avenue, he saw his two oldest children and tapped them on the shoulder. Needless to say, they were quite surprised. He said that was the best day of his life.
• Jimmie Hicks, 82, of Sedalia, died Dec. 18. He served in the Army. On Christmas Eve 1944, he boarded a ship to Cherbourg, France. They dropped anchor in the English Channel and had to stay there until New Year’s Eve with only their food rations to eat, due to German submarines. He later was sent to Austria, where he guarded a prison camp. His company liberated a concentration camp in Germany. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to see the people coming out.
• Edwin Homan, of Sedalia, died Jan. 18 at the age of 78. He was an Army Air Corps veteran of World War II, serving from 1947 to 1950. When I met Ed, he was the commander of American Legion Post 16. In March 2007, the post gave me an award in appreciation of my work with the veterans. Ed picked out the award. He was heartbroken he couldn’t present it to me, because he was in the hospital. I called him and told him the fact he picked it out was special in itself. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend his funeral, so I decided to take a walk. On my return, I was plenty surprised. Lo and behold, it was Ed and his funeral procession passing by. I felt like it was his way of saying he would tell me good-bye one way or another. I’m so glad he did.
• In January, I was blessed to interview Garold Veale, of Warsaw, and Ed Parker, of Sedalia. They were reunited 63 years after serving in World War II. Garold served in the 25th Army Tank Battalion , serving in the European Theater including the Battle of Rittershotten. He died on Jan. 26, two days before his story was published. I am so glad I got the chance to meet him.
• Eugene Gerrish, of Sedalia, died Feb. 6 at the age of 91. When Pearl Harbor was hit, he was called to serve with the 606th Tank Destroyers.
• Floyd J. Pugh, of Sedalia, caught my eye when I saw a service picture of him in the Veterans tab a few years ago. I never could convince him to come in for a story, but I did get him to participate in the Missouri Veteran Stories project. During his career as a pilot in the Air Force, he logged more than 10,000 flying hours. From 1970 until his retirement on Sept. 1, 1972, he served as base commander of Whiteman Air Force Base. I was sad to hear he died on March 16 at the age of 88.
• Edgar F. Wise, 102, of Sedalia, died April 12. I was surprised to see he served in World War II. He enlisted in the Navy Seabees Division 97-108 and served in Europe and in the invasion of Okinawa.
• On April 24, I received a call right when I got to work. It was Elle Wasson, who told me Bob Wasson had died. Bob taught me about the importance of patriotism. He was a veteran of the Korean War and wanted to join the military like his brothers.
• Though she wasn’t a veteran herself, Frani Randall was a mighty big fan. She died April 15 at age 60. I met her at the state convention of the American Legion. She was the president of the Ladies Auxiliary in Sedalia. I was a little intimidated being around all of those men, but Frani quickly taught me the ropes. I loved her spirit and spunk.
• Dick Kobelt, of Warsaw, died May 7 at the age of 75. I wish I could have interviewed him. During the Korean War, he interpreted Morse Code from Russian transmissions while based in Greenland. He received three flying medals honoring his hours of hazardous service in the Vietnam War. He played the bugle at numerous military funerals. I hope to goodness a real bugler paid him the same respect.
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