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Editor’s note: The following was written by the late John Boggs Jr. of Lawrenceburg, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II.
While sitting in church surrounded by my family, grandchildren and friends, I am so grateful for my freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom from fear and freedom from want.
Having spent my lifetime in a democratic society and enjoying all of the freedoms, it is so easy to take for granted these values the rest of the world is so envious of.
I want to tell you about my freedoms and thank my veteran heroes who are relatives, neighbors,and family friends. My heroes are not high-profile people, they were never in the news, on television or had recognition in any way.
They were the boys next door, down the road or over in the next hollow. They would run an errand for mother, fight with my sister (or if someone made the wrong remark to my sister, they would fight for her). They would steal dad’s tools while he was away at work and forget to take them back to their safe lock-up.
They, filched melons and vegetables from the garden for the boys, and there was never a get-together without bragging about the girls.
Mamma’s little boy would save his pennies and buy Bugler smoking tobacco or a plug of Apple chewing tobacco, and on the tobacco juice he would get so sick he could hardly walk home.
Dad’s little boy has been known to hunt for moonshine stills and sample the product, rob an active bee gum for honey without the safety equipment and, after the bee attack, he would tell mamma how vicious the yellow jackets were when he had to be escorted home after his eyes had swollen shut.
The fish tales he told would baffle real fisherman.
Then, on the day of infamy, Dec. 7,1941, mothers and fathers asked questions, where is Pearl Harbor, El Alimain, Bataan, Guadalcanal, Anzio, Midway, Guam, Leyte Gulf, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Aachen, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf war?
Before the wars were over every mother and father knew these were temporary stopping places on our way to Berlin, Tokyo, the 38th parallel, Hanoi and Baghdad.
When the dictators and tyrants took the world to war, the little rascals, demons and troublemakers grew into instant manhood, and they were first in line to defend our way of life.
Their departure into service was always a sad occasion. The trip to the train or bus was in deep silence. Mother, with tears in her eyes, gave the last big hug, a kiss and assurances that no day would go by without a special prayer for their safe return.
With dad it was different (men don’t hug and men don’t cry), just a hefty handshake, a hit on the shoulder and a quivering voice that said “son, be careful.”
After boarding the train the grown man must find a place where he can hide his face and let loose a flood of tears.
I would like for you to meet some of my heroes. They were the Willies and Joes described by Bill Mauldin and Ernie Pyle in World War II. They were the grunts, invaded the beaches, walked long mileage, dug the foxholes and got little or no rest in the rain, mud and snow.
These are truly the men that saved our way of life.
My good friend, Bob Creech, was born Feb. 9, 1924 a twin, and the eighth of 11 children to Delia and Henry Creech, located in the Pine Mountain Community of Harlan County.
As a robust young man growing up in the rural area of Harlan County, he attended the one room Creech Elementary school and high school at Berea Normal School. He was an outdoorsman and an avid sportsman, playing all the ball games, swimming, hiking, hunting and fishing. He was also known for catching the writer, placing him on his shoulders and giving him a rough ride to jar away the meanness that was ever present.
Bob graduated from high school and started his college education at Berea. It was his desire to be a physician. In his second year of college the war started, and he put every thing on hold to join the Marines.
He was an honor Marine, making good grades and advancing at better than a normal pace. He was assigned to the First Marine Division, and after a five-day furlough he was shipped to the division located on Guadalcanal, an island in the southwest Pacific.
After special training with the First Marine Division, they invaded the island of Pelieu, located in the Mariana Group of islands.
On April 14,1944, the Creech family received that cold telegram from the Navy Department with the sad news that their child had been killed in action. The writer was in class with his younger sister when she was told her mother needed her, and she should go home immediately. After she had left the class our instructor told us of the tragic news and dismissed class. Fifty-four years later the younger sister still has trouble talking about the family loss.
For Bob’s courageous action he was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and many other citations.
Bob Creech’s remains are now at rest in his family’s well-manicured cemetery, and he has regular visits from his family, friends and neighbors.
Dewey Fred Bruce was born May 15,1928, the second of three children to Mr. and Mrs. Eugene and Myrtle Bruce. The Bruce family is from Baileys, (Knox County), a small farming community just outside of Corbin.
As big boned, healthy boy growing up in the rural area of Knox County, he did all of the good and bad things a boy and his friends could think of: fishing, hunting, experimenting with tobacco and alcohol, and always creating ways to antagonize and chase the girls.
He was a family boy and well respected by his peers. Momma Bruce was always on his case, trying to get better treatment for the girls.
Dewey graduated from high school and started a career in the construction business with a local contractor. After a couple of years, he felt he could learn more about his chosen profession by joining the Army.
In the Army, he made normal advances and was assigned to duty in Japan. In 1950, when the North Korean dictator started a march on the South, he was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. The division was assigned to South Korea to fight a holding battle until the Army could get enough men and materials to fight a war.
After his tour of duty with the Army, he wanted to return home and pursue his career in the construction industry, working with and for his brother.
On Sept. 11,1951, his parents received the most devastating news of their lives. In an envelope was a typed telegram from me Department of the Army, informing them that one of their life’s most precious possessions, their child, had been killed in a distant place called Korea.
Dewey’s parents and family were informed by a family friend on duty with their son, that he had been manning a machine gun position on Battle Mountain and had been fatally injured on Sept. 8,1951. For Dewey’s courageous action he was awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart and many other citations.
The remains of Dewey Fred Bruce are now at rest in a local, well-manicured cemetery, and family, friends, and neighbors visit his grave on a regular schedule.
Ronnie Lee Hensley was born June 8, 1948 in Cawood, a small mining community just outside of Harlan. He was the first of five children born to Mr. and Mrs. Junior Hensley.
He lost his mother at the age of 9 and immediately took on the motherload for his two younger brothers and became the family cook. There were secret family meetings, without his attendance, just to make remarks about his awful cooking and the menu. After the huddle he always got a big pat on the back for the sincere efforts he was making.
He was an avid sportsman, a football standout, a fisherman and a hunter. He was a lady’s man with lots of girlfriends, but he would not get too seriously involved with the girls. He was fearful they would interfere with his education.
His main objective was to educate himself and his younger brothers, and start a business after obtaining his education.
His fifth grade teacher remembers Ronnie as a well scrubbed, tossel-haired, well mannered, backward, and extremely shy little boy who wanted and needed love so badly.
To assist with his goals, he enlisted in the Air Force on Dec. 15,1966. He was selected for some of the best technical schools, rose through the ranks and was an excellent airman. On his first tour of duty in Vietnam, he achieved an outstanding record and came home with a chest full of medals.
In October of 1969, while home on furlough, he informed his family of his request for a second tour of duty in Vietnam. While at home, he again outlined his desire and goals for an education and the starting of a business, which would raise his family’s quality of life.
On April 22, 1970, two Air Force officers knocked on Mr. Hensley’s door. When Mr. Hensley saw who it was, he knew his son was in trouble, and in his words, “There is no way to describe the pain.” Ronnie’s plane had been shot down over Laos, and he was declared missing in action.
Ten years later, the Air Force, searched for, found, and gathered the remains of the 11 people killed on Ronnie’s plane and buried all of the remains in one grave in Arlington National Cemetery. The service was beautiful, but Mr. Hensley and the younger brothers state, “He had such a hard life and died so young.”
James David Tatum, was born Dec. 5,1968, the only son of Mr. Neal Tatum and the step-son of Carol Tatum in Athens, Tenn.
As a healthy boy growing up in East Tennessee his main focus was on the good life, family, school, health, education and producing pictures of flower baskets and nature scenes.
He and his family were very close and well respected in the community and by their peers.
David graduated from high school and immediately joined the Army where he made rapid advances through the ranks and spent three and a half years in Germany with the Quartermaster Corp.
He was a petroleum specialist and, after his tour of duty, he joined the Army Reserve and started a profession in the construction industry.
When our president declared war on Iraq in late 1990, David was assigned to a reserve unit in Greensburg, Pa., and sent immediately to the Persian Gulf for duty. On Feb. 25,1991, a scud missile hit the barracks where the reserve unit was housed and killed 28 of our service men.
After the scud missile attack, Mrs. Tatum had a premonition something had happened to David and, when two men from the Army came to their home on Feb. 27, 1991, she told them why they were there.
David’s remains are now at rest in a well-manicured cemetery in the community he loved so much. For the supreme sacrifice, a grateful nation awarded David all the metals and gratitude it could bestow on an individual who had lost his life in combat.
Now I must take time to think about Dr. Bob Creech, construction engineer Dewey Fred Bruce, entrepreneur Ronnie Lee Hensley and artist James David Tatum.
What would our lives be without these sacrifices and the other million of lives given in combat for our freedoms and democratic way of life?
In remembrance of these heroes I must recall the loss of 23 young men from Bedford, Va., killed in action June 6, 1944, on Normandy Beach.
I also want to extend my deepest gratitude to the Sullivans, who lost five children in a sea battle in the Pacific in 1942.
How grateful I am to have walked, shoulder to shoulder and in the presence of these men. To them, they understood well the meaning of family, duty, honor and country.
No words can describe the supreme sacrifice; only respect, reverence and humble admiration in our hearts begin the process of remembering.
I want to share the pain and anguish with all of the Gold Star families, and assure them the sacrifices were not made in vain.
Through the efforts of their children, our democratic way of life has been brought to millions of people who were under dictatorial powers. Germany, Italy and Japan, who were our bitter enemies, now enjoy the freedoms these men have made available to us and millions of people throughout the world.
Veteran’s Day is a time of pride and gratitude for the accomplishments of those who gave their lives to build the world we so very much enjoy. Our fallen fathers, husbands, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters are honored this day by the fact their accomplishments live.
A prayer for peace is always fitting. You don’t have to read one from a prayer book or memorize one to recite this special day. Look to heaven and say what you feel, or just look into the face of your children or grandchildren and the words will flow.
A hearty thank you to all veterans on this day set aside especially for you.