Veterans Day is not a day of celebration; it’s a day of reflection and understanding the cost of freedom and the sacrifice made to enjoy it. The following is a list of names containing a fraction of West Virginians who make Veterans Day a day that should be etched in our soul.
Earl Waldron was an infantryman in the Army who told his story about the 49 days of freezing hell he endured at the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, France and Luxembourg — a World War II slaughter of American soldiers that resulted in 80,000 American causalities. It was the largest land battle of WWII.
Louis Torlone became a proud member of the United States Marine Corp less than a week after high school graduation. He arrived at Iwo Jima less than a day before all hell broke loose. He lost several of his buddies who had attended boot camp with him — one of whom lost his life while saving Turlone.
Jack Cade’s PT boat was blown out of the water before reaching the beach at Normandy. He shed all of his gear in order to keep from drowning. He finally reached the beach with nothing for protection but a survival knife.
Earl Rudisill was born in the old Guthrie Hospital in 1916. He became a member of the Tuskegee Airmen working on P-51, P-47 and P-40 Aircraft fighters. He said it might have been Chuck Yeager who broke the sound barrier, but it was the Tuskegee Airmen who broke the color barrier — and he was proud to have been part of it.
Lowell Perdue served in the United States Navy. He remembered the speech given by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower before they attacked Utah Beach: “We are about to invade France, and I expect many of you will not return.” He was correct! Perdue was one of the fortunate to beat the odds.
Norman Wright was also a Navy veteran who had the misfortune to serve aboard the USS Lansdale. On April 20, 1944, he was among a fleet of ships attacked by enemy fighters. He not only lost some of his buddies, but he also watched the USS Paul Hamilton sink to the ocean’s depth with more than 500 souls on board.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Coovert served in Korea, Alaska and Iraq. He says everything ugly you hear about the war in Iraq is probably true. “We were required to be proficient in all weapons,” he said. “The reason being if your buddy was killed, you would know how to operate his weapon — whatever it might be.”
Wetzel Sanders survived the slaughter at Pearl Harbor as an 18-year-old Army private. “Many of my friends were murdered in their sleep,” he said. “The death and destruction is something I pray to God I could forget, but I can’t.” Sanders spent days after the attack pulling bodies from the water.
Sonny Edwards’ love of the sea lured him into the Navy at the age of 17 after his mother signed the necessary documents. He was too young to enter a bar, yet now serving his country. His ship became involved with the war at Korea, Japan, Wake Island and the Philippines. He always loved the water until he had to fight on it to survive.
Richard Parker was an Army gunner who survived 35 bombing missions over Germany in a B-17. He walked with a limp the rest of his life after jumping out of a B-17 that was engulfed in flame.
Ernest Wheeler was a proud Marine that I had the privilege of spending a day with in a hospital room. We developed a bond that grew from a common love for the country we both served. He shared stories of the sadness inside of living with the memories of killing another in combat. He survived in a M.A.S.H. unit after being shot in both legs and an arm. I felt proud to have known him.
Bernard Spears enlisted in the Army in 1942; less than 10 months later, he was declared missing in action in North Africa. His name is on a stone wall in North Africa among nearly 4,000 MIA soldiers. The fun-loving country boy from West Virginia never came home.
Army Pfc. Charles Smith was a prisoner of war who was awarded the Purple Heart for his injuries. He recalls the memory of being loaded into a railway boxcar with other POWs when the train was attacked by American fighters who thought the train was full of Germans.
Born in 1921, Corney Lett was a radio operator on the B-17 bomber flying bombing missions over Europe. He first bailed out of the Flying Fortress aircraft on October 1943 and was rescued. The following December he was not as lucky. He bailed out again from his bullet-ridden B-17 only to be met by the Germans. He spent the next 17 months as a POW surviving on a crude soup containing dried worms.
These veterans are a part of our heritage; they had families, dreams and hope for a future that was interrupted or terminated. Never forget what they fought for.
Clyde Beal seeks out interesting stories from folks around the Tri-State. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.