HONOR FLIGHT: WWII veteran travels to D.C. to visit memorial


HONOR FLIGHT: WWII veteran travels to D.C. to visit memorial

by: Delores Williams | .
Honor Flight Conyers | .
published: November 07, 2016

What a way to celebrate the year of your 100th birthday - taking an Honor Flight to Washington, DC to see the National World War II Memorial. The World War II Memorial honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the U.S., the more than 400,000 who died, and all who supported the war effort from home. Symbolic of the defining event of the 20th Century, the memorial is a monument to the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the American people.

WW II lasted from September 1, 1939 to September 2, 1945. The memorial opened to the public on April 29, 2004 and was dedicated one month later on May 29, nearly sixty years after the end of the war. There are MANY veterans who have not had the opportunity or the resources to see their country’s tribute to their bravery. With many not having the resources or support systems to undertake such a trip, Honor Flight is doing whatever it takes to fulfill the dreams of veterans. Most importantly, these senior heroes travel absolutely free.

Since America felt it was important to build a memorial to the service and the ultimate sacrifice of her veterans, the Honor Flight Network believes it's equally important that WW II Vets actually get to visit and experience THEIR memorial. Since the inception of the Honor Flight in 2005, all Honor Flight Hubs have flown a combined 170,000 veterans to Washington, D.C.

William Harold Smith, currently an Atlanta, Georgia resident, travelled to Washington, DC on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 as a guest of the Honor Flight of Conyers, a local chapter or "Hub" of the Honor Flight Network. Honor Flight is a non-profit program created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices by flying these American heroes to Washington, DC to visit and reflect at their memorials. Top priority is given to senior veterans – WW II survivors along with those other veterans that may be terminally ill. Smith, being 100 years old, was the ‘senior’ veteran on this particular trip. He is very appreciative of the Honor Flight Network. “Without it, I wouldn’t have visited the WW II memorial in my lifetime,” said Smith.

Then … And Now








                 1944                                       2016

Smith joined the U.S. Army in the mid-1940s. He was a Staff Sargent in the 758th Tank Battalion that served during World War II. The 758th was the first of three tank battalions in American history organized with black soldiers. [See the story of the battle starting on page 27.]

National WW II Memorial

      Tank Battalion Bas Relief Panel        WW II Bronze Plate

Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 4:45am

The trip begins at the American Legion Rockdale County Post 77, 674 American Legion Rd., NE, Conyers, GA 30012

We arrived at the American Legion at 4:45am, thrilled that this day was finally here. Dad was so excited, he didn’t sleep at all that night. He didn’t want to miss any of it. It was still dark - people were rushing around, packing supplies, receiving packets with boarding passes, t-shirts, name badges, breakfast bags, etc. so we could leave for the airport. A few of the Clayton County Sheriffs and the Chief of Police were trying to figure out how to transport Dad since he couldn’t ride on the bus (no wheelchair lift), couldn’t ride in the Police SUV (couldn’t get in it), nor would he fit in the Police car (too many instruments in the way of the seat). So, I drove to the airport. Sheriff Allen was giving me instructions on what to do and how to drive in a caravan. He told me he would be behind me in the SUV and not to worry. He then told me to keep up, don’t fall behind. He really didn’t know who he was talking to (Ms. Road Racer).

We followed behind the bus. Police escorts as well as American Legion Riders Escorts lead the way and followed in the rear. We had what seemed like a mile long caravan with the blue and white colored flashing lights of the police vehicles and the multi-colored lights of the escort motorcycles. Since it was still dark, we lit up the freeway like it was Christmas. That was a sight to see! Being in the middle of it was even more exciting. Dad and I didn’t say a word to each other all the way to the airport (about 25 minutes). When we got to the airport, all we could say was WOW! And we’re just getting started!

We arrived at the curb of Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta Airport International Terminal, which is beautiful.

We were scheduled to fly out of the International Terminal because it wasn’t as crowded as the Domestic Terminal. As a large group, we could get around easier, without any hassle and hustle. Since I drove to the airport, the question then became how they/I was going to deal with the car. Where was I going to park? How they could catch me up with the group? Who was going to wheel Dad through the airport, or was he going to wait for me (my preference)? Who was going to wait with him? How long was parking going to take? At that point, Sheriff Allen told me he would take the car, park it, and return it curbside when we returned. How nice is that!!! I handed him the keys and followed the crowd. We were being treated like royalty! There were photographers everywhere, flashing lights, just like paparazzi.

TSA created a checkpoint just for our group. We bypassed everything and went straight to security check-in. That part of the process was the same, but it was only our group there. Getting through security was interesting for me. Apparently, “hot spots,” which I guess represented metal, was showing up on the x-ray around my heart and between my legs. (Don’t laugh!!) I got hand searched by a female TSA agent who thought I had weapons. She asked me if I wanted to be searched there or in a private room, which I thought was odd. I knew I had nothing to hide, so I said “search me right here.” They weren’t taking me out of sight! She slowly put on gloves and started patting me down. People were watching in wonderment, including Dad who was waiting for me so I could help him put his shoes back on. What is going on? TSA made them move away. At that point, I started getting scared, so I called on Jesus! In that moment, they told me I was clear and free to go. Whew! What a moment.

There were 56 people on the bus (1/2 Vets, 1/2 Guardians and a few Honor Flight personnel who were travelling with us. There were a lot of supporters, escorts, Delta personnel, Sheriff’s Dept. personnel, photographers, and God only knows the others, all cheering us on – waiting for us to board the plane. Delta had a refreshments table set up for us. The atmosphere was very warm and welcoming.

Current soldiers started to arrive. They were on our flight. Each one received a standing ovation from our group. The look on their faces was priceless. Today’s heroes receiving a warm welcome from heroes of WW II. The feeling was surreal. I’m sure that was a moment they won’t forget.

After socializing, shaking hands, and taking pictures at the gate, we boarded the plane. Dad was one of the first to board because he needed wheelchair assistance. Once we got settled in our seats, I could see that he was really excited because he loves flying, even though he hasn’t done it much. He watched each person hurry to their seats and luggage being placed overhead. He hasn’t been around that many people in a long time. He was mesmerized.

As I mentioned earlier, Dad was the senior vet on the flight. It was amazing that a lot of people knew his name and age. He was the talk of the day. Even the flight attendants knew Dad’s name and age. As one of the flight attendants walked the aisle (pictured below - first one on the right) she said, “Where’s Mr. Smith? We hear that you’re 100 years old.” They couldn’t believe he was 100 years old! Each of them shook his hand before we took off. I could hear the rumblings up and down the aisles, “he’s 100, wow. He looks like he’s in his 70s.” Dad was enjoying his view out of the window. He was like a little kid about to jump out of his skin with excitement, but cool as a cucumber on the outside, smiling ear-to-ear.

The Captain of the flight made an announcement that Delta was honored to have the WWII Vets on board, so truly this was an ‘honored flight.’ Even though there was a Congressman on the flight, there was no mention of him. The flight was smooth and fast. By the time we received beverages and took a little snooze, we were descending for landing at Reagan Airport. We were last off the plane because Dad needed wheelchair assistance, but before we could get of the plane, the flight attendants had to take a picture with him. That’s just like my Dad – a ‘female magnet’!

When we came through the gate’s doors, Dad was met by cheers, applause, and considerable excitement. It was so loud, it scared me at first because I was a few steps behind him and couldn’t see the crowd. He was rolled out by the Delta representative and met by a reception line of junior high school children waving flags on the right, Honor Flight volunteers, greeters, and supporters with “thank you and welcome signs” on the left – all clapping, cheering and kids jumping with excitement. They’d waited all that time for him to get off the plane. Even they knew that he was 100 years old!! We were all smiling in amazement. I was teary-eyed watching Dad being received in such a profound way. One of the many moments of the day I’ll never forget.

The kids were running up to Dad, shaking his hand, saying thank you for your service. They were so excited, treating Dad like a current celebrity (he really is). One of the little girls in the crowd was determined to shake his hand. She separated from the group to make sure she shook his hand. As she ran to catch up with her girlfriend’s before they disappeared through a secret terminal door, I heard her saying “he shook my hand – I can’t believe it – he shook my hand and said thank you to me!” I liken her excitement to females seeing the Beatles back in the day. I wondered what they learned about WW II that made them so genuinely excited. Maybe it has something to do with being raised in our nation’s Capital.

On the path from the airplane to the bus waiting for us outside, people greeted Dad, shaking his hand, thanking him for his service. A few people walked and talked with him. We finally made it to the bus. We had a Police escort all day. I was sitting in the back of the bus, so I couldn’t see anything in front or in back of us. But, our bus driver, Al, was really excited about driving around all the crowds, running through the lights, and driving fast getting across town in record time. He said he could do that all day, every day. (More on him later.)

We finally arrived at the reason for our trip – the National WW II Memorial. It was beautiful! As we were gathering to take the Honor Flight group picture (all Vets had to be in a wheel chair, regardless of their mobility), Dad’s grandson Kevin walked up with his wife Lizette and their daughter Dominique. We were expecting them to meet us there and was excited to see them. After all the hugs and kisses, another gentleman walked up to meet and greet us – Joe Wilson, Jr. We were expecting him as well.

Joe is writing the last of 3 books on the African American Tank Battalions in WW II. It’s important to him to write about African American History and to tell the stories of these soldiers. Much like The Tuskegee Airman, the members of the tank battalions never received recognition for their service and sacrifices. Joe’s first book is entitled “The 761st “Black Panther” Tank Battalion in World War II: An Illustrated History of the First African American Armored Unit to See Combat. The second book is entitled “The 784th Tank Battalion in World War II: History of an African American Armored Unit in Europe. Joe is currently in the process of getting his 3rd book published, which is about the 758th Tank Battalion. Dad’s story is going to be in this book. After about a month of working with Joe over the phone, emails, and texts, we were excited to finally meet him face-to-face. It was kinda like meeting a family member for the first time.

Honor Flight participants: Vets in Blue, Guardians in Red

Left to Right: Joe Wilson, Jr., Dominique Smith, Kevin Smith, Lizette Smith, Delores Williams
In Front: William H. Smith

We walked and talked, quickly viewing the sites at the WW II memorial. We were on a strict time schedule. We look forward to returning to DC to leisurely see all the monuments.

Dad was switching his WW II hat with a brand new hat dedicated to 758th Tank Battalion. He was happy to have these items that represented his service. Somewhere around the 1980s, Joe’s father attended a conference concerning Tank Battalions and they were giving these hats away to attendees. Joe’s father was in the 761st Tank Battalion. He wrote his name on the hat, but never wore it. Joe presented the hat to Dad along with a 758th crest “We Pierce” that he is now wearing on his WW II hat. A 758th soldier designed the regimental crest--the rampant head of a black African elephant symbolizing the soldier's pride in their heritage and their unit's mission of mobile armored warfare. The fact that Joe gave these irreplaceable treasures to my Dad brought tears to my eyes – even more so because Joe’s father passed away in 2004. When I asked Joe why he would give something so precious away, he said “my father would have wanted it that way – one soldier to another.” Priceless!!! Another unforgettable moment.


758th Crest “We Pierce” 758th Hat



The African American soldiers in the tank battalions fought two battles. One battle of racism in the United States and the other against a well-trained German Army abroad. The tank battalions fought under horrible conditions, even though analysis showed African Americans played a key role in a major way. Once trained, they could perform their duties just as well as any other solider. The success of the tank battalion was due to outstanding leaders and soldiers, both black and white, working together to stay alive and accomplish the mission. The study showed that despite racism, African Americans were willing to enter into the Army and fight for their country. They were brave, dedicated individuals that trained and fought extremely hard for the rights as a citizen and their lives as a solider.

All throughout the trip, people were walking up to Dad saying “Thank you for your service, shaking his hand, or wanting to ask him about facts from WW II, but the highlight of the trip was the number of Caucasian people that apologized to him for how he was treated in the military. When the first person apologized to him, I thought that was nice of them, but it continued to happen through the entire trip! I asked Dad how that made him feel. He said he didn’t hold any anger or grief about what was happening at that time. He did his job and he went home. That’s all. I felt the power in those apologies. I can’t help but think that would be ‘closure’ running full circle for Dad. This was another of those memorable experiences.

The most memorable of these ‘apology moments’ came when we were going to the Lincoln Memorial. There was a very tall Caucasian man, about 6’5”, maybe late 20s, who walked up, shook Dad’s hand, and talked a bit. However, he was interrupted by a woman who just walked up and started talking to Dad. Out of respect for the woman, the young man moved to the side of Dad’s wheelchair and started talking to me. He was saying how sad it was about how the soldiers were treated in WW II – you could see the sadness and remorse on his face. He then said he didn’t know if he should say anything – he felt so bad about it all. I told him to definitely say something to Dad – speak what’s on your heart. What happened next I will never forget.

This very tall young man in a bright yellow stripped shirt, stepped directly in front of Dad, looked him square in the face (he had to lean down a bit, but his back was still straight), saluted him and said “I’m sorry for what my forefathers did and I will do everything within my power to ensure that never happens again. I think it’s a shame how people treat one another. It doesn’t make any sense. I thank you for your courage. I thank you for your service! He said a few other things, but my eyes were so full of tears, I can’t remember it all. Dad just smiled and said OK, thank you. I was so sorry that I didn’t get a picture of this, but that scene is forever etched in my mind.

The picture below doesn’t begin to describe this young man’s actions, but it gets close to the feeling of honor within himself and his country, and all the people that live here regardless of the color of their skin - the pride he felt about his position and what he believed in, the courage to step up boldly and speak what was on his heart. That was truly another tear jerking moment. AND I DIDN’T CATCH IT ON CAMERA!

Iwo Jima
Dad stayed on the bus at this location. It wasn’t really wheelchair friendly. I got off the bus and took a ton of pictures. This monument is so massive and powerful. You can feel the emotions of these men as they erect that flag. We were told that there was a 13th hand that represented the hand of God, but I didn’t find it. After doing research on the internet, I found that this 13th hand is a myth, but we know, God’s hand was in this at the time. I also found the story as told by the son of one of the men of the statue. It’s a powerful story and speaks to the feeling you get while looking at this statue in person.
(See story below.)

Lincoln Memorial/Vietnam Wall/Korean War Memorial
We didn’t have a lot of time at these locations. We were rushing to get to all 3 locations, but we only made it to the Lincoln Memorial and quickly passed by the Vietnam wall. We didn’t make it to the Korean War Memorial at all. As we were leaving the Lincoln Memorial, an African American woman was running to catch up with us. “Excuse me, he was in WW II (as told by his hat)? I said yes. She was huge eyed in disbelief. I told her “he’s also 100 years old.” By now, the group of 4 other women with her walked up. She said to them “do you believe he’s 100 years old and was in WW II? They were in awe. She asked if she could take a picture with him. Two of the women were teachers. They were planning to share the picture and experience of meeting him with their students. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I can imagine how that picture will inspire those students. My mind started to wonder/ponder.

Arlington Cemetery – Changing of the Guards – Tomb of the Unknown
This was a beautiful ceremony. An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his/her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony. You could hear a pin drop. It continues with passing the orders and orders acknowledged. Throughout the ceremony they are walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute, meaning a rhythmic type of march and they have taps on their shoes. As they were walking, the taps appeared amplified, but they also scraped their heels every time they walked past our group. Later on the bus we learned that the scraping was their way of honoring their own – all the WW II vets present. Since they couldn’t salute, they scraped their heels – and they did it A LOT. While we were there, there was also a funeral going on. It was beautiful to watch – from a distance of course. Arlington rules are to give respect to the families. We visited the gravesites of the Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia, Audie Murphy, Naval Unknown Tumb, and a few others. I don’t think either one of us wanted to spend too much time there. Arlington is huge! Much like every other monument in DC, Arlington is a place to be revered.

Dinner at Delta
We couldn’t believe the day had passed so fast. The day we’d been looking forward to was almost over. The last event of our experience was dinner in one of Delta’s meeting rooms, which overlooking the runway. We watched planes take off (something we both enjoy), ate a wonderful dinner, continued to socialize, talked about the experiences of the day, and rested a bit before getting on the plane to go home. Of course, Dad continued to attract attention, more questions and pictures. I was so proud that he was just as excited and filled with energy at the end of the day as he was at the beginning of the day. Especially since he didn’t sleep at all the night before, nor did he sleep much on the plane.

The Unofficial Tour
I mentioned that we had a great bus driver who was also our “unofficial tour guide.” His name was Al. Al told jokes, funny stories, and offered DC trivia. He also pointed out other sites we passed along the way. He added to the fun and excitement of the day.

I appreciated that Al and the Medical Liaison, also named Dolores, were the two people getting Dad on and off the bus every time we stopped. Dad was always the last on and first off. That was a big job, up and down the lift, as well as Dolores getting down on the floor each time to tie him in place and stand beside him for the ride. A lot of selfless effort went into putting this day together.

Finally, it was time to board the plane for the return home. We still had the TSA check-in, just for us. We easily passed through security (no search this time) and Dad was the first to get on the plane. The plane ride was quiet, but Dad was still looking out the window at the skyline beauty of Atlanta lights at night. When we returned to Hartsfield Airport, some of the same people were there to greet us, but there was also some new people – excited to hear about our trip. As promised, Sheriff Allen was there and politely handed me the keys to the car. He walked us to the car, helped get Dad get in the car. I told Sheriff Allen Thank You for your kindness and concern and asked if I could hug him. He said ‘of course’ and hugged me 2 more times. It seemed as though he hadn’t been  hugged in years and really needed that. You never know what’s going on in a person’s life.

As soon as we got settled in at Dad’s home, he said “I didn’t realize how much fun I had until just now!” There was so much going on, it was a blur to him. But he remembered how excited he was all day. This was Dad the next day. Sleeping good in his recliner. ‘Tuckered out’ from the activities of the day before. This was such a riceless moment, I had to take a picture, but he heard me rustling to get the camera ready to take the picture and I caught him just as he was waking up from a really good snooze!!!!

Honor Flight was one of those highlights in your life that changes you forever! Remembering the past, honoring our country, and from that experience, looking forward to a future of greatness. Dad’s is only 4 months into his 100th year and it has already been full of celebrations. Sharing this experience with Dad is something I will treasure forever and a story I will tell for the rest of my life. That was the reason for creating This Story In Pictures so his experience will last forever in the hearts of those that read it.

Thank You!
In addition to the people I mentioned above, I also want to thank a few others who were instrumental in making this possible:

David Smith, Founder and Board President – without him, none of this would have happened. His diligence and persistence is what got us on this flight. I am truly grateful and appreciative of David.

Friends of Honor Flight – thank you for your donations to this cause for without it, I would have not been able to accompany Dad. And I know Dad wouldn’t go without me. The trip is free for Vets, but Guardians have to contribute $500 for the experience.


Flight: Tuesday 9-20-16


4:45 a.m.                  Guardians/Veterans Arrive at American Legion Post77
5:15 a.m.                  Depart Conyers (1- Samsung - Trailways Bus)
8:20 a.m.                  Depart Atlanta {Delta}, Flight D/L 1908
10:10 a.m.                Arrive Washington, DC (Reagan)/ Bus 10:30 AM
11:15 a.m.                Arrive at WW ll Memorial
11:30 a.m.                Group Picture of Vets and Guardians
                                View WW II Memorial
                                Box Lunch by Arbys on Bus
12:30 p.m. -              Depart WW ll Memorial
12:50 - 1:20 p.m.       lwo Jima Memorial
1:30 p.m.                  Arrive Arlington National Cemetery
2:00 p.m.                  Changing of the Guard, Tomb of the Unknown
2:20 p.m.                  Depart Arlington
2:35 p.m.                  Korea Memorial / Vietnam Wall / Lincoln Memorial
3:50 p.m.                  Depart Korea Memorial
4:10 p.m.                  Arrive Reagan, Dinner at the Airport upon arrival
7:05 p.m.                  Depart DC {Delta}, Flight DlL2453
9:00 p.m.                  Arrive Atlanta Hartsfield Atlanta Airport
10:45 p.m.                Arrive Post 77 Conyers

The 758th Tank Battalion

The 758th Tank Battalion (Light), the first of the three “Negro” tank battalions to be activated, landed in Italy on November 17, 1944. They were assigned to the 92nd Infantry Division in the Fifth Army. On December 24, 1944, the received orders alerting them for front-line duty.

The 758th Tank Battalion (Light), light indicating M-5 light tanks, rarely worked together as a combined unit, companies and platoons were constantly shifted to and from various infantry, tank, and reconnaissance units. Consequently, tactical errors resulted from the battalion’s use in combat. Despite this, the tankers performed with distinction.

The 758th was composed of Companies A, B, and C, who conducted operations with 17 light tanks each. They also had a Service Company and a Headquarters Company to support them. The light tanks were armed with 37 millimeter cannons, which were extremely accurate for target practice but could not reach enemy positions up in the mountains. Headquarters Company had a platoon of 75 millimeter open turret assault guns that helped to make up for this shortcoming.

Early on, they supported the 370th Infantry Regiment’s advance up the Italy’s eastern coast. They encountered fierce enemy resistance as they pushed forward on the heavily mined roads. Three light tanks fell into deep craters in the bed of a canal during a crossing and drowned out. Sergeant Jefferson Hightower will never forget this incident:

In my memory it was February 12, 1945, and the Germans were retreating to the north and the 92nd Infantry Division wasn’t able to break through. There was a canal that went down to the Mediterranean Sea. 758th, A Company, First Platoon, which I was a part of, was given the job of crossing that canal and picking up the infantry and making an advance up the coast. I was in Tank number 3, Lieutenant McLain was in tank number1. When he hit that canal he turned over and all of them jumped out into the cold water and made it back to the beach. Thank number 2 tried to pass him and they turned over too. I’m in Tank number 3 and I’m sure he is going to tell me to turn around and go back. He is lying there in the sand on the beach cursing and waving me to go across. My driver, who was very good, went around those two tanks and kept his foot on the gas long enough to keep water from sucking up into the engine
and we made it across. Tank number 4 turned over and Tank number 5 commanded by Sergeant Seymour Miller of New York made it across. As soon as we made it across some officer from the 92nd told us to go back. “We can’t go any farther right now and all you guys do is draw fire.” He was right, we were drawing fire. We drew fire from those big naval 12- and 14-inch guns. Then the officer insisted that we go back because he had infantry out there and he didn’t want their positions given away. We made it back across that canal by taking the same route. I will never forget that because the shells were coming so close to us that I could see fire coming out of the tail ends. They came right at us and we had to maneuver through them. If they caught you – you were gone!”

Smith was driving Tank number 5. He said he made it across the river because he didn’t want to die! He was shooting and driving, sparks from gun fire everywhere. He had one thing in mind – going home.

The M-5 light tanks of the 758th supported the medium tanks of the 760th Tank Battalion by providing screening and reconnaissance. The medium tanks of the 760th provided the main armor support for the 92nd Infantry Division.

On April 5, 1945, elements of the 758th Tank Battalion supported the 370th Infantry Regiment for its final offensive action in Italy. They advanced north to take the mountain town of Massa. Stiff enemy resistance and mountainous terrain slowed the pace. After several weeks of fighting, the regiment reached its objective.

It was during this assault in the predawn darkness of April 5 that 1st Lieutenant Vernon Baker, a platoon leader in Company C, 370th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Division, let his 25 – man platoon up Hill X through mortar and artillery fired. The objective was the Aghinolfi Castle near Viareggio, which the Germans had fortified into a mountain stronghold.

This was during the German’s last desperate stand in Italy, and the fighting was fierce. Baker kept his men moving forward always mindful of his training at OCS:

“Keep going! Keep the men going! Set the Example! Complete the mission!”

The rest was reflex.

Baker’s platoon advanced to about 250 years from the castle when he noticed a telescope pointing out of a bunker at the edge of the hill. He low-crawled to the opening, stuck his M-1 Garrand into the slit, and fired off his entire clip. He looked inside and saw two dead German soldiers; one was still sitting slumped in his chair.

Baker then stumbled upon a well-concealed machine gun next and liquidated two more German soldiers. He went back to report on the situation to his company commander, Captain John Runyon. Then a German soldier appeared from out of nowhere and tossed a “potato masher” hand grenade that bounced off of Runyon’s helmet. Luckily for Baker and Runyon it failed to explode. Baker shot and killed the German soldier as he fled.

By this time Baker’s platoon was being ripped apart so he went into the canyon alone. He found a hidden bunker entrance and blasted it open with a grenade. He dropped a German soldier who emerged after the explosion and two more as he dashed inside with his weapon ablaze.

Realizing that reinforcements were not going to show up, Captain Runyon ordered a withdrawal. Baker burned inside because he wanted to finish the fight. He volunteered to draw enemy fire upon himself to effect the evacuation of his wounded men. Only seven of his original 25 men survived the battle. Together they liquidated 26 German soldiers and destroyed six machine gun-nests, two observation posts, and four dugouts.

Runyon told Baker that he was going to get reinforcements. The reinforcements never came and Baker never set eyes on Runyon again. Fifty years later Baker was stunned to find out that Runyon had been put in for the Medal of Honor by the racist leadership of the 92nd Infantry Division. Probably nowhere in the Army was prejudice and racial stereotyping more prevalent that in the 92nd Infantry Division where racism at the highest levels and perceived lack of leadership totally demoralized the men. Surprisingly, Baker received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on April 5, 1945.

From another direction, the 758th’s Assault Gun Platoon provided support to the famous 100th Infantry Battalion of the 442ned Regimental Combat Team (Nisei) in its push on Mt. Belvedere near Seravezza. Orville C. Shirey, the author of Americans, The Story of the 442d Combat Team describes the support:

“The 100thBattalion had attacked to the north at 0500, April 5, behind a tremendous demonstration of power by artillery. The 599th and 329th Field Artillery Battalions, the Regimental Cannon Company, Company B of the 895th Tank Destroyer Battalion, Company B of the 84th Chemical Battalion (4.2 mortar), and the Assault Gun Platoon of the 758th Tank Battalion had all let fly a ten-minute concentration on enemy positions.”

In the ensuing assault, Orville C. Shirey describes one of many instances of heroism by the 442nd Regimental Combat Team:

“… Private First Class Sadao S. Munemori, an assistant squad leader of Company A, also contributed immeasurably to the success of the attack. When his unit was pinned down by the enemy’s grazing fire and his squad leader was wounded, command of the squad developed on him. He made frontal, oneman attacks through direct fire and knocked out two machine gun nests with grenades. Withdrawing under murderous fire and showers of grenades from other enemy emplacements, he had nearly reached a shell crater occupied by two of his men when an unexploded grenade bounded from his helmet and rolled toward his helpless comrades. He rose into the withering fire, dived on the grenade, and smothered the blast with his own body. By his swift, supremely heroic action, Private First Class Munemori saved two of his men at the cost of his life and did much to clear the path for the company’s advance.”

A member of the 758th Tank Battalion recalls the attack through the mountains:

“Our biggest problem with the little Japanese-Americans was keeping up with them; they moved like greased lightning. Instead of following the paths which tanks have to do, they went across the mountains like crazy. We  worked out a system. As they took out across the mountains, we wound our way along until we received a signal from them. Then we would lay down a barrage as a diversion. Jerry would be concerned about us and the Nisei would move in swiftly from the rear and mop up. I do mean mop; they turned those Germans every way but loose.”

As the 92nd Infantry Division increased its pressure, the German lines caved in. On April 24, elements of the 758th Tank Battalion entered the La Spezia Naval Base and took up defensive positions. The Gothic Line had been pierced and the division’s objective was reached.

The 758th Tank Battalion held and defended its positions and assisted in mopping up bypassed pockets of resistance. Then, on September 25, 1945, the battalion deactivated in Italy.

On June 14, 1946, the 758th Tank Battalion reactivated at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and became an art of the Armored Force School. In 1948, the battalion moved to Fort Brag, North Carolina, and became a part of the 82nd Airborne Division.

In November 1949, the 758th Tank Battalion was re-designated the 64th Heavy Tank Battalion and assigned to the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Hood, Texas. In July 1950, the battalion received orders for deployment to Korea and assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division. They trained in Japan with the new M-48 tank, the best armored and armed vehicle in the Far East.

In November 1950, the 64th Heavy Tank Battalion performed an assault landing on Wonsan, North Korea, where it relieved elements of the 1st marine Division, the “Frozen Chosin.” Together they withdrew under the onslaught of a massive Chinese intervention. They assisted in the evacuation of U.S. Marines and Korean civilians by holding the  final line of resistance behind which 105,000 troops, 100,000 civilians, and 17,500 vehicles were evacuated in the largest beachhead evacuation in U.S. military history.

In early 1951, the battalion joined Task Force Bartlett to clear a path for the 25th Infantry Division. They inflicted heavy enemy casualties and accomplished the mission in five days, giving the Allies a needed boost to their confidence.

In March, the 64th Heavy Tank Battalion participated in Operation Tomahawk. They raced north with the 3rd Infantry Division and linked up with the 2nd Ranger Company, the 4th Ranger Company, and the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (The “RAKKASANS’), who had parachuted behind enemy lines. Together they caught the enemy in a crushing vice and continued pushing north. On March 29, the battalion was among the first American units to cross the 38th parallel in the current Eight Army advance.

In late April 1951, the Chinese launched another major offensive, this one a two-army attack against the United Nations’ front which pushed the Allies south. The 64th Heavy Tank Battalion covered the 3rd Infantry Division’s withdrawal to the Seoul area, where the line of resistance stabilized at the 38th Parallel.

From May 1951 to July 1953, the battalion held and defending positions around the 38th Parallel while it underwent a historical change with the integration of white soldiers into its ranks. This came as a result of Executive Order #9981, signed by President Harry S. Truman on July 26, 1948:

… It is essential that there be maintained in the Armed Forces of the United States the highest standards of democracy with equality of treatment and opportunity for all in our country’s defense.”

In its final action of the Korean War, the battalion repelled an enemy penetration into the South Korean lines. In the fierce fighting that ensued, Company A drove into an enemy regimental assembly area, where they fought at point blank range. Finally, they had to call artillery on themselves. When the smoke cleared, 300 enemy soldiers lay dead. For this action, Company A received the Distinguished Unit Citation.

In November 1954, the 64th Heavy Tank Battalion departed Korea with the Distinguished Unit Citation and two Korean Presidential Unit Citations.

In April 1958, the battalion was again deactivated. Then on June 17, 1963, the 64th Armored Regiment with three battalions was activated. On May 1, 1966, a 4th battalion was activated and assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division in Wurzburg, Germany. In August 1983, the 4/64th moved to Fort Stewart, Georgia, and joined the 24th Infantry Division – the “Victory Division.”

On August 6, 1990, the 4/64th Armored was alerted for duty in the Persian Gulf. They deployed on August 27 to Saudi Arabia, where they joined Operation Desert Shield and trained with the new M1-A1 Abrams tank.

On January 27, 1991, the start of Operation Desert Storm, the 4/64thArmoed jumped off and began routing the Iraqis from Kuwait. On February 19, they began cross-border operations into Iraq and spearheaded in a sandstorm with less than 100-meter visibility. They destroyed dug-in elements of Iraq’s 26th Republican Guard Commando Brigade and cut lies of communications to Baghdad.

On March 9, the 4/64th Armored moved back to Saudi Arabia and prepared for redeployment to the United States. On March 23, 1991, they arrived at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and received a hero’s welcome.

Iwo Jima Memorial

Myth #1: There’s a 13th hand on the Iwo Jima Memorial, but there are only 6 soldiers depicted. The extra hand is meant to symbolize the hand of God.

Legend has it that the Marine Corps War Memorial, commonly referred to as the Iwo Jima Memorial, shows 13 hands. The statue was based off Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo, Raising the Flag Over Iwo Jima, which we can assume just depicted twelve hands. So did sculptor Felix de Weldon add in a thirteenth hand to show divine intervention?

Definitely not. Go down and count for yourself, there are only twelve hands. Despite this, it’s a very persistent myth–but even the sculptor himself has denied it, saying, “Thirteen hands. Who needed 13 hands? Twelve were enough.” Veteran Tom Miller has even written a booklet dispelling the myth, called “The Iwo Jima Memorial & the Myth of the 13th Hand.” Myth busted.

The Boys of Iwo Jima

This article describes a talk given to a group of Wisconsin school children at the Iwo Jima Memorial.

Each year my video production company is hired to go to Washington, D.C. with the eighth grade class from Clinton, Wisconsin where I grew up, to videotape their trip. I greatly enjoy visiting our nation's capitol, and each year I take some special memories back with me. This fall's trip was especially memorable.

On the last night of our trip, we stopped at the Iwo Jima memorial. This memorial is the largest bronze statue in the world and depicts one of the most famous photographs in history-that of the six brave men raising the American flag at the top of Mount Surabachi on the Island of Iwo Jima, Japan during WW II. Over one hundred students and chaperones piled off the buses and headed towards the memorial. I noticed a solitary figure at the base of the statue, and as I got closer he asked, "What's your name and where are you guys from?

I told him that my name was Michael Powers and that we were from Clinton, Wisconsin.

"Hey, I'm a Cheesehead, too! Come gather around Cheeseheads, and I will tell you a story."

James Bradley just happened to be in Washington, D.C. to speak at the memorial the following day. He was there that night to say good-night to his dad, who had previously passed away, but whose image is part of the statue. He was just about to leave when he saw the buses pull up. I videotaped him as he spoke to us, and received his permission to share what he said from my videotape. It is one thing to tour the incredible monuments filled with history in Washington, D.C. but it is quite another to get the kind of insight we received that night. When all had gathered around he reverently began to speak. Here are his words from that night:

"My name is James Bradley and I'm from Antigo, Wisconsin. My dad is on that statue, and I just wrote a book called Flags of Our Fathers which is #5 on the New York Times Best Seller list right now. It is the story of the six boys you see behind me. Six boys raised the flag. The first guy putting the pole in the ground is Harlon Block. Harlon was an all-state football player. He enlisted in the Marine Corps with all the senior members of his football team. They were off to play another type of game, a game called "War." But it didn't turn out to be a game. Harlon, at the age of twenty-one, died with his intestines in his hands. I don't say that to gross you out; I say that because there are generals who stand in front of this statue and talk about the glory of war. You guys need to know that most of the boys in Iwo Jima were seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen years old.

(He pointed to the statue)

You see this next guy? That's Rene Gagnon from New Hampshire. If you took Rene's helmet off at the moment this photo was taken, and looked in the webbing of that helmet, you would find a photograph. A photograph of his girlfriend. Rene put that in there for protection, because he was scared. He was eighteen years old. Boys won the battle of Iwo Jima. Boys. Not old men.

The next guy here, the third guy in this tableau, was Sergeant Mike Strank. Mike is my hero. He was the hero of all these guys. They called him the "old man" because he was so old. He was already twenty-four. When Mike would motivate his boys in training camp, he didn't say, "Let's go kill the enemy" or "Let's die for our country." He knew he was talking to little boys. Instead he would say, "You do what I say, and I'll get you home to your mothers."

The last guy on this side of the statue is Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian from Arizona. Ira Hayes walked off Iwo Jima. He went into the White House with my dad. President Truman told him, "You're a hero." He told reporters, "How can I feel like a hero when 250 of my buddies hit the island with me and only twentyseven of us walked off alive?"

So you take your class at school. 250 of you spending a year together having fun, doing everything together. Then all 250 of you hit the beach, but only twenty-seven of your classmates walk off alive. That was Ira Hayes. He had images of horror in his mind. Ira Hayes died dead drunk, face down at the age of thirty-two, ten years after this picture was taken.

The next guy, going around the statue, is Franklin Sousley from Hilltop, Kentucky, a fun-lovin' hillbilly boy. His best friend, who is now 70, told me, "Yeah, you know, we took two cows up on the porch of the Hilltop General Store. Then we strung wire across the stairs so the cows couldn't get down. Then we fed them Epson salts. Those cows crapped all night."

Yes, he was a fun-lovin' hillbilly boy. Franklin died on Iwo Jima at the age of nineteen. When the telegram came to tell his mother that he was dead, it went to the Hilltop General Store. A barefoot boy ran that telegram up to his mother's farm. The neighbors could hear her scream all night and into the morning. The neighbors lived a quarter of a mile away.

The next guy, as we continue to go around the statue, is my dad, John Bradley from Antigo, Wisconsin, where I was raised. My dad lived until 1994, but he would never give interviews. When Walter Cronkite's producers, or the New York Times would call, we were trained as little kids to say, "No, I'm sorry sir, my dad's not here. He is in Canada fishing. No, there is no phone there, sir. No, we don't know when he is coming back."

My dad never fished or even went to Canada. Usually he was sitting right there at the table eating his Campbell's soup, but we had to tell the press that he was out fishing. He didn't want to talk to the press. You see, my dad didn't see himself as a hero. Everyone thinks these guys are heroes, 'cause they are in a photo and a monument. My dad knew better. He was a medic. John Bradley from Wisconsin was a caregiver. In Iwo Jima he probably held over 200 boys as they died, and when boys died in Iwo Jima, they writhed and screamed in pain.

When I was a little boy, my third grade teacher told me that my dad was a hero. When I went home and told my dad that, he looked at me and said, "I want you always to remember that the heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who did not come back. DID NOT come back."

So that's the story about six nice young boys. Three died on Iwo Jima, and three came back as national heroes. Overall, 7000 boys died on Iwo Jima in the worst battle in the history of the Marine Corps. My voice is giving out, so I will end here. Thank you for your time."

Suddenly the monument wasn't just a big old piece of metal with a flag sticking out of the top. It came to life before our eyes with the heartfelt words of a son who did indeed have a father who was a hero. Maybe not a hero in his own eyes, but a hero nonetheless.

Origins: The above-quoted article was written in October 2000 by Wisconsin resident Michael T. Powers (whose name has been omitted from most of the Internet-circulated versions), transcribed from a videotape he made of a talk given by author James Bradley at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. Bradley, whose father, John, was one of the six men pictured in the famous photograph of the flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi in February 1945 (and is thus depicted in the monument's sculpture), had earlier that year published Flags of Our Fathers, an account of the life stories of those six men. This article has been published in a number of books, including Powers' own Heart Touchers, as well as the compilations Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul, God Allows U-Turns: American Moments, and Stories from a Soldier's Heart.



The Changing of the Guard Changing of the Guard Ritual

The guard is changed every hour on the hour October 1 to March 31 in an elaborate ritual. From April 1 through September 30, there are more than double the opportunities to view the change because another change is added on the half hour and the cemetery closing time moves from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.

An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to  start the ceremony. The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.

The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb. All three salute the Unknown who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor. Then the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, "Pass on your orders." The current sentinel commands, "Post and orders, remain as directed." The newly posted sentinel replies, "Orders acknowledged," and steps into position on the black mat. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.

The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed -- the 21-
gun salute.

Duty time when not "walking" is spent in the Tomb Guard Quarters below the Memorial Display Room of the Memorial Amphitheater where they study cemetery "knowledge," clean their weapons and help the rest of their relief prepare for the Changing of the Guard. The guards also train on their days off.

The Guards of Honor at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are highly motivated and are proud to honor all American service members who are "Known But to God."

Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and in any weather by Tomb Guard sentinels. Sentinels, all volunteers, are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), headquartered at Fort Myer, Va.

After members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment become ceremonially qualified, they are eligible to volunteer for duty as sentinels at the Tomb. If accepted, they are assigned to Company E of The Old Guard. Each soldier must be in superb physical condition, possess an unblemished military record and be between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet, 4 inches tall, with a proportionate weight and build. An interview and a twoweek trial to determine a volunteer's capability to train as a tomb guard is required.

During the trial phase, would-be sentinels memorize seven pages of Arlington National Cemetery history. This information must be recited verbatim in order to earn a "walk." A walk occurs between guard changes. A daytime walk is one-half hour in the summer and one hour in the winter. All night walks are one hour.

If a soldier passes the first training phase, "new-soldier" training begins. New sentinels learn the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans. They learn the guardchange ceremony and the manual of arms that takes place during the inspection portion of the Changing of the Guard. Sentinels learn to keep their uniforms and weapons in immaculate condition.

The sentinels will be tested to earn the privilege of wearing the silver Tomb Guard Identification Badge after several months of serving. First, they are tested on their manual of arms, uniform preparation and their walks. Then, the Badge Test is given. The test is 100 randomly selected questions of the 300 items memorized during training on the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The would-be badge holder must get more than 95 percent correct to succeed.

The Tomb Guard Identification Badge is a temporary award until the badge-holding sentinel has honorably served at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for nine months. At that time, the award can be made a permanent badge, which may then be worn for the rest of a military career. The silver badge is an upsidedown, laurel-leaf wreath surrounding a depiction of the front face of the Tomb. Peace, Victory and Valor are portrayed as Greek figures. The words "Honor Guard" are shown below the Tomb on the badge.

There are three reliefs, each having one relief commander and about six sentinels. The three reliefs are divided by height so that those in each guard change ceremony look similar. The sentinels rotate walks every hour in the winter and at night, and every half-hour in the day during the summer. The Tomb Guard Quarters is staffed using a rotating Kelly system. Each relief has the following schedule: first day on, one day off, second day on, one day off, third day on, four days off. Then, their schedule repeats.

3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment

The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, traditionally known as "The Old Guard," is the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army, serving our nation since 1784.

The Old Guard is the Army's official ceremonial unit and escort to the president, and it also provides security for Washington, D.C., in time of national emergency or civil disturbance.

The unit received its unique name from Gen. Winfield Scott during a victory parade at Mexico City in 1847 following its valorous performance in the Mexican War. Fifty campaign streamers attest to the 3rd Infantry's long history of service, which spans from the Battle of Fallen Timbers to World War II and Vietnam.

Since World War II, The Old Guard has served as the official Army Honor Guard and escort to the president. In that capacity, 3rd Infantry soldiers are responsible for the conduct of military ceremonies at the White House, the Pentagon, national memorials and elsewhere in the nation's capital. In addition, soldiers of The Old Guard maintain a 24-hour vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, provide military funeral escorts at Arlington National Cemetery and participate in parades at Fort Myer and Fort Lesley J. McNair.

Along with these duties, The Old Guard presents historic theatrical productions to audiences in the Washington, D.C., area. One show, "Twilight Tattoo, " is presented weekly during the summer at the White House Ellipse. The show is free and open to the public.

The Old Guard annually participates in more than 6,000 ceremonies, an average of 16 per day.

Despite this arduous schedule, The Old Guard continuously prepares for its security and infantry missions by conducting year-round training, culminating in a rigorous evaluation of unit tactical proficiency. Because of this, all soldiers are as familiar with traditional infantry or military-police duties as they are with ceremonial duties.

The black-and-tan "buff strap" worn on the left shoulder by each member of the 3rd Infantry is a replica of the knapsack strap used by 19th-century predecessors of the unit to display its distinctive colors and distinguish its members from other Army units. The present buff strap continues to signify an Old Guard soldier's pride in personal appearance and precision performance that has marked the unit for 200 years.

A further distinction of The Old Guard is the time-honored custom of passing in review with fixed bayonets at all parades. This practice, officially sanctioned by the War Department in 1922, dates to the Mexican War in 1847 when the 3rd Infantry led a successful bayonet charge against the enemy at Cerro Gordo. Today, this distinction is still reserved for The Old Guard alone.





Interview with Jefferson Hightower and Joe Wilson, Jr.



For more information on Honor Flight Georgia, contact:
Honor Flight Conyers
P.O. Box 81122
Conyers, GA 30013



or Honor Flight’s national website: http://www.honorflight.org/

Tags: News
Related Content: No related content is available