70 Years After The End Of World War II

Walter Hood, 94, shows photographs he took as a 1st Lt. with the Army Air Corps of the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests in 1946.

Walter Hood, 94, shows photographs he took as a 1st Lt. with the Army Air Corps of the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests in 1946.

The atomic bomb testing at Bikini Atoll in 1946.

The atomic bomb testing at Bikini Atoll in 1946.

This week, the Tampa Bay region lost one of its more notable World War II veterans, retired Judge John Germany. He served as an Army tank commander at age 22 and helped liberate a concentration camp on the German-Austrian border before being sent to the Pacific theater.

The Tampa civic leader passed away Wednesday morning — just one week shy of the 70th anniversary of the formal surrender of Japan ending World War II on September 2, 1945.

The end came less than four years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 – a day Walter Hood, 94, will never forget.

“I went to Ohio State university. I was studying in my room with the radio on and they announced that Pearl Harbor had been bombed,” Hood recalled.

He ended up at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio analyzing aerial reconnaissance photographs until the end of the war.

“I hadn’t even been overseas,” Hood said so he volunteered to be part of the crew that photographed the atomic bomb test in 1946 at the Bikini Atoll.

He pages through a thick notebook filled with photos and newspaper clips with headlines like “Photographing the Big Bang.” There are several 8 x 11 black and white photographs of atomic mushroom clouds.

“I kept a diary and I’ve never seen anything so screwed up,” Hood said. “Unfortunately, they knew so little and a lot of sailors were allowed to go into the site right after the bombs were dropped or exploded under water.”

Al Boysen, 90, holds a photo of his WWII Army mobile medication unity, 139th Evac Hospital in 1945.

Al Boysen, 90, holds a photo of his WWII Army mobile medication unity, 139th Evac Hospital in 1945.

Al Boysen was 18 years old when he was drafted into the Army and became a medical technician.

Al Boysen was 18 years old when he was drafted into the Army and became a medical technician.

Dropping the atom bomb on Japan brought a quicker end to the war and relief for troops who’d finished fighting in Europe and were headed to the Pacific.

“We were put on a ship and were headed for the Asian theater. We got about halfway across the Atlantic when the Japanese gave up and we were sent back to the U.S.,” said Army Sergeant Al Boysen, a medical technician with the 139th Evacuation Hospital. His mobile medical unit traveled from France, Germany and Austria following the troops.

“In May of 1945, the unit I was with was assigned to a concentration camp. The camp was in the beautiful Alps, right on a lake called Ebensee, Austria,” Boysen said.

That’s the same concentration camp that Tampa’s John Germany helped liberate as an Army tank commander.

“The poor folks that were interned in those camps – in some cases – they were fortunate to be alive, if you could call it that,” Boysen said. “But they were physically and mentally so mistreated that many of them were not able to recover.”

 Liberated prisoner at the Ebensee concentration camp on 8 May 1945. Credit Photo by T/S J. Malan Heslop, 167th Signal Photographic Company / Source U.S. National Archives


Liberated prisoner at the Ebensee concentration camp on 8 May 1945.
Credit Photo by T/S J. Malan Heslop, 167th Signal Photographic Company / Source U.S. National Archives

What he witnessed as a 19-year-old is still not easy to talk about at age 90.  Instead, Boysen wrote about it in letters to his mother and then compiled those notes into a story after the war.  It left him with one thought.

“The biggest question that I have is – how can we teach people to get along with other people in a peaceful manner? I can’t say it any other way,” Boysen said.

Both Boysen and Hood are members of the Village Veterans Club that meets monthly at Tampa University Village.

West Point General Now Commands Saint Leo

Dr. William Lennox Jr., a former superintendent at the United States Military Academy at West Point, is the new CEO and president of Saint Leo University in San Antonio, FL.

Dr. William Lennox Jr., a former superintendent at the United States Military Academy at West Point, is the new CEO and president of Saint Leo University in San Antonio, FL.

Within the past week, Saint Leo University in northeastern Pasco County welcomed more than new college students to campus. The 126-year-old Benedictine bastion of learning has a new president after 18 years.

Retired U.S. Army Lt. General Dr. William Lennox Jr. stepped up July 1, 2015 to become the ninth Saint Leo president.

Lennox has a distinguished resume. A 35 year military career, a PhD in literature from Princeton, he served as West Point Superintendent from 2001-2006, and as a senior vice president at a Fortune 500 aerospace company for more than six years.

Now, he’s excited about being immersed back into college life and plans to walk the Saint Leo campus daily.

“I found at West Point that the students provide an energy for you and I’ve always managed, led by walking around, getting out and talking to folks,” Lennox said. “At West Point, I tried to get out of the office by 4 o’clock at the latest and go to practices or whatever was going on at the time. You learn so much more about your college or university when you do that.”

 Dr. William Lennox - the new president - helps carry a student's belongings to the dorm on "Move-In Day" Thursday at Saint Leo University. Renee Gerstein Saint Leo University


Dr. William Lennox – the new president – helps carry a student’s belongings to the dorm on “Move-In Day” Thursday at Saint Leo University.
Renee Gerstein Saint Leo University

It’s not that he doesn’t already know Saint Leo. Lennox served as a board member for more than seven years before he was asked to take over as president when Dr. Arthur Kirk retired.

“As a board member, I was at the 1,000 foot level. I’ve got to get down to the 100 foot level that the CEO-President operates at,” Lennox said.

One of his challenges is uniting the more than 16,000 Saint Leo students spread out between the Pasco County campus, online and distance learners at more than 40 education centers in the U.S.

“Saint Leo was on the cutting edge with online education and with the community centers they have around the country,” Lennox said. “If you haven’t been there, you can’t appreciate the enthusiasm. A lot of those students are a little bit older, some of them have jobs, some of them have struggled to get their education and Saint Leo means an awful lot to them.”

Many of those students are active-duty military or veterans that Lennox said share the same values as students attending the Catholic university.

 Faculty, students and staff are joined by Dr. William Lennox, Saint Leo University’s ninth president, for Move-In Day, August 20, at the Pasco County campus. Renee Gerstein Saint Leo University


Faculty, students and staff are joined by Dr. William Lennox, Saint Leo University’s ninth president, for Move-In Day, August 20, at the Pasco County campus.
Renee Gerstein Saint Leo University

“I guess I’m just attracted to universities or colleges that have strong missions and a great value system West Point and Saint Leo,” Lennox said. “Some of the values are excellence – community – respect – self-improvement – integrity – those are the kinds of values that the Benedictines have held for a long time and I think apply to the current situation in the world right now whether you’re an academic – or you’re a businessman or you’re, whatever you’re doing. I think they apply directly and we need more of them in this world right now.”

Lennox sees his job as preparing “value-driven” leaders and embraces the challenge just like he did at West Point when the 9-11 terrorist attacks hit just three months after his appointment.

“Shortly after that, we had the largest number of students in the country that applied and we couldn’t accept everybody certainly. But it was pretty amazing and the motivation of those young folks was extraordinary. And they’ve done some amazing things afterwards,” Lennox said.

Lennox, the educator, expects the Saint Leo students to be similarly motivated to change the world.

A Wish To Reconnect A WWII Vet with His Battle Buddies

Photo taken from John Knowles Facebook page.

Photo taken from John Knowles Facebook page.

Do you know this man?

Picture him much younger – in his teens – dressed in a WWII Army uniform on the battle lines in North Africa and Italy.

A relatively new veterans group, Team Red, White & Blue, has issued a social media challenge to its members to help this World War II Army veteran who wants to re-connect with his old war buddies.

He’s looking for anyone who fought in North Africa and Italy with the 34th Infantry Division, 125th Regiment, 3rd Battalion, I-Company.

The quest of Private First Class John Knowles, now living in Georgia, was posted on Facebook August 11, 2015. Since Team RWB took it on, the Facebook entry has had 8 shares and 40,000 views.

But that number can be doubled if you’re willing to share this link and the story of the 91-year-old who hasn’t seen anyone from his unit since he was injured in the war and returned home.

“To meet some of the people from my squad or my company or my platoon, I would love that. I would love to communicate with them. We’re all getting old so I don’t know whether any of them is even living or not,” he told a reporter with WSBTV.com in Atlanta.

Online Survey For Women Veterans To Make A Difference

Kiersten Downs "takes the wheel."

Kiersten Downs “takes the wheel” as she prepared for her cross-country cycling ride to raise awareness of student veterans and money for the Student Veterans of America.

Women are the fastest growing group within the veteran population according to the Veterans Health Administration. Yet female vets may not identify themselves as a veteran or use their VA benefits.

Why women vets avoid mentioning their military service is one of several questions being explored by University of South Florida doctoral student Kiersten Downs.

Her dissertation, “Women Veterans and Re-Entry after Military Service- A Research Study,” will include information from an anonymous, online survey of women veterans from all eras. She’ll also interview both female and male veterans and community stakeholders.

“Probably one of the biggest hurdles is just finding people to participate,” Downs said. “But I think the message I want to communicate to my fellow veterans is that in order for legislators and people in Washington DC to make policies that are going to serve us as military and veterans, they need to understand us.”

After eight years in the Air Force and Air National Guard and as the former president of the University of South Florida Student Veterans Association, Downs knows there’s a lot to learn about the changing world of women veterans

Bringing the veterans’ experiences to elected officials and policy makers is the mission of her dissertation research.

“My overall goal is to really advocate for our population for greater representation in Washington DC and also at the state and local levels and to use the experiences that I’m gathering from other women veterans to ultimately change policy so that it serves us and our population,” Downs said.

Women veterans are invited to take the online survey. There’s also an opportunity to volunteer for an additional phone interview. She will also maintain, a blog, a Facebook page on her women veterans re-entry dissertation and has a Twitter handle, @WmnVetsResearch..

If Downs sounds like a familiar voice, she also served as the community outreach coordinator for WUSF’s Veterans Coming Home project in 2014. She is the former president of the USF Student Veterans Association and the summer of 2013 she cycled across the United States to raise awareness of student veterans. Her ride also raised more than $50,000 in donations for the national Student Veterans of America.

Retiring Gen. Odierno Voices “Great Concern”

Gen. Raymond Odierno Photo courtesy of Association of the United States Army.

Gen. Raymond Odierno Photo courtesy of Association of the United States Army.

From the final press conference of retiring Army Gen. Ray Odierno:

In his final Pentagon press conference as Army chief of staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said he has “great concern personally” about the Army’s fate, fearing the nation is “sacrificing long-term viability of our military.”

The 60-year-old general, whose Army career started in 1976, retires at a time of uncertainty about funding available for the military and increasingly complicated national security threats.

“Our security environment remains uncertain and dynamic,” Odierno said, citing Russian and Chinese aggression, unrest in the Middle East caused by the Islamic State group, threats of global terrorism, and an “unstable and provocative North Korea” as a short list of problems that could require military response.

You can read more of Odierno’s comments on the Association of the United States Army website. Odierno

Sacrifice Sculpted In Steel

Artisan Tom Monaco spot welds two ribbons of steel together as he and student artist Cierra Grenier beginning shaping her design.

Artisan Tom Monaco spot welds two ribbons of steel together as he and student artist Cierra Grenier beginning shaping her design.

Take the single word – sacrifice – and turn it into a three dimensional sculpture that represents veterans, military service members and first responders like police and firefighters.

It’s a tall order. But a challenge that more than 50 Polk County high school art students took on for this year’s Platform Art competition.

This is the second year of the three-year Platform Art project. The prize, besides bragging rights, is having the top sculpture, each year, produced and permanently placed in the Lakeland’s Veterans’ Memorial Park.

Tom Monaco explains how to adjust the oxygen mixture the torch used to heat the steel ribbons.

Tom Monaco explains how to adjust the oxygen mixture the torch used to heat the steel ribbons.

Student artist Cierra Grenier heats the steel ribbon held by Tom Monaco, professional artisan.

Student artist Cierra Grenier heats the steel ribbon held by Tom Monaco, professional artisan.

A poem titled “Honor” inspired last year’s first place sculpture. This year, the winning artist, Cierra Grenier, 18, drew inspiration from the New Testament.

“I thought it (sacrifice) would relate to it, John 15:13,” Grenier said.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend,” according to the New Living Translation Bible.

But Grenier pointed out that sacrifice includes more than losing one’s life.

“My grandpa, he was in the Navy. He sacrificed his time to be there and not with his family,” Grenier said.

Turning an abstract word into a three-dimensional art piece with universal appeal is not easy work. But Grenier had a clear concept – a seated human figure that is leaning forward holding a folded American flag.

She floated her idea by her art teacher at Lake Region High School in Eagle Lake. Angel Fout had recently attended a funeral where an American flag was presented to the family.

“They even opened the flag and it really tears you up,” Fout said. “I was just bawling. And when she came to me with that idea, I was like, ‘That Cierra I can tell you is really going to hit home for a lot of people.’”

Cierra Grenier's sculpture, produced in card stock, for the Platform Art competition. Courtesy of Platform Art.

Cierra Grenier’s sculpture, produced in card stock, for the Platform Art competition. Courtesy of Platform Art.

Her concept – crafted in cardstock – was the clear winner among the competition judges according to professional artist Tom Monaco who also served on the selection committee.

“Cierra’s sculpture – it was just universal in its appeal,” Monaco said. “The purity of her vision is one of the things that was really striking about the sculpture.”

Monaco is collaborating with the young artist to turn her concept into cold hard steel.

Using a chop saw, oxy-acetylene torch, hammers and MIG welder, the artist duo began shaping steel into Grenier’s vision of sacrifice at Monaco’s Fourth Wall Studio in north Lakeland.

“It’s ribbons of steel. Yeah, it’s very cool. It’s like these very elegant, very sinuous ribbons of metal that create a silhouette and then the folded flag is actually going to be made of stainless steel,” Monaco said. “So, the rest of the sculpture will be dark, might even be patina, but the flag itself will eternally be bright and clean and so, it adds another layer of symbolism.”

The artwork already symbolizes a community collaboration of teenagers, teachers, art lovers and city officials – all with the goal of recognizing the sacrifice of veterans, military, police and firefighters.

The “Sacrifice” sculpture unveiling is scheduled September 4, 2015, from 5-7 p.m. at CPS Investment Advisors, 205 E. Orange Street, Lakeland, FL.

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Florida Women Veterans Meeting In Tampa

U.S. Army Sgt. Ashley Hort keeps her weapon at the ready as she provides security for her fellow soldiers during a raid in Al Haswah, Iraq, on March 21, 2007.  Hort is a team sergeant with the 127th Military Police Company deployed from Hanau, Germany.  DoD photo by Spc. Olanrewaju Akinwunmi, U.S. Army.

U.S. Army Sgt. Ashley Hort keeps her weapon at the ready as she provides security for her fellow soldiers during a raid in Al Haswah, Iraq, on March 21, 2007. Hort is a team sergeant with the 127th Military Police Company deployed from Hanau, Germany. DoD photo by Spc. Olanrewaju Akinwunmi, U.S. Army.

This week, women veterans from throughout Florida will meet in Tampa for the 2nd Annual Women Veterans’ Conference. The goal is to sign them up for available benefits and resources.

This is the second year the state is reaching out to women veterans. The conference has expanded to two days, July 30-31, 2015, at the University of South Florida Tampa campus to accommodate demand.

“We had so many women veterans stay behind for hours afterward last year,” said Alene Tarter, director of benefits and assistance for the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA). “So, we decided to have it for two days.”

Tarter said all women veterans should attend the free gathering even if they’re already signed up for VA benefits.

“Because benefits change all the time and new benefits are added all the time,” Tarter said.

There also will be workshops on employment, educational opportunities and vocational training.

Florida has 160,000 women veterans and many have never applied for VA benefits.

Helping women veterans apply for benefits is only part of the conference. Larri Gerson, claims supervisor with FDVA, will present a workshop on the VA benefits appeals process.

“And then going through the process of having women veterans understand what we can do to help them with their claim with PTSD, MST (Military Sexual Trauma) before a hearing,” Gerson said. “And they can come in prepared- much better prepared, than if they were to go in by themselves.”

The conference is free and open to women vets, their spouses and support. Online registration is available through the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

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