World War I Memorial Dedication Saturday In Tampa, FL

Artistic concepts of the World War I Memorial being dedicated at Hillsborough County's Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday.

Artistic concepts of the World War I Memorial being dedicated at Hillsborough County’s Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday.

It was supposed to be “The War To End All Wars.” But World War I lasted more than four years, July 1914 to November 1918. More than 20 million soldiers died, either killed in action or by disease, and another 21 million were wounded.

The red poppy which bloomed on the battlefields in Belgium, France and Gallipoli became the symbol of remembrance for those killed.

But the WWI soldiers from Hillsborough County can rest assured that they will not be forgotten.

On Saturday, May 7, 2016, a World War I Memorial will be dedicated in their honor at the Hillsborough Veterans Memorial Park, 3602 U.S. 301 N., Tampa.

Red poppies will be handed out, a military historian will deliver comments and the colors will be presented at the ceremony scheduled for 11 a.m. The event is open to the public.

Sacred Stories And Experiences Shared Among Veterans

WWII veteran and former POW Tracy Taylor was invited to join veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in a gator hunt.

WWII veteran and former POW Tracy Taylor was invited to join veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in a gator hunt.

A 95-year-old World War II POW joined wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans recently for a gator hunt in rural Polk County. But it wasn’t the hunt that made this experience so extraordinary – it was the sharing of stories between the generations that made it special.

There are some things that veterans just don’t feel comfortable talking about, except possibly with another veteran.

That sacred bond, between veterans, can transcend time and different wars – especially among those wounded, disabled or experienced in combat.

Providing a setting that gives veterans a chance to establish those special bonds has become the joint mission of several organizations including the non-profit, community based Wounded Warrior Sportsmen Fund and Operation Outdoor Freedom, a program with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

WWII veteran Tracy Taylor, in the foreground, talked for about an hour with the younger veterans before going on the hunt.

WWII veteran Tracy Taylor, in the foreground, talked for about an hour with the younger veterans before going on the hunt.

In the past year, they’ve sponsored more than 70 hunting, fishing and canoeing trips in Florida for more than 400 wounded veterans.

In December, that included a gator hunt at Lake Hancock. It’s a large lake southeast of Lakeland that’s filled with alligators and surrounded by moss-draped cypress, maple and willow trees.

What made the three-day event extra special was a visit from World War II veteran Jasper G. Taylor, who prefers to be called Tracy.

The 95-year-old veteran survived 3 years, 5 months and 28 days as a prisoner of war in Japan.

“I guess I am, but I’m not, a wounded warrior,” Taylor said as he addressed about a dozen veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “I didn’t have any combat injuries. I don’t have a Purple Heart.”

But he told the younger wounded warriors that maybe he qualified as part of their band because of the abuse he suffered while a POW. Taylor was an Army Air Corps radio operator who was captured after the surrender of Corregidor in the Philippines in May, 1942.

Veterans and volunteers look on as one of the gators is captured and killed on Lake Hancock.

Veterans and volunteers look on as one of the gators is captured and killed on Lake Hancock.

“They couldn’t speak any English and we couldn’t speak Japanese and 90 percent of the time we didn’t understand what they were saying or doing,” Taylor said to the group gathered around a smoldering campfire. “They would enforce their commands with bayonets or anything else.”

Taylor said the POWs were forced to “clean up” Corregidor and then shipped out to an indoctrination camp in Taiwan for weeks and later to Japan where he was forced to work at the Mitsubishi shipyard and later in a copper mine.

“Anybody know anything about the Japanese culture?”  Taylor asked his audience of fresh veteran faces. “Well, every morning they get up and they face the sun, they face east, pledge their allegiance to Emperor of Japan. Well, when we got there we had do the same thing.  The only thing was, all the way down line, the only thing you heard was ‘Go to hell, you son of a b—h. And that kind of made it worthwhile.”

The group laughed at Taylor’s resilient response and at many of his stories that went on for close to an hour.

The three gators from the veterans' hunt.

The three gators from the veterans’ hunt.

Throughout the chat, he routinely sprinkled in a humorous twist or silver lining when describing his life as a POW. For example, Taylor told of convincing the prison camp interrogator that he was a barber instead of a North Carolina farm boy.

“Only hair I ever cut was the mane or the tail on mule or horse,” Taylor said. But he embellished out of necessity to become the prison camp’s barber because he could no longer walk due to malnutrition.

“I wound up with beriberi and was numb from waist down for six months,” Taylor said. “That worked in my favor. I didn’t have to go to the shipyard because I couldn’t walk.”

His weight dropped from 120 to 87 pounds while a POW.

Yet when asked about the abuse he suffered and witnessed, Taylor was sparse with his descriptions. He later shared, privately, that he promised himself a long time ago that he would talk about what happened to him as a POW, but would not talk about the torture because nothing would be gained by it.

It wasn’t all talk. The young veterans and volunteers loaded into ATVs and took Taylor out to “bag” a gator. There were three gators caught and killed.

The veterans ended the morning helping Taylor kneel down to take a photo to remember their successful hunt. The gators were then taken to be processed for their meat and skins which are shared with the veterans afterward.

Veterans from all generations pose for a photo after the successful hunt in December 2015.

Veterans from all generations pose for a photo after the successful hunt in December 2015.

Veterans And Family Invited To ‘Debt Of Honor’ Preview

wusf_debt_of_honor_invitationFor veterans living in the Tampa Bay region, WUSF Public Radio invites you to participate in a panel discussion and preview of the new Ric Burns film “Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History.”

The WUSF Florida Matters Town Hall taping is Thursday, Nov. 5 at the University of South Florida Tampa campus, in the College of Public Health’s Samuel Bell Auditorium (13201 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa, FL 33612).

Please join us at 5:30 p.m. for an opening reception, and the taping that starts at 6 p.m. Seating is limited and registration is required. Please RSVP at this link, or call 813-905-6901.

A preview of the film will be followed by a panel discussion with:

  • Filmmaker Ric Burns
  • Actor and national veterans’ spokesman JR Martinez
  • Taylor Urruela, a disabled veteran who lives in Tampa

It will be moderated by Carson Cooper, the host of WUSF’s weekly public affairs show.

 

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.

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.

62nd Anniversary of the Korean Armistice Marked

General Mark W. Clark, Far East commander, signs the Korean armistice agreement on July 27, 1953, after two years of negotiation.(U.S. Navy Museum photo)

General Mark W. Clark, Far East commander, signs the Korean armistice agreement on July 27, 1953, after two years of negotiation.(U.S. Navy Museum photo)

A bipartisan delegation from the House Committee on Veterans Affairs including Florida’s Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman, and Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL), ranking minority member, commemorated the signing of the Korean Armistice July 27, 1953 by the Gen. Mark W. Clark, Far East commander.

Rep. Corrine Brown (FL-D) and Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-R) assist with the wreath presentation Monday, July 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Rep. Corrine Brown (FL-D) and Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-R) assist with the wreath presentation Monday, July 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

The two members lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Monday.

In a written media release, Miller noted the sacrifice of more than 36,000 Americans who lost their lives during the Korea conflict and that more than 7,000 U.S. military personnel remain missing.

“…Korean War veterans are a shining example of this uniquely American devotion to defending liberty around the globe.” – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo courtesy House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo courtesy House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Florida Student Choir to Join D-Day Commemorations

The June 1944 newspaper displayed on the bulletin board at the East Lake High School performance classroom of choir director Robert Knabel.

The June 1944 newspaper displayed on the bulletin board at the East Lake High School performance classroom of choir director Robert Knabel.

There will be many tributes and memorial services over the next week to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Among those marking the historic battle will be 31 young voices from Pinellas County.

Their East Lake High School choir was invited to travel to France to sing as part of the commemoration. The choir leaves this Sunday, June 8, 2014, and will perform several concerts next week in France.

Inside the choir classroom is a bulletin board covered with photos of France. There’s also a newspaper that dates back to June 1944 with the headline: INVASION – in bold red letters.

Choir director Robert Knabel points to the blue star flag presented to him by Gold Star mothers who have lost a child in combat. The blue star indicates that Knabel has family in military service. His son is now serving.

Choir director Robert Knabel points to the blue star flag presented to him by Gold Star mothers who have lost a child in combat. The blue star indicates that Knabel has family in military service. His son is now serving.

Choir director Robert Knabel has spent the last 15 months preparing his choir for the trip.

“One concert is going to be a 20 minute sacred concert on the steps of the Notre Dame Cathedral and that’s an honor,” Knabel said.

But he said the most special concert will be performed next week at the cemetery of U.S. troops that overlooks Omaha Beach.

“The kids are going to have some time and they’re going to be allowed to walk down the bluff to the actual beach where those soldiers died,” Knabel said.

Knabel enlisted the help of Advanced Placement history teacher Alan Kay to give students a better understanding of the significance of D-Day.

“There are two reasons we’re doing this. The first is to make that connection between this generation and the generation we’re losing so quickly and to have the kids understand what sacrifice is about,” Kay said. “And the second part  is just because D-Day itself is such an amazing story.”

The 31 students in the choir practiced three days a week for a year and raised $164,000 to pay for their trip to France to perform four D-Day concerts.

The 31 students in the choir practiced three days a week for a year and raised $164,000 to pay for their trip to France to perform four D-Day concerts.

Kay also has a personal reason for his involvement. His daughter Jamie is a member of the choir that practiced three times a week for a year and raised $164,000 to pay for their trip.

“I think the most successful fundraiser was when we sold Yankee candles,” Jamie Kay said. Her grandfather served in the Army but was not involved in the war.

But two of the choir members had family members in the historic battle.

“I had a few of my relatives in the D-Day invasion. Thankfully, all of them survived,” Stephanie Hamilton said.

Choir members gather around the piano to rehearse.

Choir members gather around the piano to rehearse.

One of her great uncles was a pilot delivering paratroopers over Normandy when his plane was shot down, crash-landed and he broke his back. He was taken prisoner and remained a prisoner until the end of the war. Hamilton’s other great uncle was a captain in the infantry and among the first troops to land on Utah Beach.

The choir will perform sacred music, some patriotic songs and a special piece of music arranged by. Knabel. It’s an arrangement of the U.S. and French national anthems called A Tribute to Friendship.

And while Knabel didn’t have a relative on the beaches for D-Day, his son just graduated from college and ROTC and is now serving. So above the D-Day newspaper in his classroom, hangs a blue star flag indicating he has family is serving.

You can hear the WUSF radio story and listen to a full rendition of the musical work, A Tribute to Friendship, by Robert Knabel.

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