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.

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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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.

WWII Vet’s Mustard Gas Claim Gets A New Review From VA

Navy veteran John Tedesco holds up a newspaper article from 1991 when he and several buddies from the Great Lakes Naval Training Station filed claims for VA benefits related to their mustard gas exposure.

Navy veteran John Tedesco holds up a newspaper article from 1991 when he and several buddies from the Great Lakes Naval Training Station filed claims for VA benefits related to their mustard gas exposure.

More than 70 years after being exposed to mustard gas at boot camp – a World War II veteran’s claim for VA benefits is being reconsidered.

It was not until 1991 that the Department of Defense declassified information on its mustard gas experiments using U.S. soldiers and sailors in training.

Veteran John Tedesco was exposed to mustard gas in January 1944 at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station along with some of his buddies from his hometown of Erie, PA.

Navy veteran John Tedesco while serving during WWII. A photo of Joan, his future wife, is tucked into the frame.

Navy veteran John Tedesco while serving during WWII. A photo of Joan, his future wife, is tucked into the frame.

Joan and John Tedesco married more than 67 years.

Joan and John Tedesco married more than 67 years.

So, when the testing became public, Tedesco and his friends from boot camp went down to their local veterans’ office and filed VA claims.

“They were all kind of sick too,” said Tedesco, who has asthma and says he’s had breathing problems ever since he enlisted at age 17. “We had to go up to the VA and get tested. It took two days and I never heard anything from that. That was the first time we tried to get something.”

Tedesco would try again with more evidence – a copy of a letter written home about the mustard gas tests by a friend in the same company at Great Lakes. But that claim was denied too.

“I’ve been turned down every time I’ve tried. Even though when I got that letter and it said in there we were mustard gassed, they still turned me down,” Tedesco said. “So then, I said the heck with it.”

He wasn’t the only veteran to disillusioned after being exposed to mustard gas and denied benefits.

“Big promises were made to these men by the federal government decades ago,” said Caitlin Dickerson, a reporter with the NPR Investigations Desk. “And it was very clear that those promises weren’t upheld. And that there wasn’t a whole lot of time left to tell their stories.”

A copy of the 1944 letter that mentions the company's mustard gas testing at Great Lakes Naval Training Station.

A copy of the 1944 letter that mentions the company’s mustard gas testing at Great Lakes Naval Training Station.

Dickerson spent months digging through documents and the 1991 congressional testimony when those promises were made to care for the thousands of WWII veterans exposed to mustard gas by their own government.

And that NPR investigation has refocused attention on veterans who were exposed but did not receive VA benefits.

It’s hard finding evidence because the mustard gas experiments were kept secret for almost a half century after WWII ended. But Dickerson said the vets could be helped by a ruling in 2006 that allows a veteran’s testimony to serve as evidence.

A veteran has to prove that they were injury in the military, that their disability or illness is service related and still affecting them today.

Dickerson said the VA is now handling all mustard gas claims through one office.

“These mustard gas claims are very specific because, again, they in many cases, they lack that essential evidence. And they’re more nuanced,” Dickerson said.

John Tedesco's wall of memorabilia from his WWII service in the Pacific.

John Tedesco’s wall of memorabilia from his WWII service in the Pacific.

Several members of congress responded to the NPR series.

Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is one of a dozen senators who wrote the VA Secretary requesting that the VA immediately contact exposed veterans and review all pending and denied mustard gas claims.

“They didn’t have an option to say no just like the soldiers in Vietnam who were exposed to Agent Orange didn’t have an option to say no,” Nelson said. “There’s an obligation of the United States government to take care of our veterans.”

By mid-July, Tedesco had received a VA letter offering to review his denied claim. The 88-year-old retired carpenter and contractor filled out the VA form again requesting benefits for his mustard gas exposure from 71 years ago.

You can read Sen. Nelson’s full letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald here.

Florida Puts Out Call To All Women Veterans

Florida has 160,000 women veterans living in the state, yet some of those women do not consider themselves a veteran and many more have never applied for veterans’ benefits.

 Female Veterans in Iraq. A New Resource for Female Vet on VA health care and benefits: 1-855-VA-WOMEN. Credit Department of Veterans Affairs


Female Veterans in Iraq. A New Resource for Female Vet on VA health care and benefits: 1-855-VA-WOMEN.
Credit Department of Veterans Affairs

Matching women veterans with available benefits, resources and support is the goal of the 2nd Annual Women Veterans’ Conference July 30-31, 2015 at the University of South Florida

“Women veterans have a lot of gender specific issues,” said Alene Tarter, director of benefits and assistance for the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA). “But often they don’t consider themselves veterans because male veterans or male family members have told them that they are not.”

She said many of the older women veterans are unaware that their veterans or entitled to veterans benefits.

“I’m a veteran. I only served a couple of years in the Air Force and I didn’t know I was a veteran for 25 years,” said Larri Gerson, supervisor of claims for FDVA.

From a previous Operation Stand Down.

From a previous Operation Stand Down.

Raising awareness and then helping women file for their veteran benefits is one reason why the state agency is planning the free, two-day conference in Tampa.

“I’ll be talking about the appeals process having women veterans understand what we can do to help them with their claim for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and MST, military sexual trauma,” Gerson said.

Sessions also will cover employment, vocational training, and an elder law expert along with an opportunity to sit down with benefits experts from the FDVA who will help women vets with their claims.

The 2nd Annual Florida Women’s Veterans 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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