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.

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Help Promised to WWII Vets Subjected To Mustard Gas Tests

John and Joan Tedesco stand before a wall filled with World War II memorabilia including John's service photograph.

John and Joan Tedesco stand before a wall filled with World War II memorabilia including John’s service photograph.

This week – NPR revealed that 60,000 World War II veterans were exposed to mustard gas while training in the U.S. and some are currently living in the Tampa Bay region.

The NPR investigation found that the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to keep its promise to help any of the mustard gas veterans who had permanent injuries. After the NPR investigation, the VA is again pledging to reach out to ensure exposed veterans are getting the benefits they’ve earned.

And the vice-chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, has called for a hearing and offered his assistance to one of his constituents, John Tedesco of Pasco County.

John Tedesco as a  US Navy Seaman First Class in WWII - notice the photo of Joan tucked into the left corner.

John Tedesco as a US Navy Seaman First Class in WWII – notice the photo of Joan tucked into the left corner.

Tedesco said he was part of the Navy’s mustard gas experiments conducted at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in early 1944. He was 17 years old.

“We really didn’t know what was going on. We were young,” Tedesco said. “We got all kinds of shots. But I figured it was just normal, you know, routine.”

Now 88 years old, Tedesco doesn’t remember specifics of the mustard gas test, he does remember being checked by doctors and corpsmen at noon each day after the test for more than a week.

Some of his buddies from Company 92 at Great Lakes were able to give detailed accounts in a 1991 Erie, Pennsylvania newspaper article. It was published shortly after the U.S. Department of Defense declassified the mustard gas experiments.

“When I was back in Erie and I met some of the fellas, they said they were going to go put a claim in because they were all kind of sick too,” Tedesco said adding that his group went to the local veterans affairs office together to fill out paperwork and then to the VA for two days of tests. He said his claim was denied.

John Tedesco holds up the 1991 newspaper article that details how he and some of his friends from Erie, PA were used for mustard gas experiments while at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1944.

John Tedesco holds up the 1991 newspaper article that details how he and some of his friends from Erie, PA were used for mustard gas experiments while at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1944.

Tedesco said he developed breathing problems shortly after joining the Navy. He got out in May 1946 but didn’t go to the VA about his health issues until 1991 – more than four decades later.

“I was a carpenter and I was a builder, a small builder and I did that up until I quit,” Tedesco said. He retired at age 57. “You know I couldn’t stand – like if they’d be bulldozing on the job and making dust, I’d have to go home because I’d get sick. If they’d paint, I’d have to go home. Smells and that, they bother (me), my wife don’t wear perfume or anything because it bothers me.”

A photo of Joan and John Tedesco's wedding in October 1947.

A photo of Joan and John Tedesco’s wedding in October 1947.

His wife of 67 years, Joan Tedesco, said her husband’s health problems were really bad when they lived in California in the 1960s.

“I used to rush him to the hospital all the time, he couldn’t breathe. Here they found out he was allergic to the redwood,” said Joan Tedesco. “We just loved it out there but there was no way we could stay, so we ended going back to Erie.”

Their son, Dr. John Tedesco, is a family physician practicing in Wesley Chapel. He also has vivid memories of when they lived in California.

“My father was in construction. They said he was having allergy problems but what it was it was asthma,” Dr. Tedesco said.

“His breathing was absolutely horrible. One time they had to call paramedics to come to the house because he couldn’t breathe and I remember them doing an intra-cardiac epinephrine shot,” Dr. Tedesco said. “As a little kid watching somebody stick a big needle into your father’s chest while he was lying on the ground because he can’t breathe, I’ll never forget that.”

A high school yearbook photo of John Tedesco on the golf team when he was in eleventh grade. His health issues limited his ability to play sports with his children.

A high school yearbook photo of John Tedesco on the golf team when he was in eleventh grade. His health issues limited his ability to play sports with his children.

He said his dad’s breathing problems prevented him from even simple joys like playing sports with his children.

Dr. Tedesco believes his father’s asthma is not due to allergies but instead related to his mustard gas exposure. He even wrote a letter to the VA to help his father file another mustard gas claim – that too was rejected.

After a while, the World War II veteran who spent 21 months in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea just gave up.

“You know, I feel they should have done something and they didn’t do anything,” Tedesco said.”We tried. They turned me down so many times I figured just let it go.”

Hearing of Tedesco’s plight, his member of congress, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, promised to help.

“We’re going to reach out to him and if he gives me permission to advocate on his behalf, I certainly will,” Bilirakis said.

The vice-chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, told NPR he’s working on bringing in VA officials to testify, and has already requested a hearing.

Knowing what he knows now — Tedesco says he’d volunteer to serve today if asked.

“It’s a good country. Yes, I would,” Tedesco said. “It’s the best country in the world.”

 

 

World War II Vet Says VA Denied His Mustard Gas Claim

World War II Navy veteran John Tedesco holds up a newspaper article that details when he and several Navy buddies from his basic training filed VA claims in 1991 after the mustard gas testing they were subjected to was declassified.

World War II Navy veteran John Tedesco holds up a newspaper article that details when he and several Navy buddies also exposed to mustard gas filed VA claims in 1991 after the testing was declassified.

This week, NPR has revealed that the U.S. military conducted chemical weapons experiments on American soldiers and sailors during World War II.

It also found the Veterans Administration did little to help the thousands of veterans exposed to mustard gas.

John Tedesco, 88, is a Tampa Bay area veteran who said he was exposed to mustard gas in basic training — before he shipped out to the Pacific in 1944.

Like many who enlisted during World War II, Tedesco was young when he signed up for  the Navy in November 1943. It was less than a month after he turned 17 years old.

John Tedesco while serving in the Navy during WWII. In the left corner, a photograph of his then girlfriend, now, wife of 67 years.

John Tedesco while serving in the Navy during WWII. In the left corner, a photograph of his then girlfriend, now, wife of 67 years.

By January 1945,  Tedesco and several friends from Erie, Pennsylvania were in boot camp together at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station just north of Chicago.

That’s where Tedesco said he and a couple of his buddies were exposed to mustard gas. He said no one objected – at the time – you did what you were told to do.

“We were all young, 17 years old – 18 years old. You know,” Tedesco said.

He doesn’t remember the specifics of the mustard gas test — but he recalls what came next.

“The day after, I remember, they used to have two doctors and corpsmen come at noon and they checked us over,” Tedesco said. “For about a week, they did this and then we never seen them no more. That was it.”

In a few months, Tedesco was on his way to the Solomon Islands in the Pacific and later New Guinea. He would serve 21 months overseas. He was discharged May 2, 1946 in California.

“I’ve had breathing problems ever since I went into the Navy,” Tedesco said. “I don’t know if it was because I started smoking while I was in the Navy or if it was the mustard gas. But something’s bothered me ever since.”

Tedesco said he suffers from asthma and had to retire early from his job as a carpenter and building contractor, at age 57, because of chronic breathing problems.

A photo of the July 1991 newspaper article that gives details from four WWII sailors who say they were subjected to mustard gas experiments while in basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1944.

A photo of the July 1991 newspaper article that gives details from four WWII sailors who say they were subjected to mustard gas experiments while in basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1944.

He said he and some of his friends filed claims with the VA in 1991 when the mustard gas experiments were declassified. Their quest was written up in the local Erie newspaper.

But Tedesco said his claim was denied. He said he tried again when he got more proof – a copy of a letter a friend wrote while they were in boot camp together.

“And in that letter, he mentioned that we were mustard gassed and he had my name mentioned that we were there,” Tedesco said.

But again, the VA denied his claim, Tedesco said.

That’s when  he just let it go because he didn’t want to jeopardize the disability payment he does receive for hearing loss and a leg wound suffered in the war.

The VA has responded to NPR’s series on Broken Promises To Vets Exposed To Mustard Gas and lawmakers are promising take action including U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, vice-chairman of the US House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Bilirakis’ office has reached out to Tedesco to offer help getting his VA claim reviewed.

A World War II Veteran and Son Ready for an Honor Flight

WWII Navy Veteran and retired Circuit Judge John P. “Jack” Griffin and his son, Tampa attorney Chris Griffin.

Next Tuesday, 74 war veterans and their guardians will lift off from the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport headed to the nation’s capital. It’s called an “Honor Flight” and it’s designed to give veterans a day in Washington DC to visit the memorials.

World War II Veteran and retired Circuit Judge John P. “Jack” Griffin and his son, Tampa attorney Chris Griffin, will be on that plane.

Jack has told his son several stories about his time in the Navy. Yet, when they sat down for a news interview, Chris heard stories his dad had never shared.

Griffin’s ship, LSM 185, after being launched at the Charleston Navy Yard, September 1944. Courtesy of USS LSM/LSMR Association.

Jack served as a pharmacist’s mate aboard LSM 185 – that stands for Landing Ship Medium. They transported troops and supplies throughout the Pacific Ocean.

“We weren’t a fighting ship,” Jack said. “The only casualties we had were self-inflicted like the guy who cut himself on a machete.”

He was the only medical man aboard ship. His “surgery” was in the hallway of the ship. His “operating table” a clerk’s desk covered with a sterile sheet, although, he said there was really nothing sterile aboard.

But for ten days, Jack was reassigned to a Marine unit during the invasion of Okinawa.

“It was personal. That’s the only thing I can say,” Jack said. “The war was brought home.”

Griffin’s ship, LSM 185, on the beach at Leyte, P.I. in 1945. Photo courtesy of Charles Blaun and Navsource.org.

He said sounds from the opening scene in Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” were so realistic to what it was like on Okinawa that he had to leave the theater during the invasion scene.

“When bullets are flying, I’ll just put it that way. You recognized sounds,” Jack said. “You can tell if a bullet hit at a glancing blow or dead on and you can tell when it hits flesh.”

Jack is looking forward to visiting the World War II Memorial with his son. They will be aboard for the sixth West Central Florida Honor Flight scheduled to take off Tuesday morning.

The organization invites the public to join in and come down to the “welcome home” celebration for the WWII and Korean veterans. Usually, several hundred people show up.

The return Honor Flight is expected to land at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, 12 June, at the St. Petersburg Clearwater Airport.

A Pearl Harbor Survivor Salutes the Fallen

I will admit a partiality to World War II veterans, my husband is one, and so is retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Sterling R. Cale, a 90-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor.

Retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Sterling R. Cale, a 90-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor, salutes the 1,177 service members who lost their lives during the attack on the USS Arizona Dec. 7, 1941. Photo courtesy of the Dept. of Defense.

The photo above was taken as Cale took a few moments in the shrine room of the USS Arizona Memorial during the USS Arizona Memorial 50th anniversary commemoration ceremony, May 27, 2012.

The ceremony honored the 1,177 service members who lost their lives during the Japanese attack on the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941.

A Medal of Honor Recipient and 1 Million Purple Hearts

President Barack Obama places the Medal of Honor around the neck of Army Sergeant First Class Leroy Arthur Petry, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, July 12, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

The Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon welcomes its newest inductee – Army Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry is the most recent recipient of the Medal of Honor for his actions in battle:

“While on a tour in Afghanistan and working to take down a high value target, Sergeant Petry was shot on May 26, 2008 in both legs. Although he was wounded, Sergeant Petry continued to give orders during the firefight and at one point picked up an enemy grenade and throwing it. As it exploded, it took a portion of SFC Petry’s arm.”

The induction ceremony into the Hall of Heroes can be viewed online live on the Pentagon Channel at 2 p.m. EDT or in a podcast afterward. A live press briefing where SFC Petry will answer questions is set at 3 p.m. EDT.

The Medal of Honor is this country’s highest tribute to a service member.

A Purple Heart is awarded for wounds suffered while in combat.

Interestingly, a new study by researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs finds that being awarded a Purple Heart can affect a service member years later. Initially, researchers were looking for the keys to developing resiliency to combat stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

They found that among aging war-wounded Veterans, those with a Purple Heart lived longer than those not awarded a Purple Heart. The study included more than 10,000 Veterans of World War II and the Korean War. The findings appear online in the journal Depression and Anxiety.

It is estimated that more than a million service members received a Purple Heart in World War II, and nearly 119,000 in the Korean War.

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