A number of Mountain Area veterans have had the privilege of participating in Central Valley Honor Flights, which take them to Washington, D.C. to view the WWII Memorial honoring them and their service to this country.
Several participants on the September 2014 flight were featured in a previous Sierra Star story. Here are details of the service of a couple others also participating in that flight.
“This was the very first time anyone had ever said, ‘thank you,’ for my military service,” said 95-year-old retired Lt. Col. Erland Myers, speaking about the 2014 Central Valley Honor Flight he took to Washington, D.C.
“There had never been any parades, receptions or other welcome home recognition,” he said.
“My daughter, Dr. Francene Myers Steinberg R.D., a member of the faculty at the University of California, Davis, served as my guardian for the Honor Flight. The concept of the Honor Flight, the recognition, the opportunity to spend quality time with my daughter was absolutely wonderful.”
Myers served in the U.S. Army in WWII, the Korean War and during the Cold War. His 22-year military career took him to the U.S. Pacific Theater during WWII and included two trips to Japan. His unit was combat loaded and standing off the coast of Japan on V-J Day. He also served in Korea in 1951-52 and in England and Germany.
“At the end of WWII, I stayed in the service. Korea was a forgotten war. Nobody paid a whole lot of attention to it,” he said.
Born in the Central Valley town of Exeter in 1920, Myers was “inspired” to enlist when he “had just completed summer session at UCLA in 1941 when the draft board canceled my student deferment. That ticked me off. I went to downtown Los Angeles and enlisted,” he said.
He graduated from Army Officer Candidate School (OCS) in 1942 and retired from the Army in February 1964 after serving his country over 22 years.
“My children grew up as ‘Army brats’ and are no worse for the experience,” he said.
Job assignments during those years included many from platoon level to company commander, and various staff positions at battalion group and brigade level.
“My particular expertise was primarily construction and administration,” Myers said. He was awarded 13 medals and citations with a commendation medal the highest honor he received for his service.
When asked about casualties in his unit, Myers responded, “No comment.” He was fortunate not to have suffered any serious injuries himself.
Following his retirement from active military service, Myers had to learn how to be a civilian again. He found potential employers were not interested in the fact that he had served in the military for 22 years.
“This is what makes the Honor Flight so important,” he said, referring to the recognition participants receive.
He eventually found work as a building inspector, city planner, real estate appraiser and executive director of a Housing Authority.
“I have buried two wives,” said the nonagenarian. “I have two children and one grandchild of my first marriage, four stepchildren and 12 or so grandchildren and/or great grandchildren of my second marriage.”
(I have) many wonderful memories. (I) have never been inclined to dwell on the failures, losses and misfortunes encountered along the way.”
Has he kept in touch with any of those with whom he served? “So far as I know, most, if not all of those with whom I served during my military service are dead,” he said.
Today, Myers walks about two to three miles a day, spends time on the internet and has enjoyed visiting 45 of the 50 states in the USA. “I read a lot,” he said. He also often considers the current state of the country.
Franklin Johnson of Oakhurst was on the September 2014 flight at the age of 92.
“Seeing that huge slab of granite indented with several thousand names ... it gives you an immediate sense of the cost of war,” Franklin remembered about his first view of the WWII Memorial, which is sandwiched between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.
At the age of 18 in November 1940, he enlisted in the Navy following his high school graduation in June.
“(The country) was still in the depression at the time so continuing my education was not in the cards for me, money-wise,” said Franklin.
Following his acceptance to train as a naval aviator in 1943, he was sent to St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga as a pre-flight requirement, and then on to Livermore, Calif., Corpus Christi, Texas, and Melborne, Fla. “The training of fighter pilots consisted of a simulated approach,” he said.
Pilots had to make nine day and three night landings before they were “qualified to go to the fleet.”
Franklin served as a landing signal officer on the USS Bataan in the Pacific Fleet from October 1944 to October 1946. During that time, the ship traveled to Pearl Harbor and was then sent to help the Marines with the landing operation on Iwo Jima.
The Bataan arrived near the end of fighting on Iwo Jima, but Japanese still entrenched in the elaborate labyrinth of tunnels and underground fortifications were desperate and still fighting, Johnson remembers. “I had taken training as an assistant to the chief medical officer so I was able to help the wounded with tourniquets and the administration of morphine.”
Because of his service there, he was awarded a Bronze Star for valor.
The ship was then ordered to assist in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and then sent to Okinawa.
While near Okinawa, from the deck of the Bataan, Johnson witnessed the Japanese attack on the USS Franklin, an aircraft carrier loaded with ammunition and gasoline. “The USS Franklin was severely damaged by the Japanese who penetrated the U.S. defense and dropped bombs on deck,” Johnson said. “(It) turned into an inferno. Men were being blown overboard. (It was) a terrible thing to watch.”
On a more positive note, Johnson noted, “Our carrier was part of the fleet that took part in the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay.
“In October 1945 (our ship) was dispatched back to the states, through the Panama Canal and the Caribbean to New York Harbor,” he said.
Franklin remembers Navy Day October 1945. “There were bands playing and people celebrating the victory over Japan. We were finally able to go home.”
During his 90-day leave, Franklin traveled home to Minnesota, arriving just in time for duck and deer hunting season. Following his leave, he had orders waiting assigning him the duty of flying decommissioned aircraft from Alameda to Jacksonville, Fla. It was considered hazardous duty due to the condition of some of the aircraft.
Franklin separated from the Navy in January 1946. He went to Oakland, where his parents had moved during his overseas assignment. There he took the exam for a building inspector position in the City of Oakland and served there as an inspector from 1946-1980.
Because of his background as a building inspector, when asked what stood out most for him during the Honor Flight experience, Franklin was very “impressed with the longevity of the buildings in that city (Washington, D.C.). Built of brick, stone and mortar and very little wood frame construction, the buildings are designed to last a century or more.”
Veteran’s Day Service at the Little Church Nov. 11
Veteran’s Day will be observed with a Veteran’s Day Service at 11 a.m., Nov. 11, at the Little Church in the Oakhill Cemetery.
This service will give thanks for the sacrifice of thousands of men and women for the freedoms enjoyed by Americans.
The service will include patriotic hymns, a short message, prayers and readings. Rev. David A. Sebastian, pastor of Oakhurst Lutheran Church will be leading the service and Cliff Neufeld will be the accompanist.
Details: Rev. Sebastian, (559) 683-HOPE (4673).
Veterans art exhibit in Mariposa
The Mariposa County Arts Council and the Keith M. Bertken Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6042 will host a reception for a special art exhibit - “In Uniform” - 3:30-7 p.m., Nov. 7, at Treetop Gallery. It includes the work of three artists - Pam DeLuco, Binh Danh, and Drew Cameron - who utilize military uniforms in their artmaking process. The exhibit will run through early March 2017.