Twice Heroes

During this year, our nation will commemorate the 75th anniversary of our country’s involvement in World War II.  So, to start it off, let me tell you about eleven men.  You know their names and their faces.  Although most of you grew up with them, you don’t know the full stories of their lives.

After high school, David joined the Army Air Corps.  He wanted to fly.  During WW 2, this second lieutenant flew 44 missions as a bombardier aboard a B-25 bomber.  David, flying a mission as a navigator, and his crew were shot down and were forced to ditch their plane into the sea.  David broke both ankles.  His co-pilot was killed.  Awarded a handful of medals for his service in the war, David, as a first lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve, went to school to begin his life long career.

Jimmy joined the Royal Canadian Artillery as a field artillery lieutenant and was transferred to England to train for the eventual invasion of Normandy.  Jimmy and his company landed on Normandy.  He immediately took control of his unit, firing at snipers above.  After establishing a safe position during the first night, Jimmy was accidentally hit by six rounds of friendly fire.  Four rounds hit him in one of his legs. A finger wound led to an amputation.  The sixth round struck him in the chest.  His life was spared when the bullet hit a silver cigarette case, a gift from his brother,  in shirt pocket.  When he returned to duty, Jimmy joined artillery and later began to fly planes.  One observer once remarked that Jimmy was “the craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Force." Keep this last thought in your mind.

Jackson, who had lived in Conyers and Decatur, Georgia, spent his teenage days playing football and baseball while working in a drug store and a movie theater.  While working in a movie theater on weekends, Jackson developed a life-long fondness for making movies.    When the war came, Jackson joined the Army Air Corps and filmed airplanes.  Keep this thought in your mind too. For many years after the war, Jackson and Jimmy would serve aboard the same ship.

Lyon, whose voice made him a natural for radio announcing, gave up his radio career and chemical engineering studies temporarily to serve as a flight officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force. It was Lyon’s unenviable task to deliver the horrible news of the results of the fighting.  Called “The Voice of Doom,” Lyon was called upon to read the names of the local boys killed in the war over the airwaves.

Leonard underwent training to become a Navy V-12 pilot, but was forced out of flight school when doctors discovered that he was color blind.  Leonard learned how to operate a radio and fire the rear guns from aboard a ship.  He was assigned to the Pacific as a trainer in a torpedo squadron.  As a radio operator and turret gunner aboard an Avenger torpedo gft`bomber, Leonard was transferred to the USS Bunker Hill, just before the opening salvos of the Battle of Okinawa.  Just before leaving on a mission, the pilot became ill and the flight was delayed while another crew of replacements took their places. A few days later, a large number of sailors aboard the ship were killed in a kamikaze attack.  

Larry, who always saw humor in most situations, served as a gunner’s mate during the U.S.  Navy’s bombardment of Normandy on D-Day.  During the action off Utah Beach, Larry was awarded commendations for his bravery.

William joined the Naval Air Corps in 1943 and underwent training as a V-12 officer.  As an ensign assigned to the USS Pennsylvania, William served as a communications officer to transmit messages from ship to ship and ship to shore as well as intercepting enemy messages and decoyed encrypted ones   On his off duty time, William was an undefeated service boxer.  When the war ended, William was aboard a ship bound for Japan.

Billy, not to be confused with William above, was a star basketball player and fraternity boy when the war broke out. He joined the Navy to train as a fighter pilot, but never managed to be assigned to overseas and combat duty

Alex enlisted as a seaman in the Royal British Navy.  After receiving an officer’s commission, Alex commanded a landing craft during the Allied invasion of Italy. Afterwards, he ferried munitions and supplies to Yugoslav partisans in the Eastern Mediterranean.

As you will remember, Jimmy and Jackson served aboard the same ship.  The ship I speak of is the U.S.S. Enterprise, not the aircraft carrier, but the fictional star ship. You see, the Canadian lieutenant whose life was saved by a silver cigarette lighter and the Georgia boy who filmed flying aircraft were none other than James “Jimmy” Doohan and Forrest Jackson DeKelley, Mr. Montgomery Scott and Dr. Leonard McCoy, who took a long trek to the stars where no man had ever gone before.

Lyon went into space as well.  You may remember him as Commander Adama of the Battlestar Galactica.  You will remember him, the “Voice of Doom,”  as Himan Lyman Greene, or Lorne Greene in his iconic role as Ben Cartwright, patriarch of the Ponderosa on the long running western Bonanza.

And, don’t forget about Alex.  Alex, or more correctly Alec, lived in a galaxy, far, far away.   The British naval officer, who starred in a space movie some 38 years ago, was Sir Alec Guiness, or to you Star Wars fans, Obiwan Kenobi.

Remember David, the young navigator and bombardier who flew more than 44 missions  aboard a bomber in the South Pacific?  You will remember him better as Roy Hinkley.  Still don’t know who I am talking about?  Perhaps, you will remember him not by his tv character’s name, but by his title, “The Professor.”  For you see, Russell David Johnson, the brilliant professor of Gilligan’s Island, could never use his real life skills to find a way for the castaways to get off the island, at least during the series original run. Oh by the way, his skipper, Jonas Grumby, who was portrayed by Alan Hale, Jr., joined, what else, the Coast Guard in World War II.  He was joined in the Coast Guard by Lloyd Bridges, who gained fame portraying Coast Guard reservist, Mike Nelson, in Sea Hunt.

Not long after Leonard left the service as a gunner on a torpedo bomber, he got into acting too.  For more than fifty years, he was a ladies’ man and a man’s man, but in real life he married a South Georgia girl. Yet another iconic star on this list, Paul Leonard Newman is considered a giant among actors.

Larry, a D-Day gunner, was never an actor although he was on television as much as any baseball player ever was.  Larry, or should I say, Lawrence “Yogi” Berra, died last year as one of baseball’s most beloved players.

To round out these eleven heroes, I turn to Billy and William.  Billy, the frat boy and and basketball star, would go on to find his niche as a game show host.  You may remember Billy as the host of Truth or Consequences or several of his other games shows.  But, I do guarantee that you will remember, Robert “Bob” William Barker, the host of The Price is Right.

And, here’s to William, or should I say, “Johnny!” This radio operator, turned boxer, turned comic, turned late night host was John William Carson, the king of late night television.

These men were heroes twice, both in war and in the postwar careers on screen and off.

So, when we welcome home veterans from today’s wars, let us look to what they can accomplish in the years to come.  Put away the barriers and lend them a hand. You never
know what may happen.