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Iowa Heroes: A salute to World War II veterans

Charles Edward Richardson, 89, of Mason City, a member of the famed 34th “Red Bull” Infantry Division, survived 517 frontline combat days fighting in North Africa and Italy.  He has carried the sorrowful memory of lost friends throughout his life.   (Christopher Gannon/The Register)

 

Rex Burnett Crawford, 89, flew 36 missions over Europe as a crewman aboard the B-17 bomber, the last of which was on D-Day, as part of the Allied invasion of Normandy.  He still lives on his farm near Rodman, in Palo Alto county.   (Christopher Gannon/The Register)

Bernard Reilly, 92, of Ledyard was among the first U.S. Marines engaged in battle against the Japanese in World War II in the Battle of Tulagi, August 1942.  Reilly and his unit, fought the Japanese for almost three years across the Pacific from Tulagi to Iwo Jima.  Because his unit was not customarily called home after 24 months, it became known as the “Forgotten Battalion.”    (Christopher Gannon/The Register)

James Ellis Edwards, 86, of Des Moines fought against the Japanese in the Philippines as a member of the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry division.  He then went to Japan for occupation duty following the the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945.   (Christopher Gannon/The Register)

Theodore Caldearon “T.C.” Poston, 87, of Corydon served in the Philippines in the 601st Engineering squadron, 385 Air Service Group.  He witnessed the air arrival of the Japanese delegation prior to their signing the Instrument of Surrender on Sept. 2, 1945.  (Christopher Gannon/The Register)

Clayton Roy Moss, 90, of Indianola served as a medic in the 34th “Red Bull” Infantry division in North Africa.  He made sketches of the combat and movements of his unit, visually preserving his wartime experiences.  (Christopher Gannon/The Register)

 

Journalists have the privilege of writing what’s often called “the first rough draft of history.”  Sometimes we get to record history unfolding right before us as front-row eyewitnesses.

In other cases, that history is gathered and grasped years or even decades later, with a perspective that can be revealed only by the passage of time.  Such is the case with the publication of Iowa Heroes, A salute to World War II veterans in this Veteran’s Day Sunday Des Moines Register.

Online and in print you’ll learn about ten Iowans who served on all fronts of the war.  From Europe to the Pacific to North Africa, these men fought the enemy and courageously placed the preservation of freedom and a sense of duty above self.

Their wartime efforts are nothing less than heroic.  Their shared memories and their life-long reflections upon them are carried with pride and pain.  But above all, they are priceless and must be preserved.

According to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs projections, Iowa is losing about 7 of the state’s 16,000 living World War II veterans with each passing day.

Their stories teach us lessons about honor, duty, suffering, blessings and forgiveness. The way they lived their lives during and after the war is testimony to the strength of the human spirit.

Consider Chuck Walter, 89, of Knoxville.  Walter survived dangerous missions as a tail gunner aboard a B-26 bomber; he was shot down and captured as a prisoner of war. Diabetes now confines him to a wheelchair.  He has overcome those difficulties and more by maintaining a simple outlook: “I’ve always had a smile on my face.  I didn’t hold any grudges.  That makes a lot of difference.”   He adds, “I’ve had a real, real lucky life.  For 89 years, I’ve done real well.”

It has been one of the greatest honors of my career to meet, photograph and record the reflections of these ten World War II veterans across our state.  We all can learn much from their example.  Many of them shared details of their wartime experiences that had not been spoken of for decades, if ever.

At some of my interviews with the veterans, we sat flanked by family members eager to listen in on their father or grandfather’s words.  They knew that they were about to hear his deeply personal reflections on the war, some shared for the very first time.

If you know a World War II veteran, get their story. Preserve it. Share it.

Their stories– like those of these ten war veterans– should never be forgotten.

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