A 17-year tally of war stories that had to be told

My last night of work at The Morning Call

My last night of work at The Morning Call in Allentown, after cleaning out my desk. My co-worker Frank Warner took the picture at shift’s end.

With my retirement from The Morning Call on July 1 after 32 years, I left behind a trove of stories about war veterans. I did an accounting in my last days at the newspaper and found that of 102 veterans I interviewed for my “War Stories: In Their Own Words” series that started in 1999 — most of them from World War II — 63 have since died.

Here again is the sad reality: Sixty-two percent of the war veterans I’ve interviewed over the past 17 years have died.

It points to the importance of getting these stories told before they are lost to the ages. I’m glad I wrote them. Not only will these accounts live for future generations, but there was a personal reward in seeing the veterans’ pride over the recognition they received when their stories were published. It was meaningful work.

(I got a big thank you July 19 at the monthly meeting of the Lehigh Valley Chapter, Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. I’ll tell you about that later.)

My “In Their Own Words” series had a total of 112 stories. In five that I handled, the subject was deceased and his written remembrance appeared with the help of his family. Another five were written by other members of The Morning Call staff. Under the format, the veteran – not the writer – told his or her story, culled from recorded interviews and fashioned into a narrative. Sometimes the interviews extended over weeks or months and took countless hours.

The series had one veteran from the World War I era, Olaf Marthinson, who was 102 when reporter Ron Devlin and I interviewed him in 1999 about his role in the 1916 hunt for Mexican rebel leader Pancho Villa. There was one story from the Cold War, on Berlin Airlift pilot Harry D. Yoder; six Korean War stories; six Vietnam War stories; and one Iraq War story, on decorated helicopter pilot Michael B. Hultquist. The rest were all from World War II, including two who served in the German army.

You can read the “In Their Own Words” stories at http://www.mcall.com/news/local/warstories/ In 2011, The Morning Call published a collection of my interviews in the book War Stories in Their Own Words, available online at http://store.mcall.com/war-stories.html

I wrote a dozen other war stories that were not in the “in their own words” format. These included an interview with reclusive World War II Medal of Honor recipient Alton W. Knappenberger that is posted on the Arlington National Cemetery website http://arlingtoncemetery.net/awkappenberger.htm, interviews with Pearl Harbor radar men Joseph L. Lockard, Robert D. McKenney and Richard G. Schimmel, and a feature about Werner E. Schmiedel of Lehigh County, leader of the Lane Gang who was executed by the U.S. Army in 1945 for a violent crime spree that included his murder of an Italian civilian.

For the record, here is a list of the people I wrote about and the people whose stories appeared in the “In Their Own Words” series:

Olaf Marthinson (deceased), Willard “Bill” Haas (deceased), John Feninez Jr. (deceased), McRae A. Lilly (deceased), Dick Acker, Robert A. Carl (deceased), Oliver L. Cleaver (deceased), Frank J. Cudzil (deceased), John B. Dorsey (deceased), Lamar J.T. Farrel, Elizabeth Granger (deceased), Robert Holden, Marian Arner Jones (deceased), Earl “Lee” Leaser (deceased), Rothacker C. Smith Jr., Charles A. Yenser (deceased), James W. Murdy, Wilbur “Will” R. Weaver (deceased), John B. Desrosiers Jr. (deceased), John H. Minnich (deceased), Joseph T. Poster (deceased), Robert E. Serafin (deceased), Edward A. Goldschmidt (deceased), Ernest E. “Whitey” Eschbach (deceased), Paul R. Moyer (deceased), Julius Barkis (deceased), Earl R. Metz (deceased), Earl R. Schantzenbach (deceased), Rev. Edward W. McElduff, John C. Umlauf (deceased), Frank E. Speer (deceased), Robert F. Kauffman (deceased), Alton W. Knappenberger (deceased), Andrew V. Cisar (deceased), Ernest P. Leh (deceased), Benson B. Hartney Jr. (deceased), Joseph P. Anfuso, James A. Creech, James J. Ahern (deceased), Rolland J. “Joe” Correll, Harold E. Saylor (deceased), Jared S. “Jerry” Webre (deceased), Aleck H. Jensen (deceased), Joseph B. Moore (deceased), Florence B. Michaels (deceased), Charles J. Toth (deceased), Howard W. “Bench” Hartman (deceased), Evangeline R. Coeyman, Daniel Hasenecz (deceased), Clifford Ryerson (deceased), Jack Davis (deceased), Edward Sakasitz (deceased), Horace F. Rehrig (deceased), Joseph E. Motil, Charles Kowalchuk (deceased), Richard G. Schimmel, Bohdan T. Pacala (deceased), Robert J. Hutchings, William J. Walker (deceased), Raymond J. Christman Jr., Dr. John J. Hoch, Chris R. Showalter, Warren “Jake” Fegely (deceased), Warren G.H. “Pete” Peters (deceased), Donald W. Burdick, Joseph L. Szczepanski (deceased), Daniel L. Curatola, Nathan Kline, Graydon “Woody” Woods (deceased), Alfred R. Taglang (deceased), Louis H. Vargo, Hank Kudzik, Dick Richards (deceased), E. Duncan Cameron (deceased), Donald F. Mack (deceased), Samuel F. Shireman (deceased), Stanley A. Parks (deceased), Burdell S. Hontz, John A. Caponigro (deceased), John “Reds” Urban (deceased), Jerome Y. Neff (deceased), Ralph H. Mann (deceased), Donald E. Miller, Joseph L. Lockard (deceased), Robert D. McKenney (deceased), Bert Winzer, Robert H. Gangewere, William R. Munsch (deceased), Gloria Mitchell, Robert L. Kroner (deceased), Walter Kuchinos, Dick Schermerhorn, Bill Fritz, Clifford A. Hahn (deceased), Raymond F. Davis, Walter A.L. King (deceased), Pauline Haydt Minnich, Carl A. Schroeter, Charles L. Gubish, Carl J. Manone (deceased), Morris D. Metz, William E. D’Huyvetters, Werner E. Schmiedel (executed by U.S. Army), Leonard V. Siegfried, Garrett S. Runey, Charles F. Remington (deceased), Walter Warda, Harold G. “Gordon” Higgins, Harry D. Yoder (deceased), Francis Phillips (deceased), Randolph Rabenold, Robert W. Reichard, Cecelia Ann Sulkowski (deceased), Gene Salay (deceased), Jim W. Snyder Jr. (deceased), Victor L. Doddy (killed in Vietnam), Bernard J. Dugan, Juan Jimenez (deceased), Levi “Chip” Borger Jr., Clifford J. Treese, Eric R. Shimer, Michael B. Hultquist.

9 responses to “A 17-year tally of war stories that had to be told

  1. David,
    Thank-you so much for your articles on these veterans. The article on Jack Davis, was the catalyst that helped me gather much more information that I could have ever dreamed about my uncle Russel Brugler who was killed at Putscheid (Battle of the Bulge). I also was able to gain a new friend in Jack Davis and spend a nice afternoon talking with him. We kept in contact up until his passing. This was only possible after I discovered your article during my research. Who would have thought the medic that knew my uncle and who was there when he was killed, was just living 2 hours away.
    I believe you have done a great service to all veterans in telling their stories, and in fact, have done a great service to the country for telling their stories. Congratulations on your retirement. You made a difference.
    A heart-felt thank-you,
    Ray B. Brugler, Jr.

    • Hello Ray, thanks for your note. It’s amazing how seemingly small things like a newspaper story can lead to connections that enrich your life. I’m glad I had a role in helping you learn more about your uncle and in getting to know a good man like Jack Davis.

  2. Susan Derr Kirk

    David…I wonder, back then at the beginning, could you have known how much you would accomplish in the next seventeen years? Could you have known the many forms such an enormous task would entail? Could you have known that those special people called Veterans would trust you enough to share their inner-most thoughts? And could you have known how important each stroke of your pen or keyboard would be, for yourself, for them, and for readers like me? Thank you for the very special way you took us all on that journey. I am sure it re-shaped your life in the process and the memories and their paths will make your retirement fulfilling. My very best wishes to you!

    • Hi Susan, thank for these kind words. I’m gratified that veterans took me into their confidence so their stories would live for posterity. My reward has been immeasurable.

  3. Will Scheihing

    Col. V,
    Having worked with you at The Morning Call during the 17 years of War Stories, I can attest to your incredible skill at interviewing the veterans and then crafting what they remembered into stories that read like a novel. I always respected your scholarship — if a vet told you his unit landed on a certain part of Omaha Beach on a certain day, you checked the record and made sure the facts aligned with the memory.
    I will miss the sneak previews you gave me in the newsroom as you talked about the latest vet you had interviewed and what he told you.
    Your work speaks for itself, a splendid tribute to the men and women who, as they invariably seemed to tell you, just did what needed to be done.
    Will
    PS: Enjoy retirement, it is well deserved

  4. David, thank you. This is important work that serves to beautifully let these veterans have their voices shine through. True and sometimes heartrending. Wonderful. Simply wonderful. Enjoy your retirement and (dare I say?) happy writing.

  5. George McDonald

    Great article regarding the Opana Radar 5 years ago
    It was important that you defended the hero Joe Lockard as he did an outstanding

    Too bad that most all involved in that incident have died. Dick Schimmel is in Hawaii for the 75th anniversary. I was going to speak there but had a family emergency that prevented my trip this year.

    George McDonald

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