• Amyanne rigby

Honoring our Veterans

"In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…" While originally known as Armistice Day, in 1954 November 11th became a legal holiday to honor American veterans of all wars. "

Today, I am grateful to the many men and women who have sacrificed for our nation. As a child, I grew up loving the flag. My dad, the son of a World War II Veteran, shared his love of country with me. I will never forget at the age of 18 of kneeling at the graves in Normandy and being overcome with complete awe... reverence, faith, hope, and renewed belief in humanity. President Abraham Lincoln's words best shared the words of my young heart that day, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced."


I pray we may all remember what so MANY have done!


Today at Canyon View High School CVHS Student Government and CVHS staff, students, and faculty honored veterans everywhere with a special flag retirement ceremony. It is one of the many services CVHS student government provides to its students and its community.

Below you will find the stories of many known and lesser known southern Utah Veterans... enjoy the read.



May this reading mark a pilgrimage in patriotism for you! When I was 18 years old, I stood on the beaches of Normandy. The journey was somewhat of a pilgrimage for me. My great uncle was here on these same beaches following the liberation. To this day, he says he can still smell the lilac trees. For me, there was that same scent lingering in the air – real or imagined – it mattered not. I was here! The ocean view from the beach was absolutely breathtaking and the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore stirred my heart in remembrance. I tried to envision that June morning when the liberation began. Walking amongst the endless crosses of hallowed ground, freedom took on a new meaning for me this day.

My life, like so many others has been a kaleidoscope of experiences; created through moments merging together shaping who I am. Raised by an ultra patriotic father and the son of a WWII veteran, my journey in patriotism began early in life as we stopped at every historical marker we passed. It mattered not the time or the day — we stopped. To put it in perspective, at age 7, on my first trip to Disneyland my father insisted our first stop be to pay tribute to Abraham Lincoln on Disneyland’s main street. While at the moment it was not unforgettable, today it is an ever precious moment recorded in my mind.

Several years ago, my husband I had the great honor of taking my parents to Pearl Harbor. It was a sobering moment to witness this man, my father, who so deeply loved America experience this moment. If only, more of us could be like him. We also visited the Punch Bowl cemetery where endless graves mark the passing of soldiers who lost their lives at sea. Just to witness my father having this experience was sacred



Veterans- those that left no story For many families, the stories of their veterans are handed down from generation to generation. For others, there is no story... nor, anyone to hand it down to... their service however, still holds tales of courage and honor.

My Great Uncle Edward Irel Hofheins is one that left no story. He is my mother's uncle. And they called him just that, "uncle." He was a small town boy from Beaver, Utah. The son of a stone mason, the grandson of Jacob Hofheins,a captain inthe Mormon Battalion. His roots run deep in Utah's soil. But he left no posterity. Just a scattered amount of nieces and nephews who called him "Uncle. Uncle served in World War II. Rumor has it that he never married because he fell in love with a French Girl while at war. The story goes that he never married because of his love for her. In those days, the tobacco companies distributed cigarettes to the soldiers. It is there that they gained customers for years to come. Uncle was one such. He died of Emphysema. But the trail runs dry there. Uncle was a quiet man. Quiet but kind. A second father to my mother. My memories of him are scant at best. I remember his old home- the home of his parents. And in his last days I remember him in the spare room at my grandparents' home hooked up to some machine to help him breath. And I remember the day they buried him. That's all I remember "Uncle." There are so many questions I have for "Uncle." Is wish I knew his stories. I wish I had been old enough to ask him questions about his service, the french woman, and what it was like growing up with my grandpa, Ora. There are so many Veterans I pay tribute today, but today I especially pay tribute to "Uncle." I honor him for his service. Today, I say thank you "Uncle!"


Honoring the Veterans of the 222 Preface: Last spring I was contacted by an editor of the Utah media group and was asked to do a piece on the history of the 222. This story appeared in VALOR, this past Sunday, November 8,2015. It is an amazing tribute to the soldiers of the Korean War. Unfortunately, my story did not appear in its entirety so in honor of Veterans Day, tomorrow I am sharing it her on my blog. I am so grateful I had the chance to be part of VALOR. Thanks to all of the 222nd and to Veterans everywhere. America is the land of the FREE because of the BRAVE. A fervor of patriotism ripples across Southern Utah. The root of this patriotism is embodied in the 222nd Field Artillery Unit of the Utah National Guard- Commonly known as “Southern Utah Pride,” “The Triple Deuce,” and “The Golden Boys”. For generations, men have left their wives, children, and their livelihoods to answer the call of freedom. The absence of these soldiers not only left holes in the hearts of their loved ones, but in the communities as a whole. These men were educators, medical personnel, policemen, farmers, businessmen, and civic personnel. They were young- in the beginning stages of their lives. However, they answered the call to serve and their communities rallied behind them. History of the 222nd This portrait of freedom spans generations. The 222 traces its heritage to 1841- the Nauvoo Legion and then the Mormon Battalion. These soldiers served their God, their country, their wives, and their children. Batteries from the 222nd including Battery E (Richfield), Battery F (Cedar City), and the Headquarter Battery in Beaver received service credit for the Civil War. Units from the 222nd FA also served as the 145th in World War I. World War II brought restructuring within the guard units. Re-designated and restructured as the 204th, the 222 took part in various campaigns in WWII including Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe. The Post World War II Period again brought restructuring to the 222nd FA. In March 1947, the Triple Deuce known as the 204th FA was reorganized and re-designated as the 213th and attached to the 145th. The men of this Battalion were comprised of the following batteries: A Battery-Cedar City, B Battery- St. George, C Battery-Fillmore, and Service Battery- Beaver. Korean Conflict On August 3, 1950, the “now 213th was inducted into Federal service. The Korean Conflict was a physical manifestation of the Cold War. To the men who served, it was a war- not a conflict. The Golden boys began their trek of miracles. Of the nineteen field artillery units summoned to battle in the Korean Conflict, the 213th was the only one not to lose a soldier. They became known as the “Mormon Battalion,” “the Six Hundred Stripling Warriors.” The call to duty came far too soon after World War II. Communities and families were still bandaging deep wounds. Somehow they mustered their courage… These men were simple boys who rushed to the altar to marry their sweethearts before deployment. In the ten days before deployment, there was a wedding almost every night in Beaver. One soldier even lied about his age in order to join the 213th because his two older brothers enlisted. The boys of the 213th had grown up together- they now prayed they would not die together. These soldiers prayed- they knew they needed God with them. These prayers were consistent and earnest much like those of their Colonel’s who every morning closed his tent flap and hung a white hanky to signify “prayer time.” Lt. Col. Frank Dalley of Summit Utah led the 213th. These soldiers were new to the rigors of war. They were all from surrounding communities. They were brothers, cousins, friends, uncles, nephews. The weight to bring them all home hung heavily upon Dalley’s shoulders. The 213th remained in tactical position at the “Old Iron Triangle” extending from Kumwha to Kumsong from December 1951 to March 1952.Lt. Colonel Frank Dalley- photo credit Dalley family.




The Miracle of Kapyong took place in the early morning hours on April 23, 1951. Located in a lush valley, 4,000 Chinese Soldiers attacked the 213th hoping to break through to the valley. The soldiers fought through the night- it was ferocious- the artillery men held their ground enabling firing missions to continue. At dawn, Battery A organized a combat patrol and used a SELF-PROPELLED Howitzer as a tank. When the roar of gunfire ceased, three hundred fifty enemy men lost their lives… eight hundred thirty surrendered; not one guardsman lost his life. One Chinese soldier stated, “we shoot them, but they don’t fall.” Prayers had been answered- Prayers from kneeling mothers, begging wives faithful children, their own fervent earnest prayers, and the prayers of their valiant leaders. Before rejoining their infantry, these soldiers buried their enemy- a true act of valor. Korea and Beyond Freedom was “cold” and quiet in Southern Utah and throughout the world in the years that followed the Korean Conflict. In 1972, the 222nd was organized to its present state. From January to March 2002, the 222nd provided security during the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. It wasn’t until September 11, 2001 that the 222nd knew terror was on the rise when the United States was attacked on its own land. Men and women who grew in the shadows of the men of Kapyong awakened and communities once again rallied. In March 2002, the 222nd was activated for war in Iraq during Operation Enduring Freedom. Shortly thereafter, the mission changed. The Triple Deuce was deployed to Ft. Lewis Washington to provide logistical support to the ROTC. Future missions for the 222nd included January 2005- June 2006 Camp Ramadi, Iraq and June 2011- December 2011 Baghdad. The 2005 deployment of the 222nd stripped Southern Utah once again of its youth. Over five hundred soldiers from Utah were sent to Iraq leaving children without a parent, spouses separated, hospitals, schools, businesses, civic duties left shorthanded. For the soldiers, times in Iraq were far from pleasant. Warfare had changed since the days of Korea. The Triple Deuce was assigned difficult missions under bad conditions. The area was difficult. Their mission- not to conquer, but liberate. These soldiers were neither faceless nor nameless. Young Corporal Justin Chappel left behind his bride of 5 months. While serving in Ramadi, Chappel had 3 assignments. These included: 1. C Battery fire direction specialist which involved base defense- 12 hours on the tower. 2. Patrols- 24 hour shifts with battalion to observation post. 3. Artillery- Habbaniyah Howittzer- self propelled cannon- could hit target 5 football fields away. Chappel’s favorite assignment was artillery. He loved the intensity. Chappel returned home and after fulfilling his 8 year commitment to the Guard, his service continues but now as a local police officer.Corporal Justin Chappell

Travis Fullmer joined the 222 in 1991 while still in high school. During his 2005 deployment Staff Sergeant Fullmer left behind his wife and two young daughters. While deployed, he served with his three cousins, Kaden, Kam, and Luke Mitchell. For these four young soldiers, serving their country was a family tradition. Fullmer’s three uncles had also served with the 222. While away at war, Grandma Mitchell always said “Grandpa Elmo” (deceased grandfather) was watching over their 4 grandsons. Today, Fullmer continues to serve his country. He presently serves as a Major with the Medical Command Unit (MEDCOM).SSG Travis Fullmer with Iraqi soldiers

Following the example of his father, Daniel Ekker joined the guard when he was 17 years old. In 2005, he left behind his 5th grade classroom and his wife and two young sons. It was hard to say good-bye to daddy- hard for daddy too. But to the boys, he was in “Icrack.” Daddy told them somebody had to “stand on the wall.” Ekker began his service as Private First Class but retired from the 222 in December 2014 as a Second Lieutenant. Ekker now serves as a principal in a local Elementary School.

Perhaps Lt. Colonel Richard Miller was read “The story of Kapyong” at bedtime as a child from which he learned Colonel Frank Dalley’s military maneuvers. Whatever the case, the 222 followed the examples of their predecessors. Members of the Triple Deuce gathered around their Humvees and prayed before each mission. All 500 soldiers from Utah came home.Austin and Richard Miller

In 2011, on their last deployment the “Golden Boys” of the “Triple Deuce” were given gold coins as a good luck token. But the tokens represented far more than that. They represented the legacy of faith of soldiers since the days of Nauvoo, they embodied the prayers said daily in their behalf around kitchen tables and at bedsides, and they symbolized 600 stripling soldiers hanging onto a white hankie. The ripple of Patriotism continues today in Southern Utah because of the 222.

Southern Utah Veterans: It is an honor for me to introduce to you four beloved veterans: Bernell Evans, WWII; John Ashby, Vietnam; Ron E. Bench, Korean War; and Brandon Harding, Iraq. They all boast Southern Utah roots. Evans is my great uncle and was born and raised in Parowan. Ashby has called home many places, but has settled in Cedar City. Bench sits a few benches in front of me at church and also now calls Southern Utah home. Harding married my best friend from college, and was born and raised in Cedar City. Each of these men has served our country in different eras of our nation’s history and with their service there were different circumstances. Nonetheless, there is a common thread that runs through their stories- a deep and abiding love of their country. In college I met Amy Hansen. We connected... together we studied English at Southern Utah University. While we live miles a part, we still have that connection. My admiration for her is endless. Brandon and she are the parents of six wonderful and talented children. Amy is a pillar of strength as she has served our country along with Brandon. Their story is heart warming and inspiring! Preface: Brandon Harding served as the Wing Chaplain for the Helicopter Maritime Strike Wing in Mayport, FL from 2009-2012; Attended Boston University 2012-2013 to receive a Masters of Ethics from the School of Theology; currently serving as the Deputy Command Chaplain aboard the USS NIMITZ aircraft carrier.


Brandon Harding- Navy Chaplain Iraq Amy Harding I never imagined our life encompassing such arduous circumstances, with the new found depth of my patriotism I could not walk away from a life of so many opportunities to serve. — Amy Harding I’ve never been a big fan of video games, but in the spring of 2003 I could not stop the nightmares in video-game form from coming night after night. Over and over I was behind the controls of an Apache helicopter flying through the dust laden streets of Baghdad; frantically scanning the cement building and rooftops for the snipers that pelted the street with machine gun fire while my husband, the “Combat Chaplain,” ran unarmed through the streets with his small band of camouflaged “body-guards.” I pulled the trigger over and over…I was frantic with helplessness. After what seemed like hours of terror I would awaken, not to the sounds of gun fire, but to the sounds of a child’s cry….the children were perpetually sick that spring, and of course, I was the only one there to respond.

When my husband, Brandon signed onto active duty as a Navy Chaplain in the spring of 2001 we never dreamed of being separated by a war in the first 2 years of military service. In fact, the only thing that had led our footsteps to the Navy Chaplain Corps was a strong conviction of God’s will for us. When news of our first duty station at Port Hueneme, California with an assignment as the Battalion Chaplain for a Seabee battalion (Naval Mobile Construction Battalion, NMCB) with an operational schedule of seven months home, seven months deployed, my convictions almost failed me. On September 11, 2001 I knew our life of military service would be different than what “we signed up for” as we as a nation would never be the same again. By December, I was pregnant with our third child, with a 2 and 3 yr. old in tow, and Brandon was deployed with the Seabees to Okinawa for a standard six month training deployment. Brandon spent his deployment learning that his job would, for the most part, involve a tremendous amount of marriage and individual counseling and I was just beginning to learn what it would mean to be a “military wife.” One can learn quickly that being a military wife is a sisterhood; a sisterhood of the crippled aiding the crippled in a tight bond of interdependence.

“Chaps,” as they call him, made it home just weeks before the baby arrived and started training cycles when baby Sophia was just a few months old. By January of 2003 the unit knew that they would be heading to Kuwait to await the invasion; all were to be prepared to leave with a 24 hr. notice. After weeks of tension the day arrived. Brandon said good-bye to us at home so the kids and I could avoid the throngs of hysterical families at the drop-off site. Sophia was asleep in her swing…he stopped and stared for a while. He will never forget what it felt like to walk away from his family knowing where he was going, but not being able to imagine what it would entail. When the invasion began Lieutenant Brandon Harding and the Seabees of NMCB FOUR knew it by the missiles whistling overhead their tent city on the Iraqi border and when the Marines went in, NMCB FOUR followed with their bulldozers and bridge-building equipment in a long, hot, slow convoy of chemical warfare/Kevlar-clad Seabees. There would be no mail or other communication coming in or out of the unit for over six weeks. The only news to the families came in the form of sensationalized reporting written by an embedded Californian reporter. One night the Marine tank unit by whom they were camped packed up and moved on, leaving the lightly armed construction unit unprotected. Soon after the forward moving detachment of 350 was informed that an Iraqi Republican Guard unit of 1,000 was headed their direction to “take them out.” Brandon spent the night scurrying from position to position praying with his men as they posed on their scanty supplies of machine guns waiting for certain death. I knew my husband was there because the reporter quoted him in her dramatic article, which arrived on my front porch the next morning. What I didn’t know was the end of the story. The Iraqi army never arrived. Years later we learned from a friend who was there that a Marine artillery unit “took care” of that Iraqi unit. In the morning the Seabees rolled on towards Baghdad and arrived just hours after the famous statue fell. After weeks of containing their uncertainty under their M16s and their body odors under their Chemical suits, American troops were hailed as heroes by the local Iraqis and NMCB 4 was assigned an operating location outside of Diwaniyah and began doing what Seabees do best; build up what was torn down. As the Seabees worked on infrastructure building projects, “Chaps” worked on building up the Seabees, leading Sunday tour groups on field trips into Ancient Babylon, scavenging furniture and supplies for use in the local schools, meeting with local Imams, using his local contacts to supply his tired Seabees with ice cream and soda to compliment those weeks of MREs and also coordinating with the Commanding Officer’s wife and me to orchestrate a school supply drive to equip the budding schools with the supplies they so desperately needed. At home I did what I could to support the school supply drive. Soon a massive shipment of paper, pencils, chalkboards, etc. was flown to Brandon and his Seabees for distribution. I muddled through my days with my three small children, grateful for their youthful ignorance to the danger of “Daddy’s trip to the desert with the Seabees to build bridges.” I concluded that although I would never have volunteered for the experience I was proud of what we were accomplishing on either side of the ocean and though I never imagined our life encompassing such arduous circumstances, with the new found depth of my patriotism I could not walk away from a life of so many opportunities to serve. Years later, with another combat unit, our conviction would be tried again Brandon, of course, arrived home safe to a very joyous reunion in September of 2003. A week and a half later the movers arrived to pack us up for a new adventure in Okinawa, Japan. In route to Japan, while visiting family, we were rerouted to a duty station in San Diego where Brandon spent almost three years running personal and marriage retreats for military members in that area. Though this required at least a couple of absences a month, we enjoyed our family time and thanked God daily for others who were willing to serve their country. Our family grew as baby number four arrived in San Diego. After several more “change of orders” the next go around, we found ourselves surrounded by the beauties of Hawaii, stationed on Marine Corp Base Kaneohe Bay assigned to a Marine infantry battalion, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines. After having experienced a significant family tragedy in route to Hawaii, having suffered from a series of medical issues, having discovered a significant learning disability with our oldest, and having learned of the demanding pace of a Marine unit, we decided it was best to hold off on any future additions to our family and do our best to thrive under such demanding circumstances. However, God had other plans for our family’s growth. Just weeks after moving into base housing Brandon left for six-weeks of desert warfare training in 29 Palms, California. Three days later I discovered that I was pregnant and immediately launched into my worst case of morning sickness (a.k.a: “All-day Sickness”) which would evolve into the most challenging pregnancy I had experienced. We were blessed with a two week break between the training and the deployment when Brandon left his family “in the worst shape ever” to head into the most hostile environment he had thus far to encounter. Shortly after he left I attended the memorial service for the battalion they were replacing; 26 Marines had been lost; 26 boots, rifles, and dog tags were lined up in front of the large and solemn crowd. I watched one of the widows and her three small children on the front row as they read the name of her “invincible” husband. She lived down the street from me. I didn’t know her, but not a day went by during that deployment that I didn’t think of her. With a very limited support system in place and challenges heaped around me I fought everyday to keep going, spent many long hours on my knees and waited for the sporadic communication from my Chaplain. 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines was headquartered inside a hydro-electric damn outside of Haditha, Al Anbar Province during that 2007 deployment. Brandon had a rustic room inside the damn where he made pit stops on the weekends to do worship services in between arranging a spot on a convoy to visit, counsel, pray and lead worship services with Marines scattered in “Forward Operating Bases” (FOBs) surrounding cities along the Euphrates River. He traveled from FOB to FOB every couple of days, going on patrols with squads through the crowded city streets and outlying villages with 75 lbs. of armour in 120+ degree heat, often sleeping on the ground, eating whatever was available, showering on occasion, using “burn-outs” for toilets, falling asleep next to the sounds of a venting Marine and endlessly going through great lengths to communicate with his seemingly destitute wife and children whenever he could. I tried not to tell him that our 2 year old cried himself to sleep every night or that I had had to explain life insurance and “what we would do if Dad didn’t come home” over and over to our inquisitive 7 year old. “Good Military Wives” shouldn’t let on to such things; we push forward and do our best to lift our military sisters when they are falling. I questioned everyday if I could live one more day as a military wife that year. Just weeks before Brandon was scheduled to return home he experienced a crushing blow. One young Marine, with whom he visited regularly, also had a pregnant wife at home due around homecoming time, as I was. Brandon and he would exchange pregnancy progress and Brandon would listen as the young father would tell him how excited he was to have a son to go along with his daughter, who was almost three. On a hot August day, he was killed by a road-side bomb. It was his daughter’s birthday. He would never meet his son. The homecoming day finally arrived on September 30, 2007, just three days before my due date. One swollen and pain-ridden wife, four emotionally needy children, and one exhausted Chaplain were reunited in the hanger that night. Our fifth bundle of joy and screams took his time and arrived two weeks later as Brandon’s work day exploded with Marine couples in distress and the constant flow of those contemplating suicide. Much of the cost of deployments in a combat zone come after the deployment is over. Months later, having finally settled the children into beneficial school environments, developed a social support network, somewhat healed from the family tragedy, and celebrated the arrival of fantastic neighboring “wife-sisters” the pre-deployment training began again the Spring of 2008 and just before our middle child’s birthday in August, our Chaplain was back in Iraq, for the third time and missing the birthday for the third year in a row. Back in Iraq the benefits of the surge were evident, living conditions at Camp Baharia, near the city of Fallujah, were a remarkable improvement. The level of imminent danger decreased and the political climate of the local community leaders much more friendly. Chaps set up a “Coffee house” where his Marines could relax, watch donated movies, and check out donated books. Though he still spent much of his time counseling Marines, the convoys were limited, food and care packages were plentiful and showers and toilets were available. Brandon was even able to get back into a running routine; running around the lake, “inside the wire,” of course. The Marines of 1/3 did not escape tragedy that deployment, however, and the Chaplain was a first responder to help clean the remains of a buddy off of a young Marine as he arrived back to the base after his vehicle was struck by an IED. He was also there to respond and “clean-up” after a young Marine got off the phone with his unfaithful wife and decided that life was no longer worth living. He conducted eight Thanksgiving services, traveling around to all the main camps as well as passing out hundreds of donated care packages at Christmas. On Christmas morning we managed a web-cam session our Chaplain Dad could participate in our Christmas celebrations as well. Brandon found his strength that deployment in organizing a massive drive for children’s coats and shoes to pass out to the local Iraqi children who rarely had more than thin layers and sandals to protect them from the chill of the desert winter. Once again, we worked together to bring blessings to those that suffer the most in a war-torn country; the children. The response was incredible from family members, military families and complete strangers. Over and over that winter groups of Marines delivered shoes and coats to the children, often helping each one find a pair that fit; a pink pair of boots for a smiling 6 year old girl with enormous brown eyes or a pair of tennis shoes for a reluctant 11 year old boy who had seen nothing but violence and depravation all of his life. Those moments are healing moments for a Marine and a child. That is a job of a Chaplain; to help others heal. In our run-down house on the Hawaiian base we did some healing of our own; constantly reminded of how much better this deployment was than the previous; ever mindful of our many blessings. With our oldest daughter, Olivia, old enough to leave with sleeping children, I took to the streets with my running shoes before dawn and rejoiced in a body that could beat the loneliness and stress of “single-momhood” out on the misty blacktop as the sun rose over the blue Hawaiian waters. Past pain brings empowerment. Spring of 2009 arrived before we knew it and in March Brandon was home for good…our most joyous reunion yet! We celebrated by taking every opportunity to enjoy the beauties and outdoor opportunities of Oahu as well as a return trip to our beloved North Shore of Kauai before the movers arrived, yet again, in June to carry our life away to another adventure. Now we are living a very “normal” life in Jacksonville, Florida where Lieutenant Commander Brandon Harding is the Chaplain for a Wing of Navy Anti-Submarine Helicopter Squadrons and comes home every night. “Normal Life” never tasted so good. Many women tell me, “I could never do what you do.” In reality, they could if they had to, but they don’t because there are those that are willing to do it for them. That is the nature of a life in the volunteer military of the greatest nation on earth; it comes with great big rewards and great big sacrifices all rolled into one. I love the line in “Steel Magnolias” when Julia Roberts tells her on-screen mom, “I’d rather have five minutes of wonderful, than a life-time of nothing special.” Ronald Reagan said, “Some people wonder all their life if they’ve made a difference. The Marines don’t have that problem.” Neither does a good Chaplain. My husband is not mine alone. He has an incredible opportunity to serve God, his country and his fellow Marines/Sailors all at the same time and sometimes we get him on loan. If it is ever required of me again, I will gladly do my part and spend my dreams protecting him from the “bad guys.” When I was 18 years old, I stood on the beaches of Normandy. The journey was somewhat of a pilgrimage for me. My great uncle was here on these same beaches following the liberation. To this day, he says he can still smell the lilac trees. For me, there was that same scent lingering in the air – real or imagined – it mattered not. I was here! The ocean view from the beach was absolutely breathtaking and the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore stirred my heart in remembrance. I tried to envision that June morning when the liberation began. Walking amongst the endless crosses of hallowed ground, freedom took on a new meaning for me this day. My life, like so many others has been a kaleidoscope of experiences; created through moments merging together shaping who I am. Raised by an ultra patriotic father and the son of a WWII veteran, my journey in patriotism began early in life as we stopped at every historical marker we passed. It mattered not the time or the day — we stopped. To put it in perspective, at age 7, on my first trip to Disneyland my father insisted our first stop be to pay tribute to Abraham Lincoln on Disneyland’s main street. While at the moment it was not unforgettable, today it is an ever precious moment recorded in my mind. This past December, my husband I had the great honor of taking my parents to Pearl Harbor. It was a sobering moment to witness this man, my father, who so deeply loved America experience this moment. If only, more of us could be like him. We also visited the Punch Bowl cemetery where endless graves mark the passing of soldiers who lost their lives at sea. Just to witness my father having this experience was sacred. This next week my father will travel to Gettysburg to pay homage to his ultimate hero. This adventure will cast the last mark on his bucket list. It is an honor for me to introduce to you four beloved veterans: Bernell Evans, WWII; John Ashby, Vietnam; Ron E. Bench, Korean War; and Brandon Harding, Iraq. They all boast Southern Utah roots. Evans is my great uncle and was born and raised in Parowan. Ashby has called home many places, but has settled in Cedar City. Bench sits a few benches in front of me at church and also now calls Southern Utah home. Harding married my best friend from college, and was born and raised in Cedar City. Each of these men has served our country in different eras of our nation’s history and with their service there were different circumstances. Nonetheless, there is a common thread that runs through their stories- a deep and abiding love of their country. Bernell Evans — World War II By Janet H. Weaver My uncle, Bernell Evans who was born and raised in Parowan, Utah served in the United States Army during World War II. A few years ago I visited Normandy. While discussing the proposed trip, Uncle Bernell said, “Look for my footprints on the beach.” When I actually reached Normandy, I stared off across the peaceful waves of the ocean, took in the quiet beauty and tried to imagine the battle that took place there. The partially destroyed cement bunkers and large holes where bombs had landed remain as a reminder of the many soldiers who gave their lives for our freedom. The landscape has been left as it was following the war, but nature has taken its course and rich green grass has refurbished the terrain. It was only when standing on the beach, closing my eyes and listening that I heard the bombs and guns resounding in the howling wind. Later, as we humbly viewed the thousands of crosses honoring the US Soldiers who gave their lives for freedom at the Normandy Cemetery, I was doubly grateful that my uncle had returned home unscathed, and I am doubly proud of him for his service. I made up my mind to find out more about his service to his country. Our next visit revealed the following: Bernell talked about a summer day in 1944 when his outfit rolled through the streets of Paris, France with our American flag flying from buildings as thousands of people along streets waved flags and threw soldiers flowers and kisses. He apologetically expressed pride in that moment. Inducted into the service February 10, 1943 three days after his 20th birthday, Bernell finished basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and left for England. After spending some time in England, he was assigned to the 190th Field Artillery Battalion Command Post and Firing Center with duties as the VCO (vertical control operator) whose responsibility was setting sights on the guns to determine the length and position of the guns payload. These guns were 155 mm rifles capable of throwing a 95 lb projectile 12 to 15 miles down the road. After the invasion of France, Bernell’s group traveled 2,500 miles up and down the front line wherever they were needed to assist different units in their push eastward. That road took them up Omaha Beach, across France to Paris, then to Liege, Belgium, and Aachen Germany and into the Battle of the Bulge, down the line to Southern France, to a cow pasture near Volmunster France, across the Rhine River at Mainz German to Kassel and on to Leipzig; then into Czech and to Pelsin and Blatna where they connected with the Russian Army. Bernell reports that the four guns they had with them had fired 21,527 rounds and received much respect by the time the war was over. He had many experiences during this time, but one of his most memorable and perhaps most important experiences happened on Christmas Eve in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. He describes it this way: “The Germans had launched their longest final effort to drive us back to the ocean. They were coming through our lines dressed in American uniforms. Germany’s air forces were flying overhead. I was on guard duty in a wooded area, and when a German plane came overhead, every gun in the Bulge opened fire. Then that voice—a voice I’d heard before—came to me and said, ‘Bernell, don’t move.’ I froze in place as the shrapnel came down around me like hail stones. Months later when I’d returned home, I learned that three important people in my life had spent a great deal of time on their knees praying for my safety that night: my father who was also my Bishop, my mother and my sister, Lucile.” My first memory of my Uncle Bernell (and I do remember it) was when the war ended and he came home. My mother was ironing in our home in Beaver. I was sitting doing whatever four year old girls do when I looked up to see a stranger in uniform pass our kitchen window. At that same moment, my mother dropped the iron, screamed in excitement and ran out the door. Her younger brother was home and he was unharmed. He was riding the Greyhound Bus from Salt Lake to Parowan and had left the bus during a brief stop to run up the street to see his sister before continuing home. As the years have passed, he has told us more about his experiences during the war, but he has always been modest in his reports. I had heard rumors that he had received the Bronze Star, but really didn’t know much about it until while going through some of my mom’s memorabilia discovered the following newspaper article. “Private First Class Bernell W. Evans, 39908809, 190th Field Artillery Battalion, United States Army. For heroic achievement in connection with military operations against an armed enemy on 17 March 1945, near Volmuster, France. During a night march, Private First Class Evans voluntarily entered an enemy minefield to render first aid to a comrade seriously wounded by an exploding mine. After calming and reassuring the wounded man, PFC. Evans walked out of the minefield and proceeded to the command post to summon help. This done, he returned toward the minefield but was dissuaded from reentering the field when it was determined that the wounded soldier was being removed by others. The heroic action of PFC Evans reflects great credit upon himself and upon the United States Army.” Bernell returned home, but in a very short time was back in France—this time as a missionary for the LDS Church. Following his mission, he graduated from College of Southern Utah (SUU) and taught in Elementary Schools in Parowan and South Salt Lake. He owns the family home in Parowan and returns there as often as he can. Bernell Evans is an outstanding example of “The Greatest Generation.” John Ashby – Vietnam Left to Right: Commander Al Gallotta, Margaret Ashby and Lieutenant John Ashby. When Margaret Ashby sent her husband off to the Vietnam War in 1967, there were no parades nor crowds holding balloons nor none when he returned home either. “It was an awful war,” Ashby said. It is hard to imagine such an awful time in a country surrounded by beauty. The scenic views are breathtaking in this ocean-oriented country surrounded by inlets, waterways, and rice paddies. But, from 1961 through 1975 it was embedded in war . . . a war that couldn’t be won. When reflecting upon the U.S. presence there, Ashby remembers “The US presence was as a support element under Eisenhower. Under JFK it became a full fledged conflict that continued under both Johnson and Nixon. We were there in support of the South Vietnam government in their struggle against the communist government of North Vietnam in its attempt to take over the entire country of Vietnam. The conflict, which was technically not a war, but a “police action,” became a very bitter political issue with our own leaders. It was the “hawks” (those in support of the war) against the “doves” (those in opposition to the war). The politicians were running the war strategies, not the military commanders. Consequently, it became a war we could not win and eventually we were forced to withdraw and leave the entire country to the communists. Tens of thousands of young servicemen gave their lives and nothing was gained. During his senior year at Colorado State University the military draft was taking everyone with few deferments, so Ashby joined the Navy Reserves so he could complete his schooling. Subsequently he was selected to attend the Navy’s Officer Candidate School in Newport News, Rhode Island and received his commission in September 1961. In 1967 he received orders to the USS Jamestown (AGTR-3), in Vietnam. He served aboard Jamestown as the technical intelligence officer responsible for the intercept and reporting of enemy communications. This information was given to those military units engaged in the conflict. This was an era before satellite communications, internet and cell phones, so delivery time was very slow. Personal communications with those at home was also slow, mostly due to the at sea time required of Jamestown. Letters were sent and received only during those occasions when the ship was in port. It was not unusual for as much as two months between letters, and then there would be five or six to read. While John Ashby was away serving his country his wife, Margaret, stayed home with their two sons (ages 1 1/2 and 3) and attended the University of Utah. Ashby commented on her service as the “untold story.” She was the one who was left behind, who held things together. “we go because we were ordered to . . . they stayed behind because they had to…”. Because of the classified mission status of Jamestown, Margaret never really knew where John was stationed. It wasn’t until the USS Pueblo, a sister ship to Jamestown, was captured by the North Koreans off the coast of Korea in early 1968 that some of her friends began to enquire as to where her husband was and what ship he was on. Because the war so unpopular that nobody wanted to talk about it Margaret got little support from friends and neighbors. Those who served in Vietnam were not looked upon with any sense of appreciation. The real heroes in this conflict were the wives who endured through a very disturbing time in our history. When reflecting upon his service in Vietnam, Ashby described to me, one so removed from that time period, as the following, “It was a war that generated very little sense of patriotism to our country. At home, the drug culture and the hippie movement were in full swing. Free love was a commonly used phrase. Anti-war demonstrations were everywhere. It was a time during which our society was literally disintegrating. Vietnam was a catalyst for this part of our history.” My morning visit with this Vietnam veteran opened my eyes to a world unknown to me and moved my heart with gratitude for an American who served willingly and without question because it was his duty to his country to do so. While holding hands, John and Margaret shared stories of their almost 48 years of adventure. He was barefoot with gorgeous white hair. She was proud and happy. Behind them hang several photos — a reflection of their strong belief in faith, family, and friends. Of particular interest to me is the photo of him in his navy uniform with Margaret beside him. This photo stands as a synonym of their life together — a team. John Ashby can trace his genealogy back to General Turner Ashby, a Virginian who served on the Union side during the Civil War. Every generation of Ashbys has served the United States in times of war. He never questioned or wondered about his choice to serve. He chose the Navy because it was the Ashby way. When reflecting upon the present generation, Ashby commented, “I as one who served am so appreciative of all the young men and women who commit themselves to serve voluntarily. There is no active draft now. These people serve because they want to. There seems to be a segment of our society that wants to see our country become more of a socialist type government. The United States of America is the strongest country on the face of the earth and we have always been willing to go to the aid of those in the world whose freedoms are being threatened. We should not relinquish that responsibility. Every generation is responsible to our nation and the founding fathers. We must preserve freedom. We must not forget the blood and tears that have been shed over the years. We must awake and remember!” Lieutenant John Ashby returned from Vietnam in July 1968 on a C140 cargo plane with seven other servicemen. It was a joyous yet somber trip. They were accompanying the caskets of 11 dead soldiers…. but at least he came home. Ron Bench – Korean War Imagine a young Navy serviceman fresh from the sea as he saunters into the local Woolworth’s with his brand new red and white 1955 convertible parked outside—the only one in Utah. Recently returned from his service in the Korean War, this young man was now on a mission to capture hearts. His first and last was Sandy’s. Sandy and Ron met December 8, 1954, were engaged on January 26, 1955, and then married on February 12, 1955. In 1951 Ron, knowing his draft notice was imminent, joined the Navy where he served as 3rd Class Petty Officer for four years at sea in both Korea and Vietnam. Ron served aboard two ships, the USS ASKARA ARL 30 and the USS CALVERT APA 32. Ron hoped he would be able to put his electrician skills to use in the Navy, but his paperwork was lost and he ended up in the deck department where he was trained to be a boat coxswain. Essentially, Ron ran the boat and steered the Ship once it was at sea. For the most part, Ron served outside of artillery range, but on a few occasions his ship took soldiers into the combat zone. In Viet Nam, Ron was aboard the ship which picked up Vietnamese refugees. Most of them were jungle people far removed from any type of civilization. They were happy to be aboard an American ship bound for a better life. Ron remembers the vast numbers of refugees who were powdered with DDT before boarding. From there, they were taken to either Ho Chi Minh or Saigon. Ron also took part in the mock invasion at Okinawa. Today, he still remembers the awesome nature of that moment and being awestruck by the ships and aircraft carriers that were simply everywhere. It was Ron’s mother who taught him to pray. These teachings saw him through one very rough storm in the Japanese straits. On the onslaught of the storm, the men were instructed to get to General Quarters. Once there, Ron strapped himself into the shoulder straps of a 20mm gunner with twin barrels and two men loaders. Ron saw a squall coming and instinctively grabbed one of the loaders by the belt loop who had not yet strapped himself in and by so doing saved the man’s life. The ship rolled 45 degrees. Had it rolled two more degrees, it would have capsized. Ron had never prayed as hard as he did that night at sea. It has been 56 years since Ron’s service in the Korean War. When I asked about his service in the war he remarked, “I wouldn’t want to do it again, but I would if I had to… Our country is worth fighting for.” As I hugged Ron and Sandy good-bye, I thought about where their life’s voyage has taken them — now married 55 years with 4 children, 19 grand kids, and 13 great grand kids. He smiles brightly and waves good-bye. I imagine him in his Navy Blues as I walk past his flag posted in front of his home. Thank you 3rd Class Petty Officer Ron E. Bench.

0 comments

Recent Posts

See All