Veteran Salute – Mr. OLEPH A ‘Ollie’ Williams

Mr. OLEPH A ‘Ollie’ Williams

At age 17 and fresh out of high school, Ollie applied for the Marine Corps but because of a bad wrist found himself in the Merchant Marines. After a short time he decided that was not what he was looking for, so came home and at age 18 was drafted into the Army.

At age 17 and fresh out of high school, Ollie applied for the Marine Corps but because of a bad wrist found himself in the Merchant Marines. After a short time he decided that was not what he was looking for, so came home and at age 18 was drafted into the Army.

Soon he wasn’t too sure about Army life after spending his first 23 days in KP without even going through basic training. However, the Army it was, so he made the best of it. This led to him becoming a T-4 1st Cook which he liked until pneumonia sent him to a hospital, ending in a discharge.

Ollie went to work at Sheffield Steel for a short time until joining the Army once again during the Korean conflict. This time he went to the 2nd Infantry Division as a point man living in foxholes in Korea where he experienced horrendous war battles and witnessed much death. Ollie tells of walking 50 yards ahead of his division when someone yelled at him to stop. When he did, he saw he was in a mine field that had been buried by U.S. troops unknown to his own company. It took an hour or more for his men to get him out of the field safely

Another time, Ollie was sitting and resting on an old box when shooting began. The box was hit with shrapnel and destroyed, but Ollie received no injury at all. Knowing he was one lucky person, several more battles occurred without injury. One was in the May Massacre of 1951 when 65,000 Chinese troops were killed in battle and 10 U.S. Divisions lost all but nine riflemen. In that same time frame, Ollie was traveling with a service convoy when it was ambushed by a heavily armed enemy force. Ollie’s truck was hit but he was able to get out and crawl underneath the truck. Exposed to enemy fire, he pulled his comrade from the truck and carried him to the safety of nearby rocks. In his retreat for help, he saved this same comrade from drowning when he fell into a body of water with the weight of his pack on his back. The gallantry in action and devotion to duty reflected great credit to himself and his military service. Ollie was awarded a Purple Heart a Silver Star.

Despite the seriousness of war, Ollie found humor in the time his buddy took off his boots and his socks were rotted off his feet from the exposure to water in his boots. Another time was when they learned he had been a cook in his previous life during WWII, and sent him back to the kitchen. Ollie made sure the boys in the front line of battle received apple turnovers and coffee even if it took him once again to the front to deliver them.

Ollie came home to Fort Leonard Wood for a short time, then back overseas to Germany to work in German barracks for the next 10 months until his time was up.

Ollie lives in Independence, has been married for 57 years, and has three daughters. His story can be viewed in Veterans’ Hall in the Parks and Recreation Truman Memorial Building, 416 W. Maple.

– This is part of a weekly feature on local veterans submitted by Helen Matson, volunteer program director for the city of Independence, 816-325-7860.

Veteran Salute – Scott Grasher

Veteran Salute – Scott Grasher

Veteran Salute – Scott Grasher

Veteran Salute – Scott Grasher

Scott was born in Kansas City and raised in Oak Grove. In 1990 at the age of 20, Scott hoped to join the Air Force, but was fascinated by the Marine uniform and the opportunity to become a police officer after his four years in the military. So he joined the Marines to become a military police officer.

The first hard lesson Scott learned was not to call his boot camp instructor a “dude” when he found himself surrounded by several officers yelling in his face that they were not “dudes.” He completed his training with that lesson and went onto combat school for rifleman/infantry training. All Marines are trained for infantry, and this took him to Iraq and Kuwait with the combat MP unit guarding POWs and escorting supply convoys. He then crossed over to Saudi Arabia to guard ships and ports.

Scott remembers the desert in Iraq being cold at night, about 30 degrees, and warm in the day. It is also very dirty and once rained for two weeks soaking and flooding everything in sight making the desert look like a lake. Even the humvee he slept in was not waterproof and Scott and his buddies got soaked. During this time, he did not have a warm shower for two months, and ate MREs, camel meat, and rice.

The air campaign began before the ground campaign and Scott provided security to supply convoys and troops during both times. During the 100-hour war he found the Iraqi’s anxious to surrender so they wouldn’t have to fight. The oil rigs were bombed and burning causing darkness for two days; the troops didn’t know if it was day or night except for the time on their watches. The burning also caused all the uniforms to reek of oil and Scott says his still do 15 years later.

His travels with guard duty took him to Saudi Arabia, England, Norway, and Germany. Since there was no Internet at that time, Scott was able to phone home about twice a month and once asked his family why he was not receiving any letters. He later found out that another soldier with a name close to his was getting his mail and Scott was receiving his. Another lesson Scott learned was when his buddy tried to burn all the flies in their tent and ended up burning the tent down giving them more nights sleeping in the humvee.

A happy ending to the desert was when Scott found someone who was from the Kansas City area. After talking, they discovered that he was from Pleasant Hill and played basketball against Scott’s Oak Grove team. This led the two to a friendship that still exists and, according to Scott, will last forever.

When Scott’s tour of duty was nearing an end, he was sent to Germany on a plane that malfunctioned causing them to spend 12 hours on the ground. All the troops on board who were in the Army, Air Force, and Navy were allowed to exit the plane, but not the Marines. The townspeople thought the Marines would get drunk and tear up the town so they were ordered to stay on board until the plane was repaired.

Scott came back to Oak Grove to discover he didn’t fit into the college life anymore and was hired by the Independence Police Department as an officer, fulfilling his life’s ambition. Scott credits his training and experience in the Marines for preparing him for police duties and says his uniform is always clean and his boots always shined, again crediting the Marine training. His closing remarks were that he learned to take care of himself and his fellow officers (team). And he says, “There is no place like home.”

Scott’s military history can be viewed in the Veterans’ Hall in the Independence Parks and Recreation Truman Memorial Building, 416 W. Maple.

– This is part of a weekly feature on local veterans by Helen Matson, volunteer program director for the city of Independence, 816-325-7860.

Veterans Salute – Herbert Leon (Jack) Harver Sr.

Veterans Salute – Herbert Leon (Jack) Harver Sr.

Veterans Salute – Herbert Leon (Jack) Harver Sr.

Veterans Salute – Herbert Leon (Jack) Harver Sr.

Herbert Harvey was given the name Jack when he went into the Navy at the age of 17. After Jack’s cousin was killed in WWII, he and four of his friends decided the Navy was to be their new home.

After basic training, where learning to swim was all he felt he learned, Jack spent much of his time in Okinawa and Guam. After the end of WWII, Jack went into the Korean War on board the USS Princeton serving as a laundryman until battles took place and he was transformed into a gunner on deck. Many times suicide bombers would hit his plane with surprisingly few casualties, although a shell exploded close to Jack leaving him shaken and slightly injured.

While at sea, Jack lost a crewman who was cast overboard in high waters; his body never found. To ease the tension of his fellow crewmen, Jack formed a band aboard ship and played in the hospital at Yokosuka Naval Base to injured servicemen. These were the “boys” who had lost limbs or sight and suffered fatigue due to the cruelty of war.

The USS Princeton was hit 39 times by suicide planes after the end of the war in Okinawa and Jack recalls seeing their young faces up close before they exploded. It is still hard for him to understand why they kept attacking after peace was proclaimed. Because of the things that he saw in 10 years of service, he is a true believer that his mother’s prayers were all that brought him back home. Asked what his greatest achievement was and a quick response is the time spent entertaining the “boys,” not the shooting.

Jack and his wife, Mary Ann, have been married 38 years and live in Independence. Jack enjoys retirement playing music with his band and Mary Ann works at Centerpoint Hospital. Jack’s military history can be viewed in the Veterans’ Hall in the Independence Parks and Recreation Truman Memorial Building at 416 W. Maple.

This is part of a weekly feature on local veterans submitted by Helen Matson, volunteer program director for the city of Independence . Reach her at 816-325-7860.

Local WWII veteran again defies death

Local WWII veteran again defies death

Local WWII veteran again defies death

Local WWII veteran again defies death

So you’ve heard about the cat with nine lives. Well, let me tell you about Hans Schultze, a former Marine who has cheated death seven times – twice as a civilian; five as a Marine.

Whoever said, “You can’t keep a good man down,” must have had 83-year-old Hans in mind. The longtime Independence resident stumbled down the basement stairs in his home on March 25, suffering what his family calls a “hangman’s fracture” to his neck.

Given little chance to survive, Hans proved his doctors wrong. As the family was making funeral arrangements, Hans’ health began to improve and his burial plans were scrubbed.

“I survived it,” says Hans, who has no paralysis from the fall and uses his walker to navigate in his modest home, where he lives with his wife, Aldine.

Death escapes began early for Hans. As an 18-year-old, the Concordia, Mo., native received the jolt of his young life from a lightning bolt that struck him inside a Lockwood, Mo., shed where he had taken refuge from a thunderstorm.

“It ripped my shirt front and back,” he says of the strike, which caused “church bells to ring and the hair on his chest to stand up.”
With the lightning strike behind him, young Hans wondered what was ahead of him as he entered the Marine Corps in December 1943 – three months after his 18th birthday.

As World War II raged throughout Europe and the South Pacific, Hans anxiously waited to get into the fray. His wait, though, was a short one, even though he came down with rheumatic fever.
While recovering from this illness following basic training, an impatient Hans asked to be released from a military rest camp so he could join his outfit.

“Get me out of here,” he insisted. And he got his wish some two or three weeks later when he sailed to Guam with the 3rd Marine Division.
“We got in on the invasion of Guam,” Hans says, recalling he was on the South Pacific island for 20 months before sailing to his next battle station – Iwo Jima – where some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific Theater occurred.

The 3rd Marine Division, which had been held in reserve, joined the fighting on the fifth day of the 35-day battle, which erupted Feb. 19, 1945, when the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions assaulted the heavily fortified island with its many bunkers, hidden artillery and 11 miles of underground tunnels.

Having escaped injury on Guam, Hans was hoping for the same on Iwo as he waded ashore with dead bodies, carnage and destruction on all sides of him.
Would the rifleman and “company runner” be as lucky on Iwo as he was on Guam?

As it turned out, his luck held out. He was not wounded; however, he had four close calls on the ash-covered island.

“I always thank the good Lord,” he says, for saving my life, because “I could be laying in a grave someplace.”

Hans says he’d only been on Iwo about a week when a prayer book in the left chest pocket of his jacket stopped a Japanese bullet from piercing his body.

“I got shot through the prayer book and it just nicked my skin,” Hans says, adding that if it hadn’t been for the little black book, “I probably would be dead. … It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Neither will Hans forget the night that his alertness and bravery not only saved his life, but that of his sleeping foxhole companion. Two English-speaking Japanese soldiers lunged at Hans after stumbling across the foxhole that he was in.

“I got (one) with my bayonet and pushed him off and then another one came and I got him with my (.45 caliber) pistol,” he says, explaining, “That’s a case where you hate to kill. If I hadn’t killed them, they would have killed me.”

Hans remembered another kill-or-be-killed experience involving him and a Marine captain who took refuge in one of Iwo’s many caves.
Expecting to be alone in the cavern, the two Marines were startled when they saw a pair of eyes coming at them out of the darkness, their owner swinging a Samurai sword.

“He cut both our packs off our back,” Hans recalls, and cut the captain across his buttock. Before the swordsman could inflict more slashes, “The captain pulled his .45 out and killed him.”

A mistake Hans made while directing tanks into position resulted in him being fired upon by both the Japanese and his own men.

Hans admits wandering too far away from the tanks, thus exposing himself to the enemy only 50 yards away. As the Japanese fired at him, the Marines also shot at Hans believing he was an enemy.

With bullets seeming to come from all directions, Hans jumped into a shallow foxhole and remained there for 36 hours before firing a shot into the air and running safely toward his comrades.

“That’s something I’ll remember, because I should have been dead, because those bullets – I can just see them going over my head – especially at night with those tracers.”

Looking back on his Iwo experiences, Hans says he has much for which to be thankful. Of the 201 men in his rifle company that went ashore and joined 125 replacements, “I was one of only 18 men who returned to Guam unscathed.”

World War II was much kinder to Hans than the short time he spent in Korea as a reservist with the 1st Marine Division. After being on the peninsula less than three months, he was wounded March 11, 1951, defending a 200-foot hill from a night attack by North Korean and Chinese forces.

Having been warned by forward observers of an impeding attack, the Communist forces came up the hill 2 minutes before midnight playing an American favorite: “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

“We got most of them,” Hans says of the attackers, “because you could not miss them because there were so many of them coming up the hill that wasn’t that big.”

The Marines, though, didn’t get them all. Numerous grenades were hurled in Hans’ direction.

“I think I got hit by six or eight grenades in the head. I lost a (right) eye and got hit across both legs,” says the Purple Heart recipient, who still carries three pieces of shrapnel in his left eye.

Semper fi, Sergeant Schulze.

Answering the call of duty

Answering the call of duty

Answering the call of duty

Answering the call of duty

Every Tuesday evening a group of teens and preteens gather at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1000 in Independence to learn the inner values of honor, courage and commitment.

Wearing military boots and camouflaged uniforms, these youth represent Young Marines, the focal point for the U.S. Marine Corps Youth Drug Demand Reduction Program.

Sponsored by the Marine Corps League, Young Marines is a youth education and service program that promotes the mental, moral and physical development of its members, age 8 through high school. The program also promotes a healthy, drug-free lifestyle, while focusing on character building, leadership and community involvement.

The Independence unit, which has helped shape the lives of scores and scores of youngsters since its inception some nine years ago, finds itself at a crossroad. Whether it continues to meet the needs of these children hinges on acquiring a commander.

“The Independence unit has been without a direct, involved commander for the past two or three months,” says Les Miller, regimental commander of Missouri Young Marines.

Les says the former leader, who was temporarily assigned to the post, didn’t like the idea of being the unit commander.

“He thought temporary meant temporary.”

Since the former commander stepped down, the 80-year-old former Grandview Marine has been doing extra duty best to keep the Independence unit vibrant and afloat.

Les, who helped organize the first Young Marines unit in the metropolitan area in 1995, is standing in as acting commander until a new one emerges.

A member of the Young Marines Area Coordinating Council, Les has pleaded and begged the council for assistance.

“But no luck yet,” he says dejectedly.

Les, though, hasn’t thrown in the towel. He knows his fellow Marines won’t abandon him. After all, “Marines stick together.”

A gyrene for two and one-half years (1946-48), Les has issued an SOS pleading for Marines to step forward and take command of the unit that is on shaky ground.

If his SOS falls on deaf ears, there could be one less unit in Missouri and none in Independence.

The possibility of losing the local unit is a “huge concern,” Les says, because there are children in the unit who are unable to attend other area units because their parents don’t have the money to drive them a greater distance to another unit.

A unit commander doesn’t have to be a high-ranking Marine with lots of ribbons and medals. Anyone who has ever served in the U.S. Marine Corps is eligible. However, the commander should be a level-headed person interested in developing children, Les says.

“We would like to have a Marine as commander of every unit. But we don’t always get that.”

Many of the dedicated adult volunteers in the Young Marines program are former, retired, active duty or reserve Marines who believe the values they learned as Marines had a positive affect on them.

In Young Marines, the commander is not your typical Marine Corps drill instructor.

“We don’t get in their face at all,” Les says. “We are not allowed to touch the kids, other than for instructional purposes.”

The program, which Les describes as “a cross between Boy Scouts and ROTC,” is not designed to train participants for military combat.

“We’re there to help them realize they have to take responsibilities for themselves and their actions and get them to do it right,” he explains

Young Marines is not all training and no fun. It’s a mixture of both.

“We try to keep the kids out of gangs and away from drugs, and have some fun along the way. We have campouts, swim parties and things like that for them (to do),” he says, noting recreation is part of every two-hour meeting.

The Independence unit has had its success stories, like the young man who earned a scholarship to an East Coast military school. Following graduation, his gracious parents told Les that had it not been for Young Marines, they are positive their son would have fallen by the wayside.

Then there was the severely handicapped youth who refused to let his disabilities be a hindrance or a distraction to his unit. Unable to stand at attention with the others, he did the next best thing. He got out of his chair and stood at attention on his knees.

Another time, the handicap youth wanted to participate with his unit in a parade in nearby Missouri City. Being unable to march, though, didn’t keep him out of the parade. He found someone to push his wheelchair while he proudly led the marchers carrying the guideon.

Most of the participants never become Marines. They undergo the discipline and physical, mental training to improve their lives, Les says, taking with them all the Marine Corps values that had a positive affect on their lives.

The great-great-grandpa says he resigned his seat on the Grandview Park Board in 1995 to devote the rest of his life to the Young Marines, even though none of his children or grandchildren were in the program.

Les is sold on the community-based program. Now, let him sell you on the benefits of becoming an adult volunteer or unit commander in Young Marines.

Please give him a call at 816-761-7547 or e-mail him at: Les wants to talk to you. He really does. You may become the unit savior.

Answering the call of duty

Area Korean War veterans raising funds for memorial

Area Korean War veterans raising funds for memorial

Answering the call of duty

It’s only a pipe dream, but wouldn’t it be fitting if the proposed Missouri Korean War Veterans Memorial in Kansas City could be dedicated next June on the 60th anniversary of the Korean War?

So say members of the Missouri Korean War Veterans Memorial Committee, which is spearheading the statewide campaign to raise $1.5 million to construct the granite memorial wall in Washington Square Park at Pershing Road and Main Street.

For the pipe dream to become a reality, the committee must raise at least $1 million from private donors before work on the beautiful memorial can commence on property donated by the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. The memorial honors all Missourians who served in the Korean War.

Once construction begins, the committee estimates it will take another six to nine months to complete Missouri’s official Korean War Veterans Memorial bearing the names of 919 Missourians who died in the three-year war, often referred to as America’s “Forgotten War.”

The memorial will bear the names of 111 Jackson Countians, including Independence native Sgt. Charles Richard Long, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Other Independence veterans who paid the supreme sacrifice on the Korean peninsular: Pfc. Jack B. Cloin, Pvt. William E. Giffen, Tech. Sgt. Paul Emil Meister Jr., Cpl. Kenneth W. Onka, Pfc. Walter M. Pollard, Pvt. Joseph R. Vandeventer Jr., Cpl. Earl C. Willoughby, Sgt. Lewis William Zwarka and Pvt. Ralph E. Ring of McAllen, Texas, formerly of Independence.

Citizens can make donations in any amount to the memorial. Individuals, families and businesses can also make monetary contributions on five gift levels. The contributor’s name will be prominently displayed on the wall and will reflect the chosen level of giving. Levels include: Memorial – $1,000 to $1,999; Bronze Memorial – $2,000 to $4,999; Silver Memorial – $5,000 to $9,999; Gold Memorial – $10,000 to $24,999; Platinum Memorial – $25,000 and above.

Another option of recognition is through a black granite bench memorial, a laser-etched photo memorial and granite-paver memorials.

For more information call Al Lemieux, 816-804-2757. Make tax-deductible checks payable to: Mo. Korean War Vets Memorial. Mail to P.O. Box 193, 520 W. 103rd St., Kansas City, Mo. 64113.

Trying to raise enough money to build this unique memorial and provide a trust fund to maintain it, isn’t the memorial committee’s only focus. It’s also trying to raise funding to establish a Web site providing biographical information on all Missourians who died in the Korean War, says Charlie Barnes of Lake Lotawana, a member of the Simpson-Hoggatt Detachment of the Marine Corps League.

Part of the intent, Charlie says, is to verify the names of all Missourians killed in the Korean war and obtain more personal information about them.

“We want to put some flesh on the biographical information we put on the Web site,” the Vietnam War veteran says.

The person putting most of the flesh on the biographical data is David A. Tanquary of Overland Park, Kan., a member of the Kansas City Chapter 2 of the Korean War Veterans Association.

Calling himself a local history buff, David says he wondered how many area military personnel had died in Korea, and who they were. Since no one could tell him, he launched his own investigation.

That was 16 months ago. Today, David is still on the prowl gathering biographical information, personal stories and photographs. His research, he says, has uncovered many intriguing stories about many of the 200 or so Kansas City area veterans who died in Korea.

“I know, for example, when and where and under what circumstances that almost all of them died in Korea,” he says, as well as when and where they went to school, where they lived and who they really were.

So that no one who died in the Korean War is slighted, David urges anybody knowing anything about such a person to leave his or her name, telephone number and e-mail address on the current Web site: David says he’ll return all calls and reply to all e-mails.

Wanting to promote the campaign to obtain more names for the memorial, Ed Becker of Independence wrote the following poem entitled “The Korean War Memorial”:

The Korean War was quite a ride.

Many a score were wounded and too many died.

How they died would make one long editorial;

But, we must get their names for the Korean War Memorial.

If we get their names, they will be listed there.

So if you know of them, give their names for us to share.

The memorial will list them for all to see.

To be reviewed by many they will always be.

Becker, a member of the Simpson-Hoggins Detachment of the Marine Corps League and a corpsman in the Korean War, says he felt compelled to write the poem because he thought it was appropriate.

Noting he was stationed at Camp Pendleton in 1951, Ed recalls rendering aid to soldiers who returned from Korea with arms, legs, eyes and parts of their intestines missing.

“Who knows? he says. “I might have taken care of scores of those who died before they went (to Korea) or after they came back (from Korea).”

Charles says he grew up being told the Korean War, in which three million combatants and 50,000 Americans lost their lives, ended in a stalemate.

Answering the call of duty

Haight: Curiosity leads to charity

Haight: Curiosity leads to charity

Answering the call of duty

When Charlie Barnes, adjutant of the Simpson-Hoggatt Marine Corps League Detachment, began delving into the lives of James Simpson Jr. and Harry Hoggatt – for whom the Kansas City detachment was named – little did he know his intensive research would trigger a pre-Memorial Day observance involving a group of Cub Scout Webelos.

The ceremony Sunday in Forest Hills Cemetery stems from a visit Bruce Johnson made last year to the old Kansas City cemetery at 69th Street and Troost Avenue.

While walking through the burial grounds, the Hoggatt family memorial containing the graves of Harry Hoggatt, his brother Ralph and their parents, Leila (Moore) Hoggatt and Harvey Hoggatt caught his attention.

Curious about who Harry Hoggatt was, Johnson turned to the Internet and found the biography Charlie Barnes had written about the brief life of Harry Hoggatt.

“Because of the footprints I had left, (Johnson) discovered there was a Simpson-Hoggatt Marine Corps League Detachment and contacted me” for more information about the Kansas City Marine who died in World War I, Barnes recalls.

Johnson, though, was disturbed by what he saw at the memorial. He noticed that when the 6-foot marker was originally erected, a flagpole had been attached to the top of the marker. Over the past 90 years, though, the pole had become rusty and the rust had permanently stained the weather-ravaged marker.

Someone needed to spiff up the memorial, Johnson thought. But who? Then it dawned on him that cleaning the memorial would be an outstanding community-service project for the Webelos in his son’s Cub Scout pack.

The Webelos accepted the challenge, then tackled the project, assisted by their parents.

While one of the dads replaced the old corroded flagpole with a new one and painted the fitting on the top of the monument, the Webelos from Pack 118 attempted to clean up the granite rust stains.

“We tried mild solutions (dish soap), then vinegar and baking soda, then Clorox and water, then non-abrasive Comet,” den leader Paula Holmquist wrote in an e-mail.

All their scrubbing, though, was in vain. The stains held fast.

With the grounds manicured and a new flag flying over the monument on a repainted pole, Barnes says the Webelos and their families will gather at 1 p.m. Sunday to “rededicate the memorial and raise a new flag over the family memorial in preparation for Memorial Day.”

Also expected to attend the “rain-or-shine” event are members of the Simpson-Hoggatt Detachment, a few active-duty Marines and Lt. Col. Russell W. Scott III, Inspector-Instructor of the 24th Marine Regiment at Richards-Gebaur. Scott will address the importance of remembering the sacrifices of active-duty troops, veterans and those who died in combat.

Barnes has been asked to present a short biography on Harry Hoggatt “as a shining example of anyone who has ever served their country.”

In his remarks, Barnes will note the military career of Hoggatt was a short one. Assigned to the 6th Marine Regiment, the 17-year-old Kansas City rifleman was injured just 19 days after arriving in France on Aug. 27, 1918. Twenty days later, the teenager died several months prior to his 18th birthday attempting to drive the Germans off Mount Blanc Ridge.

He was initially interred in a grave on the crest of Mount Blanc. Later he was reinterred and buried twice. First, in the Argonne-American Cemetery. Then in Forest Hills Cemetery on Aug. 31, 1921.

Following his death, he became eligible to receive the Victory Medal with ribbon, one Mihiel Battle Clasp, one Meuse-Argonne Battle Clasp and two Bronze Stars.

As for James Simpson, Barnes says the 1915 Westport High School graduate attended three semesters at the University of Missouri before enlisting in the Marine Corps on May 7, 1917.

A machine-gun operator with the 6th Marine Regiment, Simpson arrived in France on Nov. 12, 1917. He died June 6, 1918, in the Battle for Belleau Woods, leading a 7-man attack against two German machine-gun positions that were decimating his regiment. Another Marine died in the bloody assault; the other five were seriously injured.

Simpson was initially interred June 24, 1918, in Lucy-le-Biocage, Aisne, France. On Oct. 11, 1922, he was reinterred in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery.

The Simpson-Hoggatt Detachment invites the public to attend the 68th Marine Corps League Memorial service at 8 a.m. May 31 at Mount Moriah Cemetery, 10507 Holmes, Kansas City.

“We are honoring all the war dead,” says Barnes, noting the hourlong service will have more of a Marine Corps flavor because “we are hosting it.”

Larry Schmidt, retired Marine Corps colonel, will bring the Memorial Day address . A member of the Simpson-Hoggatt Detachment since 1997, he retired from active duty and moved to Kansas City in 1994.

As a colonel, he commanded the 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division in Operation Desert Storm. He also served three separate tours in the Manpower Department at Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington, D.C. His last active-duty tour was at the Pentagon as Executive Officer to the Director, Operations Directorate, Joint Staff, and Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Others participating:

  • Color guard and firing detail, 24th Marine Regiment Headquarters
  • Ararat Shrine Temple Bag Pipes and Drums
  • Welcome, Ken Spencer, Simpson-Hoggatt commandant
  • Invocation and benediction, Dr. Robert Rhodes, Simpson-Hoggatt chaplain
  • Pledge of Allegiance, Aaron Satz of Midwest Young Marines.
  • Placement of wreath, Scott and Candy Wasser, Gold Star parents of Lance Cpl. Christopher Wasser
  • Taps, Dan Land, American Legion Post 327.

For more information, call Charlie Barnes at 816-578-4145.
Semper Fi.

Helen Matson - Veterans memories are precious to retiring volunteer

Helen Matson – Veterans memories are precious to retiring volunteer

Helen Matson – Veterans memories are precious to retiring volunteer

Helen Matson - Veterans memories are precious to retiring volunteer

Helen Matson isn’t sure why she’s so committed to capturing the stories of military service veterans. Maybe it’s because she learns best by seeing and listening to the veterans instead of just reading dates in a history book. Or, perhaps it’s because she never really knew the stories of her father and his service in World War II. Those stories died with him more than a half century ago and when Matson’s mother died two decades ago. But, it’s most likely because Matson, 63, who retired from a 16-year career with the city of Independence at the end of May, just genuinely loves people.

A volunteer at heart

Matson grew up in Sugar Creek. In grade school she aspired to join the Ice Capades because of her love of skating all winter. She graduated from St. Mary’s High School in 1967 and went to work in keypunching. She married, had two children and became a stay-at-home mother. This is when she learned about volunteering and the pleasure it gave her to participate in anything her children’s schools had to offer. She served as PTA president, baked cakes, was a teacher’s aide and managed school carnivals. Matson also volunteered in the school library and helped with the school newspaper.

“Every day of the week was something to do in the school,” she says, “and I dearly loved being around the kids.”

Eventually, Matson became single again and moved away from Eastern Jackson County several times, “but I always came back,” she says.

Then, at age 40, Matson was looking for opportunities to further her education.

“I never got my college degree, but I have a lot of classes behind me,” she says, laughing. “I took what I was interested in.”

So, she attended the 200-hour Police Academy in Joplin, Mo.

“I loved it. It was really educational. I loved every bit of it,” Matson says.

Once she had earned her certificate, she volunteered as a dispatcher with the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office but learned it wasn’t her dream job. The experience encouraged her to pursue court reporting classes for 18 months, but Matson says she had problems simultaneously picking up her speed and accuracy in typing. Each step along her adult life, Matson says, she’s gleaned experiences and knowledge about what interested her.

“I wanted to learn as much as I could about what I came close to,” she said.

Twenty years ago, she was back in Independence, working in business retention with the Independence Council for Economic Development.
Four years later, a position opened up in Mayor Ron Stewart’s office. Matson applied – a process that included writing a long essay on tax increment financing – and got it.
When she started with the city, the Truman Memorial Building hadn’t yet been renovated. Stewart formed a task force in 1997 to look at renovating the history-filled building, and it reopened five years later after $6 million in renovations.

In 2004, Matson received a new assignment in the Truman Memorial Building: volunteer services coordinator, under the Parks and Recreation Department.
On Nov. 9, 2006, the building opened its Veterans Hall, dedicated to Independence residents who have given military service.
And, in 2009, Matson did her first Veteran Salute interview with World War II Navy veteran Clyde Michael, one of nearly 250 veteran interviews she completed as volunteer coordinator.

Matson serves on the board of the Heartland Honor Flight, and she recently took her sixth Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., with World War II veterans.
Matson possesses a passion and a love for community and people, especially with the veterans salute program, says Eric Urfer, director of Independence Parks and Recreation, and she can confidently say she made a positive difference in her community.

In a short time, Matson is able to make the veterans feel comfortable and is able to connect with them, Urfer says, “making you feel as if you’ve known her forever.”
“She took that from literally a concept to one of the finest veterans programs in the nation,” Urfer says. “We often get calls, asking us how we got from Point A to Point B, and up until this point, I simply gave them Helen’s number. Really, she is the mastermind behind the entire program and everything it’s become.”

Some of the veterans have commented that Matson reminded them of iconic “nose art” images of women painted on the sides of military aircraft, Urfer says. Matson represented the real-life version of what they had fought for decades ago.

As volunteer coordinator, Matson organized a group to go out and clean parks, “but she would be right there next to them, doing the work herself,” Urfer says. “And, if she couldn’t get enough volunteers, she’d be out there doing it herself anyway.”

Especially, Urfer adds, when it came to graffiti. Blue Springs High School graduate and graphic artist Jeff Barge created mock graffiti posters for Matson’s May 24 retirement ceremony with messages like “Vandals rejoice! (Helen is retiring.)” and “Helen was here! For a good time call: 325-7860.” “Yes, I kept painting clothes in my office, along with a 5-gallon bucket of paint,” Matson says of her love for cleaning graffiti off of city-owned facilities.

“Really, when anybody looks back on their career and they can say that through their work they improved the quality of life in their town, it’s certainly something to be proud of,” Urfer says, “and I would agree that Helen has done just that.”

Inadvertent inspiration

Matson’s father, a World War II submariner, died when she was 10 years old. She has few, if any, surviving memories of him, saying she is unsure of where they went. His uniform is on display in Veterans Hall at the Truman Memorial Building.

“I have pictures,” Matson says, “and that’s about it.”

At first, Matson says she doesn’t think her father was the inspiration for committing so deeply to the Veterans Salute program. Her inspiration might have come from her uncle, John Peterman, who was a buddy of Matson’s father aboard the USS Flying Fish and later married her mother’s sister.

“I honestly don’t know what my inspiration was, but I know once I started the videotaping, I was hooked,” Matson says. “I was hooked on the stories, the living history. I became so interested from the very first one I videotaped all through – I became so interested in their lives.

“I don’t know what really hooked me on it, but the videotaping just locked me in. It sealed the deal.”

The man whose story she first told – Clyde Michael – is still living, but others have since died. So, what keeps Matson from getting attached to them?

There’s no way of avoiding that, she says, especially as the men and women share experiences that have remained locked away for years because of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“You don’t,” Matson says, her eyes welling with tears. “You’re attached to every single person who walks in this door. You cannot not be attached. When you hear their story, it’s just a piece that goes into your heart – it’s always there.

“It is breaking my heart every time I lose one. When I say ‘I lose one,’ their family loses them, and every time I lose someone I’ve interviewed, it breaks my heart.”

When her mother died 23 years ago, Matson says she was at a point in her life where she wasn’t interested yet in asking about her own father and in learning more.

“It’s very painful,” Matson says. “It’s very sad to have lost what stories he could have shared. Maybe that has locked me into the videotaping, seeing that I don’t have anything of my father.”

She sees the importance of future generations “knowing what Grandpa did in the war.”

“I don’t have that for my father,” Matson says. “A lot of the men don’t see that until maybe they’re dragged in here by their wives or daughters or sons or somebody – they think if they told one person the

stories, those stories will live on, but they won’t. If my mother heard any stories, they’re gone, because my mother is gone.”

‘God had other plans for me’

Following the end of her second marriage, Matson was on her own for 20 years. She told herself she was finished with being in love.

Then, on a blind date, she met Larry White, a veteran of the Vietnam War. After three years of dating, the couple married on April 7. Now that she’s retired from the city, she’ll be known as Helen Matson White.

“God had other plans for me,” Matson says, laughing, “and my other plan was Larry.”

White, who served the U.S. Navy from 1961 to 1968, says he was attracted to Matson’s energy, her love for her job, her compassion for the way her city looks – and, especially, her love for the veterans.

“She’s just very passionate about all of the military servicemen, whether they’re over in Afghanistan now or served in World War II – she loves them all,” White says. “That’s one of the great things I liked about her. Her work ethic and her feelings toward fellow human beings and the smile and happiness that she always exhumes – people pick up on that.”

As a volunteer, Matson will continue capturing and sharing the stories of veterans. She also would like to volunteer at the Kansas City VA Medical Center, including an expansion of the veterans videotaping program into the hospital.

She now volunteers with the Independence Police Department’s V.I.P.S. program and with Kansas City Hospice, as well as volunteering at her granddaughter’s school and in the library at Académie Lafayette.

In late 2010, Matson had open heart surgery, and that experience, she says, opened her eyes to where she was in life and what she wants to accomplish “before age and health tell you that you can’t.”

“I don’t know where I’m going,” Matson says of her life post-retirement, “but I know I’m not going to stay home. I’m open to anything, wherever it takes me.

“If I could give advice, it might be to tell people not to close your eyes or heart to anything, because you never know where something that has little significance at the time might mean a lot later in life, as you get older. Don’t close your mind to anything. … The things that I’ve learned and the things that I’ve done, really, I couldn’t say that I went looking for them. They just happened, and I was open to it. I hope always make the best out of it.”

Translate »
Select the fields to be shown. Others will be hidden. Drag and drop to rearrange the order.
  • Image
  • SKU
  • Rating
  • Price
  • Stock
  • Availability
  • Add to cart
  • Description
  • Content
  • Weight
  • Dimensions
  • Additional information
Click outside to hide the comparison bar
Shopping cart close