Honoring the Fallen: Author salutes Pawtucket residents who died in Vietnam War

Published in Senior Digest, May 2016

For over 30 years, Terry Nau served as sports editor of the Pawtucket Times. When Nau retired in 2012, the seasoned newspaperman did not miss the daily grind of working full-time but soon learned that he missed writing. With free time on his hands, Nau began to write about a part of his life that he had buried for 40 years – his stint in Vietnam as an artilleryman in 1967-68. In his first four years of retirement, the former sports writer would self-publish three books about the Vietnam War.

In 2013, the retiree produced his first book, which dealt with being drafted out of college in 1966 and finding himself in Vietnam by September 1967 for a one-year tour with A Battery, 2/32 Field Artillery. This book, “Reluctant Soldier … Proud Veteran,” focused on his personal journey towards understanding the role Vietnam played in his life.

A Vietnam Veteran Remembers

For his second book, Nau, a Pennsylvania native, decided to write about the 15 students from his high school who died in Vietnam.

“In 2014, my high school’s 50th reunion committee asked me to try and calculate the number of Vietnam veterans in my Class of 1965,” he said, “and from that project came my second book, ‘We Walked Right Into It: Pennsbury High and the Vietnam War.’ ”

A Pawtucket resident since 1982, Nau said, “It was only natural that I would follow up with a book on Pawtucket and its 21 Vietnam War casualties.” His latest book evolved into an oral history, told mostly through the words of surviving family members, friends and fellow soldiers.

“The courage these families showed became the underlying theme of ‘They Heard the Bugle’s Call: Pawtucket and the Vietnam War,’ Nau stated. “It was hard for them to talk about their fallen soldier but after a while, it seemed like they warmed to the idea of remembering these soldiers nearly 50 years after they died,” he said.

Celebrating the 50th

Nau’s latest book has triggered a movement to honor Pawtucket’s “21 Heroes.”

“Pawtucket must remember these courageous soldiers, beginning with its first casualty, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Antonio Maciminio, Jr., who died on May 21, 1966, Nau said, noting that the 20-year-old infantry soldier left a pregnant wife who gave birth to their daughter Vicky in October 1966. Two other soldiers from Pawtucket – Jack Hulme and Michael Dalton – would also die before they ever saw their sons,” Nau noted.

On Saturday, May 21, from noon-2p.m. at the Pavilion in Slater Memorial Park, the City of Pawtucket will honor its 21 Vietnam War casualties. Antonio J. Pires, Director of Administration for Mayor Donald Grebien, will speak on behalf of the city. A reading of the City Council resolution that declares May 21 as “21 Heroes Day” in Pawtucket will follow.

According to Nau, at least 13 of the 21 families will participate in a Roll Call ceremony that will highlight this event. Each soldier’s name will be called out, in the order they fell, beginning with Lance Corporal Maciminio and continuing through Army 1st Lieutenant Michael Dalton, who was the last city resident to die in the war, on June 9, 1971.

The city also plans to honor its surviving Vietnam War veterans with a “Welcome Home” salute from the audience. That will be the final note in an emotional ceremony.

“Vietnam veterans often came home by themselves from the war zone,” Nau said. “The welcome they received came from their parents, families and friends. And that was all they wanted. Over the years, our military leaders realized what a mistake it had been to send soldiers home alone, instead of in units. To have the City of Pawtucket honor our Vietnam veterans in the 50th anniversary of the war means a lot of these graying veterans.”

The May 21 ceremony will begin at noon with 30 minutes of socializing. The ceremony will begin at 12:30 p.m. and should conclude by 1:30 p.m., followed by another 30 minutes of socializing.

“Three of the soldiers’ widows will attend, arriving from Florida, California and New Jersey,” Nau said. “Cathy (Maciminio) Dumont is bringing her daughter Vicky, who turns 50 in October. Vicky will speak her father’s name in our Roll Call of heroes. Debbie Dalton and Ellen Hulme will also participate in the Roll Call.”

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For more information on this May 21 Slater Memorial event, email Nau at tnau3@cox.net or check out the Facebook page, “Pawtucket’s Vietnam War Heroes.”

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Military Recognition Long Over Due for Shemin and Johnson

Published in Woonsocket Call on June 7, 2015

             Almost a century ago when they fought in the bloody battlefields on Europe’s Western Front, and over four years after the passing of Frank Buckles, America’s last doughboy in 2011, America’s Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama presented the nation’s highest military honor to two long-deceased World War I veterans.  .

At White House ceremony, held on June 2, President Barack Obama recognized the acts of valor of Army Private Henry Johnson, an African-American, and Sgt. William Shemin, who was Jewish.  “It’s never too late to say thank you,” the President told the attendees, including 66 surviving Shemin family members.

“It has taken a long time for Henry Johnson and William Shemin to receive the recognition they deserve,” the President said, at the formal ceremony to posthumously award the Medal of Honor to the two World War I infantry soldiers for their gallantry and “personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty.”

Johnson and Shemin fought in France and risked their lives to save others, Obama said, stressing that America “is the country we are today” because they “rose to meet their responsibilities and then went beyond.”

The President said, “The least we can do is to say: We know who you are. We know what you did for us. We are forever grateful.”

Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

Johnson, an Albany, New York, resident enlisted in the Army and was assigned to one of the few units that accepted African-Americans, Company C, 15th New York (Colored) Infantry Regiment – an all-black National Guard unit known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” that later became the 369th Infantry Regiment.  Ultimately, the regiment was deployed in 1918, and Johnson’s unit brigaded with a French army colonial unit ending up at the western edge of the Argonne Forest in France’s Champagne region.

In the pitch black, pre-dawn hours, in “No Man’s Land,” Johnson, who had worked before the war as a chauffeur, soda mixer, laborer in a coal yard and redcap porter at Albany’s Union Station, was credited with helping fight off at least 12 soldiers of a German raiding party despite being wounded and protecting Sentry Needham Roberts, from capture, May 15, 1918.

.            According to Obama, “Johnson fired until his rifle was empty; he and Roberts threw grenades and both of them were hit, with Roberts losing consciousness, As the enemy tried to carry away Roberts, Johnson fought back. After his gun jammed, he used it and a Bolo knife to take down the enemy and protect Roberts from capture.”  Johnson’s bravery ultimately would bring a cache of weapons and supplies to the allies and keep the Germans from gaining valuable intelligence information.

While Johnson was one of the first Americans to receive France’s highest award for valor [the Croix de Guerre with Gold Palm] for his bravery in battle] “his own nation didn’t award him anything – not even the Purple Heart, though he had been wounded 21 times,” Obama said.

At the ceremony, Obama also awarded the Medal of Honor to Shemin, a rifleman to Company G, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, American Expeditionary Forces, in France.

Shemin, a former semi-pro baseball player and ranger who worked as a forester in Bayonne, New Jersey, repeatedly exposed himself in combat to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue wounded troops during the Aisne-Marne offensive in France, between Aug. 7 and Aug. 9, 1918.

“After platoon leaders had become casualties, Shemin took command and displayed initiative under fire, until he was wounded by shrapnel and a machine gun bullet that was lodged behind his left ear,” said Obama.

Following three months of hospitalization for his injuries, he was transferred to light duty and served in the Army occupation in Germany and Belgium.  Shemin received the Purple Heart. He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for battlefield valor, Dec. 29, 1919.

An Act of Congress

It took over five years to get Shemin’s Distinguished Service Cross upgraded to a Medial of Honor,  says Col. Erwin A. Burtnick, (Ret.), who chairs the Awards for Valor Committee, of the Washington, D.C.-based Jewish War Veterans of the United States (JWV). Elsie Shemin-Roth, had approached JWV with her father’s records, asking the organization for a review.

Burtnick says, Shemin-Ross, a Missouri resident, grew up hearing stories from her father and those who served with him about how anti-Semitism played a role in preventing his recommendation for receiving the Medal of Honor.  From the documents submitted and a review of other Distinguished Service Cross and Medal of Honor citations from World War I, the retired colonel felt strongly that if the Jewish soldier had been recommended for the Medal of Honor he would most likely had received it.  .

With a federal law required to allow Jewish World War I veterans to receive the Medal of Honor (current law mandates that it must be awarded within five years of when the heroic act being recognized took place), Burtnick asked Shemin-Roth, to help get the ball rolling by contacting Rep. Blaine Luekemeyer (R-MO). whose office ultimately drafted the initial legislation, the William Shemin World War I Veterans Act.

Burtnick provided advice in drafting the proposed legislation. Initially introduced in 2010 it was not enacted.  However, the legislation along with a companion measure in the Senate introduced by Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) passed and became part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012.  However, due to a technical requirement additional legislation was placed in the NDAA of  2015, which allowed the President to award the Medal of Honor to Shemin without regard to the five-year limitation.

.           Meanwhile, Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) spearheaded Congressional efforts to get Johnson his Medal of Honor. He knew that the nation’s highest military award had long been denied due to racism, but he knew that the African-American deserved recognition for his “bravery and heroism” during World War I.

The New York Senator submitted a nearly-1,300 page request to the military in support of Johnson’s receiving the Medal of Honor and launched an online petition to build public support. The Senator also made a personal call with U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh, met with Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright – who oversees decisions regarding Medals of Honor – and wrote a letter to Secretary Hagel, all in an effort to secure the Medal of Honor for Private Johnson.

Senator Schumer, the author of the legislation with the assistance of RR and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), successfully pushed for an amendment to be also included in the NDAA of 2015 (NDAA), which also waived the timing restrictions on the Medal of Honor and enabled the President to consider the Medal of Honor request.  With Obama’s pen stroke, Johnson got his Medal of Honor, too.

At the ceremony, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson, New York National Guard senior enlisted advisor, accepted the medal on Johnson’s behalf. Soldiers from the 369th were among the attendees.  There are no family members left to accept the prestigious military award.

“It’s a blessing; it’s an honor; it’s a good thing that Henry Johnson is finally being recognized as a hero,” Wilson said.

Burtnick, came to the White House to see Shemin receive his Medal of Honor and attended a Pentagon enshrinement for the World War I soldier in the Hall of Heroes.  “I was elated that our efforts came to fruition, It took over five years to complete,” he says, acknowledging that he had fulfilled a pledge to Shemin-Ross when he first contacted her, to meet someday at the White House.  “I was happy to see her and she was happy to see me,” he says.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

The Greatest Generation’s Last Hurrah

Published in Pawtucket Times, November 15, 2014

The G.I. Generation, born between 1901 to 1924, (coined the “The Greatest Generation” by nationally acclaimed journalist Tom Brokaw), grew up in the Great Depression, and went on to fight World War II, considered to be the largest and deadliest global military conflict in the world’s history. The world-wide war directly involved more than 100 million people from over 30 countries.

With the enactment of a formal declarations of war in Dec. 1941, the ranks of the United States military, by draft and voluntary enlistment, ultimately swelled to
16 million soldiers. Ultimately, those serving in World War II came from every state, ethnic group and race, from poor and well-to-do families.

World War II veterans put their youth on hold to defend the country. Their ages ranged from ages 17 (with parental permission) to 37 years. When discharged a grateful country’s G.I. Bill Education benefits would send them to college, propelling them into professional careers, giving them a good income to raise a family and to economically spur the economy. .

Brokaw, a well-know American television journalist and author best known as the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, who now serves as a Special Correspondent for NBC News and works on documentaries for other news outlets, claims that this was “the greatest generation any society has ever produced.” He asserted that these men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was just the “right thing to do.”

The Last Man Standing

In their middle years, America’s “The Greatest Generation” would see the passing of the last Civil War veteran. On August 2, 1956, the 20th century veterans would learn about the death of Albert Henry Woolson, 106, the last surviving member of the Grand Army of the Republic, who fight in the nation’s bloody American Civil War. In 1864, Woolson had enlisted as a drummer boy in Company C 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment.

Woolson is considered to be the last surviving Civil War veteran on either side whose status is undisputed. At least three men who died after him claimed to be Confederate veterans but their veteran status has been questioned. .

According to the August 3, 1956 issue of the St. Petersburg Times, upon Woolson’s death, President Dwight D. Eisenhower stated: “The American people have lost the last personal link with the Union Army. His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States.”

In 2011, a World War I veteran was nationally recognition, like Civil War Veteran Woolson, for being the last American doughboy. Frank Buckles, 101, had the distinction of being the last survivor of 4.73 million Americans who fought in the “War to End All Wars.” The 16-year old enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917 and served with a detachment from Fort Riley, driving ambulances and motorcycles near the front lines in France. Buckles left military service with the rank of corporal.

In his final years, Buckles served as Honorary Chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation. As chairman, he called for a World War I memorial similar to other war memorials inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway. He would campaign for the District of Columbia War Memorial to be renamed the National World War I Memorial.

Upon Buckles passing, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, issued a release, stating, We have lost a living link to an important era in our nation’s history,” whose distant generation was the first to witness the awful toll of modern, mechanized warfare. “But we have also lost a man of quiet dignity who dedicated his final years to ensuring the sacrifices of his fellow doughboys are appropriately commemorated,” adds Shinseki.

The Twilight Years of WWII Veterans

On November 11, there were fewer aging World War II veterans attending ceremonies held throughout the nation honoring them. With their medium age pegged at 92 years, many of these individuals are quickly becoming frail, their numbers dwindling as the years go by.

Over the next two decades, America’s World War II soldiers are dying quickly. We will again see another generation of soldiers passing, like Woolson or Buckles.

At the end of World War II, there were 16 million who served our nation in that horrific war. Thirty years ago, when President Ronald Reagan traveled to the battle site of Pointe du Hoc, located at a 100 ft cliff overlooking the English Channel on the coast of Normandy in northern France, there were only 10.7 million U.S. veterans left. The President came to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Normandy invasion, recognizing the American Ranger team that took heavy casualties in capturing the German-occupied cliff.

According to the U.S. Veteran’s Administration, in 2014, our frail World War II veterans are dying at a quick rate of just 555 a day. This means there are only 1.34 million veterans remaining. By 2036, The National World War II Museum predicts there will be no living veterans of this global war that took place from 1939 to 1945, to recount their own personal battle experiences. When this happens their stories, like Woolson and Buckles, will only be told in history books or by television documentaries or by historians and academics.

Last Tuesday, Veterans Day ceremonies and activities were held in 15 Rhode Island communities to honor those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Today, there are only 3,951 World War II veterans alive in the Ocean State. The elderly veteran’s numbers dwindle at these celebrations and even at their reunions because of their frailty and health issues.

We are posed to see a generation of veterans vanish right before our eyes. I say, cherish them while you can. Urge those around you who fought in World War II to tell stories and oral histories, for the sake of future generations. They have much to say, we have much to learn.

The National World War II Museum in Louisiana. To learn more about the Greatest Generation and the global war they fought in, go to http://www.nationalww2museum.org.

My commentary is dedicated to Second Lt. Frank M. Weiss, my father, who died in 2003 at 89 years old.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Sipping Cognac Signals an End of a Generation

Published in Pawtucket Times, November 15, 2013

On November 11, fewer aging World War II veterans attended ceremonies held throughout the country honoring them. With their medium age pegged at 92 years, many of these individuals known as the “Greatest Generation), are quickly becoming frail, their numbers dwindling as the years go by.

According to the Veteran’s Administration, our elder Word War II veterans are dying at a rate of just over 600 a day. This means there are approximately only 1.2 million veterans remaining out of the 16 million who served our nation in that war. By 2036, The National World War II Museum predicts there will be no living veterans of this global war that took place from 1939 to 1945, to recount their own personal experiences. When this happens there stories would only be told in some history books or by television documentaries.

The G.I. Generation, (coined the “The Greatest Generation” by nationally acclaimed journalist Tom Brokaw), grew in the Great Depression, and went on to fight World War II. Brokaw’s 1998 best seller, The Greatest Generation, put this generation, born between 1901 to 1924, firmly on the public’s radar screen.

Brokaw, a well-know American television journalist and author best known as the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, who now serves as a Special Correspondent for NBC News and works on documentaries for other news outlets, claims that this was “the greatest generation any society has ever produced.” He asserted that these men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was just the “right thing to do.”

A Gathering to Remember

As with others of G.I Generation, old age and infirmity took its toll on the 80 members of the famed Doolittle Raiders. On Nov. 9, three of the remaining survivors gathered once more on Veterans Day weekend to honor their 76 fallen comrades-in-arms and made a final toast to them. While not related by blood, these surviving members (plus one not attending) had history that bound them tightly together.

At this invitation-only ceremony, at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, the surviving three members of the famed Doolittle Raiders, Lt. Col. Richard Cole, 98, Lt. Col. Edward J. Saylor, 93, Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher, 92, coming as far away as Texas, Montana and Washington State, came to honor their 76 deceased bomber crew members.

Health issues would keep Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite, a native of Ohio, from attending the ceremony. Hite watched the ceremony with his family members from Nashville, Tenn. Wearing the traditional dress for reunions, a blue blazer and gray pants and a Raider tie, Hite gave his own personal salute to his fallen brothers with a silver goblet a few days earlier

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

Over seventy-one-years ago, sixteen U.S. Army Air Force B-25 Mitchell medium bombers, carrying 80 army air force volunteer, took off from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet, to bomb industrial and military site in Tokyo and four major cities in Japan. This was America’s first air raid on the Empire of Japan that took place 133 days after Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raiders bailed out or crash-landed their planes (that ran out of fuel) in China, and most were led to safety by Chinese villagers and soldiers. According to the Doolittle Raiders organization, over a quarter million Chinese men, women and children were killed by the Japanese for aiding the Raiders to escape.

Although the “psychological” air attack was in retaliation for the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, this top-secret mission, led by Lt. Col. James Doolittle, had an added benefit of boosting the sagging morale of the American public.

Meanwhile, due to the surprise attack on the Japanese homeland, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who planned the raid on Pearl Harbor, decided to save face by moving up his battle plans by eight months to attack Midway Island. American code breakers were able to give date and location of this planned attack allowing the U.S. Navy to move three carriers — U.S.S Hornet, U.S.S. Enterprise, and the U.S.S. Yorktown — to ambush Yamamoto’s naval force, ultimately sinking four Japanese carriers, destroying 350 airplanes.

Later on, the Tokyo raid was credited in turning the war around in the Pacific because of the devastating defeat of the Japanese at the Battle of Midway in June 1942… The Japanese military machine could not replace those carriers nor could it replace the trained pilots and mechanics lost in the naval battle.

The Final Toast

According to Tom Casey, Business Manager for the Doolittle Raiders, on Nov. 9, an estimated ten thousand spectators, many young children, and aging veterans, lined the streets on the military base waving American flags, waiting to meet the three Lincoln sedans carrying the three Raiders who came to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio.

After an afternoon memorial service with speeches and taps, a wreath was laid by the Doolittle Raider monument outside the museum as five B-25 bombers flew low over head in the famous missing man formation as a tribute. The Raiders made their last toast that evening to comrades who died in the air attack or since their mission, says Casey.

The original plan for the last toast called for the last two Raiders standing to break open the bottle of cognac, toasting each other and their departed members, stated Casey, who noted that this signify the end of the Doolittle Raider’s mission.

However, Casey remembers the two major changes were made last October at meeting in Washington, D.C. by the four surviving Raiders. Their first decision was to schedule their last public reunion in April 2013 at Fort Walton Beach Florida, the home of Eglin Air Force Base where the Raiders trained for their mission.

“They were also getting older, and travel was getting more difficult, so the second decision was made to not wait until there were only two standing members as initially planned, Casey recounts, stressing that it was important to bring together the five remaining Raiders together while they were physically able to meet to officially close their mission. Unfortunately, Major Thomas C. Griffin passed away weeks later. With the urging of General Hudson, Director of the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, with the agreement of the surviving members the last toast would be scheduled for November 2013 on Veterans Day.

At the evening ceremony, before attending family members of their deceased crew members, air force leadership, and other invitees, a historian read the names of all 80 Doolittle raiders, with the three surviving veterans calling out “here.”

Among the many speakers, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh told over 600 attendees, “As far as I’m concerned, this is the greatest professional honor I’ve ever had to speak here with this crowd at this event.”

Welsh admitted that first book he read as a youngster was Thirty Seconds over Tokyo. “It was given to me by my father, also a World War II vet, with the words that I should read it closely because this is this what America is all about. I’ve never forgotten those words,” he said.

“The Doolittle raiders have been celebrated in book and in journals … in magazines … in various papers. They’ve had buildings named after them … had streets named after them. People play them in movies,” Welsh added.

“They [the survivors] hate to hear this, but Jimmy Doolittle and his Raiders are truly lasting American heroes, but they are also Air Force heroes. They pioneered the concept of global strike … the idea that no target on earth is safe from American air power, states Welsh.

Concluding the emotional ceremony, Cole, representing his fellow Doolittle Raider survivors, opened the 1896 Cognac (denoting Doolittle’s birth year) and gave his final toast.

Casey notes that this bottle was presented to General Doolittle on his sixtieth birthday by a representative of the Hennessy Cognac Company. “That evening was the first time ever the bottle was taken out of its original box and shown to the public and displayed,” he said.

“Gentlemen, I propose a toast,” Cole told the remaining Doolittle Raiders. “To the gentlemen we lost on the mission and those who have passed away since. Thank you very much and may they rest in peace,” then he sipped the cognac from an engraved silver goblet.

The 80 silver goblets in the ceremony were presented to the Raiders in 1959 by the city of Tucson, Ariz. The Raiders’ names were engraved twice, the second upside-down. During the ceremony, white-gloved cadets presented the personal goblets to the three survivors, while their long-time manager poured the 117 year old cognac into the into the participants’ goblets. Those of the deceased were turned upside-down.

The four remaining members of the Doolittle Raiders will continue to keep their heroic tales alive by personally sharing their experiences. When the last cup is turned upside down, it will be their oral histories, history books or documentaries that will give us an impersonal small glimpse of what it took to answer the call to duty and to do that job well.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Returning Veterans Need a Helping Hand from Employers

Published November 30, 2012, Pawtucket Times

When the time came to end his seven month tour of duty in Afghanistan, Michael Cremin envisioned a future with the military.  With his tour of duty now behind him, this Staff Sergeant in the United State Marine Corps Reserves had well-laid out plans to re-enlist and become a full-time Marine.  The ambitious Quincy, Massachusetts resident did the calculations – he would first reenlist, then attend Officer Candidate School and ultimately become a Marine Corps Officer.   However, in a New York second, at the age of 32, this reservist was dealt a harsh blow that left dreams shattered forever.

Last April, Cremin entered a medical facility to treat a nagging back problem that  doctors diagnosed as being caused by the strenuous work endured over those months of  active combat – jumping in and out of military convoy vehicles carrying either heavy gear or injured Marines away to safety from blown up vehicles.    He welcomed the responsibility and at a relatively young age, was charged with overseeing convoys of over 90 vehicles carrying over 100 military personnel, whose mission was to bring needed food, parts, and fuel from Camp Leather Neck, Afghanistan to the various forward operating bases. However, heavy pain caused by three bad disks resulting in nerve disorders would medically-drum Cremin out of military service.  “This medical problem will affect me for the rest of my life,” he said.

Being medically retired was bittersweet for Cremin.  He loved being a Marine but his back injuries would be exacerbated if he stayed in the military.   His doctor’s would later say,  that he might have difficulty moving as he aged and the effects would be life-altering. On the other hand, being officially retired has many benefits, specifically for his 27 year old wife, Carol, an administrator for a staffing agency, who would now be eligible to receive health benefits for life.

Military in His Blood

In 1986 at the age 6, Cremin immigrated to America from Cork City, Ireland with his mother and younger brother to join their father, who had left Ireland earlier to come to the United States to escape an economic recession at home.  For the father, America offered promise and hope with a better way to support a family. With the family together, both parents would ultimately work 90 hours a week to keep their family together.

As a young child, Cremin had always wanted to join the Marines.  He recalls as a youngster, the first poster on his bedroom wall was a Marine recruiting poster, instead rather than the typical sports teams poster you might expect to see.

“Why not be a Marine?,”  he asked.  Military service spanned generations in Cremin’s family tree, stretching to his grandfather’s enlistment in the Irish army early in the century.  Uncles would serve under the United Nation’s flag in Lebanon, Cyprus, the Congo and even Yugoslavia.

In 2003, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Cremin would enlist in his beloved Marine Corps.  For all active duty recruits who lived east of the Mississippi, the young Marine’s basic training took place at Parris Island, South Carolina.  This would be followed by combat training in at Camp Lejuene, North Carolina where he was then sent to Amphibious Assault School, Camp Pendleton in California.

Until 2007 Cremin would be stationed in 29 Palms, California in the hot Mojave Desert.  From the West coast military base, he would be deployed for a 9 month tour in Iraq, serve on the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit on amphibious LSD for ten months and take a 10 month tour of South East Asia.  Leaving active duty in 2007 he returned to Quincy, Massachusetts, where he would take care of family business.  Missing the ‘esprit de corps’ of belonging to the Marine Corps, he would reenlist in the reserves in less than 1 year, which would bring him back to war in Afghanistan in 2011.

The New Year Brings Retirement

Over his decade long military career, Cremin has also found time to volunteer in the community.   When he was stationed in California, he began to do volunteer work in the Marine Corps’ “Toys for Tots” initiative.  In 2010 he decided to step forward to volunteer running the state’s Toys for Toys initiative. When he came back to the east coast after his Afghanistan tour, he would again volunteer to take the reins and oversee Rhode Island’s efforts to collect toys for the needy OceanState children.

Two weeks ago, Cremin officially found out that he would was being retired from the Marine Corps, and his retirement would come at the beginning of 2013. Before this last combat tour, his Associate Degree in Criminal Justice that he earned at QuincyCollege might just have been a stepping stone to a law enforcement career if he was not to stay in the military.   However, his current medical disability would reduce the probability that he could enter that career. Not knowing where he will ultimately live, or work, makes it difficult for Cremin to choose a University to complete his bachelor’s degree.

“Things are up in the air now,” Cremin says, noting that with the economic downturn in Rhode Island, the young war veteran is not sure where he will ultimately end up. Five of his fellow Marines volunteering their time to work on this toy collection project, all who were injured in Afghanistan, will also be looking for work, too.  .

But for now, before he joins the rank and file of unemployed veterans with his five fellow Marines, he will concentrate on overseeing the completion of this year’s Toy’s for Tot’s Campaign. It keeps his mind off the uncertainly of not knowing where his next pay check will come from. “I really don’t want to think about the future.”

Reaching Out to Unemployed Veteran

           According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for all Veterans nationwide fell to 6.3 percent last month —well below the national employment average of 7.9 percent.  However, for post-9/11 veterans, America’s newest veterans, the rate reached 10 percent.

However, “the picture is even worse in the Ocean State”, notes Consultant Dan Cahill.  “In our work we found the unemployment rate among veterans was higher than the general population,” says Cahill, who coauthored a report released in November 2011, entitled Initial Needs Assessment and AmeriCorps State Service Plan.  Funded by Serve Rhode Island, Cahill noted that issues of unemployment are predominant in the veteran population between 35 to 54 years of age. “Approximately 13 percent of veterans in this group are unemployed, compared with a 9 percent unemployment rate among non-veterans in this cohort,” he says.

Cremin and the growing number of unemployed Rhode Island veterans now can turn to a Department of Defense (DOD) program that will assist these individual’s find work.

According to Rebecca Sanderson, Rhode Island’s  H2H Hero to Hire                  Employment Transition Coordinator, this program unveiled in 2011, offers valuable resources for military veterans members by way of hiring fairs, job training, career assessment and military skills translation.  With more than 400 Hiring Our Heroes job fair events, Sanderson noted that one was recently held in the Ocean State to assist current service members, retirees and veterans find civilian jobs.

Sanderson stated that 64 employers came to CCRI in Warwick, on November 9, 2012, to meet the 176 job seekers who attend this event. During the day, company’s received 526 resumes with 103 interviews being conducted.  Seventeen job offers were made that day, she noted.

“We expect more job offers to be made by companies who attended the job fair as they sort through the resumes they collected and finish their interview process of the participants,” says Sanderson. Rhode Island usually hosts two Hirer Our Heroes (HoH) job fairs per year, one in the fall and one in the spring. (Information on these job fairs, including dates and locations can be found by following the links for live hiring fairs on www.H2H.jobs,  the organization’s website).  “At this internet site employers can post jobs, and service members, post resumes and make a job connection,” she says.

One of the biggest challenges that veterans face in finding jobs after returning from active military service involves the translating of their military skills into terms that civilian employers will understand, says Sanderson.  “Service members return with many “soft” skills such as leadership, problem solving, and team work, but may not have the training in the “hard” skills the employers are looking for,” she says.

Sanderson continues to work hard toward creating better networking opportunities that will allow military veterans from active duty and reservists to better interact with employers to break down barriers to communication which will allow businesses to better recognize the value of those who have served in the nation’s military.

Hopefully, Rhode Island companies will see the value of hiring Cremin, a war veteran who could bring his military leadership skills, problem-solving and expertise in organizing large scale events, to their operation.

Veterans fought  for our nation’s freedom.  May be its time for employers to give them a break, by easing them into civilian life and giving them decent employment.  If this happens, everyone becomes a winner.

For more info about the H2H Program, contact Rebecca Sanderson, Employment Transition Coordinator at 401 275-4359; Rebecca.Sanderson@us.army.mil.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, medical and health care issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

The Best of….Attack Stunned Area Vets: Pearl Harbor Survivors Recall Horror of Dec. 7, 1941

            Published December 2006, Senior Digest

            With the 65th anniversary of Pearl Harbor fast approaching, aging military veterans have planned a reunion, which may ultimately be the “last hurrah” to take place in Honolulu, Hawaii in December to commemorateJapan’s December 7, 1941 surprise attack and the start of World War II. 

         According to the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Project, in 1941 the youngest Pearl Harbor survivors were only in their teens and early twenties.  Now their ages are approaching the early to mid 80s and frailties associated with advanced age may will make this year’s 65th Anniversary gathering and Survivors Summit the last official gathering. 

        On December 7, 1941, the surprise attack began at 7.55 a.m.   For almost two hours, the Japanese aerial attack sunk or damaged twenty-one American ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.  American aircraft losses totaled 188 destroyed and 159 damaged on that  unforgettable day.   A total of 2,403 military personnel lost their lives, including 68 civilians, with the number of wounded reaching 1,178.  The Japanese would lose only 29 planes – less than 10 percent of their attacking force.

         Dr. Gary Hylander, a professor at  Stone Hill College says, “With 30,000 World War II veterans dying each month, it’s time to capture their stories.” To commemorate  and honor “The Day that Lives in Infamy” Senior Digest talks with three local veterans who share their eye witness accounts of the Japanese attack and reflect Pearl  Harbor, 65 years ago this month.

At Schofield Barracks

        At age 84, Lincoln resident Leo Lebrun remembers Pearl Harbor just like it was yesterday afternoon.  In 1941, unemployment would force this nineteen year old to enlist at  a United States Army recruiting office located at the main post office in the City of Woonsocket.  .

        After basic training at Fort Slokum, the largest recruiting depot east of the Mississippi River during World War II, a five-day train trip would deliver Lebrun to San Francisco.  From there, the private would be stationed in Hawaii at Schofield Barracks, assigned to C Battery, part of the 8th Field Artillery Hawaiian Division. (Japanese planes would fly over Schofield Barracks on their way to bomb Wheeler Field and Pearl Harbor.)   

       Traveling 15 miles from the Docks, Lebrun arrived at Schofield Barracks complex, six months before the Pearl Harborattack.  “It was really a beautiful place, just like a college campus,” remembers LeBrun.

        On his way to mass on held in a theater at Schofield Barracks, that December 7, 1941 Private Lebrun saw low flying aircraft flying over the building. “We thought those planes were ours because it was not unusual to see planes flying overhead,” he says. “Strafing and dropping bombs” forced the soldier to run for safety inside the theater.  By seeing the “red zeros” painted on the planes “we knew that they were Japanese.”

        After the attack, Lebrun went to outside to help the wounded and found his best friend, 19-year-old George Roberts of Los Angeles, killed by strafing.  “We were shocked, scared, and mad, but we were trained to handle it,” he said.  It took over two weeks for the military to notify LeBrun’s parents that he was not wounded in the attack.

       According to Lebrun, the planes were flying so close to the buildings that some of his friends actually saw the faces of the pilots.  If the Japanese planes came back in a second wave, he and the others who took shelter in the theater were ready.  “We went to a supply room and grabbed 50 caliber machine guns.  It was really difficult to hit [or damage a plane] with a 45 pistol,” he recalls.

       After the sneak attack, Lebrun’s artillery unit was assigned to defend the Punch Bowl, a site over looking Pearl Harbor. In this position, large 155 howitzers would protect the Island from invading troops.  “The first night we shot at anything that moved.  We killed a few mongooses.” He noted that even a few days later his unit could still see  heavy black smoke and fire from the damaged ships in the harbor, which were almost two miles away.  

        Days after the attack soldiers from every outfit would travel to Akins Field and Heeler Field “to pick up plane pieces and clean up those areas,” Lebrun added.

        Lebrun would later participate in five major campaigns against the Japanese, earning five battle stars.  Once discharged as a Corporal in August 1945, he would marry Irene Froment,  from Woonsocket.  The couple recently celebrated 61 years of marriage.  The Pearl   would work as a meat cutter and for the next 39 years was employed by Star Market made this his career.

 Serving on the USS Bagley

        Eighty-Four year old Carl Otto, a former police officer now lives at Attleboro-based Christopher Heights, an assisted living facility, and reflects on Pearl Harbor.  He remembers “seeing Japanese torpedo planes from the stern of the USS Bagley, fire torpedo’s at his ship and others at Pearl Harbor”.    

          Fresh out of boot camp in Newport,Rhode Island, Seaman Second Class Otto  chose to be assigned to the USS Bagley rather than being placed on a larger vessels such as an aircraft carrier or battleship..  A five day trip on a troop train would get the young sailor to the West Coast.  Ultimately, leaving Long Beach,California, the destroyer, manned by 150 sailors set course for Pearl Harbor, the ship’s home port.

         The USS Bagley was moored at the Navy Yard in Pearl Harbor for repairs when the Japanese sneak attack began.  That early morning, Otto, working as a mess cook, finished his duties and went to the rear of the ship to eat a plain egg sandwich and drink coffee, sitting on the gun mount by his friends.  “At first we thought an approaching plane was Chinese. We just didn’t recognize the Rising Sun emblem,” he said.

         “We actually saw the pilot waving to us with his plane only being about 100 feet away from our ship,” Otto noted, saying that “it shot a fish [torpedo] at us.”.  A loud explosion a few minutes later confirmed to Otto that he indeed saw the torpedo which he believes hit the battle ship, the USS Tennessee.

         General quarters called the sailors to their battle stations.  Otto, serving as a powder man, quickly primed the 5 inch 38 caliber gun with powder before the projectile was placed in it before firing.  Otto recalls that over 300 rounds of ammunition were fired from the ship’s four gun batteries that morning.

         “The battle went by so fast..”, remembers Otto,  stressing that his gunnery training allowed him to go into “automatic” mode” when preparing the power charges at his gun battery. .  That day he clearly remembers looking toward Battleship row and seeing the heavy smoke, intense fire and seeing the oil drenched water, some spots on fire.  

         During the aerial battle, “we were credited with downing the first Japanese plane that day,” Otto proudly notes.  Crew members armed with 50 caliber machine guns also were credited with destroying the second and third plane that approached the USS Bagley.  Only four sailors were “nicked” by shrapnel and the ship received no direct hits. (The ship would later be credited with downing five torpedo planes, one dive bomber and a high attitude bomber).

         According to Otto, the USS Bagley would leave the dock behind the USS Nevada and he watched that battle ship run aground on the soft mud bottom of the harbor.  If the battleship would have sunk at the entrance of the harbor “it would have made sitting targets of all the other ships [inside the harbor],” he said.  Ultimately, the USS Bagley would form a battle line with Destroyers to stop any possible invasion.

         Before being discharged from the Navy, Otto would participate in eight major battles in the South Pacific.   Returning to North Attleboro, he would marry Pauline Dailey and during their time together, Otto and his late wife would raise five children. 

 From the Rooftop of Naval Hospital

         Eighty-seven year old Eugene Marchand credits appendicitis with keeping him off the USS Cassin, which was in dry dock at the Navy Yard the day of Pearl Harbor.  During the Japanese attack, bombs and fire caused the 1,500 ton destroyer to roll off the blocks and capsize against the Destroyer, USS Downes, which was alongside, severely damaging both ships.

       Recuperating from surgery, twenty-one year old Marchand watched the attack from the third floor roof top of the Naval Hospital.  At first the young sailor thought the flying aircraft were part of a “sham battle” between the Army and Navy.  Ultimately seeing the ”big red fire ball” emblems on the low flying planes and watching fire and smoke caused by dropped bombs and strafing brought home the point that the battle was not staged, but the real thing. 

        “The Japanese planes flew so close to us we could have hit the planes with rifle fire,” Marchand claims.  Nurses and fellow patients urged him to return back inside by warning him to watch out for the deadly shrapnel.  He noted that no bombs were dropped on this hospital.

        While on roof watching the battle, the first class carpenter Marchand claims to have seen the first torpedo to hit Fort Island, a nearby amphibious base.  After the attack he was reassigned to the USS Whitney, a destroyer tender.

        Being discharged from service after fighting in two South Pacific Battles, Marchand would marry Elaine Degina, from North Attleboro and raise six children.  He was employed by local manufacturing companies, ultimately working for the City and retiring as a truck driver for the highway department.    

       With each passing year, thousands of Pearl Harbor survivors are passing away. Through the Pearl Harbor Survivors Project, military and civilian survivors or their family members can not only share stories, but play a vital role in rebuilding crew rosters of the ships docked in the harbor that day.  Please call 1-866-PHStory or go to www.pearlharborstories.org

            Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  This article was published in the December 2006 issue of Senior Digest.