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Honoring their service

Dallas Retirement Village residents remember military days

From left, Gary Wilson, Jim Preston, Harlan Skelton and Bob Reindl will be among the veterans honored Monday.

Photo by Jolene Guzman

From left, Gary Wilson, Jim Preston, Harlan Skelton and Bob Reindl will be among the veterans honored Monday.

November 05, 2013

DALLAS — When Jim Preston landed in North Africa in 1943 — part of a U.S. Army unit assigned to send coded assignment dispatches to the 12th Air Force during World War II — the commander of the mission said something he would never forget.

Jim Preston, pictured here in 1942, served in the U.S. Army during WWII.

Courtesy of Jim Preston

Jim Preston, pictured here in 1942, served in the U.S. Army during WWII.

"He said, `Gentlemen, you are in a foreign country. You are not in the United States of America. You behave yourself or I will settle with you personally,'" Preston, 92, recalled.

In other words, stick to your mission. He and his fellow soldiers took the advice seriously.

"We all had a job to do and we did it like everybody else … and we were each in a different situation and there wasn't diddley we could do about it," Preston said. "I didn't do any more than anybody else did — I understood code.

"We had a job to do," he stressed.

Preston's words resonated with Harlan Skelton, Bob Reindl and Gary Wilson — all residents of Dallas Retirement Village and all veterans — who were listening to Preston's story last week.

Skelton and Reindl, like Preston, served during WWII. Wilson is a veteran of the Korean Conflict. Each seems to have viewed their service in varying locales simply as a responsibility to their country, nothing more.

Harlan Skelton, at Bogue Field in 1944, served in the U.S. Marines during WWII.

Courtesy of Harlan Skelton

Harlan Skelton, at Bogue Field in 1944, served in the U.S. Marines during WWII.

Preston was drafted on Sept. 1, 1942, and very well could have never made it to his mission in North Africa. His ship carrying 1,800 servicemen was cruising on the African coast when an enemy submarine attacked.

It fired a torpedo and Preston watched as a French ship crossed into the line of fire, taking the hit. It split in two and sank.

"I suppose we couldn't help but remember some things and there are some things we worked hard to forget," Preston said, commenting on his and others' experiences during war.

Wilson, who enlisted in the U.S. Navy toward the end of the Korean Conflict, similarly had one event seared into his memory. He was assigned to a transport ship that hauled troops to and from the war. He didn't see action and, for the most part, he didn't speak much with the men his ship carried across the Pacific.

Gary Wilson, pictured here at Pearl Harbor in 1955, served in the U.S. Navy near the end of the Korean Conflict. He was a crew member on a ship transporting troops.

Courtesy of Gary Wilson

Gary Wilson, pictured here at Pearl Harbor in 1955, served in the U.S. Navy near the end of the Korean Conflict. He was a crew member on a ship transporting troops.

But one transport was different.

"We were bringing a bunch of dead bodies back," he said. "Every coffin, there was an honor guard and they put flags on the coffin and lifted it up onto the ship. That was the closest I got to any of the conflict — it was just the wrap up. "

"That's close enough," Skelton said in response.

"But that made it real all of a sudden," Wilson added.

Skelton, an ordnance man in the U.S. Marines, also had a swift and terrifying introduction to action. He was greeted to his first mission when the Navy convoy delivering troops to Okinawa in 1945 was attacked by two Japanese kamikazes.

His ship survived, but a repair ship with its crew of 80 men took a direct hit and sank. His unit set up camp on Whiskey Hill and was in the middle of preparation to invade the southern island of Japan when the war ended.

The conclusion of WWII didn't mark the end of the battles, however.

In 1947, Reindl, a Navy Corpsman (medic) serving in the Pacific, saved the life of an officer after a plane crashed into a bomb dump near his base. Reindl, the colonel and the colonel's driver all rushed to help the pilot, just as the bomb bay exploded. The colonel suffered a horrific leg wound - thanks to the steel debris being so hot from the explosion, the wound was cauterized, preventing major blood loss.

Bob Reindl, a Navy Corpman (medic), served in the Pacific during WWII.

Courtesy of Bob Reindl

Bob Reindl, a Navy Corpman (medic), served in the Pacific during WWII.

"When I was working on him I said, `You know, you don't get a Purple Heart for this because the war is over," Reindl said. "He was a good guy, the kind you could joke with."

There were happier memories of wartime, too.

Wilson, Skelton and Reindl were all married during leaves from their service. Reindl was married to his wife, Willie, in a whirlwind romance during a 30-day leave in 1945. They had attended high school together and reconnected over the short time he was home.

"She said she saw that sailor suit walking down the street and she had to have it," he said, laughing.

Preston recalled a peaceful Christmas Eve spent during a service led by Pope Pius.

"I'm not a Catholic, but I was happy to be there," he said. "I will never forget it."

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