Saturday, December 02, 2023

Saluting those who serve

| November 11, 2021 1:00 AM

Our goal with this keepsake publication is to pay tribute to our servicemen and servicewomen, specifically those who have earned this country’s highest honors.

To honor our veterans, we asked for the public’s help by sharing their photos, stories and service — of themselves or family members — who earned top military honors, from the Purple Heart to Silver Star to the Bronze Star, from the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, and Congressional Medal of Honor to name a few.

We wanted to put stories to the names and faces, to capture them before they were lost.

In addition, we gathered information on local service and military groups, veterans services and resources available to veterans and their families.

Inside, you will find stories like those of Donald Zahn, who was 22 when he set foot on the grounds of Camp Toccoa, Georgia. Zahn, who had enlisted in the Army paratroopers in 1942 and was one of the original “Toccoa Men.” A member of the 101st Airborne’s H Company 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

You will also read about George Dong, 95, of Sandpoint, one of our country’s few surviving World War II veterans and one of only a handful of Chinese American soldiers who received the Congressional Gold Medal for his service.

Dong served in the 411th Field Artillery in the European Theater, stationed in England and Germany. He was one of the approximately 20,000 Chinese Americans who served. Later, he served stateside with the Army National Guard during the Korean War.

A virtual ceremony to present the Congressional Gold Medal to Dong and other recipients was held in 2020 and an in-person tribute was held in late September to honor the soldiers and their service.

Then there is Ray Calhoun, who was a young Marine in South Vietnam in April 1967. He and his platoon were charged with leading an assault on Hill 881 South.

During the night leading up to the assault, the North Vietnamese soldiers shouted into the night, telling the Marines they would die in the morning. The taunts would prove prophetic, according to a 2009 San Diego Union Tribune story. By the time the battle ended, three-fourths of the soldiers were either wounded or had been killed.

Throughout the fight, Calhoun alternately fought the enemy and fought to save his fellow Marines. Forty-two years later, Calhoun would be presented with a Silver Star — the nation’s third-highest award for combat bravery during a 2009 ceremony at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.

That bravery is a theme that runs through many of the stories, like those told of the Evans family — Major Gen. A.J. Evans, Col. Philip Brooks, and Col. Richard G. Evans — who served a combined 95 years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force.

Andrew J. Evans Jr. entered Army Air Corps in 1942 after graduation from West Point. He flew fighters in Europe for the duration of World War II, notching eight “kills” and becoming an ace.

Colonel Philip Brooks entered Army Air Corps after his oldest brother was killed in the Pacific in World War II.

After graduation from the Citadel, Richard G. Evans entered the Air Force and served in Vietnam. He would go on to fly 150 combat missions over Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in the F-4 fighter.

You will read about Ronald Williams, who was 17 when he enlisted in the Marines on February 14, 1964. Approximately six months into his second tour when getting off the helicopter under an ambush he was shot in the hand and received his first Purple Heart. Two weeks later, he was wounded by a hand grenade booby trap and almost lost his life. After a nine-hour surgery in a hospital tent in Vietnam, he received his second Purple Heart.

And, there is Harry F. Clark, who was a fur trapper up in Alaska before the start of World War II when he heard that war had been declared. Undeterred when his efforts to enlist in Alaska were rejected, Clark headed to Seattle where he was able to sign on at Fort Lawton, now a city park. After boot camp and training, Clark was on his way to the front lines in France.

You will also see photographs of more than 100 veterans with local ties and brief biographies about their service.

Thank you to all who shared their stories, and thank you to all who served and continue to serve.

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