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Eleven Utah veterans, from WWII to Iraq, to be honored Friday

Published November 9, 2012 10:09 am

Veterans Day • The University of Utah compiled profiles of each of the veterans being feted.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The University of Utah will pay tribute to 11 Utah veterans on Friday at 11 a.m. in the ballroom of the Olpin Union Building.

A discussion about "Korea: The Forgotten War" will precede the ceremony, from 8:45 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. in the Union Theater, also in the Olpin Union Building.

Panelist Lt. Col Dick Raybould, retired from the U.S. Army, will share his experiences while he was deployed, and Lt. Col. Chris Gedney, retired from the U.S. Air Force, will speak about serving on the "front lines" of Korea, decades after the cease-fire.

The U. released these profiles of the veterans who will be honored after the panel with a rifle salute and full-dress military uniform ceremony.

• JAMES HOYT ANDREWS, Marine Corps, Korea.

At 17, James Andrews volunteered to join the Marine Corps. In less than one year, he was fighting a battle at the top of a hill in Korea. After his sole comrade left to attend to wounded soldiers, Andrews ran toward an active bunker. A grenade thrown from the bunker blew him into the air and destroyed his rifle. He climbed on top of the bunker and threw a grenade into it.

He discovered most of the rest of his squad was dead or wounded, but found two machine gunners and took them back toward the top of the hill. As they entered a trench, the two men were shot in the head. Andrews, armed with only his pistol, located and shot the enemy sniper. When another platoon arrived, Andrews rallied this platoon and the men secured the hill.

Six months before his three-year enlistment was up, Andrews was offered a commission that he declined. He separated from the Marine Corps as a Staff Sergeant with a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts.

• GILCHRIST "GIL" BOOTH, Army, World War II.

Gil Booth entered the military in 1943 and served as a replacement loader/cannoner and gunner in the 743rd Tank Battalion. The unit was in the infamous hedgerows of Normandy when Booth joined them, but they fought on to Holland, to Belgium and then to Aachen, Germany.

One night, Booth's unit pulled into a little town flanked on one side by a brick wall and on the other side by a pine tree. On a coin flip, Booth's unit took the side of the town with the brick wall. Crew members went inside a building to stretch out, leaving two men to guard their unit's tank — one to sleep, one to guard. Booth took the first guard shift and afterward went to sleep. When he woke up, he saw that the tank was on fire. He ran over and rescued his fellow soldier. For his actions, Booth was awarded the Silver Star.

• RICHARD LEE BURNS, Air Force, World War II and Korea.

After high school, Richard Burns enrolled in Valley Forge Military Academy, where he completed two years of college. He was waiting for entry into the Flying Cadet program when he received his orders to report. Burns completed advanced training and was sent to fighter school. He and his unit were shipped out to India but when they arrived, they learned the ship with their aircraft on it had been sunk.

They obtained aircraft from a mercenary group called the Flying Tigers and flew as escort cover for the C-46 cargo airplanes, ferrying supplies to the Chinese Army over "the hump," the eastern-most flank of the Himalayas. Burns also flew dive-bombing and strafing missions in support of the infantry, tallying 152 combat missions. After WWII, Burns was assigned to Japan as part of the American Occupational Force, where he was assigned to the Air Rescue Squadron flying from Japan to rescue downed Korean War pilots, some behind enemy lines. He flew SB-17, C-47 and SA-16 aircraft and completed 34 missions.

• RICHARD S. DIXON, Army, Vietnam.

On the night of Oct. 9, 1967, near Bong Son in the Republic of Vietnam, Richard S. Dixon — a 20-year-old machine gunner and demolition expert — was traveling with 10 members of his squad in a two-vehicle convoy when it was ambushed by at least two dozen Viet Cong soldiers. A rocket-propelled grenade round struck the truck in which Dixon was riding with seven of his buddies. Another round ignited the truck's gas tank, and machine gun fire killed their commanding officer. Dixon's legs and feet were riddled with shrapnel. When he jumped out, he was shot in the forearm by a machine gunner.

Although he had a compound fracture, Dixon returned fire with his sidearm until the pistol jammed. He retrieved another pistol from the body of his commanding officer and shot at close range until an enemy grenade exploded three feet in front of him. The grenade blast shredded his liver, stomach and intestines. Although grievously wounded, Dixon continued to fire his pistol at virtually pointblank range.

The VC force suddenly disengaged when parachute flares, fired from a nearby Republic of Korea howitzer battery, lit up the area. All members of Dixon's unit were injured or killed.

Over the next seven months Dixon underwent 34 surgeries. While he was in the hospital at Qui Nhon Bay, Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of all the troops in Vietnam, personally presented Dixon with a Purple Heart.

• GORDON EWELL, National Guard, Iraqi Freedom.

"Gordy" Ewell joined the National Guard after he graduated from Emory County High School in 1985. He began his military career as a radio telegraph operator, but later become a combat engineer and demolition specialist. During his year in Iraq, Ewell went on 59 combat missions. He led dozens of night missions to look for disguised IED. His convoy usually contained four or five vehicles "lit up like a Christmas tree" to shed light on potential hazards.

Ewell noted that it was not unusual for his team to find 15 to 18 bombs every night, and to engage with the enemy four or five times. While deployed, Ewell started writing the Army's first route clearance handbook.

He was in vehicles hit by IEDs six times during his deployment, including one that blew out his impacted wisdom teeth. After that explosion, Ewell was scheduled to leave to begin training another team, so he packed his mouth with gauze and caught a helicopter, only seeking medical and dental attention when he arrived at his destination. Ewell received the Bronze Star for his work as part of the first Mobile Observation Team, for writing the handbook, and for continuing to perform his route clearance duties while engaged with the enemy.

• KIMEL "KIM" FISHER, Army, Vietnam.

Kim Fisher entered the U.S. Army just prior to his 22nd birthday, after completing an LDS mission to Germany in 1968. He served for two years on active duty. After basic training and infantry training, Fisher was sent to the Non-commissioned Officer Academy and graduated with the rank of staff sergeant. In September 1969, Fisher was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division ("Tropic Lightning") in the Republic of Vietnam. He was assigned as a platoon sergeant with C Company/4th Battalion/23rd Infantry Regiment. Due to the vagaries of service, he was frequently without an officer and performed the duties of both platoon leader and platoon sergeant.

During his tour, Fisher was awarded the Silver Star twice for actions in contact with the enemy. In one incident, he performed first aid on one of his soldiers while pinned down under heavy automatic weapons fire. He pulled the soldier to a covered position when a mortar round landed at his feet. Luckily, it was a dud. Fisher says he only wanted to help his fellow soldiers survive and get back home. After returning, he graduated from the University of Utah and had a successful career as a dentist.

• EDWIN B. HERRNECKAR, Army, Vietnam.

Ed HerrNeckar entered the U.S. Army in 1958 and served eight years as an enlisted man. After an initial stateside assignment with the Air Defense Artillery, he served in the Republic of Panama. He was then assigned to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he took a colonel's advice and applied for Officers Candidate School. Commissioned in the Signal Corps, HerrNeckar was sent to the Republic of Vietnam and served with the 221st Signal Company and the 69th Signal Battalion.

HerrNeckar was caught up in the Tet Offensive of 1968, where he helped a reaction force clear an Air Force compound that had been overrun by enemy attackers. He went down an alley under fire and dragged out a stalled jeep by crawling on his back under the vehicle. This opened the way for U.S. forces to advance and recover the compound. For this, HerrNeckar was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism in ground combat.

Upon returning from Vietnam, HerrNeckar went to flight school and was trained on the AH-1G Cobra attack helicopter. He went back to Vietnam in 1970 as a pilot with D Troop/1st Squadron/1st Cavalry Regiment of the American Division, where he flew missions in support of various operations and units. While supporting the 5th Special Force Group he put his Cobra between enemy fire and a Special Forces team that was being extracted. He received and returned fire and remained at a hover while the A-Team was safely extracted. Two UH-1 helicopters were shot down in this operation and two of the eight crew members were killed.

HerrNeckar served 20 years in the Army and served two tours in the Republic of Vietnam. He retired as a major in 1978.

• CHARLES R. HUGHES, Army, World War II.

When WWII broke out, Charles Hughes was enrolled in West Chester State Teachers College. In 1942, he enlisted in the Army to take advantage of a rigorous engineering program that allowed recruits to stay in college as long as they kept up their grades. His test scores were so high upon graduation that Hughes was allowed to choose to attend engineering school in Washington, Penn., but after six months, the school was closed.

Things were getting tough for the allies in North Africa and soon Hughes was on a freight train to basic training in Georgia.

Hughes was eventually assigned to E Company, 379th Infantry Regiment of the 95th Infantry Division heading overseas to France and entered combat in October 1944. On the front line, a less-than-supportive sergeant made Hughes the unit's First Scout and gave him extra tracer rounds with which to draw fire from a position about 100 yards ahead of the rest of the unit.

One morning, Hughes and his squad were assigned to clear the last in a group of houses they had to pass. The unit had not gone far when machine gun fire erupted. A tank destroyer pinned down the machine gunners and allowed his men to move single-file along the narrow street. Hughes was hit and his left leg was shattered. He dropped into a small ditch behind a hedge. Having lost his rifle, Hughes pulled the pin on a grenade and threw it through the window of the house, killing the men inside. The trooper who had shot him was outside the house, however, so Hughes threw his second grenade, bouncing it off the wall of the building across the road so it would land right in front of the German soldier.

A medic was eventually able to dress Hughes' wounds and carry him back to a jeep, where he saw the only surviving German soldier lying on a stretcher. Hughes learned that he alone had killed nearly the entire enemy squad.

• PAUL SMITH, Navy, Marine Corps, World War II.

Paul Smith joined the Navy hospital corps in November 1942, becoming what was known as a "corpsman." Once he was sent overseas, he was assigned as a replacement to the 22nd Marine Regiment, a part of the First Provisional Marine Brigade. After several close calls on Guam, Smith's unit went to Okinawa, Japan, where he alternated between a forward aid station and the battalion aid station.

One May day at the forward aid station, he found a badly injured patient who needed transport back to battalion aid. Smith put the patient in the top stretcher slot in the ambulance and was holding up a bag of plasma when he heard a machine gun. Smith dropped to the ground, and the plasma splattered everywhere. Smith saw smoke from his pants, and he realized that a bullet had gone through his leg, just missing his femur.

When they assessed the wounded, Smith found that his injury was the least severe, so the others rode in the ambulance and Smith held on to the back. He was later evacuated to a medical ship and then to Guam for treatment. That was Smith's last day in combat.

• JOSEPH STOBBE, Army, World War II.

Joseph Stobbe volunteered and entered the Army on Sept. 25, 1943. In the spring of 1944, he sailed on a troop ship from New York City and arrived at Normandy's Utah Beach on June 16, ten days after D-Day. He was assigned to Company G, 358th Regiment, 90th Infantry Division and became a sniper.

Stobbe received two Purple Hearts for injuries to his hand and neck in separate incidents. In November 1944, while his unit approached the town of Metzervisse, a German threw a grenade at Stobbe. One of his soldiers fired at the German but the bullet ricocheted off a building's wall and went through the back of Stobbe's left elbow. Making his way to an aid station a few miles away, he was treated for his wound and sent to a hospital in Luxembourg.

From Luxembourg, Stobbe went to Reims, then on to a hospital in Paris just before Christmas. Finally, he ended up in a hospital in England. He received a third Purple Heart for this injury and learned he would not go back into combat.

• CLYDE E. WEEKS, JR., Marine Corps, World War II.

Clyde E. Weeks, Jr., a 17-year-old student at the University of Utah, enlisted in the US Marine Corps on Feb. 15, 1943. Weeks developed a specialty as a telephone lineman, charged with establishing and maintaining copper wire telephone connections between battle stations. Weeks provided communications for his unit as they fought toward Agana, the embattled capital city of Guam.

As they moved forward, they encountered a concrete bunker from which Japanese soldiers fiercely returned fire. A grenade exploded at Weeks' feet, blowing him to the ground and badly injuring his legs. He lost consciousness and two corpsmen carried him through heavy fire to safety on the beach. On a hospital ship, surgeons removed 22 grenade fragments from Weeks' body and put him in a shoulder-to-toes cast that he wore for months.

He was treated at the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital and at six different hospitals in the U.S. throughout the next year. He was released from the VA hospital in Salt Lake City a week after the war ended in August 1945. Wearing his Purple Heart, Weeks finally returned home to Orem, where he served as postmaster for 40 years. —

Honoring Veterans Day

America's 398 national parks will offer the public free admission during Veterans Day weekend, Saturday through Monday in honor veterans and service members, according to the National Park Service.

Many businesses also have free offers and discounts for veterans. For a list, visit http://themilitarywallet.com/veterans-day-free-meals-and-discounts.

Click here for more Veterans Day events planned for the university and around the valley.