Outside Looking In

Military Heroes

I have always been fascinated with history. But I never really delved into military history until I started writing for the Mascot seven years ago.
I learned a lot of interesting things about the Vietnam war from veterans Royal and Charlie Hettling, who operate the Vietnam Memorial and History Center, which piqued my interest.
During an interview in May of 2017, Dan Markell of Green Valley told me a very compelling story of how the U.S. CH47 Chinook helicopter he was riding in with four others was shot down over Can Tho, Vietnam, on May 8, 1968. Markell, Sp5, and the others were in a remote location where the U.S. Army was planning to build a helipad. Markell was a crew chief/starboard door gunner who was riding in the cargo section. Bullet holes suddenly ripped through the bottom of the back portion of the helicopter where Markell was. With the hydraulics hit, the men had to crash land. They survived the crash and watched the helicopter burn from 100 yards away. They were rescued by another helicopter before the enemy could locate them.
I was also honored to sit down with the late Virgil Ufkin at his home before he passed away at age 100. I was captivated as Captain Ufkin told of how he and other U.S. soldiers from General George S. Patton's Third Army's 71st Infantry Division, sifted through two of Adolf Hitler's headquarter homes following the conclusion of the war in order to make sure there were no booby traps set. Both homes had been hit hard by British aerial attacks in late April, 1945. Ufkin told of seeing the concentration camps and "many dead bodies everywhere." He also recalls being three feet away from Gen. Patton on a few occasions.
Story after story made me realize how much these brave men gave to their country. It's hard for those who never served time in the military to fathom how lonely and uncertain these men were each night.
I also sat down with former Minneota insurance agent Cecil O. Doyle at his home in Marshall a few years ago. His uncle, Cecil J. Doyle, was an ace pilot, having shot down five Japanese bombers and zeros in combat during World War II. Before being discharged, the young U.S. Marines aviator would carry out one final mission. While flying over the Solomon Islands on Nov. 7, 1943, Doyle's plane was shot down in the South Pacific. He and his plane were never recovered. He was presumed dead at age 23. Because of his heroics and hand in America's WWII victory, the U.S. Navy named a destroyer escort the U.S.S. Cecil J. Doyle. It was launched on July 1, 1944 and commissioned three months after that.
Because his story fascinated me the most of all, I visited with Larry Tillemans, a 1944 Minneota graduate, several times at his senior living facility apartment in Sartell. Tillemans, who died a year ago, was an Army recorded who was one of 10 young clerk typists from General George S. Patton's Third Army that sat in on the Nuremberg War Trials and typed the statements of those on trial. Had Adolf Hitler not taken his own life, Tillemans would have been across the long table room from him during the trial and been able to look him in the eye. Tillemans visited the concentration camps and relayed the horrific sites, often stopping to wipe his eyes. A PBS documentary entitled "The Typist" won an Emmy Award. That DVD is available at the Minneota Public Library.
Another compelling military story that recently unfolded was the discovery of the U.S.S. Grayback submarine after 75 years. Minneota native Earl Halvorson was one of 80 men aboard the Grayback that was shot down by a Japanese bomber plane on Feb. 1944. The submarine sunk from the impact of the 500-pound bomb and was lost at sea until a recent crew from the Lost 52 Project, which searches for lost U.S. WWI submarines, discovered it off the coast of Japan in 1,400 feet of water. The Grayback had been on 10 missions and had sunk 14 enemy ships and submarines. This was to be its final mission.
Another story I was involved with was about Corporal Henry VanHyfte of Taunton. He was only 23 when he was killed in action when hit by shrapnel while stationed in a French clock tower. He was then buried at Normandy. A young St. Paul Highland Park student named Emma Mulhern, with no ties to this area, had researched the 12st Infantry Regiment of the 8th Division as a Fallen Hero Project and chose VanHyfte to write about for her project. She won a trip to Normandy for her efforts and was able to give a eulogy at VanHyfte's gravesite.
Jim Fink, who has been doing his best to honor and memorialize veterans with other American Legion members at Veterans Park, has also taught me a lot of veterans and what they are their families had to go through.
What make me think of all these war stories this week was that while perusing the brittle pages of past Mascot issues, I discovered another interesting story I had not heard before. This story was in the 1946 January edition and involved Pfc Donald Gossen, a Military Police, who at that time was stationed in the Philippines. Following the capture and arrest of Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita for his war crimes, he was tried and sentenced to be hanged. The day before Yamashito was to be hanged on Feb. 23, 1946, Gossen, a major and a lieutenant searched his room. There sat the highest medal Yamashito had been awarded. It was a solid gold pin with a large ruby in the center surrounded by smaller rubies to represent The Rising Sun. Gossen jokingly admitted he was tempted to take the medal, but never did.
Gossen died in 2015 at age 92.

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