All Write, Columns

Losing my heroes

Ray, Milt, Dean, Harold.

Their names are as old-fashioned as the values they held dear – patriotism, service, commitment and lifelong love.

In the past few months, four members of the Greatest Generation died. Three of them are featured in my book, “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

“I’m losing all my heroes,” I said to my husband.

“But aren’t you glad you found them?” he replied.

Actually, most of them found me whether through the newspaper or mutual friends. And one by one they shared their stories with me and with my readers. Stories of war, wounds, absence and loss, as well as tales of love found, new generations birthed, homes built and communities enriched.

Ray Garland’s recent death generated a lot of media coverage and rightly so. He was the last surviving military member of the Lilac City Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Association. His eyewitness account of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and his compelling memories of surviving brutal battles and freezing cold during the Korean War are a vital part of our historical narrative.

On the day the story I wrote about Ray’s death was published, I got a note from a pastor in Coeur d’Alene telling me about the death of Milt Stafford.

Stafford, who before the war had never set foot outside of Idaho, served in Africa and Italy during World War ll. In “War Bonds,” he recalled the invasion of Sicily – the first time he saw dead bodies strewn across a battlefield.

“I saw a lot of stuff I didn’t want to see,” he said. “It was hell on wheels.”

But it wasn’t battle memories that made the combat vet cry, it was the memory of a little girl.

“Her parents had been killed by the Germans, and she came to the camp begging for food,” Stafford recalled.

He thought she was about 3 or 4 years old, and he and his buddy Willard “adopted” her. They fed her, clothed her and when the shelling started (which it did most every day) they made sure she was in the foxhole with them. They never knew her name.

When the war ended, Stafford took her to the U.S. embassy in Milan. He never saw her again, but she haunted him.

“I think about her every day,” he told me. “I wonder, did she find a family? Is she alive?”

Chpt 2 Milt with little girl, Italy, 194

Milt Stafford with little girl. Italy 1944.

I would have been honored to attend Stafford’s memorial, but I had another funeral to attend that day.

Dean Ratzman, another “War Bonds” alum, had died.

Spending time with Ratzman and his wife, Betty, always involved lively banter and engaging conversation.

Several bouts of dengue fever while serving in the South Pacific had damaged Dean’s heart, and when he proposed to Betty, he told her that doctors said he likely wouldn’t live past middle age.

“He told me the doctors said he wouldn’t live past 40,” Betty recalled. “Then he asked me to marry him. I told him, ‘You’re not going to get out of it that easily!’”

As I hugged Betty at the funeral, I could only imagine the enormity of her loss. The couple would have celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary in June.

CHpt 18 Dean Ratzman 1943

Dean Ratzman, 1943

Some months earlier, I’d read about the death of Harold Smart.

When I interviewed Harold and Peggy Smart in their Pullman home, Harold was still so smitten with her, that even after 70 years together, he didn’t let go of her hand, and frequently interrupted our conversation to say, “Isn’t she beautiful?”

Sadly, Peggy died before “War Bonds” was published. Harold was nervous about loaning me their photos to copy for use in the book.

“You’ll bring them right back?” he asked. “They’re precious to me.”

Reading his obituary, I was delighted to discover a sweet connection. When Harold had moved to Orchard Crest in Spokane, he met Louise McKay, a “War Bonds” widow, and they became friends.

Chpt 22 Harold Smart, 1943Harold Smart, 1943

How wonderful to know these two with so much in common had found comfort in their friendship.

While the loss of these men saddens me, I know how lucky I’ve been to have met them. Heroes can be hard to find, but I’ve been blessed to know so many.

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All Write

Ray Garland, the Inland Northwest’s last Pearl Harbor survivor, dies at 96

Ray Garland, who lived to tell the story of being so close to a Japanese dive bomber during the Pearl Harbor attack that he could see the pilot’s goggles, has died.

At 96 years old, Garland was the last regional survivor of that pivotal moment in American history. He died Thursday in Coeur d’Alene.

Last December he made the trek to Spokane, as always, for the Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony.

Clad in a light windbreaker and gloveless despite the December chill, Garland laid a wreath at the Pearl Harbor memorial at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

“The only thing I could think about was representing the few that are no longer with us,” he said.

The roster of the Lilac City Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association numbered 125 at its peak in the mid-’90s. Three years ago, only Garland and Charlie Boyer remained. Boyer died April 15, 2016.

At Boyer’s funeral, Garland said, “It’s kind of a lonely feeling.”

Lonely, to be one of the few remaining survivors of the surprise attack that resulted in the deaths of 2,403 Americans and catapulted the nation into World War II. Lonely, to bear the weight of those memories.

The Montana native had enlisted in the Marines as a teenager because he liked the look of their dress blue uniforms.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Garland, 19, was the youngest man in the Marine detachment aboard the USS Tennessee. He arrived on deck at 8 a.m. for flag detail.

In previous interviews, Garland recounted his eye-witness recollections of the attack and its aftermath.

“I heard a noise,” he recalled. “A corporal said, ‘Turn around,’ so I did. I saw a Japanese dive bomber flying alongside us. He was so close, I could see his goggles.”

The flag wasn’t raised that day.

As the plane flew past him, Garland turned and saw a swarm of planes bombing Ford Island. As he scrambled to his duty station, he saw the USS Arizona, moored just 75 feet away, take several hits. A huge explosion followed as a bomb penetrated ammunition magazines. The noise was horrific.

“My ears still ring,” he said in a 2016 interview.

Burning oil and debris from the Arizona quickly ignited fires on the Tennessee.

Garland was pressed into firefighting duty. He and a sailor opened a hatch and saw flames along the bulkhead. He pointed a hose at the fire and saw a bright flash.

That was the last thing he saw. Later he learned the insulation had been burned off the main power lines. As he sprayed water an electrical charge shot up through the hose, scorching his face and eyes.

After three days in sick bay, he resumed his duties. “There were a lot of people in worse shape than me,” he later said.

During the next two years, Garland served aboard the Tennessee and participated in the Aleutian, Marshall and Gilbert Islands campaigns.

After the war ended in 1945, he married, moved to Spokane and started a family. But soon the Marines came calling again.

In 1950 he was recalled to active duty when the Korean War broke out. He spent 10 months in Korea with the 1st Marine Division. While he was one of the youngest at Pearl Harbor, when he landed at Inchon, he was one of the oldest.

“They called me, Dad,” Garland said. He was 27.

Just like in Pearl Harbor, he didn’t get out of Korea unscathed. During a firefight, a bullet ricocheted and struck him in the leg.

“The Japanese singed me on December 7 and the Chinese shot me on December 5,” he said.

He was thankful to make it home.

After his first marriage failed, Garland moved to Coeur d’Alene and wed Beverly Plumb in 1976. A shadow box in the basement of their home bears witness to his military service. Among other military decorations, the box contains two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.

During an interview he ran his fingers along the top of the shadow box.

“I think I was a good Marine,” he said, and shrugged.

Spokane author and historian Carol Hipperson concurred.

“He was one tough Marine,” she said.

Hipperson met Garland through her work with the local Pearl Harbor Survivors association. She’s currently working on her third book about the history of the war in Korea according to the memories of a Marine, and frequently consulted Garland for advice and feedback.

As the last remaining military veteran in the local Pearl Harbor Survivors group, Garland’s death marks the end of an era, she said.

“Ray’s death is a great loss to our community,” said Hipperson. “But he never wanted to be called a hero. He often said ‘Those who gave their lives that day are the heroes. I’m just a survivor.’ ”

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War Bonds

Eight bells, the end of Charlie’s watch

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Patriot Guard Riders

Cindy Hval, Spokesman Review, April 24, 2016

The Patriot Guard Riders stood silently, their flags held aloft as a light rain fell at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Spokane Valley on Saturday.

They’d come to honor Charles Boyer, 95, who died April 15.

As a 21-year-old sailor stationed at Naval Air Station Kaneohe, Boyer had earned membership into an exclusive club: the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

Though he was an aviation machinist’s mate, Boyer was assigned to service and drive the Navy’s trucks at Kaneohe. The morning of Dec. 7, 1941, he’d just dropped off some sailors at church and was on his way back, when he saw several khaki-colored planes approaching fast and low.

 In newspaper interviews, Boyer shared his memories of the horrific attack.

“I said, ‘Look at the show the Army’s putting on! Then I saw the big ol’ red meatballs on the wings of the plane and I said, ‘Army, hell!’ ” he recalled. “The planes were coming over us, shooting at us and dropping bombs.”

With the truck still moving, Boyer dove out and took shelter under another truck parked a few yards away.

He stayed under that truck until the enemy planes passed, then he ran to a large tin shed that served as a garage for the trucks at Kaneohe.

“Time seemed like forever,” he said. “I was pretty scared.”

He wasn’t the only one frightened. He told of a fellow sailor on guard duty who shot at a fence post. “He swore it moved,” he recalled, grinning.

But he didn’t smile when he talked about the results of the attack. Twenty Americans died on the base at Kaneohe that day, and as for the aircraft – “they did a hell of job,” Boyer said. “They got every warplane on Kaneohe.”

Four years and one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he married Irene Britton. They celebrated their 70th anniversary in December.

After 20 years, Boyer retired as a chief petty officer, but he couldn’t quite leave Navy life behind. He spent the next 22 years working in civil service for the Navy.

Upon moving to Spokane Valley in 1998, he joined the Lilac City Chapter of the national Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. He was especially close to fellow survivor John (Sid) Kennedy, whom he’d met in 1941 at aviation machinist school in San Diego. Later they were both sent to Kaneohe. Kennedy died July 7, 2015, and at his funeral Boyer told a friend, “I guess he went on ahead without me.”

At one time there were 125 active members of the Lilac City Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Only one, Ray Garland, 93, remains.

Garland attended Boyer’s funeral on Saturday.

“It’s kind of a lonely feeling,” he said.

Carol Edgemon Hipperson, author of the Ray Daves biography, “Radioman: An Eyewitness Account of Pearl Harbor and World War II in the Pacific,” also feels Boyer’s loss keenly.

“Charlie was much like Ray Daves to me,” she said. “Of all the Pearl Harbor survivors those two were the ones most like my own father: kind, gentle, soft-spoken, humble, voracious readers, towering intellects.”

She admired his cheerful spirit and compassion.

“Most people get cranky when they don’t feel well or things don’t go right. Charlie never did. It was just his nature to smile and speak softly to everyone around him.”

Boyer’s son, Steve, agreed.

Three weeks ago as his father signed papers for hospice care, Steve Boyer choked up. His dad noticed his distress and said, “Don’t feel bad. I’ve had a great life – and a very, very long life.”

While many knew Charlie Boyer as a Pearl Harbor survivor, to his son, he was just Dad.

“I didn’t even know he was a Pearl Harbor survivor until he moved to Spokane Valley,” he said. “He never talked about it. He was just my dad and always will be. I’m going to miss him.”

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