MIDLOTHIAN – Though they move a little slower these days, several veterans living in MidTowne Assisted Living recalled their days of service with pride.
Bruce Bland, Byron Rutledge and Edgar Boteler served as young men, eager to answer the call of their country in different branches of the military. The Air Force stationed Bland in South America during the first deployment of his nine years of service between 1943 and 52. Boteler served the Navy as gunners mate 3rd class on a southwest Pacific minesweeper ship from 1942 to 46. Rutledge served the Amy at a stateside base from 1959-62.
As Veterans Day approaches on Friday, the men said they are thankful they were able to serve their country and that generations of men and woman continue to volunteer.
“I'm thankful for the guys and girls who are serving now. It is not something that you want to be involved in, but none the less, someone has to,” Bland said.
Stationed in Natal, Brazil, Bland said he worked as a clerk, managing planes flying in and out from the states on their way to Africa to deliver supplies.
“When they found out you could type, you went to the office real quick,” he said. “I wanted to fly. That's what I really wanted to do. But I got washed out of flight school. Things being what they were, anything they could find to wash you out with, they did.”
After he was reactivated from the reserves, Bland served a similar desk in Greenville South Carolina before leaving the service.
Boteler's time in the Navy was a bit more scattered. He remembers visiting the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Marianas, Ulithi and Ewagema to name a few.
“Our job was to sweep where ever they thought there were mines, before or behind the troops or anywhere the evidence suggested,” Boteler said. “The first time we went to sea, we went six months without going ashore. For six months, we never got to touch land. In those days, you did what was needed, what you were told and stayed as long as you were needed. But those were some lonely days.”
Mail was not regularly delivered as it was hard to keep up with the constantly moving ship, he said. But sailors always looked forward to mail call because it meant a connection with home.
Back in Texas, Boteler had a family and a sweetheart waiting for him, he said.
“She waited three years. That is the reason mail was so important to us,” he said.
He returned and married his sweetheart a few months after he was released, he said. They would have been married 70 years this month, but she passed away last year. He still wears his wedding band.
“The most beautiful thing I ever saw in my life was when they opened the doors of that church and she was there in her white satin dress,” he said.
Serving in the military puts life and death very close at hand, Boteler said, and sometimes one has to decide. One night in port, he was in charge of the ship while the officer was asleep, he said. The Japanese had been trying to swim out to the ships and attach explosives, so he and another sailor were standing at the bow and the stern of the ship with orders to shoot anyone in the water.
“At 2 a.m., the other guy on watch says there are guys splashing around in the water,” Boteler said. “We hollered out 'Name!' If they could give us a name we knew, we knew we were okay. If not, we would have shot them.”
The men were able to identify themselves as two shipmates who had gone for a swim but gotten too tired to continue. Boteler and the other man on watch pulled them in before they were swept out to sea, he said.
That was not the only stroke of luck he had while deployed. Close to Christmas one year, he was watching other ships pull into port.
“An aircraft carrier No. 94 pulled in and I knew that was the ship my brother was on,” Boteler said.
He asked his commanding officer to see if his brother was on still one board and the captain of the ship approved the signaler to relay the message to the carrier.
“My brother was there and I got permission to go spend Christmas together with him for a few hours. That was a thrill to meet him way out in the middle of the ocean at that time,” he said.
Rutledge served later than Boteler and Bland when he was drafted by the Army.
“I never regretted it. You find adventure in the Army,” he said.
He worked on a top secret project, he said, locked in a cage during work hours to protect the project.
“What I worked on is still being used today,” Boteler said. “I feel more excited about it now than when I was doing the work, now that I have had time to think about it.”
While he never served in the military, another MidTowne Assisted Living resident Paul Fromm spent his 36-year-long career on military bases around the world working for the Army Air Force Exchange Service, the Walmart of military bases and operations. Starting as a part-time janitor, he moved up to become CEO of the company before he retired, he said.
“We set up stores all over the world where troops are. We set up in buses, a truck, trailers. The stores actually moved with the troops,” Fromm said.
Getting basic supplies and food provided a touch of home to many soldiers who were far from other reminders, he said. Serving military members and their families made his career worthwhile, he said.
“It is so regimented, but it is satisfying because you know you are doing good for those who are doing good for you,” he said.
Looking back on the years they gave to their country, the men said they hope the next generation understands what the times they lived in required.
“I hope they respect us. It takes a part of your life. Our service was a burden for all of us at that time,” Rutledge said.
The public's perceptions of war and military service have changed, Boteler said.
“I knew I was going to go. Everybody wanted to go – we thought about it differently in those days. Back then, they realized it was win or loose. Germany, Japan and Italy, it was their plan to take over the world. We were the saviors. All the Allies had to help, but America was a big part of that,” he said. “The sacrifices people had made, you couldn't buy anything even if you had money because everything went to the war effort.”
Seeing the hatred directed at many veterans returning from the Vietnam war was difficult, he said.
“That really hurt us veterans to see our men treated like dogs. I have never gotten over it,” he said as the tears rose in his eyes.
People have started to do more to support and understand man and woman returning from the front, he said, but he wonders how deep patriotic devotion truly runs.
“I think on the surface it is there,” he said. “What would we be like if we got into another shooting war? Would we be as committed as we were in World War II?”
– Contact Bethany Kurtz at 469-517-1450 or email email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BethanyKurtzMidloMirror or on Twitter @bethmidlomirror.