Veterans recount tales of service at luncheon

By DANIEL MARSH Published April 15, 2012 at 3:04 a.m.
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— They sat eating their lunch at a table in the middle of the restaurant — four veterans of three wars.

Shirley Dyke, George Winn, Robert Clouse and Charlie Rhea kidded each other with the ease of men who share an unbreakable bond. In their case, it is activeduty service in World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam.

The four members of All 3 Wars Veterans Association — a national organization that recognizes and supports retired veterans of the three major conflicts of the latter part of the 20th century — were among a larger gathering at Mikey’s Smoked Meats & Deli in Mountain View on Tuesday. About 30 veterans from Stone County and elsewhere in the Three Rivers region attended the bi-monthly luncheon.

“We really enjoy having them here,” restaurant owner Mikey Engle said. “It is absolutely important for these folks to have a chance to share their stories with people who’ve had the same experiences. We usually see a few new faces on every visit.”

Hannah Dyke brought the meeting to order with a few raps of her gavel. She asked each of the All 3 Wars veterans to introduce themselves. Winn asked that they be given their commemorative caps to wear.

Rhea, who was visiting from Mountain Home, said he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

“I served on the good ship USS Ozark,” Rhea said. “I was a boat coxswain. I turned 18 on Iwo Jima.”

Rhea, who was a seaman second class, said the Ozark was made into a hospital ship for removing soldiers killed or wounded during the battle.

“We took on 1,200 wounded,” he said. “We took them back to Guam.”

“It was really something,” he said of the fighting he witnessed on Iwo Jima. “When we went in, the beach was so small the ramps almost ended up dropping on some of the [soldiers]. On our third or fourth landing, we had to get off the beach [quickly] to bring other people in.”

He said that while transporting the wounded to Guam, he was reassigned to surgery detail.

“A surgeon called me over and handed me a leg that had just been cut off a guy. I was told to dispose of it. That’s something an 18-year-old hardly ever has to do,” he said.

After the war, Rhea said, the Ozark was the third ship to enter Tokyo Bay, where the ship took on as many as 700 former prisoners of war.

“We made about 10,000 ice cream cups [for the POWs],” he said. “I have a letter that the commander wrote to all the POWs. He said he didn’t mind if they went through the chow line at least twice, but if they weren’t careful, there wouldn’t be any food left on the ship before we got to Guam.”

Rhea, a Shreveport, La., native, said he wanted to enlist as soon as he “got old enough,” but he said his father would not sign for him.

“I wanted to go into the Navy because my dad was in the Navy in World War I,” Rhea said.

Rhea was discharged from the Navy in 1946 and spent three years attending college on the GI Bill.

“But that just wasn’t what I wanted,” he said, “so I went into the Air Force.”

He said he was stationed in Alaska when he was scheduled to go to both Korea and Vietnam, but he never went to either.

“I was scheduled to go to Vietnam, but I decided to return home instead,” Rhea said. “I had a family by then.”

He retired in Alaska as a senior master sergeant after 25 years in the Air Force.

Winn, a California native and resident of Mountain Home, said he joined the Navy when he was 18. He said he and two of his friends from high school were selected from among five Navy companies to attend aviation school.

They were sent to Norman, Okla., in September 1942. Though he wanted to be an aviator, he, “unfortunately, was selected to be an instructor,” Winn said.

He eventually became an aviation machinist mate second class, or lead air crewman, but when all his pay records were lost, he never got his orders to go overseas.

“And I never went,” Winn said. “It was catch-22: no pay records, no orders. Without orders, you don’t get paid. I went 3 1/2 months with no money! I felt like a guy in the brigade without 8 cents for cigarettes.”

In San Francisco, his commander informed him that he was officer material.

“I said, ‘Will it get me paid?’”

Winn spent the last 2 1/2 years of his enlistment going to college studying to become a supply and disbursement officer.

“But then the war ended, and I got out,” he said.

By the time of Korea, Winn was serving in the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations.

“We collected intelligence pertinent to the Korean War as it pertained to a squadron stationed in Misawa, Japan,” he said.

During the Vietnam War, Winn commanded 200 OSI agents “gathering combat and counter-intelligence.” He said he traveled monthly to every OSI detachment and saw a lot of Vietnam. He said he also “oversaw several operations encroaching into Cambodia.”

His work demanded secrecy, and he could not speak of it for decades.

“Our field agents risked their necks every day,” he said.

Winn retired as a supervising special agent after serving 28 years in the Air Force.

Dyke, a Mountain View resident, said he enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 16 in Columbus, Ind.

“Three of us went to the recruiting station,” he said. “We filled out the papers. Dad said, ‘Oh, hell, they won’t take you, anyway.’ I was the only one out of the three they took!”

Dyke served in the South Pacific during World War II and, from the deck of the USS Fillmore, witnessed an atomic bomb test off the Bikini Atoll in 1946.

Dyke served in the Marines for 16 years and one month. After retiring as a warrant officer, he went to work for Disneyland and the movie industry as an electrician.

He said that as a member of All 3 Wars, he feels he is part of “a group that is unique. There are not too many of us that’s left.”

Dyke said the monthly luncheons at Mikey’s “are important, because it helps us to renew old acquaintances.”

Joe Wyatt, a former three term mayor of Mountain View, served in the 37th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army during World War II. He was drafted at 19. After receiving his basic training at Camp Livingston, La., Wyatt said, he “went straight overseas.”

The Batesville native said he saw Nagasaki firsthand after it had been destroyed by an atomic weapon.

“Where the bomb hit looked like a wagon wheel,” he said. “All was blown out from the center in a circular fashion. Nothing was left standing. It was terrible.”

He said he enjoys coming to the luncheons to see old friends. Wyatt said he thinks it is important for younger generations to hear the stories of The Greatest Generation.

“They have no idea what things were like,” he said.

Herbert Poff said he was an Army medic during World War II.

“I started out as a quartermaster,” he said, “but I switched to the medics.”

The lifelong Mountain View resident said he took basic training in Cheyenne, Wyo., and was in England when the Battle of the Bulge broke out in 1944.

“On Christmas Day, I was in Southampton,” he said.

“The next day, I was in France.”

He was injured in the Black Forest of Germany when a mortar shell “hit on the side of a tree. If I hadn’t been in the process of hitting the ground, I would not be here today,” he said.

“It would have been over in a split-second. The doctor said I was truly lucky to be alive.”

Staff writer Daniel A. Marsh can be reached at (501) 399-3688 at dmarsh@arkansasonline. com.

> VETERANS LUNCHEON World War II veterans from Stone County meet for lunch and fellowship bimonthly on second Tuesdays at Mikey’s Smoked Meats & Deli, 20899 Arkansas 5 in Mountain View. For more information, contact Hannah Dyke at (870) 591-6235.

None DANIEL MARSH can be reached at .

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