Story by Teri L. Hansen / Managing Editor of The McPherson Sentinel
The American Legion Post 24 in McPherson was packed with people Tuesday night. The wall-to-wall community residents were there to hear four veterans of World War II share their stories. Some for the 100th time and some for the first.
“This is a great program our Post Commander Jim LaDuke started,” Adjunct for Harry B. Dorst Post 24 Dan Hervey said.
Each story was different and yet one overall theme was the same. The camaraderie of service is unlike any other.
Whether in combat or in support capacities, less than 8 percent of living Americans have served in the Armed Forces, with only .4 percent of Americans serving currently, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. No matter the when, where or how, veterans are a distinct and elite minority in the country.
“All service is important,” Hervey said.
Carl Kasey was a junior at McPherson College when he figured he was going to be drafted. After viewing images in the media of soldiers sleeping in fox holes, he decided that might not be for him.
“I decided I wanted to join a service that had beds,” he explained. “So I joined the Navy!”
In a stroke of irony, the first place the U.S. Navy wanted Kasey to report to, was a hop, skip and a jump away at Bethany College. He was supposed to go to the V-12 training program there and even received a train ticket for a whole .78 to get him there. They rescinded that order as Bethany lacked a key ingredient to training in the Navy--a swimming pool. It was determined that sailors should probably know how to swim.
Six folks from McPherson County ended up going to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Which was the first stop of many in Kasey’s time in the military. On June 6, 1944, known in history as D-Day, he found himself aboard a transport bound for the Hawaiian Islands. During his time there he was a jack of all trades. Kasey ran a laundry facility, coached basketball, taught swimming and managed a restaurant among other things.
At one point an incident took place that would impact Kasey even today. A long tradition of enlisted versus officer rivalry has existed in the military. Most times it is all in good fun, with a fringe of serious hostility. One evening, that rivalry almost turned deadly when he found himself surrounded by a group of enlisted men brandishing empty beer bottles as clubs, about to strike him. Kasey, an officer, stood accused of saying he was going to kill one of their enlisted men. This was a rumor, untrue and unfounded, and it’s origin unclear.
Eventually, they were talked down and gave up their misguided quest for vengeance. However, this moment had consequences spanning decades.
“I decided that if two beers could do that to men, make them want to actually kill another person, I wanted no part of the taste of beer,” Kasey explained. “This is a vow I have kept for over 70 years now.”
“I didn’t know much about the Navy or the Marines,” Mitch Allmon explained. “They asked for three volunteers and I didn’t know any better.”
And that is how he ended up serving his country in World War II as a Marine, in the oldest, largest, and most decorated division in the United States Marine Corps, the 1st Marine Division.
Entering as a private, Allmon made a whopping $21 per month. By the time he got out, he was a sergeant making $100 a month.
With a rich and occasionally bloody history, the 1st marine Division saw plenty of combat in World War II. The division received its first Presidential Unit Citation for the Guadalcanal campaign, the first major American Pacific campaign in World War II. The division also received citations for the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa. After Japan surrendered, they were sent to North China as an occupational force, during which encounters with Chinese Communists were frequent.
The division was no stranger to combat and neither was Allmon. War for him was dirty. At best it was uncomfortable, and at the worst times it was deadly, but Allmon spoke with poise and modesty of a time he remembered with clarity. He vividly recalled an engagement in which he saw corpsmen die. In fact, he tended to a lieutenant with a shrapnel wound, stopping the bleeding with a tourniquet he fashioned.
“If you were out in the open very long, you were a target,” he said.
Allmon returned home a veteran with a new reward for his service. On June 22, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into order the GI Bill, providing veterans of World War II with funds for education, unemployment insurance and housing. Allmon attended Central Christian College with his GI Bill money and it was there that he met his now wife, Joyce. On April 4, the couple celebrated 70 years of marriage.
Allmon’s time in the service wasn’t easy, but led the way to a future of decades with the love of his life.
“I survived,” Allmon said. “That’s the short version.”
An Air Force veteran with three discharges from active duty and two from the reserves, Gene Copeland humbly told people, “I didn’t do anything big.”
Many would beg to differ with this statement, knowing that this man worked on Boeing B-29 Superfortress long-range, heavy bombers. These four-propeller airplanes were one of the most technologically advanced crafts during World War II. Without these aircraft, the Second World War may very well have ended differently. Around 1,000 B-29s were used in the bombing of Tokyo and the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were deployed from B-29s, leading to the Japanese surrender. While production of these winged warriors ended in 1946, they weren’t retired until 1960. It was mechanics like Copeland, who kept them in the air.
Copeland also had the honor of working with and becoming friends with a member of the Doolittle Raiders who conducted the Tokyo Raid on April 18, 1942. This raid, was the first air strike on the Japanese Home Islands, proving their vulnerability. Sixteen B-25B Mitchell medium bombers launched off carriers in the Pacific Ocean.
This offensive maneuver caused little damage, but boosted American morale, which was needed after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Eighty men, knowing the risks, joined Col. James Doolittle. Nearly all were successful in hitting their targets, but all ran short on fuel. One diverted to land in Soviet Russia and the other 15 crash-landed or bailed out in China. All aircraft were lost, three crew members were killed and eight were captured by the Japanese.
Copeland thought highly of these brave men and became friends with one.
“He is my hero,” Copeland said.
Copeland would later serve in the Korean War as well. He continued his tradition of keeping pilots in the air, working on B-29s again as well as other aircraft.
Leo Mantz, an Army veteran found himself in Camp Fannin, Texas at 18 years old. It was there that he partook in many basic training traditions still active today. From a short, stocky drill sergeant with a mean streak to live-fire exercises, Mantz endured and became a soldier who would later serve in the occupying forces in Tokyo.
“I remember basic training!” Mantz said.
In basic training Mantz found himself digging latrines, setting up a bivouac, throwing Molotov cocktails and learning rifle marksmanship.
“I made marksman,” Mantz said. “I’d hit ya somewhere! I don’t know where, but I’d hit ya somewhere!”
A live-fire exercise still utilized in today’s basic training, included low crawling across a field with live rounds being fired above. This exercise, the Night Infiltration Course, commonly known among soldiers as NIC at Night, is required for graduation.
Crawlers learned quickly to keep their heads down with rounds flying above, but what happens when dangerous critters lurk on the ground too? In Texas, prairie rattlesnakes were in abundance.
“They told us, ‘keep your head down and get bit, we can save you from that,’” Mantz said.
Mantz was put in the signal corps, a branch responsible for military communications.
“I learned to climb telephone poles,” he said.
Mantz was around for the Occupation of Japan in Tokyo. This was a historic event in itself as it marks the one and only time Japan was occupied by a foreign power. Led by Gen Douglas A. MacArthur, the occupation was intended to stabilize the region and efforts were made for reconstruction of the area. The occupation lasted from 1945 to 1952.
“I don’t have a lot to say,” Mantz stated.
Mantz conveyed his time in the military with humor and humility. His contributions and service noted regardless of the few words he spoke.
“It takes about 10 support people for every single person on the battlefield which would include people in supply, transportation, medical staff, payroll clerks, cooks and etc.,” LaDuke said. “All who serve are appreciated.”
On the third Tuesday of each month, the Legion will host a set of veterans who speak about their experiences. The public is invited to join these service members at 401 N. Main St. in McPherson. Programs start at 7 p.m. For more information on the American Legion and its programs visit www.alpost24.com.