Heroes Live in Shadow of War

The following article originally appeared in the May 26, 2008, edition of Grand Junction Free Press.

May 26, 2008

Heroes live in the shadows of war

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Amanda is a vivacious, intelligent woman your elder author met last year in Rangely. She helped coordinate a law enforcement class at Colorado Northwestern Community College. She surprised me at lunch when she said, “There are not any heroes.” Yes, Amanda, there are heroes. They surround us like shadows. Recently we talked with some of them.

Bob Magos was a WWII submariner. On December 5, 1941, he was hitchhiking the seven miles to school in Hamilton, Ohio. Nobody stopped, so he crossed the street to try his luck. He ended up in Florida.

Bob says he was “going down through Kentucky on December 7.” He continued, “I stayed in one of those fifty-cent bed and breakfasts. I walked down on the highway and stuck my thumb out and an Army Intelligence officer stopped in a black ’38 Ford and said, ‘Do you boys need a ride?’ And I said, ‘Yeah we’re going to Florida.’ He said to hop in.

“He said, ‘Did you hear about Pearl Harbor?’ And I said, ‘Where in the hell is Pearl Harbor? How would I hear about it in Kentucky?’ He told me where it was and what the Japanese did and he kept playing with the radio.”

As they traveled through rural Kentucky they came to a country store where people had gathered to listen to the radio for news. Within a few days Bob had returned home to enlist in the Navy.

Mort Perry, a retired Mesa State professor who worked to expose students to divergent political views, is another WWII veteran.

Mort is Jewish from his mother’s side. In his youth he saw the news casts of Adolph Hitler ranting and raving. Mort recalls that, when he was 16, his father said, “We are going to have war sooner or later.”

At 20, Mort entered the Army Air Corps. Mort ended up in North Africa in Morocco and Algeria. He flew as the gunner of a B-17. While traveling with British troops in a lorry Mort’s group was attacked by a Stuka dive-bomber. Mort was seriously wounded while pulling his fellows from harm’s way.

“I was taken to Casa Blanca and treated by a Colonel Knots, a world’s leading kidney expert who saved my kidney for 20 years before it had to be removed.”

Mort received the Purple Heart.

In the summer of 2007 your elder author was walking with a group to the parking lot after a tennis doubles match. The license plate on Larry Beidleman’s car stated that he too was a Purple Heart recipient.

We asked Larry if he received the Purple Heart in Viet Nam. He replied, “Oh no, I received that one in the Korean War. But I was also in WWII.”

Larry, now 85, said, “On October 1942 I enlisted in the U.S. Army. I landed on Normandy on D + 18,” or Debarkation Day plus eighteen days. Larry fought through the hedgerows to join the Battle Of The Bulge, though he points out that he was not at Bastogne, a town where American troops refused to surrender to the Germans. After V-E day (Victory in Europe) Larry spent three years in Austria before returning to the United States.

Larry also fought in Korea, the “forgotten war.” Larry arrived at Incheon during the later part of the war, when UN forces had trench lines on the 38th Parallel.

He recalls, “The military had established MLR (Major Lines of Resistance). The trenches and bunkers and conduct of the war was reminiscent of WWI. Our action at the time was small patrols.”

Larry talked briefly about the events leading to his Purple Heart. Ethiopia sent a small force of soldiers composed of Haile Selassie bodyguards. “I was Liaison Officer assigned to the Ethiopians, who were particularly good at night fighting.” Larry accompanied the Ethiopians through the UN lines. “On returning back from patrol we were discovered by the North Koreans/Chinese and they fired some artillery where I was slightly wounded in the knee.”

Otto Armstrong (next up in our family line) never talks much about the war. The picture album he brought back with him sometimes provokes comments. Otto and Tommy Etcheverry, school friends, joined the military together here in Grand Junction.

Otto was one of the first occupation troops at Hiroshima and then Nagasaki. The pictures show the devastation of the bombed out cities. “We just marched up the street where the atomic bombs had gone off. The bombs had caused quiet a bit of damage but hell, they had it cleaned up overnight.”

Theo Eversol, grandfather on the other side, told plenty of stories about the Pacific Rim. He’s gone now, as are so many of the veterans from that terrible war.

Amanda, we still have heroes, though they may not think of themselves as heroes or talk much about it. Search for them in the shadows.