Special veterans who shaped the lives of many of our readers

June 02, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

Recently, I asked readers to tell me stories of veterans of the the armed forces who'd meant a great deal to them.As I noted in my column of May 12, I wasn't necessarily seeking stories of the battlefield, because it's been my experience that true heroes usually don't talk about those times.

But I've also noted over the years that when they came home, they continued to serve, raising families and making their communities better places in a variety of ways. Here are some more of their stories:

Edwin R. Smith of Greencastle, Pa., shared the story of his uncle, William A. Diehl:

"Bill was drafted in 1942, soon after his eighteenth birthday. Following basic and advanced training, and temporary assignments in the U.S., he was assigned to the 106th Infantry Division, despite a childhood illness that left him with a slight limp and assurances from Army doctors that he would not be assigned to the infantry.


"His division arrived in Belgium in December 1944 prior to the German offensive, which came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. After three days of combat, the entire regiment surrendered. Bill, along with surviving comrades, remained a prisoner for six months until they escaped into the mountains along the German-Czechoslovakian border. They commandeered a German train and drove it to allied lines, where they subsequently were returned to U.S. authorities.

"Like many returning veterans, Bill said little about his experience in Germany. I find it amazing that Bill experienced all this, returned to the United States, then to Greencastle, and was discharged before his 21st birthday.

"Bill and his wife raised a family of three children. He is now retired and living near Greencastle.

Sandy Snyder of Hagerstown shared this story of her dad:

"My dad joined the Army at the age of 17 and served for 24 years until he retired in 1979. It was his only career and he served proudly. He has three daughters and we were all born in different countries. Sharon was born in New Jersey, I was born in Ethiopia, and Sabrina was born in Okinawa.

"Now, he spends his time volunteering at his church, helping family and friends and being a good husband, father and grandfather of six.

"We are very proud of him."

Veronica (Rock) Sinclair shared this story of her father, Thomas E. Rock.

"The man I am proud to call my dad was also my friend and my hero.

"He was a good soldier, friend, father, and human being. I have never met a man with so much compassion and love in his heart.

"I realized how special my dad was at a young age. He was both mom and dad. He was a single parent with sole custody, which he fought for. Not many men back then took the children. He juggled being a Marine and caring for two small children, which he did well.

"My dad retired from the Marine Corps in 1987. He wasn't ready to give up a career he'd come to love and respect. Unfortunately, his body didn't agree. My dad developed severe rheumatoid arthritis, which was starting to become crippling.

"The 'humps,' as he called them, had become excruciatingly painful, but still he trudged on. Doctors advised him to take a less physically demanding position. My dad had the opportunity to be promoted to Sergeant Major, with a desk job. My father couldn't even fathom not being in the field with his men as an equal. His attitude was that he wasn't going to have his men doing something he would not. He felt he had the respect not because of his position. but because he was a soldier, and a grunt through and through.

"Ultimately, he decided to retire after 21 years, instead of taking a desk job.

Rock went back to college, she said, and obtained a B.A., after which the family returned to his hometown of Waynesboro, Pa. But there was more adversity ahead.

He developed diabetes,and pulmonary fibrosis, in addition to his existing arthritis.

"For a man who had every reason to complain about being in pain and having no mobility, he kept a positive attitude and could always manage to crack a joke.

"My dad died recently at the young age of 54. The pulmonary fibrosis was the cause. I admire my dad for his strength, loyalty, pride, perseverance and compassion. He was tough when he needed to be and loving always."

Regina Zapf of Martinsburg, W.Va., shared the story of her Uncle Mike:

"My uncle, Michael Patrick McDevitt Jr. served in the U.S. Army during WWII.

"I was only 5 or 6 years old when he came home, but I have vivid memories of that day. His fiance, now my Aunt Grace, and her sisters sat all in a row on the sofa at my grandmother's house, waiting for the taxi that would bring Uncle Mike home at last.

"Everyone had their flags flying high to welcome home the troops from that terrible battle. Finally, he arrived! The excitement was unbelievable! He made a big impression on me. He was our war hero!

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