Scroll of Honor – “D. E.” Aiken

Hedgerow Hero

Seventy-five years ago this week, Allied forces were struggling to expand and reinforce the Normandy beachhead bought with such sacrifice on D-Day.  During the first week on French shores, the Allies faced the daunting task not only of fighting the German defenders, but of supplying two armies with rations, ammunition, fuel, vehicles, weapons, clothing, equipment—and replacements for the dead and wounded—via a tenuous supply line stretching from British ports to the artificial harbors the Allies had anchored off of Omaha and Gold Beaches.

The 2nd Infantry Division had crossed the English Channel on D+1, landing over Omaha Beach near Saint-Laurent-Sur-Mer.  With the division was twenty-two year-old Second Lieutenant David Edgar Aiken, Jr. from the Clarendon County community of New Zion.

“D. E.” Aiken had entered Clemson in 1938, before most Americans perceived the threat posed by happenings in Europe and the far Pacific.  An agronomy major, D. E. was a member of the Sumter-Clarendon County Club and earned the Marksman badge at ROTC summer training held at Clemson in 1941.  D. E. had served as a cadet second lieutenant during his senior year, suggesting that while he had continued to work toward a commission through the ROTC, his military record on campus had been undistinguished.  When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December of that year, the future prospects for all the cadets took on a new, more ominous cast.

Following graduation in June, D. E., like most of the young men in the Class of 1942, reported for military service.  He was sent first to Camp Wolters, Texas and was assigned to the 38th Infantry Regiment of the 2 Infantry Division.  In October 1943, the Division shipped out to Northern Ireland where it continued to train and prepare for the anticipated invasion of France.

D-Day found the young platoon leader and his men anxiously awaiting their turn to cross the Channel and join the largest amphibious operation ever attempted.  Landing on the day after the initial invasion, the 2nd Infantry Division was quickly committed to battle.  On June 10, the division liberated the French town of Trévières, then attacked and secured key high ground on the road toward Saint-Lô.

Allied planners, despite the initial success of the invasion, had overlooked a key terrain feature of Normandy: its hedgerows.  Hedgerows, known by the French as “bocage,” were small, man-made earthen walls that surrounded the Norman fields.  Dating back to Roman times, they were topped by thick hedges, as much as six feet wide at the base, and were used to enclose pastures and mark property lines.  They created nightmares for tactical movement, offering the defending Germans ample cover and concealment while making perilous the advance of American troops.

On June 13, a week after the initial landings, D. E.’s platoon was protecting the flank of the battalion as it advanced through the bocage.  As D. E. led his platoon across a hedgerow, he encountered a sunken road over which the platoon had to advance.  Following sound tactics, D. E. dispatched scouts to cross the road and reconnoiter the other side before sending the entire platoon across.  As the scouts crossed the open road, they were cut down by a hidden enemy machine gun.  According to the posthumous Silver Star citation, “Lieutenant Aiken personally directed the neutralizing of the position and then ordered his platoon to cover his advance as he went forward to draw fire from other enemy emplacements.”  D. E. was killed by another enemy machine gun, “but his actions enabled the platoon to knock out the position and continue its advance.”

Hundreds of acts of valor like D. E.’s would eventually allow the Allies to break out of the beachhead and push the Germans back across the Rhine River and into Germany.

David Edgar Aiken, Jr., was survived by his father, a World War I veteran of the famous Rainbow Division, who had served in France twenty-six years earlier.

For more information about Lieutenant David Edgar Aiken, Jr. see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/david-edgar-aiken-jr/

For information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

 

 

 

Scroll of Honor – John Leumas Childress

All Around Leader

John Leumas Childress was one of those people who excelled at everything he attempted.  From the time he stepped onto the Clemson campus as a freshman member of the Class of 1951 from Augusta, Georgia, Childress was recognized as a leader.

He was promoted quickly in the Corps of Cadets, serving as a sergeant his sophomore year and as first sergeant during his junior year.  Childress returned to campus following ROTC training at Fort Meade, Maryland and was appointed a cadet lieutenant colonel and commander of 2nd Battalion.  His military aptitude was acknowledged by his selection to Scabbard and Blade, the military honor society.  But John Childress’s accomplishments were not limited to the military aspects of cadet life.

Childress was chairman of the Senior Council which handled student non-military disciplinary matters and made recommendations to Dr. Poole, the college president.  He was a member of Blue Key, the Aiken-Augusta-Edgefield Club, and served as president of both the Block C Club and his Senior Class.  And, among these activities and his textile manufacturing academic work, Childress also played on a pretty fair Tiger football team.

Coach Frank Howard’s 1950 Tigers could be forgiven if they weren’t keeping up with the United Nations’ response to the invasion of South Korea.  That late summer and fall Childress and his teammates were focused on another outstanding season.  Just two years earlier, the Tigers had recorded an undefeated gridiron campaign, completing their season with a Gator Bowl victory.  The 1950 Tigers also had high hopes for the season.

Childress, weighing 192 pounds, played end on a team that featured a high powered offense led by Tiger greats Fred Cone, Jackie Calvert, Ray Mathews and Billy Hair.  Clemson started the season with a 55-0 whipping of Presbyterian College, then shut out Missouri 34-0 and North Carolina State 27-0.  The next game was the annual Big Thursday match-up at the State Fair in Columbia.  After falling behind early, the Tigers rallied to salvage a 14-all tie with the Gamecocks.  That blemish fired the team which reeled off consecutive victories over Wake Forest, Duquesne, Boston College, and Furman before completing the season with a 41-0 drubbing of Auburn.  Over the course of the season, the Tigers had outscored their opponents 329-62.  The Tigers’ impressive record earned them a trip to the Orange Bowl, where they defeated hometown Miami 15-14.

Upon graduation, John Childress was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for training.    Before shipping overseas, Childress participated in additional tank training at Camp Irwin, the Army’s sprawling maneuver range in California. Childress was assigned to the 179th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division.

Originally a division of the Oklahoma National Guard, the 45th had been ordered to federal service in 1951.  It deployed to Korea in December of that year.  The division was committed to the line against experienced Chinese forces and in bitter winter weather.  By spring, the division was on the offensive, participating in Operation Counter with the objective of establishing patrol bases around the Old Baldy Hill area in west-central Korea.

On June 26, 1952, as the war began its third year, Second Lieutenant Childress was leading his platoon of the regiment’s heavy tank company near Tumyon-dong.  The tankers were supporting infantrymen who were assaulting Hill 183.  As Childress’s tanks moved up the hill, enemy mortar and artillery fire became so intense that the riflemen had to halt their advance and seek cover.  Recognizing the perilous position of the infantrymen, Childress led his tanks through the enemy positions and to the crest of the hill, directing the advance and using his tank’s machine gun to fire on the enemy defenders.  According to the posthumous Silver Star citation, “Lieutenant Childress was subsequently mortally wounded by sniped fire, but only after he had inflicted many casualties on the attackers, and his accurate fire had enabled his comrades to withstand the assault. The gallantry and courageous leadership displayed by Lieutenant Childress reflected the greatest credit on himself and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Army.”

In addition to the Silver Star, John Childress was awarded the Purple Heart, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.  He was survived by his wife, Frances and was interred at the Westover Cemetery in Richmond County, Georgia.

For more information on John Leumas Childress see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/john-leumas-childress/

For additional information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

Community Memorial Day Service Scheduled at Scroll of Honor

The Clemson Corps will host a community-wide Memorial Day service honoring America’s military dead from all wars on Sunday, May 26 at Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor Memorial.  This year’s ceremony, which will begin at 4 o’clock p. m., recognizes the seventy-fifth anniversary of World War II’s D-Day landings that led to the liberation of France.

The guest speaker will be retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Claude Cooper.  Cooper, a 1967 graduate of Clemson University, served two tours with the Green Berets in Vietnam and also completed assignments with the 82nd Airborne Division and the 7th Special Forces Group.  He is the recipient of the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars, Purple Heart, Combat Medic Badge,Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Master Parachutist Badge.  Upon retirement from the Army, Cooper served as director of administrative support services for Appalachian State University.  Cooper is the author of two books, a memoir entitled Leavings: Honeycutt to Cooper Ridge, and Finding Strong, co-written with his daughter Leigh Cooper Wallace.  Cooper and his wife Louise make their home in Clemson.  Cooper’s remarks will center on Clemson University’s military heritage and the upcoming 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The memorial service will feature the placing of a wreath, a twenty-one gun salute, and the playing of Taps.

Limited seating will be provided so participants are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs.

In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will be canceled.

 

 

Contact:  Kelly Durham

kellyd@fsmc256.com

864.710.9202

 

 

Scroll of Honor Dedication Committee Launches Website

Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor Memorial occupies a highly visible plot of ground—directly across the street from Memorial Stadium.  The Memorial is in the form of a barrow ringed with stones upon which are engraved the names of four hundred ninety-three alumni who died on active military service.  While the Memorial stands as a steady, silent tribute to these heroes, its companion, a comprehensive website, has recently undergone a major renovation.

A website that would more fully tell the story of the heroes inscribed on the Scroll of Honor Memorial was originally the idea of Dawson Luke, Class of 1956.  “I wondered: what did these people look like?  What’s their story?” recalls Luke, a member of the Clemson Corps, a constituent group of the Clemson Alumni Association.  “I asked the Scroll of Honor Dedication committee if we could somehow tell their stories.”  The committee gave Luke the green light and he embarked on what he describes as “a labor of love.”  Working with a group of committed volunteers, Luke led an effort to build a website for the Scroll of Honor, one that includes a page for each hero.

“We had a list of names,” Luke remembers, “but that’s about all we had.  If they had graduated, we could usually find their pictures in Taps, the college yearbook.  If not, we had to find them elsewhere.”  That meant a lot of research time and effort during a period in which Luke recalls, “resources were tight.”  Working on a university project is not without benefits however.  “John Seketa,” who at the time was the director of promotions for the Athletic Department, “helped find us some fantastic student helpers.”  Other volunteers, like Dave Lyle, Class of 1968, came from the Clemson Corps board and from ROTC classes.

“I was involved in the vetting of the names,” Lyle recalls.  “There were four hundred fifty or so to start with.  I searched through old copies of Taps and other papers and would occasionally get help from the Registrar’s office.  I also visited a lot of local libraries, from Oconee County to Sumter looking through compilations of that county’s war dead.  We would find a lot of misspellings, names that had been reversed and other errors.  The people who originally compiled the Roll of Honor in 1946 relied on hand-written lists and word of mouth.   It’s much easier now with the use of the internet.  We can double check spelling and other errors.”

In addition to visiting local libraries across the state, Lyle also took his camera along on trips with his wife Judy.  “We’d build some extra time into our travels and stop at cemeteries to take pictures of headstones which we’d include on the website.  Grave markers provided a lot of information,” Lyle points out, including correct spellings, dates of birth, and often the military unit to which the hero was assigned at the time of his death.

“I wanted to find out how they died,” Luke says.  “Dave’s passion was finding where they were buried and their obituaries.  One piece of information in a newspaper article might lead us to another. More and more stuff has shown up on the internet over the past ten years.”

“When you’re working with nearly five hundred names that span more than a century, it’s easy to make mistakes,” Lyle says—and that meant frequent updates to the website.  Both Luke and Lyle admit to getting frustrated with the intricacies of website maintenance.  With additional emphasis on website security and protecting content from unauthorized manipulation, Luke, Lyle and their Clemson Corps colleagues worked with University faculty, staff and students in the ROTC departments to maintain the old website.  Constant turnover and the continuing discoveries of more information about the Scroll’s heroes made keeping the website current a daunting task.

Plus adds Luke, “The old site didn’t show up very well on iPads.”  In addition, what had started out as a website dedicated to the Scroll of Honor had evolved into one with a broader focus, covering everything from Clemson’s military heritage to ROTC news.

With these factors in mind, the Clemson Corps, with the cooperation of the Clemson Alumni Association, decided to build and host a new website solely focused on the Scroll of Honor.  The new site, https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu, is now live and features a revised format and enhanced search capabilities.  It also contains an ever-expanding body of information about the heroes listed on the Scroll of Honor and offers an interactive and engaging opportunity for site visitors to learn more about the lives and sacrifices of these fallen heroes.

The relative ease of updating the new site is important because, Lyle says, “I don’t think we’ll ever finish.  We’ll keep adding new information as it’s discovered.”

Highlighting the sacrifices of the Scroll of Honor heroes motivates Luke, Lyle and their colleagues to continue to expand the information available on the website.  “The name on the stone doesn’t tell who the person was, what they looked like, what they did and how they died,” Luke explains.

Lyle agrees.  “It’s our job to tell the stories of these men.  Every year on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day we gather and we promise we will never forget these heroes,” he says. “But before you can forget someone you have to know who they were.”

 

–Kelly Durham, wkellyd@me.com

Scroll of Honor – Francis Carlton Truesdale

The First Victory

The Great Depression had blanketed the country in misery, yet some lucky, disciplined and intelligent young men still managed to pursue their educations.

Francis Carlton Truesdale of Kershaw entered Clemson in the late summer of 1930.  While he was attending Clemson, unemployment peaked at more than twenty percent and economic output plummeted.  In short, the country—along with much of the rest of the world—was experiencing an economic shock which would reverberate through the rest of Truesdale’s life.  An agricultural chemistry major, Truesdale was an Alpha Zeta Scholarship recipient and was selected for membership in Tiger Brotherhood.  As a member of the Junior Platoon, competing in competition at ROTC Camp held on campus in the summer of 1933, Truesdale and his comrades captured the championship of the Fourth Corps Area drill competition.

The seeds of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power were sown during Truesdale’s time on the Clemson campus, when economic calamity and the oppressive terms of the Versailles Treaty which had ended the Great War combined to create political and social instability in Germany.  Truesdale would soon be called to meet the threat posed by Hitler and his henchmen.

After the war ensnared the United States, Truesdale earned his pilot’s wings in May 1942 at Brooks Field, near San Antonio, Texas.  He was assigned to the 96th Fighter Squadron which was equipped with the new P-38 Lightning, one of the era’s more distinctive aircraft due to its twin-boom design.  The 96th deployed to Northern Ireland in the fall of 1942 to continue training for battle as part of the Eighth Air Force.  A month after the invasion of North Africa, the 96th deployed to Algeria and entered combat as an element of the Twelfth Air Force.

Truesdale and his squadron mates flew antisubmarine patrols over the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, escorted Allied bombers and attacked enemy shipping and airfields.  As Allied ground forces advanced against the German and Italian defenders, the 96th moved its air bases eastward through Algeria and Tunisia.  With the final Allied ground offensive underway in late April 1943, the squadron began attacking targets in Italy, earning a Distinguished Unit Citation for an attack on enemy airfields at Foggia.

On May 6, British troops captured Tunis and American forces captured Bizerte.  A week later, all Axis troops in Tunisia, about 240,000, surrendered.  The following day, on an unspecified mission, Captain Francis Carlton Truesdale was reported as missing in action.  German authorities later confirmed through the International Red Cross that he had been killed.  On May 15, British Admiral Andrew Cunningham announced that “the passage through Mediterranean was clear” enabling the resumption of vital supply convoys through Gibraltar to Egypt.

Captain Truesdale’s sacrifice had helped the Allies achieve their first victory over the Germans and paved the way for the long, advance to Berlin.

Captain Francis Carlton Truesdale was survived by his widow, the former Catherine Poole of San Antonio and their four-month-old son Francis Carlton Truesdale, Jr.  He was also survived by his parents, three sisters and three brothers, one of whom was in the Merchant Marine and another, Lieutenant Colonel  E. V. Truesdale who had just returned from the Pacific Theater. Captain Truesdale is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

For more information on Captain Francis Carlton Truesdale see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/francis-carlton-truesdale/

For additional information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu

Scroll of Honor – Ernest Theron Epps

Fiery Descent into the Sea

The war reached out and grabbed the boys of the Class of 1944.  Having endured the hazing and harassment of their Rat seasons, the academic rigors of their sophomore years, and the increasing responsibilities that fell on their shoulders as juniors, these young men would have been looking ahead to the senior year, when they would have taken command of the Corps of Cadets and would have left their mark on the Clemson College campus.  Instead, all too many of them would leave their lives on the world’s battlegrounds.

Ernest Theron Epps of Kingstree was an agronomy major and a member of Kappa Alpha Sigma the honorary society for agronomists.  With the end of the 1943 school year, most of Clemson’s students left campus for the military services.  Epps, who had signed up as a Navy reservist the previous November, was called to duty in June.

By 1945, Epps was flying as an aerial gunner on a Navy PBM-5 patrol bomber based at Kaneohe Air Station on the east coast of Oahu, Hawaii.  One suspects that Epps and his comrades greeted the May 8 surrender of Germany with restraint knowing that the Japanese continued to fight ferociously in the Pacific.  Two days later, on May 10, Epps was onboard his patrol aircraft as Lieutenant (j.g.) Roland Cocker lifted the seaplane into the sky.

At some point after dark, a fire ignited in the wing between the engine nacelle and the fuselage.  Unable to control the aircraft, Cocker, Epps and the crew crashed into the sea.  Nine men aboard were killed, including Epps.  Three survivors were rescued the following day by their squadron commander, Lieutenant E. E. Albertson.   Epps’s body was lost to the sea.

Ernest Theron Epps is memorialized at the Courts of the Missing, Honolulu, Hawaii and at the Williamsburg Presbyterian Cemetery in Kingstree. He was survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Peel Epps, two sisters and a brother.

For more information about Ernest Theron Epps visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/ernest-theron-epps/

For additional information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

Scroll of Honor – Daniel Willard Smith

Tragedy by Train

A heavy weight of responsibility fell on Clemson College’s Class of 1941. Lt D. W. SmithThese young men embarked on their cadet journey when the distant rumblings in Europe and the Pacific could still be eclipsed by the rigor of the classroom, the comradery of the barracks and the excitement of fall football games.  As their academic careers progressed, so too did those distant rumblings evolve into menacing claps of thunder.  By the time Dan Smith and his classmates graduated in the spring of 1941, the world, if not the United States, was already at war.  Japan had invaded China, the first of a long line of Pacific conquests.  Germany had occupied the Rhineland, annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia, then invaded Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France.  Before that hot summer was over, Hitler’s forces would be rolling toward Moscow. Soon, Smith and his classmates would be called to their country’s colors.

Daniel Willard Smith was born in January 1920 to Mr. and Mrs. Michael A. Smith of Williston.  Dan graduated from Williston High School and chose electrical engineering as his course of study at Clemson.  Dan was an honors student and was selected for membership in Phi Kappa Phi, a national honor society promoting scholarship.  He was a member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and Tau Beta Phi, the national honorary engineering fraternity.  Dan’s achievements extended beyond the classroom.  Respected by his peers, he was tapped for membership in Tiger Brotherhood and served as president of the ABC Club composed of cadets from Allendale and Barnwell Counties.  Dan was also a member of the state champion track team.  During the summer of 1940, like so many of his classmates, Dan attended ROTC training at Fort McClellan, Alabama.

Following graduation, Dan took a job with Westinghouse, but his career there barely had time to begin before he was called to active duty in November.  He was assigned to the Signal Corps and sent to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey where the Army’s Signal School was located.  As an electrical engineer, one who had excelled in the classroom, Army officials quickly recognized Dan’s ability.  Following the completion of his course, Dan was assigned as an instructor.

The rapid collapse of the French Army in 1940 had been due in part to poor communications.  The French had relied on telephone lines and motorcycle messengers to communicate between headquarters and subordinate commands.  Their German opponents had used radios—and with stunning effect.  The lesson was not lost on the US Army.  Over the course of the war, the signal school at Fort Monmouth would train many of the more than 350,000 men and women who would serve in the Signal Corps.  The post was ideally located near Army ports of embarkation from which soldiers would soon be departing for the European Theater.

Another attractive feature of the area was the robust network of railroad lines serving the area.  The movement of great numbers of men and vast amounts of equipment from training camps and factories all over the country to eastern ports was accomplished by railroad.  It was on one of these tracks that Dan Smith’s life ended.

On Friday, April 10, 1942, Dan was struck by a fast train at Little Silver, New Jersey.  He had excelled in all he undertook, from athletics and academics to his military service.

Second Lieutenant Daniel Willard Smith was survived by his parents, Headstone for Lt. Dan W. Smith, 1920-1942his brother Lybrand, then on active duty in Mississippi, and his brother Herbert.  He was interred in the Williston Cemetery.

For more information on Daniel Willard Smith visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/daniel-dan-willard-smith/

For more about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

Scroll of Honor – John Coryell Leysath

A Life of Outstanding Accomplishment

John Coryell Leysath grew up in the Orangeburg County crossroads of North, South Carolina, graduating from the public schools there and belonging to the Methodist Church.  He was the town’s first Eagle Scout and when it came time for college, he selected the small military school in the northwest corner of the state at Clemson.

Better known as Jack, Leysath excelled on campus just as he had at home.  He joined the Rifle Team and by his the end of his sophomore year was its captain and one of its high scorers.  An electrical engineering major, Jack was active with the Wesley Foundation, the Tri County Club and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.  He was an ROTC student, participating in summer training at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida before being designated as a Distinguished Military Graduate.

Following graduation from Clemson in 1954, Jack Leysath took a job with General Electric.  He reported for active duty with the Air Force at Camp Sampson, New York that August and was later sent to Hondo Air Force Base and Webb Air Force Base, both in Texas.  While at Webb, Leysath earned his jet pilot diploma.  He was next assigned to McDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Florida where he was promoted to first lieutenant.  Then, Leysath received orders assigning him for temporary duty at McConnell Air Force Base near Wichita, Kansas.

McConnell Air Force Base was a fairly new post, having been activated due to its proximity to Boeing’s Wichita factory that was then producing the B-47 Stratojet, the first swept-winged jet bomber built in quantity for the Air Force.  With the new jets coming right off Boeing’s assembly line, McConnell was an ideal location for the conduct of combat crew training.

On March 28, 1956, Jack Leysath climbed aboard a B-47 commanded by instructor pilot Captain William Craggs.  Joining First Lieutenant Leysath as a student was Lieutenant Colonel William Dames.

The B-47 Stratojet had been designed to fly at high subsonic speed and at high altitude to avoid enemy interceptor aircraft. Its primary mission was as a nuclear bomber capable of striking the Soviet Union. Initial mission profiles included the loft bombing of nuclear weapons. In loft bombing, the attacking bomber pulls upward when releasing its bomb load, adding to the bomb’s flight time and giving the aircraft extra time to get away from the blast effects of the bomb, particularly important if the bomb is a nuclear device.   The problem with loft bombing is that its repetition in training stresses the airframe and may cause metal fatigue.

Shortly after Captain Craggs and his two student pilots took off, as the aircraft reached about 2,000 feet in altitude, a Navy pilot flying nearby saw the B-47’s wings shear off.  The Navy pilot said there was a fire in the bomber’s mid-section and then an explosion.  The bomber crashed about four miles northeast of Wichita.  All three crewmen were killed.

Jack Leysath was returned to North where he was buried with full military honors in Pen Branch Cemetery.  He was survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Horace H. Leysath, one sister and one brother.  In its obituary of the young lieutenant, The State newspaper wrote that his was “a life of outstanding accomplishment.”

For additional information about First Lieutenant John Coryell Leysath visit: https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/john-coyell-leysath/
For more information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor see:
https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

Scroll of Honor – John William “Bill” Smith

The Price of Proficiency

To dive bomb the enemy with any hope of achieving a hit and inflicting damage, the pilot of the aircraft had to be proficient in aiming his plane at the target.  The only way to achieve the level of skill demanded in combat was to train.

Nineteen thirty-two was a watershed year for the United States. A new president was elected, one whom the people believed offered the best chance at defeating the Great Depression and putting the country on the road to recovery.  It was also the year that John William “Bill” Smith of Greenville enrolled at Clemson College as a member of the Class of 1936.

During four years at Clemson, Smith, a chemistry major seemed to make little impact on the campus.  He participated in ROTC, but finished his senior year as a private.  Nonetheless, when America found itself at war in December 1941, Smith was already on active duty.

Following graduation, Smith had worked with the DuPont Corporation in Tennessee.  Volunteering for the Army Air Force, Smith trained at Randolph Field and Kelly Field, both near San Antonio, Texas before being assigned to Eglin Field near Valparaiso, Florida.

On March 4, 1942, with the United States reeling in the Pacific and not yet engaged in the European Theater, Smith took part in a training flight as a passenger in an AT-6A Texan.  The AT-6 was an advanced trainer used by the Army Air Force, the Navy (as the SNJ) and the British (as the Harvard).  Smith would be flying in aircraft #41-528 on a simulated dive bombing mission just north of Eglin’s auxiliary field No. 4.  The pilot of the aircraft was Second Lieutenant Richard Baldsiefen.

At approximately 1346 Central War Time, Baldsiefen, flying in a formation with three other aircraft, nosed his plane over into its dive from an altitude of 8,000 feet. Immediately, the aircraft began to accelerate as it streaked downward at a steep angle.  At approximately 3,000 feet, the aileron, the control surface on the trailing edge of the wing which controls the lateral roll of the aircraft, tore loose from the left wing. Then, the outer wing ripped away making it impossible for Baldsiefen to control the aircraft.  The plane began to spin, preventing either Baldsiefen or Smith from bailing out.  The resulting crash killed both men.

Army investigators determined that “error of judgment” led to the crash.  They estimated that the aircraft speed reached 250 miles per hour, well above the AT-6’s maximum safe speed of 208.

First Lieutenant Bill Smith’s remains were returned to Greenville where he was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.  He was survived by his wife Margaret and daughter Jean.

For more information about First Lieutenant John William Smith see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/john-william-smith/

For additional information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scroll of Honor – Wallace Irvin “Red” Glenn

One In Sixteen Million

It happened fast but despite a flurry of activity in 1941 America was still unprepared for war.  As a result, the military accelerated its base-building efforts in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  One of the bases that had been established as the country scrambled to train, equip and deploy the sixteen million soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who would serve in World War II was Hammer Field near Fresno, California.  At age thirty-five, Red Glenn was surely one of the older privates on the base.

Wallace Irvin “Red” Glenn, Class of 1929, was a member of Company F in the 2nd Battalion of the Clemson College Corps of Cadets.

Wallace Irvin “Red” Glenn graduated from Greenwood High School and enrolled in Clemson College in 1925.  Glenn, an architecture major, was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion of the Corps of Cadets.  Glenn attended Clemson for only his freshman year.

Following the December 7, 1941 attack by the Japanese, the Roosevelt administration was faced with the daunting task of converting the world’s largest economy from a peacetime, consumer-oriented one into the “Arsenal of Democracy” that would provide the men, machines and materiel that would win the war.  Part of that conversion was the induction into the armed forces and the training of millions of young men, many of whom had never left their native states.  Now, the demands of a nation at war saw these same young men—and some a little older—shipped to every region of the country.

Red Glenn found himself assigned to the Army Air Forces Flying Training Command at Hammer Field.  The mission of the 4th Air Force Replacement Depot there was to train replacement pilots, aircrew and ground personnel for what would become the largest Air Force in the world.  Fliers and technicians from all over the United States would pass through the base for training enroute to assignments overseas.  Eventually, Hammer Field’s mission expanded beyond aircrews to include Air Force nurses.

Glenn, a ground support crewman at the base, would have been engaged in keeping the base’s many training aircraft in flight-worthy condition.  Following “several weeks” of illness, Glenn died at the Hammond General Hospital in nearby Modesto on February 2, 1943.  He was survived by his father and step-mother.  His body was returned to Greenwood and he was buried in Edgewood Cemetery.

For additional information about Wallace Irvin Glenn see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

For more information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/wallace-irvin-glenn/

Scroll of Honor – Burton Forrest Mitchell, Jr.

Unrewarded Valor

Everything at Clemson College changed in the spring of 1943.  Of course things had been changing for several months by then.  The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor in December of ’41, then Hitler had declared war on the United States and Congress had returned the sentiment.  A lot of cadets left school to join up, most with the Army, but a number in the Navy and Marines as well.  By the spring of 1943, the War Department had decreed that graduating seniors would immediately enter service—and so would the rising juniors, who would forego their final year of college.

Perhaps Burton Forrest Mitchell, Jr. a member of the Class of 1946 from Mount Holly, North Carolina, decided to exercise what little control over his fate that he still possessed.  Mitchell, who had just completed his freshman year on campus, reported for active duty at Fort Jackson on September 2, 1943.  Following his basic training, Mitchell was assigned to the Army Air Forces and sent to Tyndall Air Field in Florida for aerial gunnery training.  He underwent additional training at Westover, Massachusetts and Savannah, Georgia before shipping overseas in October 1944.

Mitchell eventually landed in the 766th Bomber Squadron, Heavy, headquartered at Torretta Air Base outside of Foggia, Italy as part of the 15th Air Force.  The 15th flew missions against targets in Austria, Bavaria and the Balkans.

On January 20, 1945, Mitchell’s aircraft, a B-24J Liberator heavy bomber piloted by Second Lieutenant Joseph O’Neal of Beckley, West Virginia, was alerted for a bombing mission against the railroad marshaling yards at Linz, Austria, about 460 miles to the north.  As the rear turret gunner, Corporal Mitchell’s “desk” looked out from the rear of the aircraft.  Sitting in the tail of the aircraft, Mitchell was the farthest crew member from the flight deck from where the pilot and copilot flew the plane.

The weather aloft that morning was clear and cold at 23,000 feet.  Mitchell and his crewmates were wearing insulated, heated flight suits, boots, gloves, leather helmets and goggles to protect themselves in the unpressurized aircraft.  They were also breathing oxygen from the aircraft’s O2 tanks as the air at that altitude was too thin to support life.

The twenty-five bomber formation flew over the jagged peaks of the Alps and then homed in on Linz.  The North Main Marshalling Yard to the south of the city was covered with snow, but the anti-aircraft gunners defending the city were nonetheless alert.  With lightly scattered clouds, the fire from the flak gunners was described as “extremely intense, accurate and heavy.”

Armed with 100 pound general purpose bombs, the mission of the attack was to destroy enemy rolling stock and facilities in the railroad yard, to further disable the enemy’s ability to move troops and equipment to counter the Red Army in the east and the British and Americans in the west.  At approximately 1230 hours, Mitchell’s aircraft was struck in its open bomb bay by an anti-aircraft round.  The subsequent explosion split the aircraft in two.  The six men in the front portion of the aircraft never made it out.

The crew of Mitchell’s plane. Standing from left, pilot O’Neal, copilot Rothe, bombardier Koke, navigator Merritt—all of whom were killed. Kneeling from left, waist gunner Martin, waist gunner Keenan–who came to Mitchell’s assistance–nose gunner Rossini, ball gunner Nowosilski, Mitchell, and top gunner Ellis. Only Martin and Nowosilski survived.

The four gunners in the after half of the big bomber had a second chance.  Even though they were now riding a piece of aerial wreckage falling through the sky, they were still alive.  Right waist gunner Sergeant Donald Martin and ball gunner PFC Harry Nowosilski were able to don their parachutes and get clear of the fuselage.  Left waist gunner Francis Keenan of Chicago, realized that Mitchell, alone in the tail, had been badly burned in the explosion and he went to his crewmate’s aid.  He helped Mitchell clip on his parachute, which was too bulky to wear at his gunner’s position.  As the two men struggled to exit the chaos and confusion of the falling wreck, Mitchell is believed to have accidentally pulled his parachute’s ripcord.  As a result, his chute and Keenan’s became entangled and failed to deploy.  Keenan’s valor cost him his life.

The bodies of Mitchell, Keenan and the six men from the front half of the plane were recovered and buried by the Germans.  Martin and Nowosilski were captured and spent the final months of the conflict in Luftwaffe prisoner of war camps.

Twenty-one of the twenty-five aircraft over the target that day were damaged by anti-aircraft fire.  Two of these, including Mitchell’s, exploded before they could roll out of the formation on the bomb run.  Their explosions caused the other planes in the formation to take evasive action to avoid colliding with the fatally wounded aircraft.  As a result, the bombs were scattered over a comparatively large area at the extreme northern end of the marshalling yard.

Mitchell was awarded the Air Medal and Purple Heart.  He was survived by his parents and sister.  After the war, his body was removed to the Lorraine American Cemetery in St. Avold (Moselle), France.

For additional information on Corporal Burton Forrest Mitchell, Jr. see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/burton-forrest-mitchell-jr/

For more information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/

 

 

 

 

Scroll of Honor – John LeHecka

Final Flight

John LeHecka graduated from high school in Rock Hill in 1960 and enrolled that fall at Clemson College.  An agronomy major, John remained in school through his sophomore year before joining the Peace Corps. He spent two years serving in East Pakistan, what is now Bangladesh.  That experience, recalled his friend John Fuller, imbued LaHecka with greater maturity and thoughtfulness.

Following his Peace Corps tour overseas, LaHecka returned to Clemson University in January 1965.  In addition to resuming his agronomy courses, he also enrolled in advanced Air Force ROTC.  John’s experiences overseas must have prepared him for new challenges, for as a senior, he served as a cadet lieutenant colonel and commandant of the Cadet Leadership School.  He also found time to compete with the fencing club under the direction of architecture professor Hal Cooledge.

LaHecka graduated in December 1967 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. He reported for active duty and pilot training to Craig Air Force Base near Selma, Alabama on January 15, 1968.  John Fuller remembers meeting LaHecka when both were assigned to Hurlburt Field at Fort Walton Beach, Florida for Forward Air Controller (FAC) training.  Located near Pensacola, the area featured “beautiful white beaches, fresh oysters, and cold beer,” wrote Fuller.  “Our training program had about three weeks of content compressed into about three months.”

Upon leaving Florida, the training became more intense and more serious: Jungle Survival School at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.  The two lieutenants arrived at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam on July 30, 1969 and were assigned to the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron at Pleiku Air Base in the Central Highlands.  Since neither officer had previous experience flying fighters, they were categorized as Class B FACs, meaning that, by prior agreement between the turf conscious Army and Air Force, they were not allowed to control airstrikes for American ground troops.  As a result, LaHecka and Fuller found themselves flying out-country interdiction missions along the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail along the borders of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

LaHecka was trained in night missions flying the O-2, the military version of the Cessna Skymaster, a twin-engine piston-powered aircraft with one engine in the nose and a second in the rear of the fuselage. One advantage of the O-2 was that its side window could be opened in flight allowing the navigator to use a Starlight Scope to help identify targets in the inky blackness of the jungle night.

After four months in country, LeHecka and Fuller were selected to fly highly classified Prairie Fire missions.  Fuller remembered these as the unit’s “most demanding mission, even though it was always conducted in the day.”  Prairie Fire sent Special Forces Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP) into Laos and Cambodia to conduct reconnaissance operations and find downed airmen.  LeHecka a

nd the other forward air controllers would coordinate fire support from Army Huey and Cobra helicopter gunships as well as Navy A-1 and Air Force F-4 fighters during the insertion and extraction of these LRRP teams.

On January 10, 1970, LeHecka and Fuller flew to Kontum, the base for the Special

 

Forces teams assignedto southern Laos.  LeHecka picked up Sergeant First Class Sam Zumbrun, a highly decorated former medic now conducting reconnaissance missions for Prairie Fire.  During their mission, LeHecka’s aircraft was struck by enemy small arms fire.  LeHecka was killed and the luckless Zumbrun was stuck in a sophisticated aircraft without the skills to pilot it.  Without a pilot, the plane crashed, killing Zumbrun.  Both LeHecka’s and Zumbrun’s remains were recovered.

First Lieutenant John LeHecka was buried in the Lutz Cemetery, Lutz, Florida.  He was survived by his wife, the former Charlotte Featherson.

 

For more information about Lieutenant LeHecka see:

https://cualumni.clemson.edu/page.aspx?pid=1703

For additional information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://cualumni.clemson.edu/scrollofhonor

 

Scroll of Honor – J.B. Lawson, Jr.

The Last Christmas

It is fair to say that the Clemson experience of the Class of 1944 was unique.  These boys had arrived on campus in the late summer of 1940, when the United States was at peace.  They would leave Clemson College before graduation, their services required by a country engaged in a worldwide conflagration.

James B. Lawson, Jr. of Sandy Springs was a member of the Class of 1944 and the son of a member of the Anderson County legislative delegation. He was a mechanical engineering major and a member of the Anderson County Club.  With American military might expanding at a dizzying pace, the manpower requirements of the armed services grew and they took precedence over the plans of college students.  The War Department determined that Clemson’s rising senior cadets would forgo their final year of college and would be called to active duty upon the conclusion of the 1942-43 academic year.

That summer of 1943, Lawson and most of the other young men in his class traded in their cadet uniforms for the green fatigues of the Army.  Lawson first reported to Camp Croft near Spartanburg for basic training. Having demonstrated leadership aptitude, he was next ordered to infantry officer candidate school at Fort Benning, Georgia.  Newly minted lieutenants were then sent to one of the many divisions being formed stateside for eventual deployment overseas.  Lawson landed with the 290th Infantry Regiment of the 75th Infantry Division, then training at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky.

By mid-October 1944, the Germans seemed to be reeling.  Allied Armies were tightening a vise onGermany from both the east and the west.  Rumors began to circulate that Lawson’s 290th Regiment was getting ready for deployment.  The rumors appeared to have basis when a detail was formed to prepare water tight containers for the storage of regimental records.  Soon after, the regiment began its journey by train.  It headed east.

A four-day layover at Camp Shanks, New York allowed time for final checks of clothing and equipment.  More than a million men passed through the camp, situated at the juncture of the Erie Railroad and the Hudson River, on the way to Europe.  From Camp Shanks, the troops rode the train forty-five min

utes to Weehawken, New Jersey where they boarded the ferry to Staten Island and its piers.  Five thousand soldiers squeezed aboard the US Army Transport Brazil for a ten-day voyage to Great Britain, arriving at Swansea, Wales on November 1.  From there, it was another train ride to Porthcawl, every mile bringing Lawson and his regiment closer to Europe and the enemy.  After five weeks of combat training in Wales, the regiment arrived at Southampton, England.  It crossed the English Channel landing at Le Havre, France on December 13 and 14.

And then things got really interesting.  Two days later, the Germans launched their greatwinter offensive.  Their plan was to mass tanks against the relatively thinly defended American First Army in Belgium, breakthrough Allied lines, divide British and American forces, capture the port of Antwerp, and force the Western Allies to consider a negotiated peace.

With the battle raging and the Germans on the offensive, the 290th on December 19 left its assembly area and began a two-day journey by box car through bitter weather across northern France and Belgium.  The regiment arrived at Hasselt, Belgium on December 20 and immediately established its command post—right below the flight path of German buzz bombs heading toward Antwerp.

With German forces threatening to break through the bulge, the 290th decamped from Hasselt shortly after midnight on December 22 heading for the threatened lines of the US First Army.  Elements of the regiment were quickly moved into front line positions.  3rd Battalion was ordered to occupy the town of Hotton (about 22 miles northwest of Bastogne)—and hold it at all costs. On the evening of the 24th, Allied forces reclaimed the initiative and the 290th ordered its battalions to attack.

Hill 87 at La Roumière was the objective of Lawson’s platoon.  The hill, surrounded by woods, dominated the roads leading to Hotton as well as the Ourthe River which flowed through the town.  Lawson’s platoon attacked three times.  In one of these attacks, the brave lieutenant was mortally wounded.  Lawson’s parents and his fiancée, Miss Van Siclen a former student at Anderson College, received word in mid-January that he was missing in action.  Not until February 5 did they learn that he had been killed on December 25, the last Christmas of the war.

Lieutenant James B. Lawson, Jr. was survived by his parents and his three sisters.  He is buried at Sandy Springs United Methodist Church Cemetery.

For additional information about James B. Lawson, Jr. see:

https://cualumni.clemson.edu/page.aspx?pid=1737

For more information about Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://cualumni.clemson.edu/scrollofhonor

 

Scroll of Honor – Rufus Randolph McLeod, Jr.

Rufus Randolph McLeod, Jr.

How the world changed in those four years.  When Rufus Randolph McLeod, Jr. arrived on the Clemson campus in the late summer of 1938, no one could have imagined what lay in wait for the boys of the Class of 1941.

“Black Dog” McLeod was a general science major from Hartsville, where his father served as the postmaster, a political appointment in those days.  McLeod demonstrated leadership ability and a military aptitude.  He was a member of Scabbard and Blade, the military honor society, and the Calhoun Literary Society.  As a junior, he was selected as a graduation marshal.  Following the completion of ROTC training at Fort McClellan, Alabama in the summer of 1940, McLeod returned to campus as a cadet lieutenant colonel and commander of the First Battalion, First Regiment of the Cadet Brigade.

By the time McLeod and his classmates graduated in the spring of 1941, the world situation had deteriorated.  In March, Congress had passed and President Roosevelt had signedinto law the Lend-Lease Act allowing the United States to provide material aid to Great Britain, which was struggling to defend and feed its people against assaults from the German air force and submarine fleet.

McLeod, upon receiving his commission as a second lieutenant, was ordered to Camp Croft at Spartanburg.  He volunteered for flight training and was sent to Texas, where he studied and flew at Hicks, Goodfellow and Foster Fields before earning his wings in April 1942.

McLeod was next assigned to Bolling Field in Washington, D.C. and was promoted to first lieutenant.  In August, he married Margie Conwell of Atlanta. Soon thereafter, McLeod was alerted for overseas deployment.

Despite the sneak attack by the Japanese that had thrust the war upon the United States, Roosevelt and his military advisors, in consultation with their British allies, had adopted a “Germany First” strategy.   Yet by the autumn of 1942, no US ground forces had yet attacked the Germans.  That was about to change.

Operation Torch, a joint British-US invasion of French North Africa, was launched on

November 8, 1942.  Now assigned as a pilot in the 60th Fighter Squadron, McLeod was soon flying from captured airfields in Tunisia.  On December 6, 1942, McLeod was part of a fighter escort mission that had flown to Telergma airfield in Algeria.  Upon returning to his base, McLeod’s P-40 Warhawk crashed, killing him.  He was the first pilot from the squadron to be killed.

First Lieutenant Rufus Randolph McLeod, Jr. was awarded the Purple Heart and was buried at the North African American Cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia.  He was survived by his wife, his parents and three sisters.

For additional information about Lieutenant McLeod see:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/scroll/rufus-randolph-mcleod-jr/

For more information concerning Clemson’s Scroll of Honor visit:

https://soh.alumni.clemson.edu/