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A lake area author has written a book on combat veterans and he came to the National D-Day Memorial last week to sign copies.
Bob Vanderlinde knows something about serving in combat. A member of the 187th Airborne, he made two combat jumps during the Korean War. He was wounded three times and still has pieces of shrapnel in his body.
His first jump was on Oct. 20, 1950.
“We jumped 50 miles north of Pyongyang,” he said.
That’s North Korea’s capital. It was about a month after the amphibious landing at Inchon.
The second was on March 23, 1951, at a place called Musan Ne.
“The first five times I was up in an airplane, I had to jump out and walk home,” Vanderlinde recalled. “I thought the Air Force had something against me.”
But, the book isn’t about him, although he devotes one chapter to veterans of America’s coldest war. Winter temperatures plunged to 30 degrees below zero and Vanderlinde said that, when he got back to the States, he swore he would never be that cold again.
The Korean War chapter has interviews with five veterans. Two of them were prisoners of war for 32 months. Another lost both legs due to the severe frostbite he suffered in the bitter cold. All were part of the Chosin Reservoir action.
The rest of the 13-chapter book consists of the stories of World War II veterans from both the European and Pacific theaters. One chapter is dedicated to Iwo Jima. It includes an interview with Woody Williams, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. This is America’s highest combat award and is awarded to those who have done something amazingly above the call of duty. Many are awarded posthumously.
Vanderlinde interviewed 15 veterans from Virginia.
“I interviewed two glider pilots,” he said.
Both men are now in their 90s and their duty was one of the most hazardous in World War II. The gliders carried airborne troops or vehicles and sometimes the pilot got a fatal surprise by encountering an unexpected obstacle upon reaching his landing spot.
One of the men, R. C. Moore, of Appomattox made three landings in Europe. The other, George Hess, made six landings in Burma. Hess, a Virginia native, now lives with one of his children in Illinois.
The Navy is also represented. He interviewed three men who survived the combat sinking of their ships.
The book includes interviews with D-Day veterans and a Pearl Harbor vet. One chapter is dedicated to chaplains and Judge Advocate General (JAG) officers.
Some veterans are local. Evelyn Kowalchuk was an Army flight nurse. She went in to Omaha Beach on D+3 (three days after D-Day). Her job was to care for wounded men who were being carried back to England by aircraft. She accompanied them on the flights.
Another is Bill Story. Story was in the Canadian Army at the time and was a member of the 1st Special Service Force, an elite special forces unit consisting of American and Canadian soldiers. The Germans nicknamed them “Black Devils” due to their tactic of grease painting their faces black and attacking at night.
Ray Haymaker, who also lives in the Lake area, tells of being a P-47 pilot. The P-47, a fighter with a massive radial engine, was used for staffing and dive-bombing missions. Haymaker won the Distinguished Flying Cross as the result of his actions on one mission.
Why did Vanderlinde write the book?
“It was a way for me to capture the stories of these men and women before they pass away,” he said.
The book’s title is “Respect: Forgotten Heroes.” He said he chose this title because he wants readers to understand and respect the sacrifices people made for the freedoms we have today. The photo on the cover depicts one of them. There are three Marines, two of them supporting a wounded man in the middle. Vanderlinde met this man, a fellow named Swanson Rigney, who lives in Rocky Mount. He said Rigney lost his right eye in combat.
“Respect: Forgotten Heroes” can be purchased at West Lake Library and at the National D-Day Memorial. Vanderlinde said that proceeds from the book go to the National D-Day Memorial Foundation.
There will be another book signing at Trinity Ecumenical Parish on Dec. 13 from 9 a.m. until noon. In addition to the authors signature, people can get their books signed by five of the people whose stories the book tells, including Kowalchuk and Story.