World War II 75th Anniversary Tribute

A special collaboration between the Klickitat County World War II Commemoration Committee and Maryhill Museum of Art.

We are commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII with a video tribute to veterans who served. We planned to present the program at Stonehenge Memorial and the Klickitat County Veterans Memorial on August 15, 2020 but due to the pandemic, we have created a video that can be shared far and wide.

The video was created due to the efforts of numerous volunteers and organizations from throughout the county and region. It features a presentation of the colors by American Legion Post 116 Honor Guard, a three-volley salute, a bugler playing taps, recitation of names on the Klickitat County Veterans Memorial and a special keynote address by Caroline Yamazaki Roberts, daughter of WWII veteran and White Salmon resident Dr. James Yamazaki. 

The World War II Veterans Memorial Highway
As part of the commemoration, the Klickitat County World War II Commemoration Committee will announce the naming of Highway 97 as the World War II Veterans Memorial Hwy by Washington State. The portion to be named runs north from the Sam Hill Memorial Bridge to the border of Klicktiat and Yakima Counties.

 

Biographies of Living Veterans from the Klickitat County Region  (click on each name to read)
Harold Bickel

Harold Bickel, now 94 years old, was drafted in 1943 into the US Army. He had hoped to enlist in the Navy, however color blindness prevented this. Bickle received basic training, advanced training, and continued training in cold weather indoctrination. He was sent to New York and assigned the 76th Infantry Division. From there, he sailed to England aboard the Queen Mary.

Upon arrival in England, Bickel and his fellow soldiers were equipped and trained further before sailing across the channel to France. “I was in a state of being scared to death,” he vividly recalls. After landing on one of the beaches, the Division crossed into Belgium that December, joining into the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive on the western front. It was hazardously cold and many soldiers in other units who were not properly clothed, froze to death. Bickel considers himself lucky as he was a jeep driver for liaison officers.

As the “bulge” was penetrated, Bickel’s unit pushed into Germany sustaining many, many casualties. His unit was instrumental in liberating several POW camps. Bickel specifically remembers a camp where many 82nd Airborne troops endured freezing weather without proper clothing and were covered in lice.

When the war in Europe ended, Harold Bickel found himself back on the Queen Mary headed home to the states. He had enough points to be discharged…home.

Donald Bryan

Donald Bryan, now 93 years old, remembers enlisting in the Navy in September of 1943. He was assigned to the ship, USS Ommaney Bay, an escort carrier with 28 fighter and torpedo planes and a crew of 1,012 sailors. Bryan’s rating was Gunner’s Mate.

His ship headed for Pearl Harbor in June of 1944 and then to the Philippines to provide cover and support for a troop landing. In January of 1945, at 5:00 p.m. while the Task Group was in the Sulu Sea, approximately 15 Japanese aircraft were spotted on radar. A sea and air screen was immediately put into motion.

By 5:12 p.m., a single Kamikaze pilot, undetected by the ship’s lookouts by using the sun’s glare as an advantage, penetrated the screen and attacked the bow of the Ommaney Bay. The plane’s wing impacted the island and then crashed directly into the flight deck on the forward starboard side of the ship.

The pilot of the Kamikaze released two bombs. The first penetrated the flight deck, detonated below and set off a series of explosions among the fully armed aircraft. These destroyed the forward third of the hangar deck.

The second bomb passed through the hanger deck, ruptured a fire main, and exploded near the starboard side. Even though the crew immediately initiated fire-suppression, the fires literally engulfed the ship.

By 5:30 p.m., thirty minutes after initially spotting the enemy planes, the Captain ordered his crew to abandon ship. Ninety-two men were killed. One hundred and sixty-four were wounded.  The surviving crew was rescued by other ships in the Task Force and were scattered.

In spite of this experience, Donald Bryan continued to serve honorably until his discharge from the US Navy in January of 1946.

Julius Archie Courtney

Julius Archie Courtney entered the US Navy in May 1945. Just shy of his 18th birthday, he was sent to the Naval Training Center in San Diego, along with 25,000 other recruits-in-training cycling through the center at any one time. At age 93, he fondly remembers the mock-up ship, the USS Recruit, became one of his ‘favorite friends.’ He and his shipmates affectionately called the ship the “USS Neversail.”

Initial training was followed by a 12-week course in Amphibious Training in Little Creek, Virginia. He learned how to operate and maintain all types of amphibious craft, such as landing ship medium, landing craft infantry, landing craft utility, landing craft mechanized, and landing craft vehicle, personnel. He graduated with the rating of Motor Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class.

Courtney was assigned to the USS Arcadia, a destroyer tender which provided repair services to other ships, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The ship’s compliment was responsible for training sailors of Chaing Kai-Shek’s Nationalist Government in the operation and maintenance of eight small naval patrol and mine vessels they received under a lend-lease agreement. The Chinese Naval personnel left Cuba in March of 1946, transiting the Panama Canal en-route to China.

With the mission complete, the ship and crew returned to the US and Courtney was honorably discharged in August 1946. He still remembers his total payment upon discharge…$87.52.

Mel Johnson

Mel Johnson grew up in The Dalles, Oregon where he graduated high school. He briefly went to Oregon State University before he joined the Navy. After basic training in Northern Idaho, he was sent to radio and then radar school before being assigned to a Navy heavy bomber. He also attended gunnery school, as the assignment as a radio man in an airplane included operating a ball turret with .50 calibre machine guns, when needed. His final training was in PBY airplanes in Key West, Florida.  On his assigned B24 aircraft, Johnson remembers having to be careful with the ball turret because its turn radius was great enough to shoot your own wing. 

His B24 flew to England several times before beginning its European service. Mel and his crew flew from multiple bases ranging from Africa to Norway and over to Italy and Greece. They also flew from England and Spain and North Africa. Patrols aboard a B24 lasted about 10 hours each day over the channel, or the Mediterranean, looking for ships and submarines of the Axis. “They were out there,” he remembered. He also recalled the many cold and snowy take-offs from his English base.  

Johnson remembers well that the English people were very friendly but didn’t have much food. One morning he went to breakfast at the base where they were served liver on toast. The liver looked white and yellow. He decided to go back to the plane and eat C rations instead.  

At times they had trouble with the plane. Once they lost two engines and limped home, miraculously. Another time he recalled being low on fuel and barely making it back to the base at “Lands End” in England. The base was on a table of land jutting into the channel to which the plane barely reached. This plane, he recalled, made it back to Florida at the end of the war.  

In Florida, the captain of his plane polled each of the crew to see if they would take a volunteer mission to fly into a hurricane to gather scientific data. They all agreed and flew into the hurricane. He said the wings of the plane were rocking up and down terrifically inside the storm. After this mission he was discharged home.  

He moved to Klickitat County in 1950 to be the Hospital Administrator at the Hospital in Goldendale. Johnson held that position for 35 years. He and his wife Shirley raised three sons. He said he still wakes up sometimes dreaming of being in the clouds over the channel and trying to find the way home. 

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson volunteered to go into the Navy when he was just over 16 years old because joining was his best option if he wanted to stay out of jail. His initial training was at the Farragut Naval Training Center north of Sandpoint, Idaho. He then attended mechanic school in California. His initial assignment was aboard the USS Strong, a Fletcher-class destroyer.

The Strong sailed from Norfolk in December of 1942, transited the Panama Canal, making numbers stops before arriving in February in the Solomon Islands. For the next five months, the crew shot down airplanes, sank submarines, and focused on the business of war.

Around midnight on July 5th, 1943, just as Johnson was getting off work, a Japanese torpedo hit portside aft of the ship. Later, it was determined that this torpedo was launched from an enemy submarine 11 nautical miles away.

Johnson was just getting off work when the torpedo hit. He ran to his assigned duty station aft of his ship and started firing his 20 mm anti-aircraft gun. A sister destroyer, the Chevalier, intentionally rammed the Strong’s bow, allowing the crew to throw nets and lines to the stricken ship resulting in rescuing 241 men in about seven minutes. These two ships, readily visible to the Japanese gunners on the beach, were sitting ducks. The enemy opened fire with high explosives causing the Chevalier to cease rescue operations. The Strong settled rapidly and broke in half as it sank. Sadly, forty-six men perished with the ship.

Johnson vaguely remembers jumping over the side of his ship into the darkness. He remembers life rafts and then being in a hospital somewhere, perhaps Australia. To this day, he has shrapnel in his body that sets off alarms at airport security.

Johnson continued serving in Korea and in Vietnam.

Hiram “Jack” Mulrony

Hiram “Jack” Mulrony left high school when he turned 17 to join the US Navy. After his training, he was assigned to the USS Wildcat in the Boiler Compartment, responsible for keeping the ship moving. The ship and crew were headed for the Asiatic-Pacific Theater.

The Wildcat was primarily a distilling service ship responsible for providing distilled water to all the ships in the operating area. Mulrony became a stalwart operator maintaining the ships engines and boilers. In the spring of 1946, the ship was assigned to the Joint Task Force responsible for providing distilled water to all the smaller ships involved in Operation Crossroads, a nuclear test program.

Jack Mulrony in 2020

The Task Force arrived at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands on May 12. They provided distilled water for the many other ships involved. On June 30 all ships traveled 30 nautical miles from the site to wait for the airborne drop and explosion of an atomic bomb test, Test Able. This bomb was equivalent in magnitude to that used at Nagasaki.

In July, they sailed back to the Bikini Atoll for three weeks before they underwent Test Baker from the Rongelap Atoll, 50 nautical miles from the target. Test Baker was an underwater test.

After spending a short time back at the Bikini Atoll, they sailed for California via Kwajalein and Hawaii. They recorded 139 deliveries of water while supporting Operations Crossroads before the Wildcat was deactivated.

Mulrony’s last assignment was aboard the USS Los Angeles, a heavy cruiser used to train recruits. He remembers the engines were the biggest things he had ever seen and maintained. He returned to Bickleton at the end of his honorable service and lived with his sister. In December of 1946 he returned to school, but upon completing his sophomore year, he turned to his mechanic skills for a full time career.

Harry Richard Wilson

Harry Richard Wilson completed his senior year at Bickleton High School January of 1943.  He did this in one semester so he could join the US Navy on his 18th birthday. Recognizing his significant technical aptitude, he was selected for 18 months of schooling to become a radar technician.

Wilson was sent to Hawaii to serve as one of the two radar technicians on the USS Satterlee, a Gleaves-class destroyer. He recalls the best part of his job was having only one other person with whom he shared both a living and operations room aboard an otherwise full ship.

On the 4th of July 1945, the Satterlee left Pearl Harbor and commenced air-sea rescue patrol duty between Saipan and Okinawa. He spent critical time inside the Satterlee’s Command Information Center working closely with the radar officer and the ship’s Captain.

Air-sea rescue operations carried out during the war saved valuable trained and experienced airmen. Moreover, the troops acknowledge that such operations greatly enhanced the morale of the combat aircrew. These crews were faced with the expected enemy hostilities and the possible danger of aircraft malfunctions during the long overwater flights.

On November 9th, the Satterlee returned to the United States for deactivation. Wilson returned to Bickleton to join the family business having served honorably for three years, three months, and eight days.

August Edward "Ed" Weddle

USS Zelima

August Edward Weddle, called “Ed” by his friends and family, was an adventurous young man. He ran away from home when he was 14 and found work on fishing boats until he was arrested and sent to his home in Yakima. Weddle was forced to return to school by his mother, but after half a year, he was able to get his mother to sign a paper allowing him to join the Merchant Marines. He was only 16 years old.

In 1943, his ship delivered supplies to Attu, the western most American Island in the Aleutian chain off Alaska. It was there that he suffered blood poisoning and was placed in a tent hospital. In the meantime, his ship sailed away. Weddle recalls the highlight of that time as a ride on a B25 Bomber sent to bomb a significant Japanese air and naval base on the Pacific Island of Paramushiro. Eventually, Weddle was sent to Adak, Alaska and caught a troop ship to Seattle.

After a few days at home, he hitchhiked to San Francisco where he signed on to another Merchant Marine ship, the Cape Orange. The crew sailed to Pearl Harbor and continued to Guam. There, in the night, there was an air raid and Weddle manned his 20 mm gun. The Japanese planes were dropping bombs and the young sailor was hit with a piece of shrapnel in his leg. He was so focused on his duty that he did not know until after the battle was over that he had been wounded.

Weddle’s life continued to be an adventure. After deciding his Merchant Marine days were over, he returned home and there, was falsely accused of forging a check. In jail, he got into a fight over food and punished when the judge gave him another option: go back in the service or stay in jail. Almost 18, Weddle enlisted in the US Navy where he served for over three years. Deciding life was better in the service, he reenlisted and served an honorable twenty-two more years.

At age 93, Ed Weddle fondly recalls the years he served on the aircraft carrier, the USS Boxer and the stores ship, the USS Zelima retiring as a Chief Petty Officer.

Dr. James Yamazaki

Dr. James Yamazaki was born in the U.S. in 1916 to parents who immigrated from Japan. He joined the U.S. Army as a combat surgeon in 1941, a week before Pearl Harbor. Soon after he observed his parents, American citizens, being sent to an internment camp in Jerome, Arkansas. More than 100,000 other Japanese-American citizens were also sent to camps around the country.

Yamazaki was a battalion surgeon in the 106th Infantry Division when taken prisoner by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge. He was shuttled from one POW camp to another, always enduring miserable conditions, a scarcity of food, and sometimes finding himself directly in the path of Allied bombing campaigns. He and his fellow prisoners were rescued at one point, only to be recaptured. During his six months as a POW he continuously treated his fellow POW’s, using only the minimal supplies at his disposal.  He worked diligently for all who needed medical assistance.

After the war, Dr. Yamazaki resumed his medical studies settling on a career as a pediatrician. In 1949, at the age of 33, he responded to a request of the U.S. Government designating him as the lead physician of the U.S. Atomic Bomb Medical Team assigned to Nagasaki to survey the effects of the bomb. It was his first visit to Japan. He faced the challenge of overcoming the suspicions of the leaders and citizens of Nagasaki as well as prejudice from Allied troops. Though his Japanese was limited, he successfully connected with the citizens of Nagasaki through his sincerity and compassion.

For the next two years he worked with the parents and children of Nagasaki. Having seen the horrors of radiation first hand, Dr. Yamazaki became a passionate spokesperson against the use of nuclear weapons. He authored a book, Children of the Atomic Bomb, writing in conclusion: “Every decision-maker, every citizen, needs to know the human cost of nuclear warfare. I want no mistakes. I want no decisions that ignore the very particular vulnerability of children, and through the children, the vulnerability of the future of all of us.”

Few people alive today can testify to the outcomes of this part of human history based on their own life experiences. Dr. James Yamazaki continues, at age 104, to share his experiences, knowledge and ask for compassion and asks us to learn from our past.

Commemorative Coin

Honor WWII Veterans with the purchase of a Challenge Coin.

Coins are available from the Museum Store for $14.95 + shipping. To order call 509.773.3733 ext. 33 or email museumstore@maryhillmuseum.org.

Proceeds from the sale of the coins will go to the Stonehenge Memorial and Klickitat County Veterans Memorial Site Fund to be be used for maintenance and other site needs.

Sponsors & Supporters

American Legion Louis Leidl Post 116 Honor Guard
American Legion Auxiliary Post 116
Anonymous
Allyn’s Building Center
Dan Gunkel, Gunkel Orchards
Kiwanis Club of Goldendale
Klickitat County Economic Development Authority and the Klickitat County Commissioners
Klickitat County Historical Society and Members
Klickitat County Veterans Advisory Board
Goldendale Chamber of Commerce
Great Skot Productions
Jan Johansen
Jim Link
Lindhe Insurance
Maryhill Museum of Art
George Miner, Bugler
Dustin Conroy, Pioneer Survey and Engineering
Larry and Constance Olson in memory of Ray and Beth Olson
Sawyers Ace Hardware and Rental
Society of the Honor Guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Dalles Civic Auditorium
Washington State Transportation Commission
Washington State Department of Transportation
bold = significant contribution of financial support or in-kind donation

 

 

 

Committee Membership

David Barta, Chair
Skot Barker, Great Skot Productions
Mike Clough, Caretaker, Maryhill Museum of Art
Adam Fahlenkamp, Washington State Parks
Ron Ingraham, Klickitat County Historical Society
Lisa Commander, Columbia Gorge Veterans Museum
Andy Kallinen, Washington State Parks
Bill Kupchin, American Legion Evan Childs Post 87
Ed LaMotte
John Miller
Bob Moco, Trustee, Maryhill Museum of Art
Louise Ann Palermo, Curator of Education, Maryhill Museum of Art
Dana Peck, Goldendale Chamber of Commerce
Brian Thimmig, American Legion Louis Leidl Post 116
Klickitat County Commissioner David Sauter
Colleen Schafroth, Executive Director, Maryhill Museum of Art
Klickitat County Commissioner Jim Sizemore

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