The Service. The Stories. The Impact.
“This nation will remain the land of the free only as long as it is the home of the brave.”
– Elmer Davis, Journalist, 1890-1958
Sgt. Keith Clark
Army Sgt. Keith Clark wasn’t your stereotypical military man. He never rushed the enemy under a hail of gunfire, and with his black horn-rimmed glasses, he looked more professor than soldier. But as the principal bugler for the U.S. Army band, Clark served his country in a different but still critical way: he played “Taps” at President John F. Kennedy’s funeral. He had blown the haunting, 24-note melody flawlessly thousands of times before, but on this day, after waiting for hours in the cold and under unprecedented pressure, Clark uncharacteristically missed the sixth note. It should have been a disaster, but to a grieving nation, the broken sound came across as a wail, a sob, as if the bugler and his trumpet were also crying for their fallen leader. Clark’s broken rendition of Taps became one of most iconic moments of the four-day memorial. At the Military Heritage Museum, we detail Clark's story, show a video and display his uniform in tribute to the all-too-human soldier-musician who inadvertently provided the sound to match his country’s sorrow.
The Happiest Years of My Life
From the time she entered nursing school, Grace Chicken wanted nothing more than to be an Army nurse. When war broke out in 1941, she jumped at the chance to serve, first in the Army and then later in the Air Force. It was a commitment that would continue for 26 years and through three wars.
Early on in World War II, she signed up to be part of the brand-new Air Evac Group. As a flight nurse, she would tend to wounded soldiers as they were flown from Europe back to hospitals in the United States or Canada for treatment. After VE Day in May 1945, Chicken was transferred to a hospital in Hawaii, where she cared for servicemen who were wounded while fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. Just after the surrender papers were signed, Chicken flew in on the second Air Evac plane into Japan, where she picked up a load of American POWs. The patients, she recalled, “were so thankful to be going home.”
During the Korean War, she rode in on two-engine planes that landed so close to the fighting that “we almost picked people up right off the line.” During the Cold War, she took care of soldiers and their families stationed at Air Force bases throughout the U.S., including at Alaska’s Elmendorf AFB where, as director of the obstetrics ward, she once delivered eight babies in eight hours.
Like thousands of other military nurses over the centuries, Chicken risked her life on numerous occasions and in the process saved thousands of other lives. But it was no hardship, she says. She was just fulfilling her purpose.
“Those were the happiest years of my life,” says Chicken, who retired at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In 2018, she celebrated her 103rd birthday.
It's in My Mind Every Day
Julius Gervan was among 300-plus sailors aboard the USS Thatcher II as it sailed towards Okinawa in May 1944. Gervan, a master chief in charge of the forward-engine room, had already been aboard the destroyer for more than two years, surviving torpedo attacks, Halsey’s typhoon and a crash with a sister ship.
As the Thatcher drew closer to the island amidst a final Allied push to defeat the Japanese, Gervan and his shipmates were told to prepare for kamikaze attacks. It wasn’t long before a plane zeroed in on the Thatcher. “The fellows were trying to knock him down with the 20- and 40- millimeter guns, but they weren’t doing too well,” recalls Gervan. “(The pilot) let a 500-pound bomb go first and it went through the hull forward of the bridge and killed two men in there. Then he carried a 1000-pound bomb right into the back of the bridge.” The collision of plane and ship caused a massive fireball, blew a hole in the side of the Thatcher and destroyed the radio transmitter room and all power and steering. Gervan and others immediately rushed in to fight the blaze and try to save their trapped colleagues. “I said a little prayer,” Gervan says. “But we did lose an awful lot of men that night.”
Nearly one-fourth of the ship’s crew was either killed or injured. Though Gervan survived and admits that he was happy when he finally made it back home, he still suffered: His only brother, a fighter pilot, was shot down and lost over German territory in 1943, and he is still haunted by his own memories of battle. “Every day I think about it,” he states. “Why was I lucky? The other guy didn’t make it, you know.”