Monroe County thankful for its veterans

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Eagle Scout candidate Sam Thomas of Troop 323 places a marker at the grave of World War I veteran Willie Bieber on Sunday, Veterans Day. (Kermit Constantine photo)

On Nov. 11, 1918, World War I, known at the time as the “war to end all wars,” ended with an armistice. 

One hundred years to the day, services around Monroe County honored local military veterans who fought in that war, and all the ones that came before or since. 

In Columbia, Veterans Day services took place at the Post 581 American Legion Hall. 

The ceremony began with a welcome from Post 581 Commander Greg Smith, the posting of the colors, the Pledge of Allegiance, the playing of the National Anthem and “America the Beautiful” and a prayer.

Then, Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson gave opening remarks, focusing on the ways the city honors veterans, including the recent veterans parade. 

Retired Navy Cmdr. Gary Boo of Columbia gave a speech about his family’s service in the armed forces as part of the Columbia American Legion Post 581’s Veterans Day program. (James “Tal” Moss photo)

“Any day that we have a chance to thank the veterans, it’s a great day,” he said. 

Auxiliary Unit 581 President Janet Janson spoke about how the Legion helps veterans and how the definition of a veteran should be “someone who served and whose life was forever touched by an experience that was performed with honor.”

Next, Retired Navy Cmdr. Gary Boo of Columbia gave a speech about his family’s service in the Armed Forces.

He can trace his family’s service back to the Revolutionary War on his mother’s side and the Civil War on his father’s side.

He focused, however, on the service of his uncle, Willis Boo, and father, Frank Boo. 

Both men served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. 

Willis, who was president of the senior class at Waterloo High School in 1933, served in the Battle of Okinawa. 

He also worked as a clerk to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and top-secret letter carrier for President Harry S. Truman.  

Willis retired form the Navy after 20 years with the rank of lieutenant commander. He went on to work for the Pentagon and the St. Louis Police Department. He died when he was 70. 

“Willis is kind of an unsung hero because he and his wife never had any children, so it’s up to me to carry on his legacy,” Gary, who served for 33 years, said. 

Gary’s father’s service saw him participate in two historic battles of WWII, the Battle of the Coral Sea and Battle of the Midway. 

The former battle was the first in which two aircraft carriers fought each other. 

After America won that battle, Frank’s ship, the USS Yorktown, went in for repairs. Those were supposed to take several weeks, but within 48 hours it was at sea again to fight in the Battle of the Midway. 

During that confrontation, Frank’s ship was hit with three bombs, forcing the admiral to transfer its sailors to another vessel. 

Frank worked alongside the admiral, however, so he went aboard a smaller boat with him to travel to the nearby friendly ship.

“I was scared to death,” he wrote in a speech read by Gary. “I knew if the Japanese fighter saw us, the pilot would have known there must have been some pretty important people on board to make such a trip in the middle of the battle.”  

He got safely aboard the other ship, but returned the next day with volunteers to see if the listing Yorktown could be salvaged.

“Going onboard her was like going onboard a ghost ship,”  Frank wrote. “Everything was still. The only sounds heard were the lapping of waves against the deck. It was dark because the power supply was dead. The decks were slippery because of oil and water.”

It looked as if the ship could be saved, but then it and a ship adjacent to it were each struck by two torpedoes. 

That sealed the vessel’s fate. On June 7, 1942, it sank with Frank and his crew about 1,000 feet away.

Frank retired from the Navy after 20 years with the rank of chief warrant officer 2. 

In Waterloo, three programs honored local veterans.

The first took place Thursday night at Waterloo High School. 

The city of Waterloo, American Legion Post 747, Metzger-Crook VFW Post 6504, Waterloo Community Unit School District 5, Gibault Catholic High School and Waterloo Park District hosted the event. 

Leaders and students from both schools gave opening remarks. The combined concert choirs of Waterloo High School and Gibault performed patriotic music like the National Anthem, service tribute songs and “God Bless America.” 

Pastor David Eckstadt of New Life Church in Waterloo provided both an opening prayer and benediction.

Air Force Col. Joseph R. Meyer, who serves as Vice Commander of the 375th Air Mobility Wing at Scott Air Force Base, was the guest speaker.  He traced the history of veterans’ contributions to our nation in his remarks. 

After Meyer’s speech, 55 Waterloo veterans who served between 1990 and 2000 were honored by receiving framed certificates thanking them for their service. One of those recipients was State Senator Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo).

Waterloo High School student Abby Gray and Gibault Catholic High School’s Grace Floerke then read tributes to the assembled veterans. 

The ceremony concluded with a performance of taps by Ryan Brandt and Russel Wolf and the retiring of the colors. 

On Sunday, there was a wreath laying ceremony at the Veterans Memorial in Waterloo’s Lakeview Park at 11 a.m. 

Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith gave opening remarks. At 11 a.m., he led those assembled in the ringing of bells 21 times to commemorate the armistice. 

Waterloo alderman and American Legion vice commander Clyde Heller gave the opening prayer. 

VFW Post 6504 Senior Vice Commander Leroy Trost, American Legion Post 747 Commander Roy J. May and Waterloo Park District Board President Joann Harlin all gave remarks of remembrance and thanks.

Finally, Sunday afternoon there was a dedication at the Waterloo City Cemetery for Sam Thomas’ Eagle Scout project. 

Thomas identified 43 graves of WWI soldiers buried in the City of Waterloo and Ss. Peter & Paul Cemeteries. 

With the assistance from several contributors, all grave sites of WWI soldiers were marked. The new markers will provide easy identification for future generations as the headstones are becoming harder to read. 

The dedication began with the advancing of the colors, Pledge of Allegiance led by Thomas, welcome comments by Smith and an opening prayer by Pastor Steve Neil of the First Baptist Church of Waterloo. 

Guest speakers were Lt. Col Stan Paregin of the 932nd Airlift Wing, Scott AFB, Jean Jung of the Monroe County Genealogical Society, May, Trost and Troop 323 Scoutmaster John Durrer.

The dedication concluded with remarks by Thomas, a gun salute by VFW Post 6504 members, Wolf performing taps and the retiring of the colors. 

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