"A Pilgrimage"

by

Kenneth Tipper

Recently I visited the long-awaited memorial to those Americans who served their country inWorld War II, dedicated to what author Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation”. Naturally his books (he wrote three about the same subject), were all about the American service men and women, but by inference, all of us who served in that war could well be included in that category. The memorial, on the famous Mall in Washington, D.C., is a grand spectacle, and when I entered the area I was pretty awed by its grandeur, all marble and with a lovely pool and fountain in the center.

All the major battles of the war has its own memorial, and quotations from many of the world leaders appear all round the grounds about the end of the war. All 50 states of the country have their own monument – my wife Norah and I had our picture taken in front of the one dedicated to our adopted state, Florida. I was very surprised, after I had dried the tears in my eyes which appeared as soon as I stepped on to those hallowed grounds, that there was an inscription in marble with the words, “The Murmansk Run”. Naturally, I had to have my picture taken in front of that one!. If you have read my story about HMS Punjabi you will know what I mean!

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Ken pictured at Ocala Veterans Park- Florida, having just been the guide for yet another group of visitors.

Young people were taking pictures of old men wearing hats bearing the sign, “World War II Veteran” , so that hopefully is a sign that gradually we oldsters are starting to get the recognition that we deserve for what we did so long ago. Even though the memorial is strictly for Americans who served in WWII, I finally got my own name entered on the register at the memorial. Names are entered in touch-screen computers and when I entered my name all my service details came up on the screen. Talk about a thrill – dare I guess that I just may be the only ex-RN chap to be so honoured! Email Ken Tipper

Reaching out across The Pond

Webmaster reproduces here an article written by Ken Tipper who lives in Ocala Florida USA., Ken is a Royal Navy veteran and a survivor of the Sinking of HMS Punjabi. He is a huge supporter of this website and emails webmaster most days, there is a close bond between all veterans wherever they might be living.

Veterans Park a Community Treasure by Ken Tipper


It’s a place where anyone can go to stroll reverently among the many thousands of etched bricks, which bear the names of veterans who have served their country in time of war and peace, and to view the benches and colorful plaques that were sponsored by families, veterans’ groups, and community organizations. And it’s the place where, five days a week, veteran volunteers show up to staff the office from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., to conduct tours for the general public, and to sell those bricks, benches, and plaques which are mute testimony to the service of so many. It’s the Ocala/Marion County Veterans Park, which for those of our readers who have never been, is located at the corner of Fort King Street and 25th Avenue.

There are many stories hidden in the roster of volunteers who faithfully show up each day to serve their stint, and in between chores to while away the time reminiscing about those long-ago days when they were young, and when they answered the call to arms. Office Manager Sara Fitzgerald, a retired Major in the USAF Nursing Corps, whose countless hours of volunteering for the past four years bear testimony to her dedication to the park, is proud of her regular roster of volunteers, and also of those veterans who can always be counted on to fill in, and who show up to help out in special events at the park.

Among those “regulars” is Wayne Riebow, who as a Fire Control 3rd Class member of a gun crew on the U.S.S Missouri, was at his battle station four decks above the ship’s quarterdeck when Gen. Douglas MacArthur presided over the surrender of the Japanese in Tokyo Harbor. Known as the “Mighty Mo”, the battleship is now a memorial in Hawaii to all those who served on her. Then there is Dick Merrill, who bore a charmed life in Korea serving in the Army. Hit in the foot by a sniper while a forward observer, he spent only 10 days at an aid station before going back to his unit. Four days after returning to the line, Dick’s radioman stepped on to the trip wire of a “Bouncing Betty” anti-personnel mine, and Dick and another man took the full brunt of the explosion. Hit in the left side, legs, and back, Dick spent the next three months in hospital in Japan.

Second to none, in the number of hours spent at the park, is Dewey Roberson, who served in the Air Force in the Pacific in World War II. Dewey has been involved in the park’s evolution since the park’s driving force, Tommy Needham, a Seabee in World War II, and a former County Commissioner, first conceived the idea of this tribute to the area’s veterans. Dewey will tell you about the countless hours spent by Tommy and his band of volunteers who literally built the first phases of the park with the help of jail inmates and with the wonderful donations of in-kind and cash contributions from all segments of the community. A visible example of community involvement is the park office itself, which was built by the Marion County Home Builders Association, and which replaced the old shack that served as headquarters for the park’s formative years.

A volunteer for many years, Don Hankey is a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer who, among other postings, served on aircraft carriers as a flight controller. And of particular interest to regular volunteer LeRoy Strawder at the park is the impressive granite memorial to our local military group, the 351st Military Police, which on its return from Desert Storm was accorded a great welcome home, in the form of a parade that ended at the park. LeRoy was a Corporal on active duty with the 351st. He is also Commander of American Legion Post 27. Officer Manager Fitzgerald’s partner staffing the office on Mondays is Terry Crider, who was a Communications Technician 2nd Class in the Navy during the Korean War.

Rounding out the regular roster, George Wood was a Staff Sgt. in the Air Force during the Korean War. He spent part of his eight years in the service on an ice island known as “T3”, that floated around the North Pole. The Russians had a base on the opposite side of the island and, though it seems hard to believe, according to George the two countries claimed the island six months each every year. George is such a great guy that we tend to believe him!

There are far too many names of all those who have been important figures in the development of this community treasure to record here. Suffice to say that they are appreciated beyond measure. A plaque installed in the park on July 4, 2001, records that as of that date volunteers had donated 20,000 hours, and contains details of the value of donations of money and in-kind contributions to the park. In the six years since then, it is very likely that volunteers have at least doubled that figure in donations of their time.

Veterans are quick to tell you that the park is a community park, for the use of all citizens, and they welcome anyone to visit so that they can tell the stories that abound along the park’s serene walkways, and in the Medal Of Honor Plaza. They are proud of being a vital part of this beautiful area of our city, and are always willing to help visitors fill out an application for an etched brick to add to the 5,600 already there. Come and see us!

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Latest News From Ocala - September 2010

Saturday, August 20, 2005, was a red letter day for many Marion County, Florida, veterans, for it was on that day that they saw the result of their labours when the Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park was commissioned. For one man in particular it was especially memorable, since his dream of building a monument to the county’s veterans was now a reality. Tommy Needham, who served in the Seabees (Construction Battalion) during WWII in Alaska and the Pacific, first came up with the idea of a veterans park after he had visited such memorials around the U.S.

A man of action, who had served on the County Commission for 12 years, Needham set about raising money and material donations from local residents and businesses, and gathered round him a group of veterans who would supply the initial labor to start construction. Work progressed over the years to the point when the Marion County Commission funded the final phase of the park to the tune of some 435,000 dollars. Sadly, Needham, who became a friend of mine after I became a volunteer at the park several years ago, passed away recently, but was able to enjoy the fruits of his labors and those of his friends for some four years.

More than 6,000 etched bricks,130 granite plaques, and 140 granite benches bear witness to the valor and service of local veterans, and it is my honour to have six of those bricks commemorating my family’s service in the Royal Navy, British Army, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Marines.

Each quarter, at the Veterans Park, there is held a reading of the names of those local veterans who have passed on during the previous three months. The next reading, at 10 a.m. on October 2, will have a special meaning for me, since I have gathered together a group of WWII veterans to read those names. Two of them were in the Battle of the Bulge, one was on a destroyer sunk by Kamikazes in the Pacific, one was on the USS Missouri when the Japanese surrendered to Gen. MacArthur, one was in the Merchant Marine, and me.

Keith’s wonderful offer to include our park on his outstanding website is very much appreciated, and I hope that our contribution will be of interest and spark some communication across the “Pond” in the future.

Latest News From Ocala - March 2011

I had a letter in the March issue of “Navy News” and there was another from a chap in St. Augustine, which is about 2 hours north of us. He is a Brit, and a member of the navy League in St. Augustine. He was inviting RN ships to visit St. Augustine when they are in port at Mayport, Jacksonville. Upshot is that I am going to be a guest of the Navy League there!

 


These pictures are of the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii, sent to Ken Tipper by a visitor to the Veterans Park in Ocala, Florida, where Ken is a volunteer. The Arizona was among the many ships sunk by the Japanese during their infamous attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941. That cowardly attack of course resulted in the U.S. entering the war as allies with Britain. The wreck of the Arizona continues to leak fuel oil at the Memorial, and some of its superstructure is visible to visitors. The names of all those who died on the battleship are inscribed at the memorial.

 
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