Hundreds of people attended the memorial and funeral of a World War II Soldier in his hometown of Troy, Indiana on March 30, 2019. Most of them never met him.
Story by: Spc. Justin Stafford
Pfc. Clifford M. Mills, a Soldier who fought with the 319th Glider Field Artillery Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, was buried 75 years after his death during Operation Market Garden in 1944. Mills was considered Missing in Action since Sept. 18, 1944, after the glider he was in crashed behind enemy lines near Wyler, Germany, until January of this year when his remains were identified by the Defense Prisoner Of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency and transferred back to his hometown on March 28.
Mills’ remains were transported from Tell City’s Zoercher-Gillick Funeral Home to Troy Cemetery in an elaborate procession consisting of local fire departments, law enforcement and motorcycles flashing red and blue lights.
As the procession made its way, it passed beneath a large American flag attached to the outstretched ladder of a firetruck. Residents of all ages lined the streets or stood in front of public buildings waving American flags or saluting as the procession passed by them.
The Purple Heart recipient was buried with full military honors provided by the 319th Field Artillery Battalion, 82nd Abn. Div. from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“In the 82nd Airborne, we walk in the footsteps of legends,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Seymour of the 319th. “With each of these homecomings, we close the gap of those still missing and come closer to fulfilling our promise to never leave a comrade behind.”
Currently, there are 72,000 Americans still unaccounted for from World War II. Seymour presented Mills’ 91-year-old brother, Robert Lee Mills, with a folded flag during the burial ceremony Saturday.
Mills was buried next to his wife, Ethel Mills, who died in 2004. She never remarried. Notably, the efforts of a 33-year-old Dutchman from the Netherlands proved unmeasurable in facilitating the positive identification and homecoming of Mills.
Nowy van Hedel was approved by a volunteer program 12 years ago, which assigned him the name of a Soldier on the Walls of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands. After over a decade of research conducted in his free time, Hedel submitted his findings to the DPAA in 2017. Scientists from the DPAA were able to make a positive identification. Hedel received the news from Mills’ family in January of this year.
“You’d get one lead and search that direction. Then you’d hit a dead end. It went on for 12 years,” said Hedel. “When I received the information from the family that there was a 100 percent match, my world was turned upside down. I couldn’t believe it.”
Hedel keeps a photograph of Mills in his living room. He also continues to help others in identifying unknown Soldiers. A rosette has been placed next to Mills’ name on the wall to indicate he has been accounted for.
“It is like a piece of closure for me,” said Hedel holding back tears, “but you also feel the pain because it’s a funeral. He died 75 years ago for our freedom.”
Extraordinary Bravery on the Streets of Fallujah
Between November 7 and 9, 2004, a remarkable thing happened in Fallujah: It rained. Throughout the preceding summer, while our rifle platoon waged a counter-insurgency in Haditha, Hit, and other Anbari backwaters, it never rained. Within the platoon we had a pool—ten bucks got you in—try your luck and pick the first day of rain. When the dust finally turned to mud all 46 of us were staged just outside the city, hunkered down in slit trenches, waiting for the assault to begin.
I don’t remember anybody collecting on the pool.
All it takes is the sight of someone sprinting along a wet crosswalk and I’m back in Fallujah and back to one street in particular: Highway Ten. Veterans of the battle each have their story of crossing Highway Ten’s expansive four lanes covered by machinegun fire, with insurgents dug into the buildings on the far side, defending this, their main line of resistance. The story of Gunnery Sergeant Ryan Shane, a Marine from my infantry battalion, has always remained close. On November 9, his rifle platoon perched on a rooftop, covering another platoon that rushed the crossing’s gauntlet. Within minutes, a slug ripped through the leg of Sergeant Lonny Wells, felling him in the open. He lay face down, blood pooling around his waist, moving just a little. Leaving his rifle behind so it wouldn’t slow him, Ryan went after Lonny.
A Marine combat cameraman captured the scene in four photographs. In the first, Ryan stands in the wet street, bent over Lonny. His 220-pound frame tugs the drag strap on Lonny’s body armor. In the second, another Marine runs to Ryan’s side, trying to help. Clumsily, the second Marine bends over Lonny while Ryan keeps pulling. The next frame was taken just as a bullet tears into Ryan’s lower back, scrambling his stomach. He’s on his heels, falling. The other Marine watches in a half sprint, heading for cover. The final frame is Ryan and Lonny, both laying face down on the street in the rain.
Lonny is dead. Ryan will survive.
The photos ran in Leatherneck Magazine—the magazine of the Marines—a month later under a simple headline: “Uncommon Valor.”
Nearly two years later, during the Al-Anbar Awakening, 50 veterans of the Fallujah Battle gathered in an auditorium in Camp Lejeune. Ryan Shane would be decorated for his actions. Since Lonny died, Ryan’s 220 pounds had shrunk to 150. After countless surgeries, he’d been medically discharged from the Corps. The toll his stomach wound had taken on his body could be seen in his atrophied frame, but it was the forced separation from the Corps he loved which left the deeper wound. You could see that in his eyes.
I sat in my uniform, a few rows back. We came to attention as the adjutant read the citation for Ryan’s Bronze Star. Our Commanding General pinned it on his chest, and ceded the floor to Ryan. He thanked his family for their care during his slow recovery. He thanked the Marines who ran to his rescue that day. Then his voice thickened. He held his stare upwards, holding it on the auditorium lights, as if speaking to a place outside that room.
“I’m finding it really hard,” he said, “to accept that my greatest achievement as a Marine, this medal, also comes from my greatest failure. I didn’t save Lonny that day.”
Afterwards, one by one, we left our seats and shook Ryan’s hand. Many of us went on to serve more deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. A battle as big as Fallujah never came along again, though there were many others like it.
In valleys, hamlets, and cities too countless to number, Ryan Shane’s words held true. Our greatest achievements were bound to our greatest failures. Just as in Fallujah, we wound up destroying many places in order to save them. Looking back through the years, this final point seems undeniable to me.
It’s old as war.
In recent months, with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham in Anbar Province, or the increased influence of the Iranian Government in Iraq’s internal affairs, quantifying whether our efforts in that country were worthy of our sacrifice seems an increasingly complex and unknowable arithmetic. Each of us has tallied the personal cost and come to a solution. As memories cloud, and in some cases burn, I imagine our solutions will change.
In hindsight, the only thing I know with complete clarity about Fallujah, the Iraq War, any war, is that achievement always couples with failure. Like a lot of guys, I learned that in the rain.
Memorial day essay by Elliot Ackerman (The News Republic).
Recruiters get Special Ops boost with vehicle training
Twenty-eight specially-wrapped trucks and trailers featuring Air Force Special Operations decals were delivered to recruiters of the 330th Recruiting Squadron at Scott Air Force Base recently.
These trucks and trailers have spray paint-style camouflage and feature several Battlefield Airmen, which will be used by special warfare recruiters around the country to increase awareness about career fields within Special Operations.
Many people may not know there are combat controllers and pararescuemen or Battlefield Airmen who perform countless rescue missions.
Because of this, it’s important to find other ways to spread the impact of their mission, said Master Sgt. Sean Christian, Headquarters Air Force Recruiting Service NCO in charge of event marketing.
“These trucks and trailers will be the first exposure a lot of people have to Special Operations,” Christian said. “The trailers that you see here are miniature activation trailers, and they’re used at events like air shows or fitness competitions.”
The trailers will hold about 13,000 pounds of equipment, including a TV, canopy, pull-up bar, jerry cans, and more. They will enable recruiters to fully engage with potential recruits at events.
To help the recruiters transport the trailers and use the trucks safely, members of the 375th Logistics Readiness Squadron ground transportation element hosted a unique training opportunity for them.
During the training, LRS Airmen familiarized recruiters with how to attach and remove the trailer, as well as how to maneuver and park the vehicle correctly.
“Obviously, this is a great opportunity for my ground transportation Airmen,” said Master Sgt. Todd Martin, 375th LRS ground transportation section chief. “Sure, it’s simple training with trucks and trailers, but they get to see the end result and the impact they’re making Air Force-wide.”
Christian added that these trucks are another step in closing the bridge between Special Operations and recruiting, ensuring the best and most qualified recruits are being put into the Special Operations pipeline.