On Friday, ten American heroes received Quilts of Valor for their service to the country, honoring the sacrifices they made. A Quilt of Valor is a one-and-only lifetime award given to United States soldiers and veterans in all branches of service.
The following are their stories:
Vernon Bernhard Johnson served in the United Stated Navy during World War ll.
Vernon enlisted in the United States Navy on March 11, 1942. He reported to basic training at the San Diego Naval training Station in San Diego, Calif. on April 9, 1942. On satisfactory completion of his basic training, he then reported to Iowa State College in Ames, Iowa for a sixteen week course at the new Navy training school. Vernon trained as electrical mate, and graduated on September 25, 1942. Vernon returned to San Diego, and attended Gyro Compass School at the US Navy air station. He graduated on January 8, 1043. Vernon served two tours of duty overseas in the South Pacific during World War ll. He served one year on the USS Titania, a cargo ship, and eighteen months on the invasion troop ship, USS George Clymer, both in the South Pacific.
Vernon achieved the rank of Electrician’s mate 1st Class and Chief. He was awarded the Asiatic Pacific ribbon with four battle stars for action at Bougainville, Guam, Saipan, and Okinawa. He also was awarded the Philippine Liberation ribbon with a bronze star for action at Leyte. Vernon was discharged from the US Navy on October 18, 1045. He relocated to Fairbury, Nebraska in November, 1945 with his late wife, Elaine. He is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Joseph “Pep” Vocelka served in the Navy/Marines.
The Navy and Marines were combined at that time. He enlisted in the Navy in 1942 with his brother Frank. He took his basic training at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He was made a corpsman- the Navy’s name for a medic – and was assigned to the 23rd Marine Regiment. He fought in the Marshal Islands, Saipan and Tinian in the two years before Iwo Jima by the Japanese. He suffered shrapnel wounds at Saipan, but he bandaged himself up and returned immediately to the battle because “his men needed him.”
Pep came ashore at Yellow Beach at Iwo Jima early on Feb. 19, 1945 in the second wave of artillery attacks on Iwo Jima by the Japanese. He fought in Iwo Jima until the United States won the battle. He is an Iwo Jima survivor.
For his service to his country, Pep received two Presidential Citations, one Navy Citation, four Combat Stars, one Good Conduct Medal and a Purple Heart. He was nominated for a Bronze Star, but wants to go home, so he told them to “Keep it.”
After being honorably discharged in Jan. 1946, he returned to Omaha to run Vocelka’s Bar with his father and brother.
Carmon L. Wheatcraft served in the United States Army Infantry in World War II for three years.
Carmon was drafted in March 1943 and sent to Camp Blanding, Fla., where he took a test along with 4,000 other recruits. Carmon was one of only 200 who passed, so he ended up at Bowdin College in Bunswick, Maine. He was sent to the Pacific Theater and was put on a ship to New Hebrides, south of the equator. He joined the 37th Buckeye Division. While in the Philippines, he and his fellow soldiers liberated all of the prisoners on the Island of Leyte. In Appari, his unit received word there was a group of Japanese soldiers who wanted to surrender. By this time, Carmon was Acting Sargent for the machine gunners. Their group was ambushed and he was the only survivor. He was wounded, shot through the arm and stomach. He was taken to the hospital in Manilla and later to Bushnell General Hospital in Brigham City, Utah. He was discharged on Feb. 7, 1946.
Carmon received much recognition for his service in World War II, including a Bronze Campaign Star, a Combat Infantryman Badge, Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Victor Ribbon, Expert Infantry Award and a Purple Heart. He served as the State Commander of the American Legion in 1989 and has remained active in the Legion.
After his discharge, he returned to Jansen, married his late wife, Joan, and worked at the grocery store. Later, he bought the grocery store and several other businesses in Jansen and was also a rural mail carrier.
Jerry Likens entered the U.S. Navy during his senior year of high school at Fairbury.
He became an “O2” at the Naval Air Station in Lincoln. That required him to report one weekend a month and go on a two-week cruise in the summers. The cruises, however, did not send him to sea, as that was a Navy Air unit. He did get to fly wherever he went. He was following in his family’s footsteps, who had a history of Navy careers.
In January 1956, Jerry’s brother Bob told him there was an opening for aviation storekeeper at Buckley Naval Air Station in Denver, Colo., where Bob was stationed at the time. Jerry applied for the position and got it. He began three years of active duty there. It was between the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, so he was not required to “take up arms,” but would have been among the first to go if conflict had started. He was a member of the honor guard and took part in many funeral services, as well as performing occasionally at public functions, such as the Denver Bears baseball games.
In February 1959, he was discharged from active duty and brought his family (his wife Bobbie and his children Tony and Francie) home to Fairbury. He was on inactive reserve status until January 1961, but was never called back up.
Gerry Gaston entered the U.S. Army, leaving Nebraska for basic training in Fort Hood, Texas.
From there he left for Germany, traveling by ship on a 10-day trek across stormy seas. After landing in Germany, Gerry spent a lot of time in gun training. He served a total of six years in the Army, achieving the rank of Sargent. He served in a time of peace, though the threat of the Vietnam War was looming on the horizon. Gerry kept in touch with a few fellow soldiers after he went back home.
Peggy Novotny enlisted in the Army on Feb. 5, 1945.
She was stationed in Denver, Colo., in the 61st Women’s Army Corps. Peggy was assigned to Ftizsimons General Hospital where she served as a Medical Technician 409. Peggy gained the rank of Tech 5.
Peggy was awarded the Women’s Army Corps Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. She was honorably discharged on Dec. 24, 1945, what she describes as “The best Christmas gift.” She is also registered at the Women in Military Service Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.
Arthur M. Smith served in the Navy during World War II, entering the service on November 11, 1942.
He spent 38 months in Hawaii as an Aviation Metalsmith, First Class. He was honorably discharged on Jan. 16, 1946. He returned to Jansen and took ownership of Smitty’s.
Loren Ebke went to the local courthouse in 1954 telling people that he wanted to be put at the top of the list to be drafted into the United States Army. He entered service on May 13, 1954, being shipped to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
He was stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., taking an Infantry Radio Maintenance Course. Later he was stationed at Anchorage, Alaska until May 2, 1956.
Loren went to Alaska on the U.S.S. Fredrick Funston. While there, he was a radio operator, working three different shifts.
Loren enjoyed the Air Force Base and was able to look out his bunk window to see the Northern Lights. He has been a member of the American Legion for 34 years.
Isaac Kroeker enlisted in the Army in 1945, after his high school graduation at the age of 18.
He was stationed at Fort Riley for eight weeks of boot camp, moving on to Fort Leonard and spending the last months of his training at Fort Hood. Just before his training was over, World War II came to an end. He spent just over two years in the Army.
Francis Nutsch entered the Army in October, 1944.
He left from San Francisco, Calif., for the Cobrella Mountains of the Philippines, 10 miles east of Manilla. He spent roughly six weeks in the mountains. After more training, Francis was sent to Japan, landing in NaGoya, Japan. He served on guard duty and then was placed on special detail, occupying the country. However, Francis learned that his father was very ill in July of 1946, and he left the service.
Francis earned the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge and the Asiatic Pacific Battle Badge.
(Stories Gathered From The Quilt Of Valor Presentations)