The Liberty News


The Liberty News was the Eastern North Carolina Military website that offered its readership loads of pertinent information and stories about their fellow service men and women.
The content below is from the site's 2006 archived pages.

Articles from July & August 2006


World War II Association Relives History

August 08,2006
A group of men huddle around a campfire at night. Judging by the uniforms they wear, they’re troops from another era, wearing wool coats and covers. They’re drinking beer and listening to swing music from a Steinberg radio, 1934 vintage.

But flip open the back of the boxy radio and you’ll find a modern boom box inside. That’s because the men are World War II re-enactors, part of a local group that has been fighting in the woods of eastern North Carolina for several months now.

Stephen Easley, a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant, began the World War II Association when gas prices got too high for him to travel to New York and Pennsylvania for the battles there. He’d been doing Civil War re-enactments for 20 years.

“You wait for ‘the moment,’ where just for an instant you’re back in 1864,” said Easley. But he wanted to try something new, was intrigued by the large-scale World War II re-enactments that brought in the big equipment, even Amtraks and aircraft.

As a nod to his ancestry — his family can be traced back to 1520s Saxony — Easley bought a German “kit,” full uniform and equipment. Obergefreiter — the German rank of a senior lance corporal — Otto Juhl was born.

As a nod to his ancestry — his family can be traced back to 1520s Saxony — Easley bought a German “kit,” full uniform and equipment. Obergefreiter — the German rank of a senior lance corporal — Otto Juhl was born.

“I’ll see a German soldier throwing grenades and yelling German, running through the woods, and there are no billboards or buildings to distract me,” said Maj. Chris Ketcherside, an active duty Marine with the 26th MEU.

But on those re-enactment weekends, Ketcherside is an American G.I. from his uncle’s generation. Or maybe he’s German SS.

“I’ll be Allied or German, depending on what I want to be or who we need that day,” said Ketcherside.

For re-enactments, the group uses reproduction weapons that fire blanks; the grenades only pop out smoke.

The World War II Association also holds Airsoft skirmishes, firing soft plastic BBs. Uniforms are more relaxed for Airsoft events, and are a low-cost way to get involved in the group.

For a proper re-enactment, though, authenticity is key. Easley’s German kit cost about $1,200, and includes a herringbone twill coat and a wool coat, and the one he wears depends on the season. On the coats, every detail, including stitching and rank insignia, is authentic, down to the wool socks with no elastic.

A black wound badge has to be earned — usually by a minor accident sustained during a re-enactment, like scrapes or a bloody nose — and general infantry assault badges can only be worn after going through three major events wearing a full kit.

If captured, Otto Juhl carries with him identification papers, a folded card with his black and white picture and unit stamp. An enemy combatant would likely confiscate his trench knife, with “duty and honor overall” engraved in German on it.

Easley’s kit is so detailed that he even has a reproduction Red Cross chocolate tin from the era. It’s not such a stretch from his active duty days, as a shore party man in Cambodia and Saigon in the 1970s, when he toted a knapsack and used metal canteens that dated to the World War II era. When he puts on his "authentic" outfit, he does leave on his wedding band and a sterling ring that was a 25th anniversary gift from his wife. She had found their gorgeous sterling silver rings in stock & had their wedding date engraved on the inside commemorating their 25 years of being married. He had been really surprised and was still touched by her gesture whenever he looked at the ring. When he proposed to her so long ago he had not been able to afford a real diamond ring and had instead opted for a sterling silver band with a zirconia gemstone. Her 25th anniversary gift to him of a sterling silver ring was a sentimental nod to that engagement ring.

Wearing the heavy uniforms and carrying cumbersome M-1 rifles gives Ketcherside a better appreciation for those troops’ discomforts.

Ketcherside, who wants to be a history teacher after he retires from the Corps, will tell his students about re-enacting the combat lives of World War II troops.

“I marched for 20 miles that day, and it wasn’t like walking in the mall; the boots were heavy and uncomfortable,” said Ketcherside. “I’ve got a better feel for the experience than I’d get from a book or movie.”

Ketcherside had three uncles who served during World War II, including one who was a Merchant Marine and had two ships sunk underneath him.

“Depending on what you were carrying decided where you slept,” said Ketcherside. Troops slept on deck if they were carrying vehicles, because the ship would sink faster if it was torpedoed; they slept in their berthing areas if the ship carried clothes; if the ship hauled ammo, it didn’t matter where they slept.

“They were way tough,” said Ketcherside. Another of his uncles fought in the Battle of the Bulge with the U.S. Army.

So did Easley — at least in a re-enactment.

“It was cold you couldn’t even load your rifle,” said Easley.



August 08,2006

Ralph L. Gale
Retired Gunnery Sergeant
United States Marine Corps
Length of Service: 25 years
Current occupation: Retired music teacher, instrument repairman
Main billet: Musician — trombonist and assistant band director; also chief wireman in communications company.
Resides in: Jacksonville
Family: Wife, Sharon; daughters, Dalina, Teresa, and Vickie; sons Lee and Rick; seven grandchildren; four great-grandchildren.
What do you like most about the area? The heat. For the last 15 years in the Marine Corps, I ran five miles a day. I enjoyed running the most when it’s 95 degrees, 95 percent humidity, and no wind.
Originally from: Born in Florida, but I consider myself from Jacksonville, N.C.
Favorite military movie: All John Wayne movies, but ‘Sands of Iwo Jima’ is the best.
Favorite author: Jesus Christ.
Hobbies: Gardening and playing in the orchestra at church, listening to Dixieland jazz and big band music.
What person in history would you most like to meet? Trumpet players Harry James and Wynton Marsalis; Duke Ellington.
Whom do you admire the most? My wife. I had five heart bypasses, and she stepped in and took over everything — the cooking, the outside work, taking care of me — for six years. She has done miracles with me.
Your biggest joy: My wife.
Toughest thing you’ve ever had to do: Boot camp.
Why did you join the military? It was instilled in my head by my beautiful Christian mother that I was born in the United States and I owed something to my country. When I joined the Marine Corps, I found a home and stayed there.
When you joined, for what weren’t you prepared? I wasn’t prepared for the way I was treated in boot camp. By the time they got through with me, they’d made me a new man and a good Marine.
The most important thing the military taught you was: Discipline.
Of the people you met during your military career, who was most memorable? A Staff Sergeant at the Navy base at Treasure Island. If he hadn’t stayed on my tail, I might not have retired. He got me squared away.
If you could be in charge for a day, what would you change about the military? Nothing.
What would you change about your military career? When a guy does what he wants to do for his whole life, you can’t complain. I wouldn’t change anything.
When you got out of the military, for what weren’t you prepared? I wasn’t prepared for how civilians treat each other. They had a hard time getting along with each other.
Do you belong to any veterans’ organizations? Disabled American Veterans, Marine Corps Association, and Fleet Reserve Association.
What would you like people to know about those organizations? They’d do just about anything for you. They need our support.


Marines learn from Vietnam’s CAP

August 01,2006

Enemies that fade into civilian crowds, using hospitals and schools as hideouts and watching every move you make from the shadows. How do American troops prevail against them?
By learning to tell apart the good guys from the bad. By winning the good guys to your side.
“It’s so important in an insurgent environment to live with the people, work with the people, to win them over,” said retired Marine Master Sgt. John Cooney. “You can’t win without it.”
Cooney might have been talking about the ongoing challenges in Iraq, but he was drawing on his own experience in Vietnam in the mid- and late-1960s.
Back then, he was a squad leader in the innovative Combined Action Program, a Marine Corps initiative that lasted six years in Vietnam.
On July 28, Cooney and fellow CAP Marine, retired Gunnery Sgt. Richard Ray, shared their wisdom with about 40 members of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion 6th Marine Regiment. The generations met at Sywanyks Scarlet & Gold Traditions in Jacksonville.
The young Marines will likely deploy to the Middle East in the future, so the veterans wanted to tell the company’s leaders what it was like to live in one-story tin buildings in a Vietnamese village, patrolling the jungle side by side with Popular Force soldiers from South Vietnam.
“A PF was a farmer by day, who picks up a weapon at night to protect the village,” said Cooney. “He’d go out with a straw hat on, a hoe over his shoulder and a gun in his pocket. But a good PF could sniff out Viet Cong.”
Knowing who you can trust, and how to win them over to your side, was key to CAP in Vietnam. The Army’s top brass initially disliked the program, Cooney said, but Marine general officers, particularly future Commandant Gen. Krulak, had faith in it.
“If you stay on a fire base 10 miles away, patrol two hours and then go away, the (bad guys) will come back in and pick up people,” said Cooney. “They’ll kill mayors and the police chiefs, because they’re animals. The Viet Cong were no different than the insurgents in Iraq. They care nothing about human life.”
Cooney said CAP’s premise —work side by side with your friends to root out a common enemy — has been practiced by Marines in campaigns in Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Nicaragua.
Americans are practicing it today in parts of Iraq, particularly in cities bordering Syria, where they live among the locals and teach Iraqi soldiers.
Back in Vietnam, “the CAP classroom was the bush, and the VC were our training aids,” said Cooney.
Though CAP has its merits — it was a “miracle program” Ray said; one of his favorite tours because he got to know the people he was protecting — it can be pretty dangerous.
In 1966, Cooney took some well-deserved R&R.; It was a decision that probably saved his life.
While he was gone, his squad patrolled at night. They made the fatal mistake of taking the same trail two nights in a row.
The enemy had watched them, were waiting for them that second night, and inflicted so many casualties, Cooney remembers, “that when I got back, my squad was gone, wiped out.”
“Never set a routine in an insurgent situation,” Cooney told the young Marines at Sywanyks.
Cooney’s story about taking back a village hospital from the bad guys — so dangerous its doctors and nurses refused to stay overnight — recalls the coalition fight to root out bad guys from a hospital in An Nasiriyah in 2003. There, the enemy hid behind ailing civilians to fire on American troops.
Cooney and Ray said CAP was a great success in Vietnam, so much that between Cooney’s tours in 1966 and 1969, the program expanded from four to 115 villages. The U.S. Army eventually came on board with CAP in 1970, Cooney said.
Cultivating friendships began to pay off for the Americans. Vietnamese villagers, from farmers to professionals to political leaders, began giving intelligence to U.S. troops.
Only the Tet Offensive, and the negative press in its aftermath, changed the mood in America so decisively that the war would be lost politically, Cooney said.
Today, U.S. troops take up the charge in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Capt. Kyle Sloan served in Iraq last year, and has no doubt that CAP’s legacy is at work today.
“You can walk down the street and kids will come up and ask for candy,” said Sloan, who is commander of Alpha Company. “We are affecting that generation; we’re winning their trust.”
Sloan appreciated the older veterans’ advice: be prepared to make hard decisions in country, win over the locals.
“They (the troops) hear from us time and again, so it’s always good to have someone else re-emphasize that,” Sloan said. “It’s neat to see how it translates, 40 years later.”
1st Sgt. Scott Hamm agreed.
“It’s our appreciation of history that sets the Marine Corps apart,” he said.


‘A Marine for the Last 66 years of his Life’

August 08,2006
Anne Clark

Maurice Updegrave came ashore on the islands of Roi and Namur in 1944, a rifleman with the mighty Fourth Marine Division. In securing Roi-Namur, the Fourth Marine Division became the first to go directly into combat from the United States.
It would be nearly two years before Maurice saw his wife again.
The mail was so sporadic that Maurice wouldn’t learn for two months about the birth of his daughter, Maurie. The couple’s son, Ken, was a toddler.
“When they put mailboxes in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I’ll put in a letter on the way,” Eleanor remembered him teasing.
She learned to be patient, watched the five-minute newsreels at the movie theater to see what her husband was going through. She watched the flag raising on Iwo Jima and thought, thank God.
The Fourth Division was at Iwo Jima too, after securing Saipan and Tinian.
The sand on Iwo Jima, smoky-colored volcanic ash, was so soft that Maurice’s boots sank with every step.
Three days into the brutal fight there, Maurice took shrapnel to the back of his head and was evacuated. That injury, and a shoulder wound he received at Saipan, earned him the Purple Heart.
Many years later, Maurice would join Beirut Memorial Chapter 642 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. The chapter members remembered their brother by presenting his widow with a Bible in a cedar case, and a Purple Heart medallion.
“Thank you for your service,” retired Sgt. Maj. Mac McGee told Eleanor. “We’re here for you.” It was a fitting tribute for a man who was eulogized by family as “a Marine — for the last 66 years of his life.”
“It was wonderful,” said Eleanor of McGee’s visit. “I can’t even express it in words.”
Maurice brought home scoops of sand from each of the four islands captured by the Fourth Marine Division during the Pacific campaign, but kept his memories mostly private.
“He never talked about it until we went to the reunion,” said Eleanor, referring to the Fourth Division’s Alpha Company reunions. The couple was attending this year’s gathering in Colorado when Maurice began to feel badly.
A day later, he fell into a coma, passing away May 27. The couple had been married 64 years.
They’d first met at a dance at the old Pine Lodge in Jacksonville, then reconnected one day at the front gate of what’s now New River.
Maurice was standing sentry duty, Eleanor was taking her brother to the base dispensary. She didn’t have a base sticker, so she had to wait at the guard house. A year later, they were married.
They were reunited during the war in August 1945, when Maurice came home on emergency leave after his father’s death.
Maurice was scheduled to go into Tokyo, but then the U.S. ended the war with two atomic bombs.
“It was his homecoming, and we didn’t even know it,” said Eleanor.
Maurice was later commissioned an officer and had tours in Korea, Guam, Okinawa, and the Marine Barracks 8th and I.
The year he retired as a Major, in 1971, Maurice and Eleanor took a cross-country road trip.
Pulling a camper behind them, they began in Key West and drove west to Alaska, where they went salmon fishing and nearly got caught in an October blizzard.
“I’ve been lost in every state,” said Eleanor. “I was adventurous, as long as he was with me.”


Access, Tricare Prices Top Retiree Meeting

July 25,2006
The Daily News/Anne ClarkNavy Capt. Mark Olesen, left, meets retired Army CWO3 Bob Bryant and wife Brunhilde at a military retiree health care seminar last week. The quarterly town hall meeting is held at Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital. Olesen took command of the hospital in June.

Retirees and their families make up about 20 percent of the patients enrolled at Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital and its clinics, but as more military choose to retire in the Jacksonville area, more are hoping to get into the base hospital system.
“I’m well pleased with the services we get here at the hospital,” said retired Army CW03 Bob Bryant. “I prefer the service in the hospital.”
Bryant and several dozen seniors were able to take their compliments and questions directly to the new hospital commander, Navy Capt. Mark Olesen, at a retiree health care town hall meeting July 20.
“Their concern is access,” said Olesen, after personally meeting retirees as they filed out of the hospital classrooms. “We’re going to take a hard look; we need to have a substantial minority (of patients) to be our seasoned citizens.”
As more retire locally, and as active duty service members get married and start families, the hospital will be pressed on both sides to take increasing numbers of patients.
Already there are roughly five times as many military dependents enrolled at the hospital and its clinics as there are enrolled active duty service members.
But Olesen is confident in the hospital’s ability to handle the pace and support deploying Marine units.
II MEF will rotate back to Iraq next year, taking with them Olesen’s predecessor, Capt. Richard Welton, as the II MEF surgeon.
“We’ll see as many people as we can,” said Olesen. “We’re committed to doing what we can with the resources we have.”
Those resources will undergo some changes in the near future — the completion of state-of-the-art labor and delivery suites; renovation of the hospital’s emergency room to put the most critical patients on a fast track to care; and the opening of a refill pharmacy in the Marine Corps’ Main Exchange.
At the meeting, the retirees were especially interested in how they buy medicine and how much they pay for it.
Some retirees were frustrated at having to treat expired refills as new prescriptions; Olesen said that DoD requires anyone on chronic medication to see their doctor regularly.
A DoD proposal to raise the price of Tricare premiums for military retirees under the age of 65 stalled in Congress this year, but the issue will likely be reconsidered in 2007.
“Veterans are worried about the price increases in Tricare enrollment fees, deductibles, and prescriptions,” said Bob Angeli, the district veteran service officer for the North Carolina Division of Veteran Affairs.
He drove up from Wilmington to attend the town hall meeting and meet Olesen.
Pete Demonch, contracting officer of the managed care department of the hospital, addressed anyone about to turn 65, who automatically lose enrollment in Tricare Prime, Standard, or Extra with that birthday:
“You must enroll in Medicare Part D to get Tricare For Life,” said Demonch, referring to the lifetime care only recently guaranteed to retired service members. Pharmacy benefits don’t change under Medicare Part D, Demonch added.
At his last duty station, Olesen served as the deputy commander at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, where he worked with Marines who had been wounded in combat.
“It’s the first time I worked so closely with Marines,” said Olesen. “I had a high level of admiration for their commitment to the mission and their positive view of the future.”
But he clearly values the older generation, the veterans and spouses who have well earned their medical care for life.
“You are an essential part of this community,” Olesen told the retirees. “We have a commitment to you.”