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Two more locals received Medal of Honor

Last week we told you about three of the five local recipients of the Medal of Honor who’d lived in our area. Here are the rest.

PS: If you know of other recipients who live or lived in the area, let us know!

Sgt. Bernard P. Bell: On Dec. 18, 1944, Bell and eight buddies found themselves facing 150 Germans in front of a small-town schoolhouse in France.

The West Virginia native, two weeks shy of his 33rd birthday, and his fellow GIs held them off.

Bell surprised two guards at the door and took them prisoner without firing a shot. He found more Germans in the cellar; threatening them with a hand grenade, he got 26 to surrender. He would kill more than 20 soldiers and capture 33.

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Bernard Bell

After the war, Bell moved to North Palm Beach and worked at the Veterans Administration office in West Palm Beach. He moved in the 1960s to Albuquerque, N.M., and died in 1971.

Sgt. Ronald E. Rosser: When his older brother was cut down by a machine gun in the freezing cold of Korea, he signed up.

On Jan. 12, 1952, his company assaulted hills in the area of Ponggil-li, but found itself pinned down by 2,000 soldiers.

Rosser, 22, from the coal mines of eastern Ohio, turned around to find everyone else dead or wounded. Armed with a carbine rifle and a single grenade, he dashed toward the enemy installation. He would kill 17 soldiers in minutes.

In 1960, Rosser took over the Army recruiting office in West Palm Beach. He later worked for the Veterans Administration and the Postal Service, taught junior high school in West Palm Beach, served as Haverhill police chief and was a construction foreman.

He retired to his family home in Ohio in 1980. This Veterans Day, Rosser, now 81, was keynote speaker at ceremonies in Mansfield, Ohio. We spoke to him Nov. 16, the day President Obama gave the first medal since Vietnam not to be presented posthumously.

“To me, always it was the fact that a handful of young men who were with me at a difficult time thought I was worthy of it,” Rosser said. “I get a lot of honors even today. I always accept them in the name of … the men who were with me that day. They have as much right to the medal as I do.”

For more information on the honor visit the website of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

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Ronald E. Rosser, wearing his Medal of Honor, sits with his then-wife Mary Catherine and daughter Pamela Sue, around 1961 or 1962. (Photo provided to The Palm Beach Post)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg December 23, 2010 at 10:17 am.

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Palm Beach Post’s Pulitzer Prize is 40

Forty years ago this week, this newspaper won its first and, so far, only Pulitzer Prize. It was for feature photography, for Dallas Kinney’s photographs from the series, Migration to Misery.

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Kinney (above) and reporter Kent Pollock documented the hardships of migrant workers who struggled in the fields from North Carolina to the Glades.

“Shocked would be a bad word,” Pollock recently said of the conditions he reported.

“What I saw was an opportunity to speak to people that know what Palm Beach is like and, without even saying so, contrast this other lifestyle within spitting distance,” Pollock said.

The Palm Beach Post, acquired only a year earlier by Cox Enterprises, was heavily criticized for the eight-day series, published in October 1969. Critics said it sensationalized conditions. Readers dropped subscriptions.

And some of those written about expressed bitterness when they saw pictures of Kinney and Pollock celebrating with champagne while people’s lives in the Glades were unchanged.

“That still hurts,” Kinney said recently. But, he said, “I wanted that community to have new eyes as far as who their neighbors in the Glades were.”

Kinney left the Post to document the lives of American Indians, then went to the Philadelphia Inquirer, returned briefly to the Post, ran a weekly in Sanibel, worked for the Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia and ran a Christian communications business in Mesa, Ariz. He now is a lecturer and consultant in Dahlonega, Ga., north of Atlanta.

Pollock went to the Philadelphia Inquirer, owned a small California weekly, ran a chain of weeklies, and eventually went to the Sacramento Bee, where at one point he oversaw some 200 people. He’s now a political consultant and a journalism professor at Sierra College in Rocklin in Northern California.

Now, most would agree, conditions are far better, but for many, still not acceptable.

“Sadly, it’s an occupation built for exploitation. That’s the sad fact. But we do like our cheap vegetables,” Kinney said.

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Reporter Kent Pollock pours champagne on photographer Dallas Kinney in celebration of Kinney winning a Pulitzer Prize. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg May 6, 2010 at 8:49 am.

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Humble men, high honors: Five of America’s quiet heros recall the courageous deeds that earned them the Medal of Honor

By Eliot Kleinberg
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

David McCampbell shot down 34 Japanese planes. Joe McCarthy crossed 75 yards of cross fire on Iwo Jima.

A half-century has passed since World War II monopolized America’s consciousness. Many heroes have emerged in those decades, then slipped back to obscurity. They live their lives out of the spotlight, shunning attention but still proud of their accomplishments.

In all of America, only 205 people are alive today who earned this country’s highest military decoration: the Medal of Honor.

Ninety-eight received the decoration for action in World War II. Two of them live in Palm Beach County. Two others had lived here. So did one recipient from the Korean conflict. On this Veterans Day, here are their stories.

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David McCampbell (third from left) was one of the first four recipients of Florida’s Congressional Medal of Honor license plate in 1986. Others pictured are Jean Jeago of Tallahassee representing her father John Mihalowski of Largo, James Howard of Belleair Bluffs, and James Hendrix of Davenport. Photo courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection.

CAPT. DAVID MCCAMPBELL: ‘ACE OF ACES’

The walls of the David McCampbell terminal at Palm Beach International Airport and the walls of McCampbell’s Lake Worth home are covered with portraits and photographs of him in his Grumman F6F Hellcat. In one, the outside of his cockpit is adorned with rows of Japanese battle flags, each representing a downed enemy plane.

In a seven-month span, he recorded 34 kills– the most of any U.S. Navy flier. His nine kills in 11/2 hours set a record in the history of aerial warfare for a single mission.

“I brag about the planes I shot down, but I don’t brag about the number of people I killed,” McCampbell, 82, said recently. Since then, he said, “all I did was try to forget all of it.”

On June 19, 1944, Air Group 15 challenged 80 Japanese carrier-based aircraft bearing down on the U.S. fleet. McCampbell alone shot down seven Zeros, and he and his group routed the enemy fliers.

On Oct. 24 of that year, McCampbell destroyed nine “Zekes” and made two probable kills. He and his sole comrade– who had run out of ammunition — somehow managed to disarray the remaining 51, who peeled off before they reached the fleet.

After the war, McCampbell commanded the naval air training center in Jacksonville and the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard and served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, helping draw up contingency invasion plans for Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis.

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David McCampbell and Palm Beach artist Muriel Kaplan pose with Kaplan’s bust of McCampbell at the Norton Museum in 1990. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

His 35-year Navy career ended with retirement in 1964. He dabbled in real estate in the Bahamas before settling down in Hypoluxo and later in his current Lake Worth home. His name was added to the airport’s new terminal when it opened in 1988.

CAPT. JOE MCCARTHY: A DASH ACROSS A KILLING FIELD

Firefighter Joseph Jeremiah McCarthy worked at the busiest hook-and- ladder company in Chicago. But no burning building posed more of a challenge than the little hill McCarthy charged on Feb. 21, 1945, when he was a captain in the Marine Corps Reserves.

Two days earlier, about 60,000 Marines had landed on an 8-square-mile piece of rock– half the size of McCarthy’s current hometown of Delray Beach — called Iwo Jima.

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Joe McCarthy, who received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on Iwo Jima in WWII (Palm Beach Post file photo)

“I was scared all the time,” the 80-year-old past president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society recalled recently. “Any man tells you he wasn’t scared was an imbecile. But you dealt with it.”

It took the Americans 36 days to take Iwo Jima. Nearly 6,000 of them and all but about a thousand of the island’s 22,000 defenders died.

The commander of the Iwo Jima campaign called the taking of Hill 382 — referred to as “the meat grinder” by the Marines who took it– “the turning point of the Pacific war.”

With about 300 Japanese defending the hill, five assaults had failed, and hundreds of Marines had died. The Americans could see the faces of the Japanese soldiers firing through slits from inside two pillboxes on a ridge.

It was only 75 yards away.

McCarthy got a team together. “Let’s go,” he said. “Let’s get it.”

He was 32 years old. He weighed 190 pounds.

“I had all those young punks,” he recalled. “They called me the old man. But they couldn’t keep up with me running like hell.”

McCarthy and the others zigzagged across the field, stopping to dive to the ground or into divots formed by bombs.

McCarthy and the others came up to the pillbox; he threw three hand grenades through the slits. About 20 soldiers inside died. Seeing two soldiers fleeing the installation, he shot both dead.

The group then ran to a second pillbox and knocked that out as well, killing another 22. McCarthy spotted a soldier aiming at one of his men, Sgt. Thomas F. McCarthy (no relation.)

“McCarthy grabbed his rifle . . . wrenched it out of his hands and shot him with it,” Thomas McCarthy wrote later.

McCarthy was hit by mortar fire three days later — his third set of injuries in the war– and was moved to Guam to recover.

After the war, McCarthy returned to the fire department, where he organized the nation’s first emergency rescue and ambulance service. He retired in 1973.

“I would hope and pray there never be another Medal of Honor issued,” he said. “I hope and pray there’s never any more wars. But we’ve got to remain strong.”

MAJ. GEN. A. A. VANDEGRIFT: ‘HELL, YES. WHY NOT?’

On Aug. 7, 1942, 11,000 Marines landed at Guadalcanal and the rest of the Solomon Islands, northeast of Australia. It was America’s first amphibious assault of the war and its first offensive action in the Pacific.

The six-month campaign would be the longest of the Pacific war. More than 5,000 Americans and 20,000 Japanese died.

Troops fought bad weather, rough terrain, disease and an incessant air, land and sea bombardment. Even as they slogged through swamps and tried to distinguish friend from foe in dim light and rainstorms, they were seeing
firsthand the Japanese code of bushido– death before surrender.

Once, someone asked the 55-year-old Marine major general if he could hold the island.

“Hell, yes,” Alexander Archer Vandegrift said. “Why not?”

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Maj. Gen. A.A. Vandegrift (rear of jeep, left) riding through Guadalcanal jungle in November 1942 (Palm Beach Post file photo)

Vandegrift earned the Medal of Honor for his leadership while he led the occupation and defense of the island, from Aug. 7 to Dec. 9, 1942.

Control of the island seesawed for months until the Japanese were finally ousted in February 1943. The victory was welcome news during a grim time when the German and Japanese juggernauts appeared unstoppable.

The Virginia native became the Corps’ 18th commandant in January 1944. In March 1945 he became the first Marine officer to attain four-star rank. He retired in 1947.

In 1959, he moved to Delray Beach. Accompanied by two aides, his eyesight taken by illness, he stayed out of the spotlight, but continued as a trusted adviser to the Corps, friends say.

Vandegrift died in 1973 at 86.

SGT. BERNARD P. BELL: ASSAULT ON A SCHOOLHOUSE

Six months after D-Day, on Dec. 18, 1944, U.S. Army Sgt. Bernard Pious Bell and eight of his buddies found themselves facing 150 Germans in front of a small-town schoolhouse in Mittelwihr, France.

The West Virginia native– two weeks shy of his 33rd birthday– and his fellow GIs somehow held them off.

While his men covered him, Bell dashed toward the schoolhouse, surprised two guards at the door and took them prisoner without firing a shot. He found more Germans in the cellar; threatening them with a hand grenade, he got 26 to surrender.

The next day, the Germans pounded the house with artillery and mortar fire. Bell repaired damaged radio equipment under heavy small arms fire and ran through cross fire to update his commander.

At dawn the next day, a German tank poured so much fire it virtually demolished the building’s upper stories. Bell wormed his way to the exposed second floor and directed fire on tanks and soldiers.

Later, he stood beside an Allied tank and helped aim it toward a wall which shielded hiding Germans. He directed machine gunners to mow down the Germans as they dashed past the gaps.

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Bernard Bell (Palm Beach Post file photo)

Bell killed more than 20 soldiers and captured 33.

“He was utterly fearless,” recalled Bob Gans of Los Angeles, who fought with Bell in Europe. “I was scared all the time and most everybody was. But Bell was the kind of guy who would push himself past us. I don’t know how many times we would be laying there with the bullets flying and he’d yell, `Let’s go. Let’s do it.’ ”

After the war, Bell moved to North Palm Beach and worked at the Veterans Administration office in West Palm Beach. He moved in the 1960s to Albuquerque, N.M., and later was a patient in a veterans hospital there.

Bell died in January 1971.

SGT. RONALD E. ROSSER: ‘THE ANGRY MAN’

When Ron Rosser’s older brother was cut down by a machine gun in the freezing cold of Korea, Ron decided to “get even.” The 19-year-old from the coal mines of eastern Ohio, born on the day of the stock market crash in 1929, asked for and got a spot right on the U.S. Army’s front lines.

On Jan. 12, 1952, Company L of the 38th Infantry Regiment assaulted hills in the area of Ponggil-li, north of the fiercely fought border between the two Koreas. The regiment found itself pinned down by the machine gun, artillery and mortar fire of 2,000 soldiers.

Rosser, 22, an observer in the lead platoon, was in the front lines when they came under fire from 200 soldiers in all directions. He turned around to find everyone else dead or wounded. He handed an assistant his radio and, armed only with a carbine rifle at his hip and a single grenade, dashed toward the enemy installation.

“I could hear the Reds chattering and even smell the garlic on their breaths,” he said in a 1965 interview. “There was only one way to go so I took off for the hilltop shouting like an Apache.”

Witnesses later told Medal of Honor officials Rosser was like an angry man encased in an invisible, bulletproof shield.

“Suddenly I knew nothing could stop me,” Rosser said.

At the first bunker, he killed all eight soldiers inside with a burst of fire. He reached the top of the hill and found himself straddling a trench above and between two Chinese soldiers. He shot one between the eyes, whirled, and shot the other in the chest before either could act.

He then dove into the trench, surprising the soldiers inside. He killed five and wounded a sixth. He threw his grenade into a bunker; as two soldiers emerged, he shot them to death.

Rosser, who was shot in the shoulder and hand, made several trips to get ammunition or call fellow grunts to follow him as he made attack after attack. “They all got cut down around me,” Rosser recalled recently.

On May 30, 1958, two unknown soldiers– from World War II and Korea — were interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Among the honor bearers was Ron Rosser.

In 1960, Rosser took over the Army recruiting office in West Palm Beach. “All you have to do is freeze for two years in Korea and you look for a warm place,” he said of his move to South Florida.

Rosser left the Army in 1968. He worked for the Veterans Administration and the Postal Service, taught junior high school in West Palm Beach, served as Haverhill police chief and was a construction foreman. He moved to his
family home in Ohio in 1980.

“These people were my enemy,” Rosser recalled. “I didn’t think about them being fathers and sons and husbands. I just knocked down uniforms. They were trying to kill me. (For) every one I killed, I got another breath.”

Note: This story originally appeared in The Palm Beach Post, Wednesday, November 11, 1992, on page 1A.

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Posted in Archives November 11, 1992 at 9:35 am.

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