Categotry Archives: Military


Ed McMahon


Categories: Hollywood, Military, Writers/Editors

emcmahon.jpgCol. Edward Leo Peter McMahon Jr., a legendary TV personality and Marine, died on June 23. Cause of death was not released. He was 86.

The Detroit native always wanted to be a broadcaster. In his teens, he worked the microphone as both a bingo caller and a carnival barker. But McMahon’s chance to break into show business was put on hold by World War II. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, and served as a flight instructor and test pilot. When the war ended, McMahon used the G.I. bill to study drama and speech at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. To support himself during that time, he hawked vegetable slicers on the Atlantic City boardwalk and the Midwestern state-fair circuit.

McMahon’s first broadcasting gig was in radio, but soon he turned his attentions to the up-and-coming medium of television. He played a circus clown on the show “Big Top,” hosted more than a dozen programs in Philadelphia and tackled announcing duties for the music showcase “Bandstand.” Just as the networks came calling, however, McMahon returned to active duty to serve in Korea. There he flew 85 reconnaissance missions in the Cessna OE Bird Dog. He eventually retired from the service with the rank of colonel.

After he returned home, McMahon joined “Who Do You Trust?” a game show originally hosted by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy sidekick, Charlie McCarthy. The newer version was hosted by an up-and-coming comedian named Johnny Carson, and McMahon was hired to be the show’s announcer. When Carson was offered the opportunity to take over “The Tonight Show” in 1962, McMahon went with him.

For three decades and 6,583 shows, McMahon introduced Carson with the trademark opening: “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” He would then sit on Carson’s right and serve as his sidekick. Through skits and celebrity interviews, standup routines and musical numbers, McMahon always kept the tone of the show light with his humorous commentary and hearty guffaws. And when Carson retired from the show in 1992, McMahon did as well.

Despite a talent for playing second fiddle, McMahon enjoyed standing in the spotlight. In the 1960s and 1970s, he emceed the game shows “Concentration,” “Missing Links,” “Snap Judgment” and “Who Dunnit?”. From 1983 to 1995, he hosted the amateur talent show “Star Search,” which helped launch the careers of numerous entertainers, including Britney Spears, Drew Carey, Rosie O’Donnell, LeAnn Rimes and Sinbad. McMahon co-hosted “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes” with his old friend Dick Clark, and helped raise millions during the annual “Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon.” McMahon also lent his voice and likeness to dozens of commercial advertisements, most notably as the pitchman for the American Family Publishers’ sweepstakes.

McMahon’s adventures in Hollywood were so extensive that he penned two memoirs — “For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times” (1998) and “Here’s Johnny!: My Memories of Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship” (2006) — as well as the nonfiction book “When Television was Young” (2007).

His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 7000 Hollywood Blvd.

Privately, McMahon had a reputation for being a hardworking, stand-up guy with a penchant for imbibing. He played Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, at the 1978 Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, designed his own vodka and published “Ed McMahon’s Barside Companion,” a book that offered a “blend of ’round the bar games and bets, spirited stunts, jokes and tricks.” He even became known as “Mr. Budweiser” when he served as a spokesman for that beer company.

Celebrity suited McMahon, but fortune often slipped through his fingers. The last few years of his life were spent mired in pain and financial difficulty. In 2002, McMahon sued his insurance company, alleging that he and his wife Pamela were sickened by toxic mold that had spread through their Beverly Hills house. The McMahons also blame the mold for the death of their dog, Muffin. They won their legal battle a year later and received a $7 million settlement, but the money didn’t last for very long.

A fall in 2007 caused McMahon to suffer a broken neck, which required two operations. The pain from this injury kept him from working for nearly two years, which meant the unpaid bills quickly piled up. He even faced a possible foreclosure on his home, but was allowed to remain in the residence thanks to the kindness of strangers and private investors who learned of his troubles.

In an attempt to make light of his situation, and to make extra money, McMahon appeared in a commercial with once-bankrupt rap artist MC Hammer. The ad, which aired during the 2009 Super Bowl, promoted a cash-for-gold business.

McMahon married three times and was father to six children. When asked by Larry King how he wanted to be remembered, McMahon said, “I don’t plan to have a headstone. I hope to be floating in the sea…but if I had a headstone my epitaph would be: ‘He was a good broadcaster and a great Marine!'”


Lazare Ponticelli


Categories: Military

Lazare Ponticelli, the last French veteran of World War I, died on March 12. Cause of death was not released. He was 110.
Born in 1897, Ponticelli came from a poor family that struggled to eke out an existence in northern Italy. His mother sought work in France when he was still a toddler, leaving her children in the care of neighbors. When he was nine, Ponticelli’s father and brother were killed in an accident. The boy didn’t speak of word of French, but decided to travel alone by train from Italy to France to be with his mother.
As a teenager, he cleaned chimneys and sold newspapers on the streets of Paris. When war broke out in 1914, Ponticelli felt he had to give back to his adopted country and join the fight. So at 16, he lied about his age in order to join the 1st Regiment de Marche of the French Foreign Legion.
Ponticelli served as a foot soldier, or poilus, for a year in northern France, fighting the Germans in the trenches and digging ditches to bury the dead. In 1915, the Italian Army conscripted him into their own military and forcibly escorted him to Turin to fight the Austrian Army in Tyrol. Ponticelli became a machinegunner and during one battle he suffered a shrapnel wound to the face. He refused to stop firing his weapon and seek treatment until the Austrian troops raised white cloths and surrendered. After his convalescence in Naples, Ponticelli returned to the front only to be gassed in 1918 by the Austrians.
Ponticelli returned to his adopted home in 1920, where he and two of his brothers founded “Ponticelli Freres” (“Ponticelli Brothers”), a heating and pipe company that is still in business today. Although he was too old to fight in World War II, Ponticelli became a French citizen in 1939 and joined the Resistance in 1942. He restarted his business after the war, and continued to work until retiring in 1960.
Ponticelli’s final years were spent in Le Kremlin Bicetre, a suburb of Paris. A modest man, he kept his war awards — the Croix de Buerre, the Medaille Interalliee, the Legion d’honneur and the Order of Vitttorio Veneto — hidden in a shoebox. Ponticelli never wanted a state funeral, nationwide accolades or interment in the Pantheon, but he agreed to be remembered in a simple ceremony so long as it focused on “those who died” on the battlefield.
On March 17, President Nicolas Sarkozy lead a funeral ceremony at Les Invalides, the Paris military hospice that also houses the tomb of Napoleon. The event, which honored Ponticelli and the 8.5 million other Frenchmen who fought in World War I, was followed by a simple family burial.


Bob Evans


Categories: Business, Military

bevans.jpgRestaurateur Bob Evans cooked up a recipe for success — and for great tasting sausage.
Born in Sugar Ridge, Ohio, Evans opened his first restaurant, The Malt Shop, in the 1940s, but sold the business to a friend when he enlisted in the Army. After World War II ended, he launched a 12-seat, 24-hour truck stop restaurant in Gallipolis, Ohio, to help pay the mortgage on his farm. The sign over the restaurant said it all: “No beer, just fine food.”
At the time, sausage was generally made from hog scraps. Determined to produce a better-quality sausage, Evans culled together $1,000, three hogs, 40 pounds of black pepper, 50 pounds of sage and other secret ingredients and began experimenting. Using the best parts of the hog, including the hams and tenderloins, he created a sausage that was a huge hit with the truckers who tasted it. Many would eat their breakfasts at his restaurant, then purchase 5- or 10-pound tubs of sausage to take home to their families. In response, Evans built a sausage plant on his farm and sold even more tubs to area groceries and meat markets.
In 1953, Evans joined forces with five friends and relatives to incorporate Bob Evans Farms, and purchase a sausage packing plant in Xenia, Ohio. The first Bob Evans restaurant, which was originally called The Sausage Shop, opened on the Evans’ farm in 1962. A year later, the company went public, trading on the Nasdaq under the symbol BOBE. Today, the chain of 590 red brick restaurants operates in 18 states and brings in $1.6 billion annually. Evans’ signature sausage is on every menu, along with other comfort foods like meatloaf and gravy, country-fried steaks and whole pies.
Wearing a white Stetson hat and a string tie, Evans frequently appeared in the restaurant’s early advertising, urging customers to “come on down and visit us.” Millions did so. The restaurant chain, which promotes good service and farm-fresh food in a homey environment, also operates 108 Mimi’s Cafe casual restaurants in 19 states, and sells sausage and other products in U.S. grocery stores. Bob retired in 1986, and his cousin Dan Evans took over as CEO. Dan retired in 2000; today, no Evans family members are involved with the company.
A “man of the soil” who was passionate about 4-H and other farm-related programs, Evans spent nearly 40 years preserving wildlife on his farm. In 2003, he and his wife Jewell donated 20 horses and $75,000 to West Virginia University’s Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences to promote the creation of an undergraduate degree minor in equine management.
His conservation efforts earned him three honors from the National Wildlife Federation. He also received the Ohio Wildlife Conservationist of the Year and the Ohio Governor’s Award, and was inducted into both the Ohio State Fair Hall of Fame and the 4-H Hall of Fame.
Evans died on June 21 of complications from pneumonia. He was 89.


Dwight Wilson

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Categories: Military, Musicians

dwilson.jpgPercy “Dwight” Wilson, a Canadian World War I veteran, died on May 9. Cause of death was not released. He was 106.
Wilson was born on Feb. 26, 1901 in Vienna, a hamlet outside of London, Ontario. When World War I began, he felt honor-bound to serve his country and fight against the Germans. After finishing the 10th grade, Wilson trained as a mounted bugler in the local militia. In 1916, he lied about his age to enlist in the 69th Artillery Battery in Toronto as a bugler-trumpeter. At 15, he was a full three years shy of the legal minimum.
Wilson did his basic training in Camp Niagara and Camp Petawawa in Ontario before getting shipped overseas. During the grueling two-week voyage aboard the R.M.S. Grampian, the teen tried to calm his seasickness by singing for the other members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Once he arrived in England, Wilson’s superiors quickly realized he was underage. Instead of sending him to the front lines in France, they ordered Wilson to dig trenches in Dover. However, his trumpeting skills were put to good use; each morning he’d rouse his fellow soldiers at sunrise with “Reveille,” and each evening he’d repeat the performance to announce “lights out.” Out of the 600,000+ Canadians who fought in World War I, more than 69,000 of them died on the battlefields of Europe, and 172,000 were wounded.
In 1917, Wilson was discharged and sent back to Canada for being too young. He re-enlisted in the 69th Battery but was discharged again a year later. When World War II started in the late 1930s, Wilson served as a captain in Stratford’s 7th Perth Regiment Reserves. He offered to re-enlist in the service but was deemed too old for active duty. For his willingness to serve his country, and his repeated efforts to do so, Wilson received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal and the McCrae Medallion.
Wilson was studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto when he met singer and pianist Eleanor Dean. They wed in 1927 and remained together until her death in 1993 at the age 94. The couple had two sons, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Wilson began working for Bell Canada in 1919 and remained with the telecommunications company until his retirement in 1966. (He collected a pension for 41 years.) Wilson also sang baritone in the Bell vocal group and performed in an inaugural broadcast when the Canadian radio network was being established. In his spare time, he enjoyed reading, singing and following the Toronto Blue Jays and Maple Leafs.
With Wilson’s death, John Babcock is now the last surviving Canadian veteran of the First World War. Babcock, a 106-year-old naturalized American citizen living in Spokane, Wash., was recently offered the option of having a state funeral with full honors when he dies. He respectfully declined the honor.


Wally Schirra

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Categories: Extraordinary People, Military, Scientists

wshirra.jpgWalter Marty “Wally” Schirra Jr., the only astronaut who flew in three of the nation’s pioneering space programs (Mercury, Gemini and Apollo), died on May 3 from a heart attack. He was 84.
Born in Hackensack, N.J., Schirra was raised by a pair of barnstormers. His father, who was an officer in the Army Signal Corps, flew bombing and reconnaissance missions over Germany in World War I, and later performed stunts in a bi-plane at county fairs and air circuses. His mother sometimes performed wing-walking stunts during these shows. Although Schirra was only 13 years old when he first took the controls of his father’s plane, he knew flying would be a major part of his future. Schirra graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1945 and earned his wings in 1948. During the Korean War, he flew 90 missions and brought down two enemy planes. Upon his return to the states, Schirra completed his coursework at Safety Officers School (University of Southern California) in 1957 and graduated from the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School in 1958. A year later, he began a rigorous training program to become one of the world’s first astronauts.
Seven men were chosen from a pool of 110 candidates to become pilots for America’s first space flight program, the Mercury 7 project. Schirra was a member of that elite group, along with Gordon Cooper, Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Donald “Deke” Slayton. Schirra piloted the fifth Mercury flight on the Sigma 7, which orbited the Earth six times over nine hours in 1962. He served as backup command pilot for the Gemini 3 mission and commanded the history-making Gemini 6 flight in 1965. During the Gemini 6 mission, the crew made the first non-docking rendezvous with the orbiting Gemini 7 spacecraft — and drank the first cup of coffee in space.
Schirra’s final mission in 1968 involved commanding Apollo 7, the first manned flight of the Apollo program. During the course of the 11-day mission, the crew made 163 orbits, provided the first televised pictures from an American spacecraft and helped qualify the spacecraft for later moon missions. With Schirra’s death, Glenn and Carpenter are the last remaining survivors of the original Mercury astronauts. The trio were featured in the 1979 book, “The Right Stuff,” by Tom Wolfe, and in the 1983 film adaptation of the same name. Actor Lance Henriksen portrayed Schirra in the movie.
In 1969, Schirra retired from the Navy as a captain and left NASA, having logged 295 hours and 15 minutes in space. After exiting the space program, he worked as an analyst for CBS News and became president of Regency Investors Inc., a financial company based in Denver. Schirra spent several years participating in various other business ventures before opening his own consultancy, Schirra Enterprises, in 1979. Five years later, he helped found the Mercury Seven Foundation (now the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation), which creates college scholarships for science and engineering students. Schirra published his memoirs, “Schirra’s Space,” in 1988 and co-authored the 2005 book, “The Real Space Cowboys,” with Ed Buckbee, a former NASA public affairs officer and the first executive director of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. He also became a celebrity spokesperson for Actifed, a cold medicine he used during the Apollo 7 mission.
Schirra received numerous honors, awards and commendations during the course of his military and space careers. He attained 3 honorary doctorate degrees: one in Astronautical Engineering from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, one in science from USC and one in astronautics from N.J.I.T. He earned three Air Medals, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, a U.S. Navy Distinguished Service Medal, a Kitty Hawk Award, a Great American Award, a Golden Key Award and a Haley Astronautic Award. Schirra was also inducted into the Aerospace Hall of Fame, the International Aviation Hall of Fame, the International Space Hall of Fame, the National Aviation Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. In 2005, he was named a NASA Ambassador of Exploration and presented with a moon rock in his name.
Although he was a hardworking and witty fellow, Schirra also had a reputation as a prankster. During his Mercury 7 flight, he smuggled a corned beef sandwich onboard inside his space suit to share with his crew. His most famous practical joke, however, occurred in 1965. Ten days before Christmas, Schirra and Stafford were approaching the West Coast when they reported seeing an unidentified flying object coming straight at them. A few minutes later, Stafford and Schirra began playing “Jingle Bells” on a harmonica and a string of bells, and declared the UFO to be Santa Claus.
“It was impossible to know Wally, even to meet him, without realizing at once that he was a man who relished the lighter side of life, the puns and jokes and pranks that can enliven a gathering. But this was a distraction from the true nature of the man. His record as a pioneering space pilot shows the real stuff of which he was made. We who have inherited today’s space program will always be in his debt,” Mike Griffin, NASA Administrator, stated.
Listen to a Remembrance From NPR
Watch a Tribute Video From Foolish Earthling Productions

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