Categotry Archives: Military

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William Evan Allan

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Categories: Military

William Evan Allan, the last Australian veteran to actively serve in World War I and World War II, died on Oct. 17. Cause of death was not released. He was 106.
Born in 1899, Allan enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy when he was only 14 years old. From 1915 to 1918, Allan served as an able seaman on the HMAS Encounter, escorting troop convoys and tracking German merchant boats and warships. Once the Great War ended, he remained in the service for more than three decades, rising through the ranks and serving on the Navy’s Coronation Contingent for the coronation of King George VI in 1937.
Allan survived the Spanish flu pandemic, which killed more than two dozen of his shipmates, and nearly drowned in the North Atlantic in 1928 when he fell overboard during a storm. Although the captain of his ship was unwilling to lower a rowboat and possibly lose more of his men, he ordered the crew to save Allan by tossing a life preserver and a rope ladder into the water.
“I am like a cat,” Allan once said. “I’ve had several lives.”
The Melbourne resident met Ita “Gwen” Blakely in 1924 when his ship docked in Vancouver, Canada. The couple exchanged letters for 17 years before marrying on the SS Mariposa in 1941. They were honeymooning on Hawaii when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Allan then served aboard the HMAS Australia during World War II.
Allan retired as a lieutenant in 1947 and returned to Australia. He spent the rest of his life raising a family on a small farm in Somerville, Victoria. Gwen died in 1981.
Last week, Allan was honored with a state funeral.
Listen to an Interview With Allan

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Robert Hanson

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Categories: Military

Robert Hanson, the last surviving crew member of the famed “Memphis Belle,” died on Oct. 1 of congestive heart failure. He was 85.
The native of Walla Walla, Wash., joined the military in 1941. After completing his training, Hanson was assigned to be the radio operator on a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress known as the “Memphis Belle.” That aircraft made history for flying 148 hours and dropping more than 60 tons of bombs on the enemy.
Despite suffering some close calls in battle, the Belle was the first 8th Air Force World War II bomber to complete 25 combat missions — many in daylight — over Europe and still return to the United States intact. All of the Belle’s major parts were replaced at least once during its two-year tour. Four of its crew died in combat.
Hanson, who kept the bomber’s logbook, was almost killed on a mission. A bullet pierced the plane’s walls and headed right for his head. At that exact moment, Hanson sneezed and the bullet hit the logbook instead. Hanson also wrote his girlfriend’s name (Irene) on the wall of the Belle so the military would know who to contact in case he died. The couple later wed, and remained married for 63 years.
The Belle’s final mission was completed on May 17, 1943. Upon its triumphant return to the U.S., the crew embarked on a 30-city tour to boost morale and help sell war bonds. The exploits of the Belle gained renewed attention in 1990 when Hollywood produced a feature film about the bomber and her crew. The preserved remains of the actual plane were declared a national historic treasure by the Air Force. They’re currently in the process of being moved to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
Hanson returned to Washington state after the war and worked as a salesman for a food distribution company. Friends say he would often end his phone conversations with the phrase “dit-dit-dit-dah-dit-dah,” which is how radio operators sign off in Morse code.

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Butch Voris

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Categories: Military

Roy Marlin “Butch” Voris, a decorated World War II flying ace and one of the original Blue Angels, died on Aug. 9. Cause of death was not released. He was 86.
Raised in Santa Cruz, Calif., Voris graduated from Salinas Junior College and was considering a career as a mortician when he saw a recruiting poster for the Navy. He enlisted in 1941 and was commissioned as an ensign and naval aviator a year later. Voris spent World War II fighting in the Pacific theater, where he earned the status of “ace” for shooting down at least eight Japanese fighter planes. He was also one of four fighter pilots selected to conduct experimental night fighter operations to intercept and destroy enemy bombers at Tarawa.
After the war ended, Adm. Chester Nimitz handpicked the 6-foot, 5-inch pilot to organize a flight team that would demonstrate precision fighter maneuvers at Navy air shows. As Officer-in-Charge and Flight Leader of “The Blue Angels,” Voris trained the team in secret in preparation for its first public performance in 1946 at the Southeastern Air Exposition in Jacksonville, Fla. He restarted the team in the 1950s after his pilots returned from combat duty in the Korean War.
Voris survived several accidents during his 33-year Navy career, including a midair collision during a Blue Angels show in Corpus Christi, Texas. A colleague was killed in the 1952 crash, but Voris managed to land his badly damaged plane. After retiring from the service as a captain in 1963, Voris became an executive at Grumman Aircraft and developed the F-14 Tomcat fighter and NASA’s Lunar Explorer Module.
Voris was inducted into the Navy Aviation Hall of Fame and the International Air Show Hall of Fame. He received three Distinguished Flying Crosses, 11 Air Medals, three Presidential Unit Citations and a Purple Heart. His life story was chronicled in the 2004 biography, “First Blue: The Story of World War II Ace Butch Voris and the Creation of the Blue Angels” by Robert K. Wilcox.
In 1993, Voris was honored by the Air Force as one of 20 people who made significant contributions to the world of aviation. An aircraft displayed outside Jacksonville Naval Air Station, and the passenger terminal there, are both named in his honor.
View Voris’ Flight Logs

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Charles R. Thomson

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Categories: Law, Military

Charles Renfrew Thomson, a federal firearms and explosives investigator, died on July 3 of cardiovascular collapse. He was 61.
Born in Manhattan and raised in Amesbury, Mass., Thomson was a descendant of Josiah Bartlett, a founding father and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Thomson earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Dartmouth College, then served in the U.S. Army for three years. He attained the rank of captain and was put in charge of a helicopter gunship platoon in Vietnam. After the war, Thomson worked surveillance along the border between East and West Germany to monitor for the possible deployment of nuclear warheads.
In 1971, Thomson joined the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as an undercover field agent in Boston. He worked his way up to a supervisory position in Philadelphia, led the A.T.F.’s first arson task force, solved a string of bombing attacks on 10 abortion clinics and handled money laundering, tax fraud and financial security cases as the bureau’s liaison to Assistant Deputy Treasury Secretary for Law Enforcement William Nickerson.
From 1989 to 1993, Thomson ran the A.T.F.’s New York field office, which was located right across the street from the World Trade Center complex. Just as he was leaving work on Feb. 26, 1993, Thomson heard a massive explosion. Needless to say, he was one of the first investigators on the scene when a bomb planted inside a van exploded in the underground parking garage below Tower One. Six people died in that attack.
Thomson’s A.T.F. team in New York joined forces with local, state and federal law enforcement personnel to search the debris for clues to the bombers’ identities. Their dogged investigation led to the 1994 convictions of Mohammed Salameh, Nidal Ayyad, Mahmud Abouhalima and Ahmad Ajaj. All four men received life sentences. In 1995, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a cleric who preached at mosques in Brooklyn and Jersey City, was sentenced to life in prison for masterminding the bombing.
After the World Trade Center attack, Thomson was promoted to associate director for law enforcement at A.T.F. headquarters in Washington D.C., a position that gave him purview over all field officers in five headquarters divisions. Two years later, he assumed oversight of the bureau’s investigation into the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, for which he earned the Presidential Rank Award.
Thomson returned to Massachusetts as director and special agent in charge of the Boston division in 1998, and retired in 1999. His final years were spent working as an antiterrorism, security and crisis management consultant.

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Frances Langford

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Categories: Actors, Hollywood, Military, Musicians

flangford.jpgFrances Langford Evinrude Stuart, the radio, stage and screen star who entertained the troops on Bob Hope’s USO tours, died on July 11. Cause of death was not released. She was 91.
Born in Lakeland, Fla., Langford was just a teenager when bandleader Rudy Vallee heard her sing. Vallee offered her a guest spot on his radio program and helped her get a start in New York. At 18, she made her Broadway debut in the 1931 musical “Here Goes the Bride.”
Langford’s beauty and talent soon took her to Hollywood, where she launched a successful radio, TV and film career. She became a household name playing Blanche, Don Ameche’s insufferable wife, on the popular radio comedy “The Bickersons,” and appeared in more than 30 movies, including “Broadway Melody,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Born to Dance.” Langford played herself in her final film, “The Glenn Miller Story,” starring Jimmy Stewart. On television, she starred in the variety programs “Frances Langford Presents” (1959) and “The Frances Langford Show” (1960).
Langford was singing on Hope’s “Pepsodent Show” in 1941 when he produced his first military program at March Field in Riverside, Calif. Once Hope decided to take the show overseas to boost wartime morale, Langford joined his troupe. She sang in military bases and hospitals in Great Britain, Italy, North Africa, the South Pacific, Korea and Vietnam. Known as the “Sweetheart of the Fighting Fronts,” Langford wooed thousands of servicemen with songs like “Embraceable You” and “I’m in the Mood for Love.” She also wrote about her war experiences in the newspaper column, “Purple Heart Diary.”
Langford’s first husband was Jon Hall, an actor who appeared in the films “The Hurricane” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”; they divorced in 1954. A year later, she married her second husband, outboard motor heir Ralph Evinrude. The couple donated more than a million dollars to the Martin Memorial Medical Center and built a Polynesian-themed restaurant and marina in South Florida. Their union lasted until Evinrude’s death in 1986.
Langford wed her third husband, Harold Cutliff Stuart, an attorney and former assistant secretary of the Air Force under Harry Truman, in 1994. The Stuarts spent the past 10 years traveling aboard her 110-foot yacht, fishing and supporting various medical and environmental causes. In 2002, Langford was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.
When asked by Larry King how she’d like to be remembered, Langford said: “Please remember me as a simple person, who loved this country, its people and especially its military servicemen and women. Our servicemen needed us and we were there. I will always consider it one of the greatest honors of my life to have entertained the troops during the war years with Bob Hope and the USO.”
Listen to Langford on “The Bickersons”
Listen to a Tribute From WQCS
Listen to a Tribute From NPR

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