Heroes & Patriots, Not "Losers" & "Suckers": Remarkable Stories From the U.S. Military of Bravery, Love, Loss, Heroism & Trailblazing by Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead
In September of 2020, The Atlantic published an article titled Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are "Losers" and "Suckers" by Jeffrey Goldberg, the publication’s Editor in Chief. Goldberg, a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting, asserts that “the president has repeatedly disparaged the intelligence of service members, and asked that wounded veterans be kept out of military parades,” according to multiple sources.
Goldberg references Trump’s canceling a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018: “In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, ‘Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.’ In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 Marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as ‘suckers’ for getting killed.”
The author also reminds readers that while running for the Republican nomination for president, Trump had “expressed contempt for the war record of late Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, saying, ‘He’s not a war hero ... I like people who weren’t captured.’” Goldberg contends that “Trump’s understanding of heroism has not evolved since he became president.”
Unsurprisingly, The Atlantic article received a great deal of attention from the media. I was personally drawn to the response of everyday American citizens. Countless family members of active duty service members and veterans took to social media to pay tribute to their loved ones. Every military branch was represented, the diversity of our military was clear and their service dates ranged from WWII through today. Each story was unique, yet every post had something in common: each included “not a loser” or “not a sucker.” Instead, many family members emphasized that their parent, child, partner, aunt, uncle, sibling, grandparent is a hero, a patriot.
These social media tributes reminded me of the members of my family who have served our country, in particular my father, father-in-law and niece. The posts inspired me to call my dad and ask him about his time in Vietnam. He’s told my siblings and me bits and pieces over the years but we hadn’t discussed his service in some time, and there were questions I wanted to ask. My father is 72 years old and we are living in uncertain times; if we don’t take the time now to tell loved ones how we feel and ask them the questions we’ve been wanting to ask, when will we?
My father, Kurt D. Gardinier, was raised by a single mom in a small agricultural community in upstate New York. He turned 17 in June of 1965 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in July. He served from 1965 to 1969, including approximately one year at sea, in the Gulf of Tonkin in the Vietnam waters.
Photo: Kurt. D. Gardinier
He was selected for and graduated from Radioman “A” School. Subsequently, my father was selected for Cryptography School and ultimately given Top Secret Crypto Clearance. He served as a Radioman 3rd Class (E4).
My dad lost his close friend, Edward Kopek, during Vietnam. Edward stepped on a landmine – twice. The first time his injuries landed him in the hospital, though he was treated and able to return to duty. One week later, however, a mine claimed his life.
When I was a kid, my family took a trip to Washington, D.C. I have no memory of museums or historic buildings, what we did for fun or what my little brother did to get in trouble. What I do remember, vividly, is visiting the Vietnam War Memorial. I’m sure I was awed by the vastness of the memorial and by the sheer number of service member names on “The Wall.” But I don’t remember that. What I do remember is looking for the name of my dad’s childhood friend. When we found it, we used paper and pencil to make a “rubbing” of Edward Kopek’s name. I’ll never forget it. I saw my dad differently that day, as someone who had been through something profound, something that must have changed him in ways I’d never understand.
After speaking with my dad and seeing countless stories about our military in response to The Atlantic article, I felt inspired to share the stories. I asked people – family, friends and strangers – if they’d like to be included in this article and was amazed that not a single person said no; they were clearly happy to honor their loved ones’ service and to share their stories with a larger audience. Some simply shared the basics with me, while others shared remarkable stories of bravery, love, loss, heroism and trailblazing. I am humbled to be able to share them with you. I’d like to thank all the family members for giving me the opportunity and honor to do so. I hope I do them justice.
Lt. Warren "Wally" E. Amphlett
Lt. Warren “Wally” E. Amphlett enlisted in the Army Air Force at the age of 19. He flew 53 missions over Europe and Japan as a B-24 Bomber Pilot with the 98th Bomb Group. Lt. Amphlett received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Three Oak Leaf Clusters.
Specialist Christopher Arms
Specialist Christopher Arms served in the U.S. Army from 1993 to 1997. He is pictured with his sons. On the left is his son Branden who served as a Specialist from 2013 to 2019, spending six months of his tour in the Honor Guard. On the right is his youngest son Jordan who served as a Specialist from 2015 to 2019, spending a year of his tour in South Korea. Arms was honorably discharged as a Specialist.
Officer Gilbert L. Bond
Officer Gilbert L. Bond served as a Communications Officer and Ensign in the U.S. Navy Reserve during WWII. He deciphered messages from the enemy. Officer Bond is pictured with his new fiancé Lydia Athalie Hultman who had just recovered from tuberculosis.
Pfc. Louis Roger Cayo
Pfc. Louis Roger Cayo served in the U.S. Marine Corps from1951 to 1952. Pfc. Cayo served during the Korean War. On May 26, 1952, he was wounded in action in Central Korea by a mortar and lost both legs below the knee. He was sent to Germany for treatment and then sent home on a hospital ship. In total, he had over 30 surgeries. Pfc. Cayo is the recipient of the United Nations Medal, Korean Service Medal with one star, and the Purple Heart. Upon his return home, his sweetheart, Mary Lou Gurney, was waiting for him. They married after the war, in 1954.
Capt. Nellie Coakley and Pfc. Tom Coakley
Capt. Nellie and Pfc. Tom Coakley both served in the Army, Nellie as a combat nurse from 1966 to 1969 and Tom as an infantry soldier from 1968 to 1969. After Capt. Nellie returned to the States, she served as head nurse at Walter Reed’s orthopedic and amputee ward for enlisted soldiers. Pfc. Tom arrived at the ward having lost his leg in an ambush in Vietnam. The two were married two and a half years later. They did not discuss Vietnam for about 10 years, until Nellie developed a strong interest in learning more about the war. Ever since, they have become increasingly engaged in serving the needs of veterans and the amputee population at large.
Nellie has served as a war trauma counselor for nearly 30 years. She served as the New York State Coordinator for the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., and was the first woman to serve on the New York State Veterans Affairs Committee.
Both Nellie and Tom have received a number of recognitions for their professional and volunteer work. Tom has worked with amputees and prosthetic organizations and has taught courses at St. Lawrence University in northern New York. Both Nellie and Tom speak at a number of colleges and schools about their experiences. The couple has appeared on several television programs including China Beach. In addition, they were featured in Tom Brokaw’s 2007 book, Boom! and the accompanying television documentary 1968 with Tom Brokaw.
Pvt. Edward George
Pvt. Edward George served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946 in New Delhi, India, as a T-4 Cryptoanalysis Tech 808. The youngest in his unit, he decoded and deciphered enemy messages and cryptographs without the aid of a device or key used in preparing them. Pvt. George is a recipient of a Good Conduct Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Medal and American Service Medal.
Sgt. Anne Halloran (Naughton)
Sgt. Anne Halloran (Naughton) served in the British Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the women’s branch of the British Army, during WWII. Sgt. Halloran (´ne Naughton) was born in Ireland and worked as a domestic servant in England. During the war her position was to shine the spotlights on the Nazi bomber planes for the gunners to shoot down.
She was a survivor of the sinking of Innesfallen. Leaving Liverpool, England, in 1940, Sgt. Naughton’s ship hit a mine off the Wirral shore, near New Brighton. She could not swim but was saved by two young soldiers. All the passengers survived, but the crew was lost.
In 1960 Ms. Naughton came to America. She denounced her British citizenship in order to become an American citizen. Never having children of her own, she was her nieces and nephews’ favorite aunt because she always defended them when they got in trouble. She also told them that she was “a bit of a rebel in her younger years.”
Spec 5 Richard Halstead
Spec 5 Richard Halstead served in the U.S. Army from 1966 to 1969, including a year in Vietnam where he served as an RTO for Artillery. Following the Vietnam War, Specialist Halstead returned to the States and served as a Clerk.
Pfc. Robert H. Halstead
Pfc. Robert H. Halstead served in the U.S. Army in the European Theater during WWII from 1943 to 1945. He was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge; he was shot in the leg while parachuting into battle. Pfc Halstead is the recipient of the Purple Heart.
Sgt. Jerry Headley
Sgt. Jerry Headley, a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, served in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving two tours in Vietnam. His son, Ron, said of him: “He was my birth father and I didn’t get to know him until after my adoptive father died. My adoptive father was in the Korean War, Army. I don’t have any photos of him, though.”
Pfc. Albert J. Heinichen
Pfc. Albert J. Heinichen served in the U.S. Army in the “Super Sixth” Armored Division from 1943 to 1945. He served with Lt. Gen. Patton’s Third Army in the Battle of the Bulge. Pfc. Heinichen was part of Battery B in the 777th AAA (Anti-Air Craft Artillery). He was at Buchenwald after the concentration camp was liberated in 1945. He is the recipient of a Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, Euro-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with six Bronze Stars, WWII Victory Medal, and Honorable Service Lapel Button..
Lance Cpl. Hilton Hoskins Jr.
Lance Cpl. Hilton Hoskins Jr. served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1997 to 2001 as a Field Artillery Cannoneer. He returned to the military a couple of years later, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, serving as a Reservist Military Police Officer in 2003.
Lance Cpl. Kenneth Howard
Lance Cpl. Kenneth Howard, a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1990 to 1994. He served in Kuwait. Lance Cpl. Howard received the Kuwait Liberation Medal.
SPC4 Ron Howard
SPC4 Ron Howard served in the U.S. Army from 1986 to 1994, including during Operation Desert Storm. SPC4 Howard served as a 13 Bravo Field Artillery and S-3 Operations Technician in 17th Field Artillery Brigade Headquarters. He is a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe.
Sgt. Alan R. Jones
Sgt. Alan R. Jones served as a Field Artillery Leader in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1951 to 1952. Sgt. Jones was awarded three Bronze stars, a National Defense Service Award, Presidential Ribbon, Korean Presidential Ribbon and UN Service Medal. He also “qualified for the Purple Heart, but refused to claim it because he was only injured and some of his friends didn’t make it out alive.” Sgt. Jones took an Honor Flight in 2018. The mission of the Honor Flight Network is to honor U.S. veterans with a trip to D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to honoring those who died at war or have not been accounted for.
Sgt. Robert Jones
Sgt. Robert Jones served in the U.S. Army, doing four tours in Vietnam. Sgt. Jones died from Agent Orange-related leukemia at the age of 62. “He was an all American man who just wanted to achieve his American dream.”
Chief Clyde Keifer
Chief Clyde Keifer served as a Chief Commissary Steward on the USS Savannah in the U.S. Navy during WWII. His wife had not heard from him, as locations were not disclosed during the war. She and her sister went to the movie theater to watch a newsreel. That’s when she saw a picture of him on the big screen; she passed out at the sight of him. Theater employees stopped the newsreel to assist her. In the newsreel her husband, Clyde, was helping a wounded soldier. She later learned that though her husband was not a medic, when the ship was bombed by a German glider bomb on September 11, 1943, he assumed that role, caring for the wounded. The picture of Chief Keifer was printed for his wife from the newsreel.
BM3 Chere McDonald
BM3 Chere McDonald served in the U.S. Navy from 1987 to 1993 during Operation Desert Storm. She comes from a long line of service members and knew at the age of 12 that she wanted to follow in their footsteps. BM3 McDonald received Good Conduct, National Defense, and Navy Expert Rifleman Medals; a Navy Sharpshooter Ribbon, a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, two U.S. Navy Letters of Commendation and three U.S. Navy Letters of Appreciation.
2nd Lt. Frank W. Muetzel
2nd Lt. Frank W. Muetzel served in the U.S. Marine Corps during both WWII and the Korean War. He commanded the 2nd Platoon, Company A and served in the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. 2nd Lt. Muetzel was in Pusan and Inchon, headed toward Seoul, when shrapnel from a grenade embedded into his right calf. He received a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts.
Sgt. Ariana O’Donnell
Sgt. Ariana O'Donnell has been serving in the U.S. Army as a Staff Sgt. and CBRN Specialist since 2008. She has done two deployments, to Qatar and Iraq, serving the Army in both Operation Freedom and Operation Spartan Shield. Sgt. O’Donnell is the recipient of 20 medals, including ARCOM.
1st Sgt. Julio Otero-Figueroa
1st Sgt. Julio Otero-Figueroa was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico. He served in the U.S. Army for 20 years, serving in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. 1st Sgt. Otero-Figueroa is the recipient of the Army Reserves Components Overseas Training Ribbon, Good Conduct Oak Leaf Cluster, Overseas Bar and the following medals: Korean Service, Vietnam Service, United Nations Service, National Defense, Air, and Bronze Star.
Sgt. David Patterson
Sgt. David Patterson served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2005 to 2012. He was deployed to Afghanistan with 2nd MAW (Marine Aircraft Wing) in Cherry Point, North Carolina. He is pictured with his mother at the airport for his return to Afghanistan after leave, on Thanksgiving Day in 2009.
1st Lt. Robert Dale Pope
1st Lt. Robert Dale Pope served in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1968. He was one of 44 members of the MACV Advisory Team 75 Command. During his second tour in Vietnam, he was guarding a bridge when he was hit with shrapnel; he died instantly. 1st Lt. Pope had a wife and three children – ages 6, 4 and 3 – waiting at home for him.
Eleanor Rush served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1945 during WWII. Rush was a Cartographer, also known as a Millie the Mapper. Mapping was a popular job for women in service during WWII. These women played a significant role in producing accurate and current maps used by various branches of the government and military during the war.
SrA (E4) Catherine Shue
SrA (E4) Catherine Shue served in the U.S. Air Force from 2012 to 2019. She spent three years in Okinawa, Japan, as an F-15 Journeyman, also known as a Crew Chief or Maintainer. She served the remainder of her service in England as a Maintainer, a Training Manager and finally the Assistant Junior Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the Inspection Section CTK. SrA Shue and her husband are expecting their first child in October.
Tech Sgt. Robert Singleton
Tech Sgt. Robert Singleton enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2006 at the age of 19. He has served as a Tech Sergeant and Weapons Safety Manager. Tech Sgt. Singleton was deployed to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom and to Kuwait in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. He is currently based overseas with his family. Sgt. Singleton is the recipient of two achievement medals and two commendation medals.
1st Lt. Frank C. Soltesz Sr.
1st Lt. Frank C. Soltesz Sr. served in the U.S. Army Air Force from 1943 to 1945 as a Fighter Pilot. Lt. Soltesz’s plane was shot down over Czechoslovakia on July 7, 1944. He was captured and placed in a POW camp. There he befriended the Czech Officers of Strategic Services (OSS) by speaking Slovak, his parents’ native language. They gave him valuable information which helped him to escape along with a number of other prisoners. Because he could speak the language, Lt. Soltesz spoke to farmers as they traveled toward American-controlled territory; the farmers aided him and the other POWs by providing them with food, directions and the location of the German troops. It took them months to reach Italy because they had to hide in the woods and hills surrounding the villages. Lt. Soltesz sneaked into the villages to learn the Germans’ location so the other escaped POWs could avoid them. With the help of the farmers and this information, the group was reunited with American troops in Italy, after walking 350 miles. Lt. Soltesz is the recipient of the Purple Heart.
Captain Justin Westbrook
Captain Justin Westbrook has served in the U.S. Army since 2002. He has completed two deployments, receiving the Bronze Star Medal for efforts to track insurgents and stabilize Afghanistan. Outside of his military service he dedicates hundreds of hours every year to youth scouting programs to try to instill values and character in the youth of the U.S.
TEC3 Andrew Wong
TEC3 Andrew Wong served in the U.S. Army during WWII with the 3198th Signal Service Battalion. He enlisted at the age of 17 and served as a Radio Operator in the China Burma India Theater. His grandson, Christopher Di Pirro, joined the U.S. Navy after college, serving as a Naval Flight Officer, as a way to honor his grandfather. TEC3 Wong passed away before his grandson received his commissions, but LTJG Di Pirro was able to give his grandfather his first salute, graveside.
A woman I spoke with wanted to honor her husband who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2001 to 2006. However, he has asked that his name not be shared herein. This service member was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, on September 11, 2001. He watched the news coverage on TV in Okinawa and “knew we were going to war.” This Marine was right, of course, and was deployed to Fallujah during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
This article is dedicated to all of our active duty service members and veterans, but especially to my dad. A heartfelt thanks to all of the men and women who shared stories with me; I was honored to hear them all.
Each person gave the author and 30Seconds permission to publish their story or that of their family member, as well as the photo they shared.
Photo (main): Christopher Di Pirro, U.S. Navy, saluting his grandfather’s grave, TEC3 Andrew Wong, U.S. Army.
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