Salute To Service: Charles F. Bolden (Pt. 1)

For the next installment in our Black History Month series, this week in Salute to Service we move away from men who have helped shape the world we live in today, to bring you the story of someone who until very recently was working to shape the world we might live in tomorrow. Or to put it more precisely, the worlds that we might live on. Yes, this week we once again take to the stars to bring you the story of Major General Charles F. Bolden – a Marine, Aviator and Astronaut who gave fifty years of faithful service to his country, before retiring from the armed forces as a Major General, and the Administrator of NASA just over one year ago.

At the age of 18 Charles Frank Bolden, Jr. graduated from C.A. Johnson High School, in his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina. From here he wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy but states that he was blocked from doing so by South Carolina’s Senate delegation, which included then-segregationist Strom Thurmond. Nevertheless, he was appointed to the academy, graduating four years later in 1968 as president of his class and immediately receiving an officer’s commission with the Marine Corps. After graduation Bolden was sent to attend flight training, earning his status as a Naval Aviator in 1970 before serving in Vietnam from 1972 to 1973. During his tour in Vietnam Bolden flew with the 533rd Marine Fighter Attack Squadron based out of the Royal Thai Air Force base at Nam Phong, and performed more than 100 sorties in an A-6A Intruder before being brought back to the U.S. to serve as a Marine Corps recruitment officer in Los Angeles. A three-year stint at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro followed, and then Bolden made his way back across the country to attend Navy Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland – graduating in 1979 and duly going on to the Naval Air Test Center, where he accumulated more than 6,000 flight hours in aircraft including the A-6E Intruder, EA-6B Prowler, and A-7 Corsair II while working on projects such as ordnance tests.

Bolden was selected as an Astronaut Candidate in 1980, successfully completing training in time to make his first spaceflight as the pilot for mission STS-61-C, originally scheduled for launch just prior to Christmas 1985. Unfortunately, bad weather and a couple of equipment issues delayed the launch until January 1986, but once in orbit, everything went smoothly – with the crew launching an RCA communications satellite and performing a number of science experiments entirely as planned. In response to the late launch NASA intended to cut STS-61-C to 4 days in duration, in order to minimize the knock-on effect their delays would have on later missions – but in one happy coincidence for the crew bad weather at the landing site delayed their return for a further two days, meaning that they remained in orbit for six of the seven days intended in their original mission profile. On a more personal level Bolden also had what may well be a unique honor among the NASA Astronaut Corps, that of piloting a shuttle carrying the same name as his hometown – as shuttle Columbia was the vehicle chosen for this mission.

Sadly, it would be a long time before there were any more happy coincidences for NASA and the shuttle program. The administration did succeed in limiting the delays passed on to the next mission (STS-51-L) to only two days,  but that mission – which blasted off just ten days after Bolden and his crew returned to Earth – is sadly best known today for the tragic loss of the shuttle Challenger and all seven members of her crew, when an explosion ripped through the orbiter and ascent stages one minute and thirteen seconds after launch. Weeks after the accident Bolden would be one of the seven astronauts that escorted Challenger’s final crew to Dover AFB aboard a C-141 Starlifter, and he also gave a bible reading at NASA’s Challenger memorial service. NASA understandably grounded the entire shuttle fleet for a year and a half while a thorough investigation into Challenger’s demise was carried out, and Bolden himself would have to wait four whole years to make his second spaceflight. When that flight came through, it would be one for the history books…

STS-31 left Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39B in April 1990, with Bolden at the controls of Discovery. On board were the customary cargo of science experiments, including a considerable number dealing with photographic imaging and other such fields. This was the ideal mission to carry these experiments though as Discovery would be going into the highest orbit the shuttle had ever seen, at an average altitude of 600km (around 370 miles) above Earth. As Discovery would be orbiting so high, NASA also made use of the opportunity to take images of vast tracts of the planet’s surface, observing and capturing topographic, geologic and other large-scale features that could not be seen in their entirety from lower orbits. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the reason for this high orbit was another piece of imaging hardware, as STS-31’s primary objective was to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble may have required significant remedial work in the years to come in order to fulfill its own mission – but aside from having one of the solar panels jam temporarily STS-31’s task to actually deploy the apparatus was a resounding success, and Bolden and his comrades returned home safely after just over five days in space.

We still have plenty more to tell you about Major General Bolden, but alas, we must bend to the needs of time and space and bring this week’s installment of Salute to Service to an end. Be sure to join us next week though, as the Bob Richards Blog continues with part two of our voyage through his incredible career!

The New 2019 Toyota Avalon – Fit For A King?

‘Avalon’ is an island featured in the stories comprising the Legend of King Arthur. It is the mythical brit’s final resting place, and it is depicted in those stories as an idyllic locale, not unlike the Garden of Eden or Paradise. Much like the island after which it is named, over four generations now the Toyota Avalon has sought to be your luxurious refuge – amidst and yet away from the hustle and bustle of daily life – and this week in the Bob Richards Blog we take a look at the latest fifth-generation car, set to hit dealerships (including our own in North Augusta, SC) later this year.

The new Avalon’s choice of engines may not make for intriguing reading these days – owners will get to take their pick from a conventional 3.5-liter V6 or Toyota’s ‘THS II’ Hybrid System (consisting of a 2.5L 4-cylinder internal combustion engine and 650-volt electric motor) – but a veritable smorgasbord of technological wizardry that would make even Merlin envious ensures that those two engines can handle anything you wish them to do. Since a chivalrous king such as Arthur should refrain from unseemly flaunting of his wealth, each car has three different driving modes – choose Eco when frugality is the order of the day, Normal for everyday driving, and Sport for those times when you need to remind the road just who’s in charge… Using Eco mode can also enable Auto Glide Control – a new-for-2019 system that reduces engine braking and improves fuel economy during city driving by allowing the car to coast for longer distances, and Toyota have also put measures in place to improve Avalon’s highway economy too. The most noticeable of these is probably the new 8-speed transmission, cleverly set up with closer ratios in the mid-range for good acceleration and power delivery for overtaking, while a longer top gear helps fuel consumption while cruising. This benevolent air is relaxed somewhat for the more performance-oriented Touring model – which is the only one in the range that cannot be fitted with the hybrid system, boasts paddle-shifters rather than the floor-mounted gear stick used elsewhere in the lineup, and adds a further two driving modes (Sport+ and custom), bringing it’s repertoire to five. Much of the brightwork seen on other models is also replaced with black trim for a darker, meaner and more street-savvy look, but despite all this the 2019 Avalon Touring doesn’t forget its manners – sure, it might be more prepared for sustained hard driving than its siblings, but when it isn’t doing that it reverts to being the economical and luxurious sedan you’d expect an Avalon to be.

Just as the Knights of the Round Table had King Arthur’s back in the legend, Toyota provides Avalon drivers with a stalwart band of comrades to keep you safe out there on the road. A Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert should prove their worth in the city, while the Lane Departure Alert system with Steering Assist and the optional Intelligent Clearance Sonar and Adaptive Cruise Control appear to be geared more towards highway driving – but in practice each sensor will maintain its vigil and watch over you no matter what type of road you may be on. What’s more, for 2019 Avalon makes the switch over to TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture), the modular platform that also underpins models such as the current-generation Camry, Prius, Corolla, and C-HR. TNGA brings further, more mechanical benefits to safety and performance by orienting the car’s construction towards those attributes right from the very start – for instance, compared to the 2018 car both the engine and transmission are mounted lower in the overall construction of the vehicle, thereby lowering the center of gravity. This would improve handling and stability just by itself, and is only helped by Avalon also being longer, wider and lower than its predecessor… The wheelbase has been elongated by two inches (despite the car being less than one inch longer overall)  and the track widened at both ends, including by an entire inch-and-a-half at the rear.

These measurements show that all four wheels have been pushed further into the corners of the vehicle, which offers a more squat and stable stance on the road, while things like maneuverability and parking will be made easier thanks to smaller front and rear bumper overhangs. That’s not all though – those changes should also open up some more interior space for driver and passengers to enjoy, and of course, a more regal refuge for your money is always better. As would befit a kingly conveyance Avalon’s seats are upholstered in a number of quality materials including ultrasuede and synthetic or genuine leather, while wood and aluminum accents elsewhere in the cabin offer a nice contrast or compliment depending on the interior color you opt for – which for the first time includes a light brown ‘cognac’ hue for the leather trims. It’s far from medieval in there too – in addition to the analog gauges that you’d expect the instrument binnacle is also home to a 7-inch multi-information display (MID) that can be used to show safety alerts, navigation directions, a digital speedometer and more, while Touring and Limited vehicles also have a similarly-configurable 10-inch HUD designed to be used alongside the MID, and which projects information directly onto the windshield so you never have to take your eyes off the road. The center console includes no fewer than five USB ports as well as a slide-open ‘e-bin’ with a 12-volt power outlet, ‘Qi’ wireless charger, and a cradle that has been designed to expertly accept either drinks cups or cellphones. Of course, there’s a touchscreen too, and for 2019 it’s a 9-inch display running Toyota’s new ‘Entune 3.0’ system. A fine setup on its own, this year the package is boosted further by the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and support for Amazon Alexa-enabled devices. This means you can now interact with your house from your car – so if you forgot to turn the lights off or want to heat or cool the home so it’s nice and cozy when you arrive, with Avalon you can take care of that while you’re on the move, and a near-endless array of other tasks too!

So that’s the new 2019 Toyota Avalon,  surely a steed fit for any noble, knight, or squire of the modern world and one well adapted to the challenges that it poses. Sadly pricing details and an exact launch date are yet to be announced at time of writing but Toyota tells us this year’s Avalon – designed by Toyota’s Research and Development facilities in Michigan and assembled with pride in Georgetown, KY –  will be with us in late spring, so be sure to pay us a visit around that time if you’re interested in owning one! Alternatively, if you just can’t wait that long then Toyota’s website already has a preview page online, or if you really want to see one in person you can also take a trip to the Chicago Auto Show – where the new Avalon will be on display until February 19.

 

Salute To Service – Rodney M. Davis

The Vietnam War was a unique conflict in human history – not only did it polarize opinion here at home, but in the field, America’s soldiers had to deal with a number of circumstances that served to make the already hard task of waging war even harder. Taking on a determined foe on his ground – a highly lethal environment in which the steaming jungles of Southeast Asia sometimes seemed trained to fight them too – was a tough task, but hundreds of thousands of men stepped forward to do their duty in the fight to defend freedom and liberty, and in the process a select few would mark themselves out as heroes. One of those heroes was Marine Sergeant Rodney M. Davis, and it’s his story that we bring you today.

Rodney Maxwell Davis was born in Macon, GA on April 7, 1942. He joined the Marine Corps shortly after graduating high school and like all prospective Marines from east of the Mississippi, reported to South Carolina and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island for recruit training – arriving in August 1961 at the age of 19. He completed this first step in December of that year and after three months of combat training at Camp Lejeune, NC, Davis joined the Fleet Marine Force as a rifleman with 2nd Marine Regiment. Later in the decade, he would serve a three-year tour of duty in London, England, but while he was across the Atlantic an already tense status quo in Vietnam worsened, and following the Gulf of Tonkin incident, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent American ground forces into that country.

Davis joined the growing American deployment in Vietnam in August 1967, serving with Bravo Company, part of the 5th Marine Regiment’s 1st Battalion (A.K.A. ‘1/5 Marines’). He arrived in time to take part in ‘Operation Cochise’, the third phase of a larger campaign comprising Operations “Union” and “Union II’ earlier in 1967, whose goal was to drive the North Vietnamese out of the Que Son Valley – a strategically important, well populated and food-bearing basin seen as a crucial asset in asserting control over the northern part of South Vietnam. Though it didn’t turn out to be as resounding a victory as US and ARVN forces had hoped it would be, Operation Cochise did succeed in making the North Vietnamese take a backwards step, and as August turned to September 5th Marines were performing patrols and sweeps in the area to reassure and protect the local populace.

The situation changed on the morning of September 4th however, when Delta Co. 1/5 Marines were attacked while they were still in their overnight defensive perimeter near the village of Dong Son. In response, the 1st Battalion commander sent Bravo Co. to their aid, and while Bravo Co. did reach their comrades both companies were pinned down and heavily engaged. Kilo and Mike Companies from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines were dispatched to assist Bravo and Delta, but around 1500 meters from their objective both of these units also encountered heavy resistance and could not advance further. Air support and supply drops became the Americans’ lifeline at this point and enabled them to hold on until September 5th, when a company of fresh Marines counterattacked at dawn and forced the enemy to fall back.

This counterattack marked the official start of ‘Operation Swift’, but the relief it brought only lasted until the afternoon of September 6th, when the 1st Vietcong Regiment attacked Bravo Co. and Sgt. Davis again. Bravo was nearly overrun as a result but held on to their defensive position after a friendly helicopter dropped CS gas onto the battlefield. Believing this to be a more deadly chemical agent (or that such retaliation was coming), the Vietcong broke off their attack and waited for the gas to dissipate – however, the assault was never resumed before they withdrew at 0200 the next morning. Later, on September 7th a map was found on one of the fallen attackers, and the intelligence it offered will surely have helped the Marines and their colleagues during the next phase of the operation as American forces continued their advance through the valley, making regular contact with North Vietnamese combatants in the days that followed and discovering a cache of supplies. By the time Operation Swift concluded on September 15th the Americans had seized the entire southern half of the Que Son Valley and begun establishing a larger and more permanent presence in the area – to consolidate the ground gained and eliminate the enemy’s perception of the Que Son Valley as a weak point in the US / ARVN defensive strategy.

Sadly, Sgt. Davis could not be a part of this final victory, having been killed while fighting from a trench on September 6th. However, he is said to have led by great example as Bravo Company defended against the Vietcong, moving up and down the line shouting words of encouragement to the men of his platoon and directing their fire, while also firing his own weapon and throwing grenades to stave off the assault. At some point during the battle, he made the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow Marines, throwing himself on an enemy grenade that had landed in the trench. For this brave and selfless act he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, with the citation for his award remarking: “Through his extraordinary initiative and inspiring valor in the face of almost certain death, Sgt. Davis saved his comrades from injury and possible loss of life, enabled his platoon to hold its vital position, and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”

Davis was subsequently repatriated and laid to rest at the historically African-American Linwood Cemetery near Macon, and though his family did their part to look after his final resting place the cemetery needed more care and maintenance than they alone could give. As time went on it fell into a state of disrepair and overgrowth until a group of Marine veterans – among them a man who credits Davis with saving his life during the war – visited the site around 2010. Lamenting the situation in which they found their fallen comrade they brought the matter to the attention of the 1/5 Marines Association – who together with friends, family and others with ties to the Marine Corps or the community raised some $60,000, and set about restoring the cemetery. Sgt. Davis’ old wooden monument was replaced with a large stone obelisk and a seating area in 2012, and over the years a continued effort has seen a large number of headstones and other memorials dedicated to those interred at Linwood also reclaimed from the undergrowth. That effort continues to this day through regular volunteer gatherings and other celebrations, at which the community comes together to tend the grounds, remember and pay their respects, and celebrate the exemplary human qualities that Sgt. Rodney Maxwell Davis demonstrated so well.

Salute To Service – Cpl. Freddie Stowers

Our Black History Month mini-series continues this week in Salute to service with the story of Corporal Freddie Stowers – a man who, though he could never know it, surely will go down in history as one of the men who started the movement towards the fully-integrated military (and possibly society) that we enjoy today.

Stowers was born on Jan 12th, 1894 in Sandy Springs, SC. He married and became a father at a young age, supporting his wife and daughter by working as a farmhand until America’s entry into the First World War, when he was drafted into the army. Following his call to arms Stowers travelled to Camp (now Fort) Jackson in Columbia, where he was based alongside other black draftees in a provisional unit that would later be attached to 93rd Infantry Division (Colored) as the 371st Infantry Regiment – with Stowers assigned to ‘C’ company of the regiment’s 1st Battalion – before crossing the Atlantic to serve on the Western Front. After reaching Europe however 93rd Division was split up, with its individual regiments being placed into larger French units.

The first task of the war for the men of the 371st was to train with the French XIII corps. This was likely a very useful exercise, as although they were American soldiers and wore American (green) uniforms, being under French command meant they were issued with French arms and equipment, which included the blue ‘Adrian’ helmet which would later become an iconic symbol for the 93rd Division as a whole, and go on to feature on the division’s shoulder sleeve insignia. Following this training period, the 371st joined up with the French 157th Infantry Division on June 6th, 1918, and were usually based in the vicinity of the ancient and symbolic French city of Verdun, manning part of the extensive network of defenses and fortifications there. However, as final preparations and deployments were made for the Meuse-Argonne offensive which began September 26th, they were ordered to the Somme-Bionne sector.

From the operation’s outset, the American and French forces made slow but steady progress, with the 371st’s 1st Battalion reaching the foot of a hill known as ‘Côte 188’ in the pre-dawn hours of September 28th. Côte 188 had once been a German defensive strongpoint, but the belief was now that the men there no longer had the will to fight, that the enemy was withdrawing from the position, and as such resistance was expected to be light. This assessment was backed up by the recent surrender of more than 30 German soldiers from Côte 188, and as the attack began it appeared to be correct. The men entrenched atop the hill put up a solid defensive effort in response but as expected, began to surrender in the face of a determined and steady grind forward from 1st Battalion and ‘C’ Company. In response the Americans followed protocol, ceased fire and moved towards the German lines believing the fighting to be over – however, as they closed to within around 100 meters of the enemy trench the capitulation was revealed to be a ruse, as the surrendering soldiers jumped back behind their defences and opened fire with machine guns and trench mortars.

Taken by surprise and caught in the crossfire created by the enemy machine gun emplacements, the men of ‘C’ Company did their best to lay down in no-man’s land and avoid the hail of bullets and shrapnel flying over their heads. However both platoon commanders were hit and many NCO’s also became casualties, to the point where Stowers – on the face of things a lowly Corporal trained to lead only a rifle squad – found himself in charge of a much larger group of men. Nevertheless, by keeping his composure and leading the way Stowers was able to rally the men around him before they successfully crawled forward into the enemy’s line and knocked out the machine guns – whose crews became outflanked once the Americans gained access to the front-line trench. Stowers then took stock of the situation and regrouped his men, before moving on to set about the next line of enemy soldiers defending the hill. He was hit twice during this second advance and mortally wounded but did not stop going forward until blood loss caused him to collapse. Even when he became unable to advance any further himself Stowers continued to direct his brothers in arms onward and yelled encouragement to the men that had followed him. He would sadly succumb to his wounds on the slopes of Côte 188, but Stowers’ loss was not in vain – later in the day ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies were able to flank the defences on the hill from both sides, driving the enemy from their positions and placing Côte 188 in American hands.

Following his sacrifice, Corporal Stowers and three other men who took part in the assault were recommended for the Medal of Honor. Distinguished Service Medals were later awarded to those other men but a clerical error meant the application put in for Stowers was misplaced, and as a result, he received no military decorations for what he did that day in the immediate aftermath of the conflict. It was only when this paperwork was discovered again in 1990 that the Army Decorations Board reviewed the accounts of his actions and approved the application, with president George H. W. Bush presenting Stowers’ Medal of Honor to his sisters Georgina and Mary on April 24th, 1991. On that date he became the first (and thus far only) African-American to win the Medal of Honor during the First World War, and in addition to this place in the history books, the Army has also dedicated at least two buildings – the base Elementary School at Fort Benning, GA and the Single Soldier Billeting Complex at Fort Jackson, SC – to bear his name, while Anderson University in Anderson, SC (close to Stowers’ birthplace of Sandy Springs) has erected a bronze statue of him on campus. Finally, away from his own personal honors, another legacy of Freddie Stowers’ 70-plus-year wait for formal recognition was an investigation into the awarding of medals to non-white soldiers during the Second World War, which found that a number of men awarded the Distinguished Service Cross were victims of a level of bias or prejudice at the Decorations Board, and in fact should have received the Medal of Honor for their actions. Those Medals of Honor were subsequently awarded and the records updated, with President Clinton presenting many of the decorations personally to the men identified or their next-of-kin.

Thomas Dry Howie

The poignant tale we tell in this week’s salute to service is that of a man clearly beloved by his comrades, respected by his superiors, and who did his part to help the Allied cause take those first few steps on the road to Berlin. Sadly this South Carolina man became one of the thousands whose lives were taken during the course of that momentous and frightful journey, but he and his men exemplified many of the values that the military holds in the very highest regard. Celebrated as a symbol of those values to this day, he is still remembered fondly by the people of his homeland as well as those he helped to free from occupation, and with Veterans day almost upon us we could think of no better time to celebrate those values, pay tribute to our men and women in uniform, and say thank you for their own service, dedication, and bravery than by telling the story of Thomas Dry Howie, ‘The Major of Saint-Lô’.

Born in Abbeville, SC in 1908, Howie began his military career by studying at the Citadel from 1925 to 1929, and during his time there he served as class president and was a sports standout – captaining the baseball team and playing football too, where he was the team’s star halfback. He remained in education after graduation, moving to Staunton Military Academy to teach English and coach football and baseball. Three years into this career Howie was given a commission in the Army Reserve, and later transferred to the 116th Infantry Regiment – part of the Virginia National Guard and based in the Staunton, VA area where he worked. He married Elizabeth Payne and had a daughter named Sally while teaching in Virginia, but sadly world events would soon take him away from his young family – the prospect of war loomed ever larger as the 30’s became the 40’s, and as a result Howie found himself a 2nd Lieutenant in active service after National Guard units were federalized in 1941, training hard alongside the men of Company L, 3rd Batallion, 116th Infantry.

Part of this training regimen – both before and after redeployment to England in late 1942 – included seaborne assault and beach landings in preparation for D-Day, and when the ‘Day of Days’ came Howie had been elevated to the rank of Major with a position on the 116th’s staff as ‘S-3’ officer, responsible for operational planning. He came ashore on Omaha beach at around 7:30 on the morning of June 6, 1944 – that’s only about one hour behind the very first troops to land, and a time when the fight to get up and off the Norman sand was likely still raging in full force around him – but Howie survived the chaos of the beaches and in the weeks to come set about pushing the enemy back through northern France. Just over a month into the campaign he was given command of the 116th’s 3rd battalion, leading them towards the key crossroads town of Saint-Lô – the next crucial stepping stone on the path to victory.

By mid-July of 1944 elements of the 29th Infantry Division including the 116th were closing in on Saint-Lô from the north and east, and on July 15th, 2nd Battalion under Major Bingham were ordered forward to occupy the La Madelaine crossroads on the outskirts of town – they became isolated at that position however, and 29th Division’s commanding General Charles H. Gerhardt gave orders for Major Howie and 3rd battalion to go to their aid. After linking up at the crossroads both battalions were then to assault the town, but upon Howie’s arrival (at around 6 a.m. on the 17th) he assessed 2nd battalion to be too badly hit to participate in the attack on Saint-Lô. Howie relayed this information back to Gen. Gerhardt via battle phone, and 3rd battalion were ordered to go in alone.

Major Howie would lose his life shortly after receiving these orders, hit by shrapnel from an enemy mortar barrage that hit his battalion Command Post as Howie looked out to see that all his men were in cover. According to one member of 1st battalion word quickly spread of the Major’s death, and so beloved was he that the news brought many combat-hardened veteran soldiers to tears. What is believed to be Howie’s last transmission showed his determination and the confidence he had in his men and his mission, with Howie telling Gerhardt “yes we can do it. Yes if we jump off right now. Okay. See you in Saint-Lô”

Had the attack been a success Howie and 3rd Battalion would have constituted the first Allied unit to enter Saint-Lô. On the 18th and 19th an assault led by 29th Division’s Gen. Norman Cota and ‘Task Force C’ put the town in Allied hands, and they obliged a request made by Gen. Gerhardt that Major Howie’s body be laid on the hood of that formation’s lead Jeep as they advanced. Gerhardt firmly believed that Howie would have wanted to be among those first men into Saint-Lô, and saw to it that Howie was indeed the first Allied soldier to enter the town. Men later dodged sniper fire to place Howie amongst the rubble of the Sainte-Croix church, an American flag draped over the fallen hero, and went back to battle. In the 3 days he laid there a great many men came by to pay their respects before his burial – first in the nearby La Cambe Military Cemetery, and then the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer, where he lies today. For his courage and devotion to duty, Howie was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and later memorials would follow at his alma mater The Citadel, and Staunton Military Academy, as both the Citadel’s main campus bell tower and the drill team at SMA were named after him. The French also hold Howie in high regard, awarding him the Legion d’Honneur for his sacrifice and erecting a monument to his memory in Saint-Lô.

Once Saint-Lô was secured Howie’s story was told in many different media including newspaper and magazine reports by various wartime publications, a famous photograph of the Sainte-Croix ‘shrine’ that so many visited is today part of the Associated Press archives and there’s even a poem about him written by Joseph Auslander. However, due to wartime censorship and secrecy requirements his name could not be revealed to the public in any of these works, and to accommodate this need it’s widely believed that New York Times correspondent Drew Middleton was the first to describe Howie using the phrase ‘The Major of Saint-Lô’ – by which he is also widely known and celebrated today. Finally, Major Howie’s life was also been brought to T.V. and film after the war. He was played by Peter Graves in an episode of ‘Cavalcade of America’ in the 50’s, and Stephen E. Ambrose – historical consultant on 90’s blockbuster movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’ – stated that the film’s central character, Capt. John H. Miller (played by Tom Hanks) is based on Howie – there is evidence of such an association in the in the film too, as in one scene Miller tells his men that he taught English composition before the war, was married, and coached baseball in spring – events which closely parallel Howie’s pre-war life in Virginia.

 

In honor of Martin Luther King Day and the upcoming Black History Month, over the next few weeks salute to service will focus on a number of celebrated African-American military men – telling their stories and paying our own well deserved tribute. Being proud of our roots here in the CSRA, we don’t think there’s any better way to begin such a series than with 2nd Lieutenant Henry Bohler – we certainly feel very privileged to add him to the list of men and women honored in Salute to Service, and hope that you’ll join us now as we tell of how a boy once told to abandon his childhood dream fought first to make that dream come true, went on to fight and stand for the equality and rights of all men, and in the process helped to shape the world we live in today.

Henry Cabot Lodge Bohler was born right here in Augusta, on June 8, 1925. Growing up he always harbored hopes of one day becoming a pilot, but that was a dream that he had been told could never come true because he was black. Up until the late 30’s the people who told him so probably had a point in feeling that young Henry learning to fly was a remote possibility, but after twenty years of lobbying and agitation following the First World War – when African-Americans were prevented from seeing combat in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps, a previous incarnation of what is now the U.S. Air Force – and with international tensions and the threat of war on the rise, everything changed in 1939 with three key events: Firstly, the newly established Civilian Pilot Training Program began teaching civilians to fly – officially it was a program designed to greatly increase the number of American civilian pilots and thereby boost the civilian aviation industry, though the knowledge that CPTP graduates could also be used as military pilots should America enter the war was definitely not lost on the government. Later that year an HBCU in Alabama – Tuskegee Institute – began training pilots under the CPTP, and finally, on April 3, 1939, Public Law 18, an appropriation bill allocating funds specifically for the training of African-American pilots, went into effect.

Selection and eligibility criteria were strict – as was the testing that determined whether or not a man met those criteria – but Bohler now had a door through which he could access his dream. He wasted no time and enlisted in the USAAF at age 17, showing the tenacity and conviction that were a big part of his character by successfully convincing the recruitment officer to take him despite being one pound under the 110-lb minimum weight requirement. Bohler was duly sent to Tuskegee to train with the P-51 Mustang, becoming one of the famed ‘Tuskegee Airmen’ and aiming to fight in Europe like many Tuskegee graduates before him. His young age worked against him in that pursuit, however – by the time he completed training and earned his wings it was 1944, and the USAAF had all the pilots it needed to prosecute the war already at the front. As a result, Bohler did not see combat in World War Two, but he remained in service to his country for a few years before leaving the Air Force as a 2ndLieutenant in 1947.

On returning to civilian life Bohler also returned to school, earning a degree from Hampton University in Virginia. He also met the woman who would become his wife – Clifford Marie – at her aunt’s Augusta ice cream shop. According to Mrs. Bohler’s own recollections, the same qualities that had gotten him past the Air Force recruitment officer also found Henry a way into her heart, as she once remarked “He came in, and the rest is history… he wouldn’t take no for an answer”. The young couple would later start a family, but life in Augusta too would soon be consigned to the history books, as Bohler moved to Tampa in 1950 – where the next acts in a life full of persistence, effort, and self-belief would take place.

Just as he was told that it would prevent him from becoming a pilot when he was younger, in Tampa he was told the color of his skin would prevent him from being self-employed. Undeterred, Bohler set himself up as the first licensed African-American electrician in Tampa and made such a success of the enterprise that he also became one of the city’s first African-American millionaires. However, even In the face of such positive news the Bohler family would once again come up against the old barriers of segregation and inequality, when in 1960 they were denied entry to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo – resulting in Bohler suing the city over the incident and becoming an active figure in the civil rights arena. Mr. Bohler was subject to regular traffic stops and driver’s license inspections by the local police during the two years it took for the case to be heard in court, but that day finally came in 1962 – and though he was pulled over five times on his way to the courthouse – the authorities found in the family’s favour, resulting in a federal order instructing the City of Tampa to integrate its public recreation facilities.

But Mr. Bohler didn’t stop there… even after the Civil Rights Movement ended he continued to speak in Tampa area schools, sharing his inspirational story, and offering eye-witness testimony of the way things were to those too young to have lived those events themselves. He also attended the annual Tuskegee Airmen reunions and flew his own Piper Archer to the events until declining health following a fall grounded him for the final time at age 80. Henry Bohler passed away two years later in 2007, but will surely live long in the memories of not only his family but the people of Tampa and Augusta too, who can be proud to have had such an amazing person call both cities home.