Veterans of Bucks County

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

John F. Sandle

Ex-Marine knows a thing or two about dedication and sacrifice.

By R. Kurt Osenlund,

Former Marine and Perkasie resident John Sandle has a natural inclination to help others, which he admits has sometimes gotten him into trouble. An outwardly stoic man, but one with a clearly emotional center, Sandle, 64, says he tries hard to focus on positive things and leave bad memories in the past, but he does make it a point to mention that he was stabbed five times and shot once, all before graduating from Bloomfield Tech High School in Essex County, N.J. At least two of the incidents came as a result of Sandle attempting to help a stranger, and when Sandle told his father he was interested in joining the Marine Corps, the response he got was plain and simple: “There are two things the Marines can teach you better than I can,” his father, Frederick, told him, “defending yourself and running away.”

Sandle did little of the latter throughout his military career, which began on Nov. 5, 1963 when he was still a senior in high school. He says he was the first guy in his class to go into the service and, as far as he knows, the fourth guy in his class to ultimately go to Vietnam. Sandle first enlisted with the Marine Corps Reserves, unable to jump right into active duty given his status as the sole surviving son of a WWII Army veteran. After appealing to the right people, Sandle was able to dodge the restriction, but before deploying he stayed home to tend to his father as he battled cancer. When Sandle was 19, his father passed away, and he reported to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

With his basic training already complete, Sandle stepped in as an armor, test-firing and repairing weapons. At roughly the same time, his wife Sandra, whom he’d married in 1966, gave birth to his son, Todd. And when Todd was one month old, Sandle received orders for Vietnam, one of many instances in which he’d be forced to choose work over family.

“I knew I had a job to do and I knew I’d be going [to Vietnam] eventually, but it was unfortunate it had to happen right then,” Sandle says.

Sandle first reported to Okinawa, where he initially spent much of his time as a file clerk while waiting for the recuperation of his left ear, which he injured by not wearing protective gear while test-firing weapons (to this day, the ear has never recovered, says Sandle, who’s 85 percent deaf in his left ear and 50 percent deaf in his right – the result of another injury in Southeast Asia). For the unit in Okinawa, his mission eventually became to repair all Marine Corps weapons in Southeast Asia, from handguns to tanks, and to send teams of men into Vietnam to repair weapons in the field.

During his 13-month stay in Okinawa, Sandle’s second child, Pam, was born, and when he was reassigned to California’s Camp Pendleton, serving as a troop handler and pre-deployment instructor and training men who were bound for Vietnam, the workload began to take its toll on his family.

“It was long, hard work,” Sandle says. “We worked six-and-a-half days per week for 19 months straight. That’s why I ended up getting a divorce. I think I had seven days off in 19 months. But it was a job that had to be done.”

In 1970, when his wife finalized the divorce, Sandle signed a waiver to volunteer to go back to Vietnam. He served as company administration chief and platoon sergeant. When asked if he saw much action, Sandle says “not really” and “I saw enough” before revealing that, at one point, he inadvertently killed a 14-year-old native boy, who’d been holding a gun on him, and whom he meant to knock out with his weapon but accidentally shot.

“It’s not something I’m proud of,” Sandle says with genuine remorse.

Sandle was soon assigned to the 2nd Battalion 5th Marines, the most highly decorated battalion in the Marine Corps, and then to 1st Battalion 11th Marines, where he was promoted to Staff Sergeant. Soon after that he met his second wife, Kate, whom he married on Nov. 4 1972 – one day shy of his anniversary of joining the Marine Corps. In 1976 he was transferred to a Marine brigade in Hawaii, where he served as a casualty officer. In 1979 he transferred to Washington, D.C., where he worked closely with NATO and SEATO and where, he says, he was involved with the legislation of the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA), which stabilized officer manpower throughout the services.

He eventually ended up back at Camp Pendleton, where his duties included the out-processing and discharging of Marine Corps personnel. He says he discharged about 40,000 people in 3 years and devised a way to save $1.4 million in administration costs via simple things like reduced paperwork. He received a Navy Achievement Medal for his efforts.

Sandle retired in 1988, went to work for the now-defunct Globe Security in Philadelphia, and was then called back to active duty to serve in Desert Storm. When he was sent home once more, he worked for the Department of Agriculture, then a mortgage processing firm. He’d later work for a security company and postal service, but not before a pursuing a degree in criminal justice at Allentown College, which he’d have to forgo to take care of his dying mother and stepfather.

In 2003, Sandle split with his second wife, with whom he had a daughter, Kristen. In 2007, he remarried again, this time to Phyllis, whom he’s still with today. In the Marines, he says he learned the value of growing up in America, to respect people of all walks of life and, of course, helpfulness, work ethic and sacrifice.

“John F. Kennedy, when he was sworn in, stated, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,’” says Sandle, who’s also commander of the Guardians of the Washington Crossing National Cemetery. “I have that on a plaque on my desk, followed up with the quote, ‘I can, I have and I will.’”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Steven Webb

Sergeant served in Iraq after 26 years in National Guard.

By Matthew Fleishman,

A self-described “army brat,” Sgt. Steven Webb spent 26 years in the New Jersey National Guard before being deployed to Iraq in June 2008. That upbringing is what motivated him to join the National Guard in 1982, at age 18.

“I’m what’s called an army brat,” said Webb. “My dad was a career officer who retired, after 26 years, as a captain. We lived in several places around the country, and the army has always been in my family and my blood.

“It’s an honor and a pleasure being in the National Guard,” continued Webb. “Being in the National Guard has meant everything to me because not only do you have your military duties, but you have your civilian job and your responsibilities at home. It’s not just being part of the army, but also representing, protecting and defending New Jersey in times of trouble, like during floods and disasters.”

In the National Guard, Webb has been part of a combat engineer unit. Before his unit was deployed for Iraq, it was sent to Fort Bliss in Texas, which is where Webb sustained an injury that would not prevent him from going to Iraq, but would prevent him from staying there for his entire tour of duty.

“We were at Fort Bliss and were doing combative training, and I was trying to subdue someone larger than me, and I performed a move and injured my elbow and shoulder,” said Webb. “Nothing was broken so I was deployed to Iraq with the rest of my unit.”

While this deployment was something that Webb knew was possible from when he first entered the National Guard, his feelings were mixed.

“There were a lot of thoughts that came up,” said Webb. “First, this is what we trained for all of these years, and we would be putting all of our training and skills to the test. But there was also apprehension, too.

“The flight was 26 hours from Texas to Iraq,” continued Webb. “You kind of start thinking about the potential bad things and whether or not you have everything taken care of in case God forbid you don’t come back. Once we got there though, I thought about my crew and my missions, and I just had to put the thoughts about my family in the back.”

Once in Iraq, Webb’s unit was assigned to a cavalry unit, and he became a truck commander on a three-man crew. The crew would perform area security operations for eight to 12 hours at a time, looking for improvised explosive devices, clearing roads for convoys, or doing demolition work to create obstacles to prevent anyone from traveling on certain roads.

It was during these missions that Webb’s shoulder injury began to worsen.

“We would be out patrolling, looking for IEDs and working with locals around the base, but it got to the point where my shoulder started wearing down. I would come back at the end of the mission, pop some ibuprofen and be good for a few hours, but every day it would get worse.”

The injury continued getting worse until Oct. 29, 2008, when he felt a “snap” in his shoulder.
“I felt a snap in my shoulder,” said Webb. “I tried to suck it up and keep going, but when that happened I couldn’t move my arm.”

For Webb, the injury was a minor issue, but the thought of leaving his three-man crew was devastating.

“The worst part about being injured was not being with my crew,” said Webb. “I was the truck commander, and I was concerned about who would be taking care of my boys and watching their backs. Every stop along the way, I would tell the doctors to patch me up so I could get back to my guys.”

After being sent to Germany for treatment, it was determined that Webb’s injury was too severe for him to be sent back to Iraq, so he was sent to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he received additional treatment for his injured shoulder.

Currently, Webb is a fire inspector at Rutgers University and a volunteer firefighter with the Hopewell Fire Department. He proudly remains a member of the New Jersey National Guard.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Joseph Haak Sr.

Late Bristolian devoted many years of service.

By Tim Chicirda,

Joseph Haak, Sr., of Grundy Commons in Bristol Borough, had always remembered conditions of the dramatic, worldwide economic downturn in the late 1920s known as the Great Depression.
His widowed mother Catherine was affected by economic conditions that were beyond her control and she cleaned offices for a living; and often times, cleaned the homes of the doctors on Radcliffe Street.

Haak attended Bristol High School and Bristol Township High School in the Class of 1944. During his high school years, Joseph was a machine press operator in the Manhatten Soap Company, stamping the die to make “Sweetheart” soap, the streamlined pink oval bar with the filigree border.

He also worked at the Grundy Mills as a pinsetter, replacing the damaged pins in the combing machine, making $15 a week.

“Senator Grundy’s car broke down in front of our home and the chauffeur asked to use our phone and my mom let Senator Grundy come in to make a call and she made him a cup of tea,” Haak once shared. But, his career soon later took a turn into the military field.

At the end of his junior year, Joe enlisted in the Army Reserve and was drafted in August 1943.
His first stop was Fort Meade, MD. Here he was given his uniform and the new recruits received instruction to provide a mission ready workforce to maximize efficiency and effectiveness, but his travel had just begun.

He was sent to an Army training camp at Camp Gruber Military Reservation, Okla., which closed at the end of WWII and then reopened in 1977 for reserve and active unit training.

He trained with the “Rainbow 42nd Division” before going overseas and returning to Fort Mead.
Twice in this century, the Rainbow Division has signaled to millions of people the end of tyranny and oppression and the beginning of new hope for a better world. These companies were used to defend against and attack and counterattack powerful German forces along a furious battlefront.
At this point, Joseph was on his way to Camp Myles Standish, outside of Boston, Mass., then to a temporary Army base in Liverpool, England in June of 1944 on the Wakefield ship, that in civilian life was a pleasure cruiser, the “Manhattan,” converted to a Naval transport ship.

Haak recalled at this time, after singing the “Star Spangled Banner,” that he and the troops courteously remained at attention and remained saluting for the British National Anthem. England’s fields were “khakied,” jammed with American men, planes and weapons.
He invested well over two years of his life in the service and traveled to five countries, including England and the invasion area in Utah beach.

Joe also fought in Normandy and in Belgium.
Haak was hospitalized in France in the 40th General Hospital for a month and a half after an artillery shell pummeled through a house in which they were sheltered. It went into the ground and detonated.

He was shell-shocked after that ordeal long after his uniform was hung up in the back of the closet. Joe was one of the surviving 35 of the normal strength of 189 men. A soldier had gone limp and died in his arms and he had always had nightmares about this.

He was reclassified “unfit for further combat duty” and was briefed very strongly in March 1945 in the 726th Military Police Battalion. His job then was to look out for high-ranking German officials leaving to go to neutral Spain or Switzerland.

Pfc. Joe was on the small, 60-acre Mogmog Island when Germany surrendered.
“You never boasted, bragged or asked for adulation for your past,” said Haak. “You did the job you knew was right and quietly you cry at night.”

Now it was time for Joseph to go home. His entire battalion boarded on trains and moved to Marseilles, France and then boarded ship to pass the Straits of Gibraltar, cross the Atlantic Ocean into the Caribbean and traveled through the Panama Canal.

Upon returning home, Haak went out looking for work and secured a position in the Madsen Machine Company, with an apprenticeship to be a machinist under the G.I. Bill.

His next employment was at the Tangent Tool Company in Morrisville to learn to be a custom specifically designed tool maker, engineering extreme precision and high performance tools and he completed his on-the-job training and apprenticeship.

Joe returned to Bristol Borough and lived there for a few years until his recent death in February of 2010.

In an interview with BucksLocalNews, just a year before his death, Haak stated that “Bristol has always been a great town” and that after all that he had accomplished in life: “[Now] I do what I want to do.”

Well, whether he wanted to or not, growing up through the Great Depression and devoting years to our military, Joseph’s family can truly look back on his life and call it heroic.

“[I was] not a good dancer, two left feet,” Haak once said. “Just a good marcher as a soldier.”

Cate Murway contributed to this article.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Creed Palmer

‘Country Boy’ supervised gun repair during Battle of the Bulge.

By Petra Chesner Schlatter,

At 91, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Creed Palmer has a strong memory of being part of the invasion of Normandy and the subsequent Battle of the Bulge. By the time WWII ended, Palmer had reached the rank of master sergeant.

“I was in the ordinance company,” Palmer said, sitting at his kitchen table in Wrightstown Township. The Middletown Grange Fairgrounds back up to his small white house on Worthington Mill Road.

He is in good health. Surprisingly, he still helps to mow the yard.

Originally from North Carolina, Palmer graduated from the ninth grade. He and a friend, who was part Cherokee Native American, literally hitchhiked north, ending up at Bowman’s Tower in Washington Crossing, where his friend’s uncle lived. He was a full-blood Cherokee.

Palmer, who once was a hired farmhand at a nearby farm, had a book written about him: “The Life Story of a Country Boy.”

Being a farmhand, he worked to pay for food. “I made enough to eat,” he said.
“I went in the service,” Palmer said. “I figured that was better.”

In 1941, Palmer and his future brother-in-law, Leon Worthington, drove to Ft. Dix to enlist.
Getting to Europe was a long road for Palmer. From Ft. Dix, he was sent to points throughout the country for training. He went to Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri and Arizona. They were tested in 20 degrees below zero and 120-degree heat.

He would take responsibility of 50 men, heading up a group who repaired guns. That meant working on everything from rifles to canons. His men worked on .50-calibre machine guns.
“I had charge of all the guns that needed to be fired,” Palmer said.

“We did everything on the big guns (cannons),” he noted. “We stripped them all the way down and then put everything back together. We tested, fired it and it went back into position. We pulled it with a big truck.”

Palmer remembered how he had to sign a paper, taking responsibility for repairing the guns. “That was my job,” he said. “We had to certify the weapon was done. If it wasn’t, I’d get in trouble.”

The trip overseas to Europe was long, with ships of men packed like sardines. The hammocks were hung one on top of each other. They slept in shifts. When he would later return home by ship, he had learned that sleeping on deck was the way to go.

“We landed in Ireland,” Palmer said. They went to little towns where they trained for six months. They went into the mountains and approached foxholes. “You’d crawl and they were shooting machine guns over you,” he recalled. “You literally had to keep down.

“We went from there to Normandy,” he said. “The Germans had everything fortified. The Americans had to establish a beachhead to make sure the Germans were back far enough to make sure the troops could get in.”

“We went in the second day of the invasion of Normandy,” Palmer continued. “That’s how we got started. We established the beachhead and kept right on going. We stopped once. We wound up in Le Havre. We stayed there two to three weeks. We cleared out Le Havre of Germans.

“Once we got them out, we traveled a lot of time,” he said. “We went up through France up into Luxembourg. We traveled from there and went into Germany. We were riding in vehicles and walking.”

The Germans bypassed Palmer’s company. “They went right by,” he said. “Some of their troops went around our flank. That’s when they had the Battle of the Bulge. We were surrounded for three days. Finally, our troops cleared us.”

They headed to the Rhine River. “After we crossed the river — that was it. The war was over,” he said.

“We came back and went into France and they said, ‘You can go home,’” Palmer said.
What stands out in his mind is how many of the towns were leveled in France. “They didn’t touch any churches,” he said of the Germans.

“The people (the French) were nice,” he said. “The people were glad we got there.”

Watching the German surrender was quite a sight to see, according to Palmer. “We just crossed the Rhine River,” he said. “All the German vehicles came. They surrendered. Seeing all the guys coming – they were glad to give up.”

Palmer said he felt great, too. “I can get out of here now,” he remembered thinking. He was discharged in 1945.

Upon returning home, Palmer worked for General Motors. Next, he was a clerk at the Newtown Hardware House on South State Street in Newtown, where he worked for three decades.
In town, Palmer gained a reputation for being able to fix anything that was brought into the store.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Leon Bass

WWII combat engineer became a champion for peace and equality.

By R. Kurt Osenlund,

Leon Bass is a fine storyteller, and he has an incredible story to tell. The extremely eloquent 85-year-old, who lives in an apartment in Newtown’s Pennswood Village, has lived a life that would warrant a feature film. A WWII combat engineer who grew up before the Civil Rights Movement, he’s seen and endured hateful atrocities at home and abroad, only to emerge victorious as a resolute soldier for peace, equality and enlightenment.

Along with four brothers and one sister, Bass was raised by parents Henry and Nancy in a Philadelphia household. After graduating from West Philadelphia High School in 1943, Bass was voluntarily inducted into the Army and sent off to Camp Wheeler in Georgia for basic infantry training. He was placed in an all-black unit under the leadership of white officers.

“It was horrendous,” Bass says. “I had never experienced the kind of racism I experienced there. It was present in Philadelphia, but nowhere near as blatant. My father used to want to take me back to his hometown in South Carolina, but my mother always advised against it. I understood why when I got to the South. It was a very painful experience.”

Bass spent four months at Camp Wheeler before becoming a combat engineer and moving on to Camp McCain in Mississippi, a base that would send him out on long outdoor “maneuvers” to practice battle tactics. He then made his way to Camp Robinson in Arkansas to prepare for overseas duty, and soon found himself in Fordingbridge, a country town in Hampshire, England that would serve as a post to organize supplies. In December 1944, he crossed the English Channel into France and awaited orders in the bitter cold.

“When orders came down, we were told we were going to be part of the third army under the command of General George Patton,” Bass says.

Bass and the rest of the men in his unit were assigned the duty of repairing a bridge near the town of Martelange in Belgium. The bridge needed to be fixed so tanks, guns, men and ammunition could pass through and reach the adjacent town of Bastogne, where Americans were trapped by German soldiers.

“We worked night and day,” Bass says, “in spite of the weather, in spite of the land mines we would encounter, in spite of that one plane that seemed to fly over every day trying to bomb the bridge. And we finished it on time. And all of those resources reached the other side and we were able to defeat the enemy. And that was all part of what we now know as the Battle of the Bulge.”

Bass says he was very proud of the victory, but seeing the bodies of the men who died in the battle got him questioning what he was doing at war in the first place. Knowing full well he may also die in battle, he began wondering what he was fighting for, remembering all the times he was discriminated against in America: denied the privilege of drinking at a water fountain, unwelcome at a restaurant, forced to stand for 100 miles on a bus with vacant seats.

“I was angry at my country,” Bass says. “I felt used and abused. I’m going to protect all these people with my life, should that become necessary? Fight to preserve all the wonderful things I’m not good enough to enjoy? But the war went on, and I had to keep my anger down inside.”

Bass received new orders to report to Weimar in East Germany, and before long he saw something that would alter his life and outlook forever. A lieutenant drove him and a fellow soldier to Buchenwald, a concentration camp.

“I was to have the shock of my life,” Bass says.

At 19, Bass had never even heard of a concentration camp, and received the rudest awakening imaginable. Bass saw what he calls “the walking dead” – people who were skin and bone with skeletal faces. He says the stench of death and human waste was unbearable. He saw torture chambers, and human experimentation labs with body parts in jars of formaldehyde. He saw human skin stretched out on tables, crematoriums with human remains and stacks of corpses.

“And I knew it was all because the Nazis were saying these people weren’t good enough and therefore could be terminated,” Bass says. “Something changed. I came into the camp angry, but now I could see more clearly. I understood that human suffering was not relegated to just me – it can touch all of us. I had seen the face of evil, and the hate I saw in the South couldn’t even compare to the hate of the Nazis. I realized I had something to fight for – I had to help to destroy that evil. I decided that if I made it home, I would do something to effectuate change.”

Less than a year later, in January of 1946, Bass made it home, and he got busy. Using the financial benefits from his military service, he got into West Chester University, where he still had to face down racism, unable to stay in the dormitories or eat in the cafeteria. Only the second member of his family to attend college, he focused on his education, and began to adopt a non-violent protest mentality. After graduation he got a teaching job at an all-black elementary school in Philadelphia, and saw such landmark developments as the rise (and tragic fall) of Martin Luther King, Jr., the bold actions of Rosa Parks and the start of the Civil Rights Movement.

Bass became an elementary school principal in South Philadelphia, then the principal of an all-white school in the Northeast. Finally, he was called upon to be the principal of Benjamin Franklin High School, “the toughest school in the city” that, at the time, was all-male.

Bass has a knack for cleverly and dramatically unfurling the details as he recounts his life. There’s the sense he’s not only told this story before, but perfected the way he tells it. And then he explains how an Auschwitz survivor visited Benjamin Franklin High School one day, and wasn’t well-received by the unruly students until Bass told them to pipe down and listen, that he had seen the same things she did. After her presentation the survivor pulled Bass aside and told him he had a story to tell, too, and he needed to speak out.

“That was 1971,” Bass says, “and I’ve been speaking ever since. I’ve spoken at colleges, universities, maximum security prisons, churches, places across the country, overseas in Ireland, Bermuda. I was just at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School and soon I’ll be at a high school in Chicago. Because that evil is still with us. People are still doing evil things to each other. It will take over our hearts and minds if we let it, but we must not let that happen.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ralph “Fluffy” Landolfi

Former deli owner received three Bronze Stars in Korea.

By Matthew Fleishman,

At 21 years old, Ralph “Fluffy” Landolfi was sent to Korea after being drafted into the U.S. Army.

“I was stunned,” said Landolfi. “I didn’t know what to expect with the war going on. All I knew was that I would be away from home for two years.”

Landolfi, who was born in Trenton in 1930, was working for Labor and Industry in New Jersey when he was drafted and sent to Fort Dix for a week. From there, he was sent to Camp Gordon in Georgia for eight weeks of basic training, and eight weeks of training for his duties in Korea, which were jobs in Army communications.

In Landolfi’s first assignment, he was a courier dispatcher and would have to deliver information to the front.

“I would deliver messages to R.O.C. outfits at the front,” said Landolfi. “All alone at night with just the cat eyes of the Jeep. The only time I wasn’t scared over there was when they sent me to Japan on ‘R and R.’”

Soon after, Landolfi was assigned to the 937th Field Artillery B Battery, which was equipped with four M-40 self-propelled 8-inch guns. With the 937th, Landolfi was a radio jeep operator, which meant that he would go ahead of the unit to set up radio communication capabilities.

“We would always have one artillery piece with us, and would go up with a convoy that would pick a spot,” said Landolfi. “My job was to set up communications with the FDC (Fire Direction Center). Then we would be sent to the observation post to report on enemy activity and call in fire power.”

It was while with the 937th that Landolfi was injured, and subsequently received the Purple Heart. While scouting a new position for the outfit in September 1952, Landolfi’s truck was hit, injuring him and two other men in his unit, causing him to spend two weeks in the hospital with a leg injury.

“I didn’t know I got wounded until I put my hand on my leg and it was hot from the blood,” said Landolfi. “I was in the truck trying to get my gear out, and then we ran for cover just as the truck got hit.”

After recovering, Landolfi another nine months in Korea, and was sent home the day the truce was signed in 1953. He was honorably discharged from the Army on Sept. 16, 1953.

For his service in Korea, Landolfi, who is a member of both VFW Post 6393 and American Legion Post 317, received three Bronze Stars, the Korean Service Medal and the United Nations Service Medal, in addition to the Purple Heart.

Back at home, Landolfi opened the original Landolfi’s Deli in the Yardley Town Center in 1983 with his son, Steve. The Landolfi name was already famous in Trenton, as his father, Pasquale, owned Landolfi’s Frozen Food. The deli closed in 1988, but Steve later re-opened the deli in its current location on South Main Street in Yardley Borough.

Landolfi lives with his wife of nearly 55 years, Loretta, and they have five children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Name: BucksLocalNews

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