By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
March 27, 2007
In his book, “The Greatest Generation,” Tom Brokaw wrote, “When the United States entered World War II, the U.S. government turned to ordinary Americans and asked of them extraordinary service, sacrifice, and heroics. Many Americans met those high expectations….”
And indeed, this could be said in England, Canada, Russia and elsewhere.
Today these men and women are disappearing from our midst.
So we take a moment to proudly tell the story of at least two of these individuals.
Every single death is mourned by family and friends. When those friends and “family” include one’s military comrades and those from the nation he or she served; the honors extended may be somewhat greater but the sincerity, solemnity and meaning of the funeral and burial of every single man and woman are important and respectful.
Today, quite by chance, my wife and I were at Fort Meyer in Arlington, Virginia. Fort Meyer is adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery and frequently the chapel at Fort Meyer serves as the final parade ground for fallen American military men and women; fallen American heroes.
How a great nation recognizes service and honors its fallen tells a lot about the culture: the fiber of the nation’s soul.
Today we were signaled to a halt by a U.S. Marine Corps corporal in his dress blue uniform.
And then the U.S. Marine Corps Band, in their signature red uniforms, marched past, followed by a company of U.S. Marines in their dress blue uniforms; to give honor, dignity and respect to a Marine with long service to his country.
This kind of tribute happens daily throught the world. But we were moved by the immediacy and the finality facing us.
The chance event was a meaningful reminder of every man and woman who serves, and especially those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. We especially said a prayer for all the killed and wounded; in service of the rest of our American citizens.
The troops were marching toward the chapel for the funeral of Vance H. “Hudge” Hudgins, 87, a Marine Corps colonel who became a top official at the Department of Energy, and died March 4 of cerebrovascular disease and complications of diabetes at Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg, where he had lived for the past four years.
Col. Hudgins was born in Spartanburg, S.C., and graduated in 1941 from the U.S. Naval Academy.
He served in the South Pacific during World War II before being transferred back to the United States to train as a Marine aviator.
Based in the South Pacific, he flew 97 missions during the war. He was awarded the Legion of Merit, four Distinguished Flying Crosses and 12 Air Medals.
In 1950, Col. Hudgins received a master’s degree in engineering from Johns Hopkins University.
He was then assigned to the Atomic Energy Commission in Washington, where he worked on atomic weapons projects.
He served in the Korean War and later held executive positions at Quantico Marine Base and at a Marine base in California.
His final tour of duty was as commanding officer of the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan. While there, Col. Hudgins helped provide supplies, medical assistance, toys and games for more than 1,000 Japanese orphans who lived near the base.
After retiring from the Marine Corps in 1967, Col. Hudgins became director of international affairs for what later became the Department of Energy.
He visited 56 countries during his 20 years as a DOE official and helped negotiate international treaties for the safekeeping of nuclear materials.
From 1987 to 1995, he was a senior engineering officer at Meridian Corp., a Falls Church research and development firm.
Col. Hudgins, a longtime resident of Rockville, was a deacon and a member of the board of deacons of First Baptist Church in Bethesda. He volunteered to feed the homeless and participated in other volunteer activities through his church.
His wife of 58 years, Helen Hudgins, died in 2001.
Survivors include three children, Doris Hudgins Gaudette of Seattle and H. Pamela Hudgins and Vance F. Hudgins, both of Beltsville; and two grandchildren.
Rest in Peace, Colonel.
[At the request of the Arlington National Cemetery, the author gave his permission to use this article on the ANC website.]
WWII Hero Chase J. Nielson DiesDeseret Morning News
March 26, 2007One of Utah’s greatest World War II heroes, Air Force Lt. Col. Chase J. Nielsen (Ret.) of the Tokyo Doolittle Raiders, died March 23 at his home in Brigham City.
Born 90 years ago in Hyrum, Colo., Nielsen earned a civil engineering degree from Utah State University in 1939 and enlisted in what was then the Army Air Corps (later the Air Force) as a flying cadet. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1941.
Early the next year he became the navigator of one of the 16 B-52 bombers chosen to strike at Japan. The exceptionally dangerous raid, led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, was the first to hit Japan after that country’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Raiders traveled toward Japan on an aircraft carrier, the Hornet, and launched from the carrier. Normally, fighter planes took off from carriers but the heavily-laden bombers all managed to get airborne.
On April 18, 1942, Chase Nielsen’s plane hit industrial targets in Tokyo. But because they had been forced to take off farther from Japan than planned, the raiders ran out of fuel after they dropped their bombs.
His plane ditched four miles offshore in the East China Sea off the coast of occupied China, killing two crewmen. The survivors reached shore and were hidden by sympathetic Chinese.
However, Col. Nielsen and other crew members were captured by Japanese forces and tortured for information, but he never gave any except his name, rank and serial number. He was subjected to a mock execution, then actually sentenced to die. That sentence was commuted to life in prison, but three other Raiders were executed.
A press release issued by the Air Force about Col. Nielsen’s passing says, “Of the 80 men who took part in the raid with Col. Nielsen, three were killed during the mission, five were interned in Russia and eight became prisoners of war in Japan.”
Of those in Japan, three were executed by Japanese firing squads and a fourth died in captivity, it adds.
“Thirteen others would die later in the war,” the release says of the bombers’ crews. “There are 14 Raiders alive today.”
The raid had immense impacts here and in Japan. It gave American morale a much-needed boost at a time when the war had been going badly, and it forced Japan to divert forces to protect the mainland. That reduced the forces opposing Americans who were fighting their way across the Pacific.
Lt. Nielsen and the few survivors were rescued a week after the war ended. He had spent 40 months in prison, nearly all of that in solitary confinement. In 1946, he provided evidence during war crimes trials that helped convict Japanese officers of maltreatment and murder of prisoners.
Following World War II, he rose through the ranks in the Air Force, helping to build up the Strategic Air Command. He retired in 1961 as a lieutenant colonel.
Col. Nielsen then began a career as an industrial engineer at Hill Air Force Base, retiring in 1981.
He was the first Utahn to earn the Distinguished Flying Cross, and he was awarded the Air Medal, the Purple Heart with Cluster, the Air Force Commendation Medal with Cluster, the Outstanding Unit Award, the Longevity Ribbon with Four Clusters and the Chinese equivalent of the Flying Cross.