Honoring Centerville Veterans
The City of Centerville is proud to be home to so many men and women who served our country. A few are highlighted here and will be honored at the city’s Veterans Day Ceremony, November 11 at 11:00 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial at Stubbs Park, 255 West Spring Valley Pike.
We heard the stories below and we wanted to share these important memories.
Herman (Alf) Waggener, 99, United States Air Force
Alf Waggener is a retired colonel who was married to his wife Floss for 76 years before she died in February.
This fighter pilot flew 53 combat missions over Western Europe in 1944 during WWII.
Through a special project involving airplane petroleum products, Waggener led a task group that found a way to save the military an estimated $10,000,000 a year and received commendations from the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of the Air Force. Waggener also remembers administering the Air Force contract to clean up the Island of Iwo Jima after World War II while he spent three years stationed in Japan.
His caretaker at St. Leonard says she admires Waggener’s generation as a whole, “but Alf is definitely special to me.”
“It has been my honor and pleasure to hang out with this funny, caring, sweet man. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore,” Michelle Keown said.
Robert (Bob) Lamb, 95, Army Air Corps
Bob Lamb served in the Army Air Corps between 1943 and 1946. He was a bombardier instructor for six months and spent a year as a navigator on a B-25 in the Western Pacific after having earned his wings as an aerial navigator and bombardier.
Lamb says within the span of three or four weeks in 1945, his squadron experienced four incidents involving the deaths of 19 of their own men and an unknown number of Army soldiers. During one of his missions, Lamb was part of a group asked to give ground support to American infantrymen on an island in the Philippines. Because of the strategy employed by his bomb group, which involved low level strafing and bombing, they had only one plane equipped with a bombsight for high altitude operations.
The bombardier in the lead plane was to focus on a smoke bomb fired into the Japanese held location by our infantry, but it was snuffed out by the enemy and one of their own was sent back. The bombardier became confused and signaled “bombs away” over their territory.
Only the lead squadron released their bombs since the other three saw the error in time. However, the lead squadron of six planes had to repeat the original pattern for the other eighteen to unload on a correctly positioned smoke bomb.
Two of Lamb’s original crew were killed near Borneo in another “friendly fire” incident. After the war, Lamb took the opportunity to visit their families in Illinois and Kansas.
In New Guinea kunai grass grows up to 15 feet tall. Returning from a mission, the U.S. B-25s were forced to fly so low that grass was picked out of the engine cowlings after landing.
Only last year, 206 letters Lamb wrote to his parents were discovered in a storage area, as well as copies of the 130 letters they sent to him.
Lee Smith, 86, United States Air Force
Lee Smith spent 26 years active duty with the United States Air Force, with nearly half of those in a flying position. He also worked in engineering and research and development.
Smith says he enjoyed the mixture of different fields and estimates he spent more than 1,000 hours flying over Vietnam in a couple of tours.
Smith’s most memorable experiences include how difficult it was to complete missions in marginal weather. He recalled one time when he was delivering supplies and had trouble finding the base of a mountain to land. Ultimately, someone had to drive their vehicle to the end of the runway and shine their lights up on the final approach so the pilot could line up for a landing. They were finally able to spot the dim lights. Smith’s crew was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for successfully completing that mission.
“You don’t think about it at the time,” Smith said. “You just think: this is something that needs done and we’ll try our best to make it happen.”
Michael (Mick) Vision, 81, United States Navy
Mick Vision retired after a 26-year career in the United States Navy.
He handled weapons and operations as a nuclear weapons officer.
Vision shares his most memorable experience from his time serving was achieving the status of qualified diving officer. He was honored to dive on numerous operations.
William (Bill) Topp, 94, United States Marine Corps
Bill Topp was a Private First Class who served in the Pacific Theatre on Tinian and Saipan in the Marianas Islands as a member of the Sea Coast Artillery Battalion.
Topp calls himself ‘a radar operator, not a war hero.’ Others disagree. While approaching Tinian Island on a landing craft, a cable broke and the ramp fell, nearly drowning the crew on board. Topp survived.
Months later, three of his friends were killed on Tinian, and Topp had a seizure overnight. We woke up the next day in a hospital on Saipan. From there, he spent four months in three Navy hospitals prior to a medical discharge.
Recently, Topp had the honor of giving the first salute to long-time family friend Alexander Buckley. As he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. As is tradition, Buckley presented Topp with a silver dollar as a token of appreciation for his guidance and mentoring. Topp says the experience was “a real thrill.”