Keys Weekly honors local veterans

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In advance of this year’s Veterans Day, Keys Weekly wishes to offer our heartfelt appreciation to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who defend this country and protect its people. For that, we thank you. 

KEY WEST

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PFC Sam Holmes, U.S. Army, World War II, 1942-1946

Sam Holmes had just started at Yale University in the 1940s. The United States had just entered the Second World War following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Holmes knew he didn’t belong in a college classroom — at least not until the war was won.

So the scholarly Connecticut native became part of the 544th Field Artillery Battalion, serving in New Guinea and the Philippines. 

“A guy named Jim Page and I were in charge of a 40-mm gun whose shells weighed about 150 pounds each,” the dapper Holmes recalled Tuesday evening. “Jim and I had to carry the shell to the gun and we fired into the mountains of the Philippines to which the Japanese had fled at the time.”

Honorably discharged in March 1946, Holmes’ post-war life involved a successful career in newspapers. He also was chief of park rangers for the National Park Service, an amateur trapeze artist and circus historian who loves elephants. Holmes also wrote and published a book at the age of 95 for young readers called, “So Long, Big Duck.”

 

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Colonel Bill Nowadnick, U.S. Marine Corps, 1942-1973

“I’m the oldest around here,” Colonel Bill Nowadnick, a proud pilot for the U.S. Marine Corps, announced Tuesday night while eating hot wings at the Southernmost VFW Post 3911. 

Nowadnick is 98 years old and can still describe most of his 31 years on active duty as if he’s still in the South Pacific, Korea or Vietnam. He joined the Marines in 1942 and ended up in the Solomon Islands, the Marianas and Guam.

“I was a Marine Corps fighter pilot, although we didn’t have call signs back then,” he said. “At one point in the 1970s, I was commanding officer of Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point in North Carolina. I sent one of my squadrons to train in Key West and I went with them. That’s when I fell in love with Key West.”

 “I’m not stopping for another 10 years,” Colonel Bill announced with the certainty of a U.S. Marine.

 

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Dan Dedeo, U.S. Navy 1968-2005

“I couldn’t pass the chief’s test,” Dan Dedeo said, laughing with friends Tuesday at the VFW.

But that didn’t stop him from working as a Russian linguist for the National Security Agency and “several other overseas assignments that are probably still classified, so we won’t talk about those.”

Dedeo’s career spanned Fort Devins, Fort Worth, Rhoda, Spain, the Presidio in Monterey, California and finally the Joint Interagency Task Force–South in Key West. 

 

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Jim “Dagwood” Scholl, U.S. Navy 1979 – 2006

Before Jim Scholl was known locally as Key West’s former city manager, he had already wrapped up an impressive career as a Navy fighter pilot and commanding officer at Naval Air Station Key West.

Scholl also completed a total of six aircraft carrier deployments and served in Desert Storm.

“I spent a total of five years at sea aboard a carrier,” he said. “But my big claim to fame is that I graduated from Top Gun three years before the movie came out.”

 

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Ken Thompson, U.S. Navy, 1982 – 2015

“I was in aviation maintenance management and logistics. I worked my way up to master chief and then got commissioned as an officer.”

 

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Jerry Hughes, U.S. Army, Vietnam, 1969-1970

“It’s good to be home. I was in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade and was an infantry platoon leader in Vietnam. I spent two years on active duty and 13 years in the Army reserves. I got out as a major and have lived in Key West the past 20 years.”

Hughes serves on the Key West Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee and was instrumental in establishing the Vietnam Living Memorial at Key West’s Veterans Memorial Garden in Bayview Park.

 

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Master Sgt. James E. Lamberson Jr., U.S. Air Force (retired), 1973-1996

“I was in Desert Storm and was in the Air Force security police. I also served in Thailand at the end of Vietnam, and there are still some places I still don’t talk about.”

Lamberson was born and raised in Key West, which is one place he’s happy to discuss.

 

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Ed Walters, U.S. Army, 1st Lieutenant, 1967-68

“I was in infantry and civil affairs. I was part of the 1st Air Cavalry and was in Vietnam for 1967 and ’68 with Americal Division. I also held the position of Civil Affairs Executive and Commanding Officer.

 

William Hemmelgarn, U.S. Navy, 1976-96

“I handled Fleet Ballistic Missiles, and went everywhere from the Arctic Circle to the Equator. I was stationed here and working as military police when I retired here in Key West and decided to stay. That was 23 year ago.”

 

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Maj. Mark Tobin, U.S. Marine Corps (retired), 1985-2010

“I was stationed in Key West from 1997 to 2000, and this is where I met my wife. I was in Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2004. I left for Afghanistan when my daughter was only a month old in 2004.” 

Tobin held up a photo Tuesday night that showed him in uniform in 2004, kissing his tiny baby girl goodbye before his deployment to Afghanistan.

Talk about, “Good to be home….”

 

MARATHON

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Ken Bell 

“I wanted to be a United States Marine. Period.”

Ken Bell, born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, said he was following family tradition — his father and grandfather both served in the Army. 

He served from 1966 to 1972 and was present during the Tet Offensive.

“That’s when everything, literally, blew up,” Bell said. “Our base was attacked and lots of bad things happened.”

He said a sure highlight of his service was visits by Bob Hope. 

After getting out of the service, Bell traveled frequently in his role as a commercial casualty agent. He is a past commander of the Disabled American Veterans chapter in Marathon, and past commander and financial officer of the American Legion in Marathon. He also is the commandant of the local chapter of the Marine Corps League and vice president of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

 

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Vickie Nelson

Vickie Nelson enlisted in the Air Force in 1978. She was a medical technician at the hospital at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. “I did one year of college, but I wanted something different — I wanted to get an education and travel and the service seemed like the way to go.” Although she only served a few years, she married an enlisted man and got her wish, traveling to Greece. “I was born and raised in Fort Bragg. My father was a Green Beret who did three tours in Vietnam, and my brother retired from the Air Force.” Nelson works at the Marathon City Marina and said customer service suits her better than military service.

 

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Jenna Roddy

Jenna Roddy spent a decade as an MP in the Army, or Military Police. Now a physical education teacher at Stanley Switlik Elementary, she said she tells the children that Army life is like school life — everyone needs to work as a team. She enlisted right out of high school, at 17 years old, following in the footsteps of her two older brothers. “I was very patriotic at the time, but I also liked the idea of a free education.” Roddy spent the majority of her military career serving with the Georgia National Guard, and her unit performed detainee operations. 

 

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Jim Willey

He can tell you what he did in the Army between 1975 and 1978, but then he’d have to kill you. Just kidding. But local Realtor Jim Willey will admit he was in military intelligence. “I had enrolled in college … but it just wasn’t for me. So I went into the recruiter’s office and took the assessment test. When I was done, they moved me to another room and told me to wait. Apparently I had scored in the top 1% and was on my way to the National Security Agency.” Willey said the armed forces were still engaged in the Cold War at the time. “Let me put it this way, the linguist in our shop spoke Chinese.” Willey withdrew from the service and went on to have a productive career at IBM, and then Proctor & Gamble. 

 

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Tony Mandile

Pastor Tony Mandile of Marathon’s Martin Luther Chapel spent seven years in the Air Force. “Definitely, the most romantic part was as crew chief of the Boeing EC 135, the flying command post in the event of a nuclear war.” Mandile said he was essentially a mechanic, making constant safety inspections. At the time he served, he said, there were four similar aircraft — one on alert, the second as a backup, and two more in maintenance rotation. It carried 110,000 gallons of jet fuel and could stay aloft for 24 hours or longer, or refuel fighter jets with a boom. “There were eight officers aboard whose job was to code and decode top secret messages between the Air Force and the Navy.” He came from a family of servicemen and said he had a sincere desire to serve his country.

 

Upper Keys

 

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CHRISTOPHER MATTSON

Hometown: Little Torch Key

Service branch: U.S. Air Force

Unit: 30th Security Forces Vandenberg AFB

Rank at discharge: E-4

When did you enlist: April 1993

Years of service: 4-1/2 years

What do you remember most about serving: During training, I won the award for top performer, as well as being deployed to Saudi Arabia. 

What’s your occupation? Florida Fish & Wildlife investigator. 

What about the Keys do you enjoy: The close-knit community. 

What do you love to do in the Keys: I love to dive. 

 

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DOMENIC TOMEO 

Purple Heart 

Hometown: Vineland, New Jersey 

Service branch: Army 

Unit: 4th Infantry Division

Rank at discharge: Staff sergeant. 

What do you remember most about serving: Vietnam truthfully screwed me up when I came home. The whole world had changed when I had came home. My good buddies were against the war. They looked at you and didn’t like you. 

What was your occupation after the war: I had a million different occupations. I did construction in the beginning up in New Jersey. I did block work. I was a laborer a lot of the time. I started selling cars in ’76. 

What about the Keys do you enjoy: I came to the Keys originally in 1990. I like the fresh air. That’s a good thing. I’m also glad there isn’t a bunch of industry down here.

 

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JAMES NINEHOUSER

Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

Service Branch: U.S. Navy

Unit: I served on the USS Coral Sea. I enlisted in 1952-53.

Rank at discharge: About the same as when I went in. I was discharged in 1962. 

What do you remember most about serving: My dad died when I was overseas. My ship was everywhere, both the Atlantic and Pacific. Our ship tried to get through the Panama Canal and we couldn’t fit. I had a good time serving.

What about the Keys do you enjoy: I fell in love with the palm trees. I moved to Miami in 1971 and the Keys in 1980. 

What do you love to do in the Keys: I like to fish and going to Caribbean Club. 

 

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JOHN DONNELLY 

Purple Heart 

Hometown: New York City 

Service branch: U.S. Marine Corps

Unit: 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Rank at discharge: non-commissioned officer

What do you remember most about serving: The whole war experience. What you begin to do is value the skillsets of fellow Marines. You trust and love the man to your left and to the right. It’s what sustains you and hurts you when they’re killed. 

What do about the Keys do you enjoy: I love the environmental beauty. I came down in 1974. 

What do you love to do in the Keys: I like to bicycle and swim. 

 

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RUSS ELLIS 

Hometown: Royal Oak, Michigan 

Service branch: Marine Corps 

Unit: Headquarters Squadron, First Marine Air Wing Tactical Directions Center

When did you enlist: November 1965

Rank at discharge: Corporal E-4 

What do you remember most about serving? Some of the things Domenic said, you can put ditto marks after these things. First thing, when I came home from Vietnam, November of ’67, the country had changed. It was a different world than the one I left when I joined the Marines.

What was your occupation after the war: I couldn’t hold a job for 2-4 months. I went across the country several times and could not find a niche or a place. I sold cars at this one dealership, and I was there I think five months. I got a job at a Pep Boys store on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Later, I got a job working for a railroad company in Southern California, and couldn’t make that work, so I went to Michigan to work for a sewer construction company to put in lines. 

What do enjoy most about the Keys: 

The weather. In Michigan, we used to look forward to summers because there was always nice weather. In the Keys, it’s summer all the time. I enjoy the weather and fresh air and clear skies.

What do you love to do in the Keys: I’ve been dabbling in cement, and maintaining vehicles is pretty much my hobby. I also like woodwork. 

 

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JASON KENDALL

Hometown: Key Largo

Service branch: Marines

What unit: Multiple units 

Rank at discharge: Major

When did you enlist: I enlisted in September 1996

How long did you serve: A little over 20 years. 

What do you remember most about serving: The camaraderie and friendship.

What about the Keys do you enjoy most: I love the environment. 

What do you love to do in the Keys: I love to boat and fish.

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