Baylor senior Teddy Lepcio organized a Veteran's Day panel that included four WWII and Cold War Veterans.
"Veterans are a part of the Greatest Generation who gave so much to our country and to who we are eternally grateful," noted Lepcio in the introduction of Ralph Painter, Don Gravink, Al Smith and Terry Johnson at Upper School Assembly. The assembly was followed by two panel discussions for several history classes, giving students the opportunity to hear stories and ask questions about their experiences.
Panel Participant Bios:
WWII - Staff Sargent Ralph Painter, U.S. Army - After growing up in Spice Run West Virginia, Ralph moved to Polk County TN and was drafted into the Army at 21 years of age in August of 1942 in Ft. Oglethorpe GA. He says he preferred the army since he got seasick.
Ralph was sent to Ft Bragg for basic training and was assigned to Artillery. Their unit later became an armored unit and was sent over on the QE2 to train in England for D-Day the Allied Invasion that was to land on the French coast. On June 6th, the units drew straws and his unit drew Utah Beach. Ralph was in the first tank to roll off of the landing craft and out onto Utah Beach and later into Normandy. Their friends who drew Omaha Beach were all sadly killed on D-Day.
Unbelievably, Ralph would be in combat for 335 straight days after the landing! After Taking Normandy, his unit joined the 3rd armor division in St. Lo. They would then fight their way through one of the most treacherous battles in the war – the Battle of the Bulge. The temperature inside the tanks was -20 and -30 degrees and the battle raged for 8-10 weeks in the Ardennes Forest. Ralph and his crew battled frostbite and to this day John only has partial blood flow in his feet.
Next, they took Aukin Germany where the V1 Flying Bombs were produced and eventually their tanks rolled into Berlin. He said that they shot off 161,000 shells over the course of the war.
Ralph and his unit would go to earn 5 Bronze Battle Stars and one Bronze Star. Ralph has also been awarded the French Legion of Honor Award, the Valley Forge Freedom Award and the Veterans Freedom Award.
(We would like to wish Ralph a Happy Birthday – he will be 96 this Sunday!)
WWII & Japanese Reconstruction - Captain Don Gravink, U.S. Army - Don graduated from High School in 11943 and 18 days later he was in uniform! Don was drafted into WWII in 1943 as a private and would serve until 1956 when he left as a Captain in the Army Reserve.
Capt. Gravink joined the Army and was signed up to be an Anti-Aircraft Gunner but he volunteered to be a Paratrooper so he was sent to Ft. Benning GA. His entire class was sent to Europe for the D-day invasion but he was selected to stay at Ft. Benning as an instructor. He was later sent to the Philippines to train for the invasion of Japan. He was to leave on the invasion force on August 5, but the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6.
After Japan's surrender, Capt. Gravink was sent to Japan to construct an Army building. The experience that followed was an amazing story of kindness, understanding and forgiveness – a story he will hopefully share with us today. In all he would spend 7 years in Japan, later returning as a Counter Intelligence Officer after learning the Japanese language.
WWII & Cold War: Gunners Mate Al Smith, U.S. Navy - As a teenager in Mississippi, Al worked on a sea going tugboat and joined the Navy after his birthday in 1943 as a 15-year-old! Al doctored his birth certificate to show he was old enough to join without parental permission. He informed his mother of his whereabouts after he'd been at sea with the Navy for several months.
Al was sent to New London Connecticut to be a submariner. Al's first submarine was the USS Carbonero which was sent to Pearl Harbor to patrol on guard duty and help rescue downed aviators. The USS Carbonero sunk 8 Japanese ships with fire from the deck guns maned by Al over the next 2 years.
At the end of the war, Al left the service but felt called to reenlist in 1948. He was posted to the USS Cochino next which carried out some of the earliest espionage missions of the Cold War vs. the Soviet Union. During a mission off Norway, north of the Arctic Circle the Cochino was sunk after an explosion and Al was very lucky to be rescued – seven seamen perished.
Cold War: Chief Petty Officer Terry Johnson, U.S. Navy - Terry joined the Navy in 1975 turning 21 in boot camp in San Diego. He was trained as an Electronics Technician and his first ship was the USS Theodore Roosevelt based out of Pearl Harbor which sailed on Cold War patrols off the coast of Guam.
He next was sent to the USS Acadia where he ended up working his way around the world with stops in the Philippines, Italy and Spain. Afterwards Terry was stationed in San Diego at the Submarine Training Facility.
Terry's last assignment was as the Reactor Controls Chief on the USS John Marshall where he had to elude Russian Spy ships. He retired from the Navy in 1986 after serving for 11 years.