Luther Crest Veterans Richard Schermerhorn, Susan Reismeyer and Ed Alexander

Diakon senior living residents honored for military service

Diakon Senior Living Communities Friday November 15, 2019

At 94, Ed Alexander vividly recalls his days as a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps. 

He flew as a radio operator in a C-46, “the largest twin-engine aircraft flown by any air force in the world.” The planes could transport 10,000 pounds of cargo, such as ammunition, food and Bailey bridges—portable bridges that could be assembled quickly over a river.

Alexander, a resident of Luther Crest in Allentown, Pennsylvania, was among military veterans honored at ceremonies Nov. 11 at Diakon senior living communities. A number spoke of their experiences (Richard Schermerhorn’s recollections are summarized in a Many Voices. One Heart. blog post.)

“I had a khaki uniform,” says Alexander, noting the corps later became the newly formed Air Force under President Harry Truman. He was involved in two plane crashes as a radio operator, one in which no one was hurt when there was a collision on landing strip. 

The other happened on a short flight from his base in Burma to pick up an engineering battalion in China. The plane was carrying a large cargo of personnel records: 10,000 pounds of paper. When the pilot experienced problems with one of the engines, he landed the plane wheels up. Alexander’s chair broke and he landed on his back between the pilot and co-pilot, his boot caught on the windowsill.

There, he had a good view of the plane’s nose-art, an attractive woman. “I looked up and saw her grinning at me,” Alexander laughs, “probably thinking how was I going to get out of there?”

Alexander did free himself, as did the pilot, co-pilot and engineer. “We landed in a high pasture in southwestern China. An old man was working with a hoe and didn’t realize the plane was there burning. A crowd came to see this burning monster in the cornfield.”

Unfortunately, two Chinese women were killed when hit by the wingtip. “I’ve thought about those women a lot,” he says quietly. “They were someone’s wives, daughters, and mothers. They went to work in the cornfield and never came back.”

Alexander is grateful the pilot landed the plane and saved the lives of the crew, but the women who lost their lives, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, still weighs on his mind. “When you fly you run into all sorts of incidents,” he says.

In fact, he recalls another Burma-to-China flight during which they were left with one operating engine. The crew unfastened 20 of the 26 drums of gasoline they were transporting and threw them out of the plane. “It flies better with a lighter load,” he explains. When they arrived and were asked what happened to the missing drums, “we said we sold them!”

“We saved a lot of lives. It was very good work and our mission was wonderful.” 

Alexander served from October 1943 to the summer of 1945. This January will mark six years that this native of New Bedford, Mass. has lived at Luther Crest; his wife passed away three years ago.

The couple had three children, a daughter who lives in Center Valley, a son in Georgia who served five years in the Navy and a second son, now living in Maryland, who served 22 years in the Air Force.

“He retired a lieutenant colonel, and I was a staff sergeant,” Alexander says, nothing that Gen. Henry H. Arnold wanted all of his enlisted men to be staff sergeants because, if captured by the Germans, they would be treated with the respect the Germans held for that rank.

Veteran Ed Alexander

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Susan Reismeyer, who has called Luther Crest home for the last five months, served in the Air Force from 1967 to 76. An Air Force flight nurse, she was stationed in Japan from 1968 to 1970, flying medical evacuations out of Vietnam.

“We were very busy, we worked all the time. I was very young at the time. We’d bring the wounded out to Japan, the Philippines and the States,” she says today, noting they’d fly into U.S. airports in Alaska, Illinois, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. “We racked up a lot of air miles.”

In fact, she adds, “we did wonderful things bringing men home to be with their families,” noting that the injured sometimes included amputees who had encountered land mines. “We saved a lot of lives. It was very good work and our mission was wonderful.”

Having earned the rank of captain, Reismeyer married and had a baby. She was then discharged “because back then you could not have a dependent under 18.” That policy has since been changed.

Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Reismeyer lived in the West for 50 years. “My husband was a geologist who looked for gold all over the world.” 

Her husband died two years ago and one of her daughters, son-in-law and two granddaughters live in Pennsylvania, so she made the decision to move to Luther Crest. Another daughter lives in Atlanta.

Reismeyer is quick to emphasize that her work as flight nurse was not about her but her team, which consisted of two nurses and three medical technicians. “I worked with wonderful people. Our mission was as a team, we were part of a group. I loved it,” she says.

“I’ve lived all over the world and this is the best country in the world. That’s why I went in” the military. In fact, she recalls, a lot of people her aged were engage in protesting the war. “I wasn’t going to do that,” she notes. “I joined to do my part.”

Veteran Susan Reismeyer

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“It was a regular hitch in the army,” says Harry Rockafellow of his one-and-a-half years of service in the Army of Occupation after World War II in Japan, 1946 to 1947.

In fact, Rockafellow, today a resident of The Lutheran Home at Topton, did not want to go to Japan, having been influenced by war-movie propaganda of the time. “I was a strong country boy and thought no one better say one wrong thing to me.”

But Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, wanted peace. “He said, ‘Don’t get in any trouble and no fighting with the Japanese, or you’ll have more trouble.’”

When Rockafellow returned to the U.S., his outlook had changed dramatically. “When I came home from Japan nine months later, I had as good of Japanese friends as Americans. I found the common people were very nice.”

A private first class, Rockafellow served on a military government team in the procurement office, which he describes “as a small office covering an area about the size of New Jersey.” His commander was Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, who was in charge of the Eighth Army. During the recent celebration, he wore his Eighth Army patch as well as his dog tags.

Rockafellow recalls his military service as “very easy duty—it was peacetime. I’m glad I went to Japan; it was such an interesting experience.”

The 92-year-old grew up on his grandfather’s farm in New Jersey. His grandfather, he notes, was born 11 months before Lincoln was shot. “We had no electricity for the first 14 years of my life.”

Rockafellow, whose wife passed away 18 years ago. He has a son in Albuquerque and a granddaughter in Florida. His older son died at age 29 of brain cancer; at the time, he was a captain in the Army, having served four years on active duty.

Although Harry Rockafellow’s birthday occurred just before Veterans Day, he explains with a mischievous grin that “you celebrate birthdays only up until 75.”

Veteran Harry Rockafellow with his dog tags and Eighth Army patch.

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To see more images from the Veterans Day celebrations, click here.

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