IN?HONOR… Saluting area war veterans

Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts.

After 28 days, the ship landed at Cherburg, France. U.S. Merchant Marine Carleton Wagner spent those 28 days worrying about torpedos from German submarines. He thought how ironic it would be if his ship were blown up, only for the Germans to find out that instead of sinking guns and ammo, they had sunk 40 homes for the French! But the ship arrived safely, and next Wagner was off to Hampton, England.

Here, Wagner helped convert a cargo ship to a troop carrier ship needed to transport 535 soldiers back home to Boston after three years of intense combat. Returning to New York after this, Wagner signed up for the SS John 1 McCavley and went back to France. This time, the ship carried war recovery items and food and dairy products. The ship’s supplies were unloaded, and it headed to Liverpool, England.

A special project was in the works in Liverpool to redesign a ship to bring back home to the United Sates. This ship needed to carry special Army equipment, and building an additional deck was necessary. Wagner helped with this project, and the modified ship was a success. The return trip carried not only the special equipment, but many soldiers. Every available space was filled with men eager to go home.

But plans were waylaid when, four days into the trip, the ship hit a massive storm and had to turn around and return to England. The scheduled 22-day trip turned into 33 days. During that storm, Wagner remembers his ship sailing alongside the Queen Mary with about one mile of water between them. The swells were so big that while Wagner’s ship was caught in the low part of the swell, the Queen Mary disappeared until the swell shifted.

But Wagner’s ship of equipment and soldiers made it back to New York. Wagner would have signed up for another voyage, but there were none scheduled. The war had ended, but Wagner wasn’t done with the military. He decided that, having seen some of the world by sea, he would join the Army next. In June of 1946, he met with the recruiter and signed the paperwork. He was off to Fort Dix for another eight weeks of boot camp.

When he had completed his training, Wagner was sent to California, with orders to report to the replacement battalion at Camp Stoneman. Anyone reporting here could end up with orders to go west. Wagner waited three days and then was sent to Seoul, Korea. His job was to work on telephone and land line communication systems. Korea wasn’t the best place to be stationed, but in 1947, it wasn’t the worst place, either. It would be years before the Korean War broke out, but the United States and NATO forces kept a military presence there.

The signal company had more men there than they needed, so the division requested that some of the men volunteer to work in the motor pool. With Wagner’s experience with farm equipment and machines, the motor pool seemed like a good option – especially since climbing telephone poles left those men within good range of snipers’ bullets. His new duty working on automobiles lasted until his enlistment expired. He ate his Thanksgiving meal in Korea, and then headed home to join the civilian corps. But Wagner couldn’t quite part ways with the military, so he joined the Active Reserve. Doing so meant maintaining his E-4 pay grade, along with the perks of being a corporal. It would certainly come in handy if another conflict ignited.

Wagner’s enjoyment of civilian life was short-lived. One day, all the radio stations in the United States were tuned in to President Truman telling the country that troops would be sent to South Korea. NATO was involved. But, assured Truman, this is not a “war,” but a “police action.” It was less than a week from this broadcast that Wagner received his letter in the mail, giving him orders to report to Fort Hood in Texas. As a heavy ordinance operator, rumor had it that the unit would not actually go to Korea. But as rumors often are, they were wrong. The commanding officer announced that Wagner’s unit, along with all of their equipment, would board freighters to travel to Pusan, Korea.

Wagner started to experience trouble with his sight. It was decided that because of this, he should be transferred to a motor pool company. He went to Yokoma, Japan. There, he received orders to the 108 GM Bakery Company. It was back to Korea, to Wonju. He was then assigned to the 88 Vehicle Motor Pool. He was given the responsibility of seven vehicles and drivers. The bakery company would take fresh-baked goods and try to get them to the men on the front lines, fighting in the trenches. Wagner’s commanding officer often said that if a man was stuck on the front lines in the trenches, they should at least do their best to get him a decent meal.

When the armistice was finally signed, Wagner returned home from Korea for the last time. His career with the United States military led to many medals and awards, including the Korean Conflict Medal, the NATO Medal: Korea, the Presidential Unit Medal, the National Defense Medal, the Korean 50th Anniversary Medal, the M-1 Rifle and the M-1 Carbine.

After the military, Wagner found employment with the Woster Trucking Company. He drove trucks until his retirement, traveling to places like Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi. He delivered dog food products and many Red Wing products.

In the summer of 1952, Wagner had married his high school sweetheart Evelyn Jane Franklin at the Dunkirk Conference Grounds. Together, they had five children, Timothy, Candice, Yvonne, Brian and Melinda. Now, they also have five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. After moving eight times, the Wagners now call Westfield home. They are active within their church, the Lake Shore Assembly of God. They follow sports and enjoy gardening together. At times, they just relax and watch the rabbits running through their yard.

One of Wagner’s life’s highlights happened around eight years ago when he was asked to attend a service at his church. After the service, all of the veterans and military personnel were invited to attend a breakfast in the church’s hall. Each veteran was handed a bowl of Wheaties to start the meal. Then, a few minutes later, each veteran was presented with a special box of Wheaties with his or her military photo printed on the front of the box. This was an excellent and creative way to thank these brave men and women for their service. It also let the congregation know that the real heroes are right here.

These veterans surround us in our churches and our communities. It’s not movie stars or baseball players or rock stars who we should look up to. It’s the men and women who are brave enough and honorable enough to sign up to fight for our country. They don’t know where they will be sent or what they will encounter, but they swear to fight for freedom and battle injustice. These Wheaties were truly the breakfast of champions, our veterans! My hat is off to the Lake Shore Assembly of God church for honoring our nation’s heroes!

Carlton Wagner is another local hero who signed up not once, but twice, to do his duty for the country that he loves.