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Veterans Day Celebration Recognizes Decorated Utah Soldiers

November 12, 2008 — Thirteen Utah veterans who were imprisoned, injured, or involved in heavy combat were honored this year at the University of Utah’s annual Veterans Day Commemoration. Special events and celebrations are held each year around campus throughout the day of November 11 to honor the service men and women who have protected our country. Beginning at 11:00 a.m. in the Olpin Union Ballroom, Utah veterans received honorary medallions in a full-dress military ceremony. The honorees were selected from nominations submitted by friends and family.

Because of their advancing years and the enormous contribution made to their country, the University Veterans Day committee chose 12 of the honorees this year from those Utah veterans who served during World War II. One other, Jefferey L. Thompson is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. During his career, Thompson earned two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, four Air Medals and two Navy Commendation medals. Looking back on his career, Thompson says, “during my time in Vietnam and the military I was continually impressed with the selflessness of the personnel I served with, their love of country and their loyalty to those serving with them.”

Honoree Neil K. Holbrook was one of the Navy’s six original “frogmen” during World War II. Armed only with combat knives, Holbrook and other team members swam into the surf while under fire from Japanese fortified positions. They placed explosives on underwater devices that would obstruct U.S. landing craft, and then detonated them to clear the invasion channels. He was wounded at Okinawa and received the Purple Heart. “There was no leave of duty. If we got wounded we’d be treated by a corpsman or a fellow team member and go right back into combat,” said Holbrook. “We didn’t like fighting the war, but if we hadn’t we’d all be speaking a different language today.”

Preceding the medallion ceremony, a morning panel entitled “MEDIC!” was held in the Olpin Union Panorama East Room. Four panelists discussed what its like to be wounded in combat and the challenges medics face when responding with life-saving care.

Following the ceremony, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Union Ballroom, the public was invited to experience the bygone big-band era with the Phoenix Swing Band comprised of local retired musicians and professionals, many of whom are veterans themselves.        

At 1:30 p.m. back in the Panorama East Room there was a special lecture entitled “History of the U.S. Army Medical Services.” The presentation was given by Tom McMasters, Director, U.S. Army Medical Department Museum, Fort Sam Houston. A vintage military display was staged just south of the Olpin Union Building.

Later that night, at 7:00 p.m. the 53rd Annual Veterans Day Concert was scheduled for at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. The Utah National Guard 23rd Army Band performs an array of instrumental songs and melodies. A chorus of hundreds of students from nearby high schools also performs with the band. The concert is always free and open to the public and broadcast live on KUED, channel 7.


Raymond Casaday
Raymond Casaday from Castle Gate joined the Marines early in 1942. Casaday’s battalion was ordered to cross the half-mile-wide Tarawa island and secure its airstrip. His “amtrac” with its load of marines was one of the first to reach the seawall where they met fierce resistance. “I saw ever so many marines fall,” he recalls. “So many bodies washed ashore the water was red.”

Ken Chidester
Chidester was copilot of a B-29 from the 881st Squadron, 73rd Bomb Wing. He was on the first of 32 bombing missions and had to ditch in the ocean about halfway home. The crash landing took the lives of three crewmen and the bombardier. Chidester suffered a broken nose and a severe gash in his leg, but got into a rubber raft and saved a fellow crewman whose lifejacket had not inflated. The seven survivors spent nearly two days in the rubber raft before they were rescued by an American submarine.

Allen Christensen
Allen Christensen, best known as Ace, was sent to Manila in the Philippines, arriving on Thanksgiving Day. On December 7 they learned of the Pearl Harbor attack. Although unequipped to fight a war, they held out for five months. Eventually, they left the jungle only to be put aboard what were called “hell ships.” More than 1,000 already-suffering men were jammed into a ship’s hold, stacked in rough lumber tiers built so close together they couldn’t sit up or stretch out.

Paul E. Galloway
In October 1942 Paul’s unit was sent to Scotland where its crews starting flying B-17s. On Galloway’s seventh mission the bomber formation was attacked by German Focke-Wulf 190 fighters. Two planes were shot down, and then the Germans came after Galloway’s plane. Galloway, who was at a gun station, was knocked unconscious momentarily. When he returned to his machinegun, he realized he’d been hit in his left eye. Yet he was still able to down a German fighter.

Charles Goodliffe
Goodliffe was drafted in April 1941 and arrived on the island of Mindanao, Philippines, in December. He was in a supplies unit, but they were soon cut off without food and had to live off the land. In May, 1942, American forces surrendered to the Japanese. Goodliffe was imprisoned on the island until October, when he was sent to the Davao Penal Colony. Afterward, Charles was put onto a “hell ship” to Japan. In Japan, he worked in a steel mill. At the time of the Japanese surrender in 1945, Goodliffe weighed 83 pounds.

 Max Eugene Harding
In the autumn of 1944, on the island of Leyte, Private First Class Max Harding, a draftee from Provo, Utah, saw his first combat action. One evening following a fierce battle, Harding was assigned to protect and care for casualties who could not be evacuated from the battle site until the following morning. Knowing the enemy’s ability in nighttime patrols, he cautioned the wounded men under his care: “Don’t moan or cry out.” Then he reassured them: “I will protect you and we’ll be OK.” And they were.

Stillman Jacob Harding
Stillman Harding was raised on a farm in Willard, Utah and graduated from Box Elder High School. In 1942, Stillman was trained on B-17s and B-24s. Based in southern Italy, they flew missions into Germany, Romania, Austria and Southern France. On a mission over Austria to bomb a factory producing German fighters, the bombers encountered heavy flak. A nearby burst penetrated the aircraft and left Lieutenant Harding without a thumb and with a severe leg wound.

Neil K. Holbrook
Neil Holbrook volunteered for “extreme hazardous duty” in a prototype unit performing underwater demolition. His rigorous training included open-water swimming at night, ocean swimming, diving, navigation, hand-to-hand combat (during which his leg was broken), scouting, mapping, rubber-boat training, knife fighting, explosives, gunnery, and small boat operations. He has reason to believe he is the only surviving member of the Navy’s original “frogmen.”

Hyrum Grant Keeler
A native of Provo, Utah, Grant Keeler was a pilot of a B-17 bomber and his first mission was on July 4, 1944. Most of Keeler’s missions sent him over Germany, bombing fuel refineries, railroad yards, and ball-bearing factories, the latter located in the famously well-defended city of Schweinfurt. In October, ground fire struck his aircraft, hitting Keeler in the leg. In November, Keeler’s plane was again hit over Germany, but the B-17 couldn’t make it and came down. Keeler, his copilot, bombardier and navigator were quickly captured by German troops.

Byron Lemmon
Byron Lemmon’s mortarmen engaged the Germans in the Colmar Pocket campaign, where some of the fiercest fighting of the European Theater took place and in some of the coldest weather in two decades. The mortars were kept busy providing fire support for the advancing American infantry. Lemmon earned a Bronze Star for heroism when, as the medal’s citation explains, he “refused to leave his gun even under an intense enemy barrage and continued to fire his weapon during a critical fire mission with complete disregard for his own safety.”

Afton Pollock
Afton Pollock became an aerial photographer, assigned to take crucial intelligence photos that helped plan bombing raids and also aided in evaluating the accuracy of the bombardiers. He flew 73 bombing missions and at least that many more on reconnaissance flights over enemy territory. In February 1945, Pollock’s plane was on a bombing mission to Mandalay, Burma, when an engine failed and they were still 300 miles from their base. There was no choice but to jump into the jungle.

Alden Rigby
A native of Fairview, Utah, Alden Rigby named his own P-51D fighter “Eleen and Jerry” after his wife and baby daughter. On November 27, 1944, Rigby downed his first enemy fighter. In January, he was one of 12 pilots who flew combat during the famous “Legend of Y-29 Mission,” during the “Battle of the Bulge”, in which he shot down two Me-109s and two FW-190s, which were Germany’s top fighters.

Jeffrey Thompson
In June 1967, Jeffrey Thompson was assigned as a gun director officer on the USS Epperson, a destroyer out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. His ship spent seven months off the coasts of North and South Vietnam. The Epperson fired almost 17,000 rounds, a record for that class of ship. The ship’s personnel won the Combat Action Ribbon for hostile action. For high resolution photos of the honorees and a full schedule of all Veterans Day events visit the following Web site: