Every Memorial Day provides the opportunity for Americans to pause and reflect on the tremendous sacrifices our men and women in uniform have given over the course of the nation’s history. America’s veterans have fought and won countless battles, including those that helped overthrow colonial oppressors, slavery, Nazism, communism, and radical Islamic terror.
Alabamians have done more than their fair share to help keep the homeland safe and secure. Over the years, Yellowhammer has worked hard to cover many of these heroes so that their stories can be told. On this Memorial Day weekend, here is just a small fraction of the incredible stories from past and present that demonstrate the dedication to country, courage, and tenacity of Alabamians who have served and are serving in the armed forces. You can read more about each hero by clicking on the linkes below.
SALUTE: 75 years later, Alabama veteran casualty of Pearl Harbor identified, laid to rest
Water Tender First Class Walter H. Sollie was an 18-year Navy veteran on the day the Japanese attacked at Pearl Harbor. Enlisting at the age of 18, the Myrtlewood, Alabama native was the grandson of Civil War veterans, and he served on the U.S.S. Huron and the U.S.S. North Hampton before his tragic assignment to the U.S.S. Oklahoma. At the time of the attack, he had a woman waiting for him in San Diego, Calif. with the plan that they would one day be married.
But that dream never came to pass. Sollie was one of the 429 casualties aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma, and for 75 years, he was never found. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, only 35 were properly identified and buried.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of the Defense answered the prayers of the Sollie family and so many others. The DOD announced its intention to exhume the remains of the Oklahoma in an attempt to bring a sense of closure to the families who lost loved ones. Surviving members of the deceased were asked to provide DNA samples to the analysts to properly identify the remains.
WATCH: Alabama veteran shares first-hand experience from Pearl Harbor
96-year-old U.S Navy and Marine Corps Veteran Master Sergeant Thomas Davis saw a Japanese plane drop the first bomb on the USS Arizona in-person. On this 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Davis shared his experience in the video linked above.
“I watched the whole thing. It was something. I’m telling you, it was something I never want to see again,” Davis said. “I was on the boat deck and I saw the first Japanese plane come over. He came over and he dropped the bomb right down the stack of the Arizona and it just went apart. Sailors went this way, that way, all over. It was a mess.”
Alabama war hero who ‘killed 10 Chinese Communists’ receives Purple Heart 63 years later
Alabamian Freddie Gracie joined the Army in his early 20s and served in the U.S. Army’s First Calvary Division from 1950-1953, including about a year-and-a-half in Korea. While engaged in an intense combat situation, Gracie sustained an injury to his right thigh when a mortar round exploded near him. Undeterred, he continued fighting, ultimately earning the Silver Star, America’s third-highest military honor.
According to a plaque he received with his Silver Star, Gracie “killed 10 Chinese Communists and continued fighting after being severely wounded.” But somehow Gracie never received his Purple Heart. Decades later, the injustice was brought to the attention of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who sprang worked to ensure the hero received the recognition he deserved.
HERO: This Alabamian stormed beach on D-Day carrying the The Auburn Creed
Among the roughly 75,000 Americans who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day in the largest amphibious invasion in history was a 33-year-old Selma, Alabama, native named Ralph Jordan. But while Jordan’s reputation at Auburn was still developing, it is clear now that the university — and its famed creed – had already had a profound impact on his life.
The Creed touched Jordan so deeply that as he prepared for one of the most significant battles in human history, he made sure he carried a copy of it with him.
WOW: Alabamians find, return Purple Heart to WW2 hero’s family after 70 years of searching
Foley High Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps member Justin Henson and his stepfather, Brandon Thompson, discovered an abandon storage unit in Elberta, Alabama, just before Christmas of 2015. They contacted the Foley High AFJROTC about the World War II-era items they found, including a Purple Heart, unfolded American flag, and letters from a Marine that was killed in Iwo Jima. Henson decided to find out who these items belonged to and turned the search into a community service project.
Cadet Henson discovered that the fallen Marine was Private Samuel Lewis Brock of Amarillo, Texas. Private Brock was killed in action on February 28, 1945 and was buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Amarillo. The Foley AFJROTC contacted the cemetery to locate Private Brock’s next of kin and found that Private Brock’s brother, Lonnie Brock, still lived in Amarillo. Lonnie, his wife Avis, and their three children flew out to Foley in 2016 to be reunited with Private Brock’s possessions.
Alabama Marine declared an ‘American Hero’ for saving the life of distressed comrade
Sgt. Raheem Boyd was in his room aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, May 2015, when he received a message from a fellow Marine asking for another unit’s duty officer, and telling Boyd that he discovered suicidal posts on another Lejeune-based Marine’s Facebook page.When he drove to the barracks, he found that the Marines on duty were by the Marine’s room, which was empty. After searching the area, one of the duties found the Marine in his car with an assault rifle, briefly catching a glimpse as he sped off from the barracks parking lot.
As police cars approached with flashing bright red and blue lights dissipating in the darkness, the Marine reached out across the seat for the rifle – to end his life. With great danger to his own life, Boyd hastily reached through the window of the car, wrapped his body around the Marine while pushing the rifle away to the floorboard.
Yellowhammer’s Warrior Wednesday podcast
America’s veterans deserve to be honored all the time. This year, Yellowhammer launched the Warrior Wednesday podcast to tell the untold stories of American heroes. The weekly podcast is hosted by Scott Chambers of Yellowhammer Radio, who noted “Warrior Wednesday will make you realize we have great men and women protecting our nation. That makes me feel better when I close my eyes at night.”
Several episodes of the podcast are already available, and you can check them out here.
Related: Memorial Day In Perspective
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