CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) – For some military veterans, reminders of war can be difficult to face. This year, though, one World War II veteran in Virginia chose to relive a piece of his time in uniform.
Russell Scott served on a B-25 during WWII. He was forced to jump 9,000 feet from the warplane decades ago. He’ll never forget that day. On May 25, 1944, both engines were shot out during one of his first missions overseas in Italy.
“I never had a bad time other than when I was in the prisoner of war camp,” said Russell Scott last September. “That wasn’t too bad but with a broken back… it was kind of bad.”
He was just 24 when he was picked up by the Germans. And with a broken back in a POW camp in Poland, he never fully healed.
Now 98 years old, he walks with assistance because of that injury back in 1944.
Just shy of 74 years later, a B-25 showed up in Russell’s hometown of Richmond on its way to an airshow in Virginia Beach.
Russell was invited to go on a ride.
But because of his limited mobility, he couldn’t guarantee he would physically be able to get up the ladder and onto the plane.
He says they’ve tried to get him back in a B-25 twice in the past — without success.
Still, he agreed to go and see the plane while it was in town.
He rolled onto the tarmac that hot morning in May, giving everybody around him the impression he was just visiting the re-furbished bomber.
“I haven’t been inside one since I come out of it,” he said.
He’s sharp as a tack, though his body doesn’t move as freely as it did when he sat in that tail gunner position.
But on that tarmac that day, something was different. There was adrenaline pumping through his veins.
“I don’t think I need the step ladder because I think I can hit that first step,” Russell told some of the flight crew.
As the group went over pre-flight instructions, Russell started climbing the ladder of the B-25 all on his own.
And once he was inside the plane, he wasn’t coming back out.
“I could get in the plane easy then,” Russell recounted. “Didn’t have to worry.”
The air was thick and hot inside the B-25. No air conditioning — just the smell of engines.
There’s no way to know what was going through his head as the plane started its engines, but he did give a simple wave out the window to his posse of supporters who came for moral support.
For the 20-minute flight over the City of Richmond, he stared out the window, taking in the sunny skies and the James River below.
The look on his face said it all. This vet was at home away from home, inside his plane for the first time in seven decades.
“I just felt like I wanted to be back in a B-25,” he said after the plane landed.
Russell was back on solid ground. But this time — no parachute required.
“I enjoyed being there, it felt like I was 24-years-old again,” said Russell. “Now I’ve had my last ride in a B-25.”
RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – A group in Virginia is empowering veterans by using technology and training to get them back on their feet.
When Tech for Troops sees old, unwanted computer parts, it looks like opportunity.
“The in-need veterans, low income or homeless veterans and their families who are trying to get out of homelessness, we provide them with a free computer and as well we give them the training on how to use that computer,” said Mark Casper, Executive Director of Tech for Troops.
Last year, the Virginia-based non-profit provided 750 computers to veterans in need.
“We had a homeless vet come in, first computer he’s ever owned, Vietnam vet, and he’d never been online before. So, our teacher/instructor asked him to search himself online because he was a doo-wop singer back before Vietnam and he saw himself online singing as a young man, which blew everybody away,” Casper said.
For Tech for Troops, it’s about more than just getting computers into the right hands.
“I don’t want it to go to somebody and they’re going to put it in the closet, or they’re going to sell it or something like that. What I want it to do is be used because it’s a tool,” expressed Casper.
Melvin Whitfield is an Operations Manager at Tech for Troops. He said the group’s mission hits home for him and other veterans on staff.
“It kinda struck my heart a bit, because at a point I was a homeless vet myself,” said Whitfield, an Army vet who now teaches a weekly computer class to homeless veterans.
Tech for Troops wants to broaden its reach, which all starts with donations, including your unwanted hardware.
In addition to refurbishing computers and laptops, the group also recycles. Since 2014, they estimate they’ve kept about 210 tons of computer materials out of landfills.
PLANT CITY, Fla. (WFLA) – A World War II veteran says it wasn’t his generals that got him through the Battle of the Bulge.
“If God hadn’t been watching over me, I’d never have made it,” 97-year-old James Money said, adding that a few close calls during the massive German offensive made him believe in miracles.
During the Battle of the Bulge, Money’s mission was to fight through Nazi heavy armor and infantry to relieve the besieged 101st Airborne who were still holding on in Bastogne.
“When the artillery barrage started falling, they started running here and there. About seven of my friends were killed,” Money said.
Money left a wife and two children at home when he went to war. He kept a locket of his son’s hair in his billfold. That billfold was in his check pocket when a German sniper shot him.
“It hit that billfold and busted it open, and left his hair sticking out of the hole,” Money said.
In the frigid cold of the winter battle, Money was sent to the far front where he came under friendly fire. His equipment was destroyed, and out of desperation he jumped up to show his Fourth Armored Division insignia.
“A boy from Plant City named Fred Miller said, ‘Hold your fire,’ says, ‘I know that man,’” Money remembered. “That’s why I say miracles are still happening.”
Indiscriminate artillery shells kept Money guessing, but he claims he was never afraid. He saw combat and killed when he had to.
“That’s what I was over there for, was get them before they got you,” he said.
And today, Money believes it’s a miracle that he still represents a group of soldiers who are nearly gone and a vanishing brotherhood some call the greatest generation.
“I thank God that he was watching over me and brought me back,” Money said.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nexstar) – For America’s World War II veterans, the soundtrack of their youth was the “Great American Songbook” and the big bands of the 40s.
Over the course of 60 years, active-duty Air Force members have helped to keep those memories and music alive through performances of the swing tribute band Airmen of Note.
“The heart of our mission is honoring our veterans. Their Airmen of Note are a centerpiece of that because those veterans love that swing music,” said Band Conductor Colonel Larry Lang.
The Airmen of Note formed in 1950 to continue the legacy of Major Glen Miller, whose big band was a musical hit machine during the 30s and 40s.
Miller joined the service in World War II and took his big band to the troops, eventually losing his life when his plane crashed into the English Channel in 1944.
“Everybody loved his music,” Lang said. “You know ‘In the Mood,’ ‘Tuxedo Junction,’ ‘Chattanooga Choo, Choo.’”
Now, the Airmen of Note use those hits to entertain crowds around the world. They are one of six musical groups in the U.S. Air Force that perform nearly 1500 events each year, including concerts at the White House and funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery.
Air Force veteran Bob Jones served in World War II and the Korean War. He went to Washington D.C. as part of an honor flight from Texas, and after a day of sightseeing he and other veterans attended a special performance by the Airmen of Note.
“It just brought me back to the days when I was dating my wife, right out of high school,” Jones said. “The music is out of this world, and that band is out of this world. You can’t beat that combination.”
Read more about the U.S. Air Force Airmen of Note: https://www.music.af.mil/Bands/The-United-States-Air-Force-Band/Ensembles/Airmen-of-Note
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nexstar) – They say laughter is the best medicine – and for some veterans, stand-up comedy seems to be the best therapy.
It’s called Comedy Bootcamp, and in the nation’s capital it’s helping veterans heal through laughter, as well as connecting them with other veterans who can offer support.
For Marine Corps veteran Stephanie Kline, the stage is her outlet.
“I write policy for the Department of Defense in my work, and there’s not a lot of creative in that, so I really needed something to help work through some issues,” Kline said.
For two years, Kline has turned to stand-up comedy to help her through some of her darkest times – including returning home from service, finding herself unemployed and getting back into the dating pool after two divorces.
“It’s really difficult to laugh about someone who has been shot, someone who has PTSD, someone like me who was just lost and depressed for a while, and had failed relationships,” Kline said. “There’s a space created where you trust that the people laughing are laughing with you and not necessarily at your situation. And then they also trust that they are allowed to laugh, and you won’t be offended and that creates a lot of magic.”
Sam Pressler is the co-founder of the Comedy Bootcamp, which is run through the Armed Services Arts Partnership. Pressler began the partnership in college as a class project. Now it serves more than 650 veterans with comedy workshops and opportunities to perform stand-up in front of live audiences.
“I think laughter and humor is one of the most universal languages we have,” Pressler said.
NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – A retired Rear Admiral takes us on a trip back in time where two superpowers flexed their nuclear muscles, as the world held its breath. Jake Tobin’s close encounter with the enemy during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 later led him to appreciate the beauty of water.
“Things were always interesting at that time,” Tobin said with a laugh
For 13 days in October, leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in a political and military standoff over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from the U.S. mainland. In a TV address on October 22, President John F. Kennedy explained his decision to enact a naval blockade around Cuba and made it clear the U.S. was prepared to use military force.
Tobin was a Navy pilot stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He recalled what started as a routine surveillance mission over the water near the island. Tobin was the co-pilot in a P-5 M Marlin, a sea plane that was unarmed.
“They were observational flights, just to see which way the ships were going, which way the Russian ships were going. We took off and we were observing some areas on the western side of Cuba and we got a little too close to land.”
And that’s when a Soviet MIG fighter jet took notice.
“Here came this Cuban MIG come screaming at us full bore, came right up next to us, turned around and came back in and had us targeted and I think fired. The only thing that we could do was head for the water.”
Tobin says the pilot steered their aircraft toward the water, where it could fly as low as 15 feet. The MIG turned toward Cuba. That’s why he fell in love with the water, because during those heart-stopping moments, Tobin’s sea plane could go where a MIG fighter could not.
“Thank you God,” Tobin said with a sigh, as if he just got off that aircraft. “We were most grateful.”
One could say Jake Tobin’s close call off the shores of Cuba is a microcosm of how close The United States and Soviet Union came to a nuclear confrontation. Following tense negotiations, the Soviets agreed to pull their missiles from Cuba.
Tobin retired as a Rear Admiral, but is still surrounded by water at his condo in the Freemason neighborhood of downtown Norfolk. Gratitude seemed to flow when Tobin talked about his love of the water.
“It began to have more of a spiritual effect on me.”
Leaving time to reflect on his time as a naval officer and pilot.
“If I had to do it all over again, the good and bad, I would.”
Including that day 56 years ago, when we counted down to a nuclear war that didn’t happen, and a future Rear Admiral, who shuns titles and wants to be known as “Jake,” was saved by the water.
SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — You can hear him coming with sounds of a bygone era.
The “chugga-chugga chugga-chugga” increases in volume as a sweet “toot-toot” echos through the surrounding trees.
Then you see the puffs of smoke as a coal burning steam locomotive appears over a trestle.
This event takes place almost every other weekend in Suffolk,Virginia. At the throttle is Retired Vice Admiral David Archizel.
“It was back in the day at my grandmothers house and the freight train used to run by everyday. I didn’t have trains at the time. That train always impressed me when it went by, and little things back in your childhood come to bite you I guess,” said Archizel.
Archizel’s trains are 1/8th the size of the real thing and over a mile of track surrounds his home in the Chuckatuck neighborhood.
Many of the trains were built from scratch by members of the Southeast Virginia Live Steamers. The small group meets at Archizel’s home twice a month to work, but mostly play.
“My own railroad, it’s fun!” Archizel said. “What more can you want?”
It’s a loaded question from a man who has commanded far more than just a backyard railroad in his lifetime.
Archizel, born in Ogdensburg, N.Y., graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1973. For nearly 40 years, he climbed the ranks.
As a naval aviator, Archizel logged 5,000 flight hours, 4,300 of those hours in the S-3, according to his bio. When he retired in 2012, he was serving as commander, Naval Air Systems Command, headquartered in Patuxent River, Md.
However, it was a ship that leaves him feeling the most proud. Archizel was the the sixth commanding officer of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71).
“Nothing compares to the commanding officer of a carrier,” Archizel said. “It was really a wonderful experience and I loved it. And it was too short.”
Archizel never lost his desire to lead. That is where the railroad comes in.
“If I [didn’t] step in and do something, then this railroad would have died,” Archizel said.
In 2014 the previous owner of the railroad had put the home up for sale, according to Archizel. Original plans called for the railroad to be torn up.
“She just said ‘you’re crazy Dave, but if that’s what you want to do, okay,'” Archizel said, describing his wife’s reaction when he brought up purchasing the property.
Now, three years later, he wants to turn it into a tool to further strengthen the community.
“You can actually learn a lot and it can also gives you an idea on what it’s like to work with people,” Archizel said. “I want children to come out here and learn about how things once were. It’s about this community and I think everyone should realize this railroad is here and enjoy it in some fashion. Why have it if you can’t do that?”
NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – A retired Brigadier General from Norfolk is now waging the battle of his life.
“I have no regrets being a Marine.”
After more than 30 years in the Marines, Chris Cowdrey is a battle-tested survivor.
“You willingly accept the risk. It’s increased risk. And you know there is a chance that you cannot survive, and you accept it.”
From Mogadishu in Somalia to various battles in the Middle East, Cowdrey found himself in darkest corners of a violent world. He recalled October 23, 1983. As a captain and rifle company commander, Cowdrey survived the single worst day for US Marines since World War II.
“The earth shook. There was a tremendous explosion, and I looked in the direction of our headquarters and there was a mushroom cloud.”
A suicide truck bomb had rammed the gates of the Marine barracks in Beirut. 241 American service members died; 220 of them Marines.
35 years later, Chris Cowdrey is fighting another war. This one began March 4, 2015, when he caught his hand in the door.
“I don’t know why I missed the doorknob. I never missed the doorknob going in and out of that house a hundred times.”
After Cowdrey went to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, tests revealed that he had Glioblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer, that recently took the life of Senator John McCain.
Donna Cowdrey, Chris’s wife of 44 years, speaks with a reserved strength about her husband, and doesn’t doubt that he is on a mission.
“I just said ‘God I know why he’s the one.’ Because he’s the only person I know who can deal with it. He went through it just like he was a Marin. We just told him to think of it as another battle,” said Donna.
It’s a fight best waged one day at a time. Doctors say the most common length of survival following a diagnosis of glioblastoma: 12 to 15 months. For Cowdrey, it’s been more than three and a half years since his diagnosis. And to this Marine, it’s a battle worth fighting, if only to show gratitude for all those times he escaped the call of death.
“I saw a lot of folks give their life and die a lot younger than my current age. I’m 68.”
HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – An Army veteran received an honor more than 70 years in the making.
Robert “Bob” White is 94 years old and was drafted into the Army in 1943.
As a Private, First Class, White served as a lineman in communication with the 507th Parachute Infantry of the 17th Airborne Division during World War II.
He participated in D-Day, The Battle of the Bulge, and Operation Varsity before leaving the military in 1946.
“On Christmas Eve, we flew across the English Channel, landed in France, got out in 18 inches of snow and we went to war to the sound of guns, artillery shells,” he said about The Battle of the Bulge.
White was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge with three bronze service stars and a bronze arrowhead for his service.
In August, he was presented with another award — a Bronze Star Medal.
On Tuesday, Congressman Scott Taylor presented him with another award, a Bronze Star Medal.
Congressman Scott Taylor says in 1947, the government authorized that those who were awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, should also be awarded a Bronze Star.
“For us to be able to recognize his service, even though it’s so much longer, it’s an emotional experience for me and it’s an honor, a huge honor,” said Taylor, who is also a veteran.
The 94-year-old, who still jogs three miles every other day, is thankful for all that’s been done for him.
“I want to thank everybody and everybody has treated me so nice, like I’m somebody special,” he said.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A paralyzed military veteran made a special stop in Virginia Beach, as part of an east coast trip that raises money and awareness for the treatment of “invisible wounds.”
Ricky Raley, an Indiana Army National Guard veteran, traveled 120 miles on Thursday from Richmond to Virginia Beach, all on a “Rubber Ducky II” handcycle. Even after all of that cycling, Raley had the energy to stay on his cycle for a quick drag race down 24th Street at the Oceanfront with action sports legend Travis Pastrana. Spoiler alert, Raley won.
“I’ve been on variations of this style of this bike for about ten years now,” said Raley, who has faced a series of challenges in his life.
While serving a combat tour in Operation Iraqi Freedom his convoy experienced an IED blast, which left him with mild traumatic brain injuries. Raley was awarded a Purple Heart.
He returned from deployment in 2009.
Six months later he was left paralyzed from the waist down when he was involved in an auto accident.
Raley’s experiences as a veteran is the reason he is riding 1,500 miles from New York City to Pinellas Park, Florida. “We came home [from combat] with everyone,” Raley said. “But after we got home, within two and a half months, we lost our first guy to suicide.”
In total, he says nine people from his unit have killed themselves since he’s been home.
“I need to stop that. I need to stop that, not just for my guys, but for everyone out there,” Raley said.
Raley is raising money for the Boot Campaign, a national nonprofit organization that runs programs to support veterans who have endured significant physical, emotional and circumstantial hardships resulting from their service and sacrifice.
Raley recently completed the program himself, at the Virginia High Performance Center in Virginia Beach.
“The trauma from being paralyzed was nowhere near the isolation I felt from the traumatic brain injury and the mental cognition issues I was having,” Raley said. “When my son says I’m finally happy again, and that it actually makes him happier, too, that’s what this is all about. We are making families whole again.”
Raley departed Hampton Roads from Tidewater Community College in Chesapeake early Friday, August 17.
He completed his journey to Florida on Aug. 25 and is a little more than halfway to his goal to raise $150,000. To continue following Raley’s journey or to make a donation, you can go to Raley’s webpage.