Veteran stories: One Purple Heart will have to do


RICHLAND -- On Oct. 27, 1944, Thomas Arthur Goodey and Martha Jane Barson of Clarkston, Utah, received a nightmarish telegram.

"The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son, Pvt. First Class Oris D. Goodey has been reported missing in action ... ."

Oris wasn't actually missing in action, however.

"It scared the pants off my parents when they sent the telegraph home," said Oris, now 88, of Richland.

The misunderstanding began when Oris suffered an infectious skin condition on the back of his neck while stationed with the Army's 135th Infantry in Italy.

"It was just a bunch of festering sores and scabs and it was not very pleasant," he said.

As he was reporting to the aid station, casualties from an artillery attack took priority. He helped evacuate the wounded and caught the last ambulance out, riding shotgun, but there was no record of him ever arriving at the hospital.

"(Oris' parents) got in a car and whipped 15 miles over to my house all in tears and suffering," said Oris' wife Helen, who was his girlfriend at the time. He had written her a letter from the hospital, so she wasn't worried.

But his parents didn't believe her.

"They thought I was the coldest person in the world," she said.

A unapologetically matter-of-fact telegram a few days later on Halloween cleared the matter up.

But Oris' time in the service from 1943-45 had plenty of real danger. His job, "very roughly and crudely spoken, was to go out and kill Germans," he said.

He earned a Purple Heart in June 1944 after bullets sprayed rock fragments into his face, breaking his glasses and embedding a piece in his lip that wasn't surgically removed until about 10 years ago. The next bullet went through his shoulder. Artillery fragments injured his hand while he was heading to the aid station.

"I was wounded three times in one day, but they figured one (Purple Heart) for the day is enough," he said.

After the war, he joined the Air Force Reserves from 1951-74. He moved to Richland in 1957 after his brother Darwin, then a psychologist for the Richland School District's special education program, helped bring him aboard to teach industrial arts.

Oris spent the next 30 years teaching woodworking, metalworking, leather crafting and jewelry making to mentally disabled students from around the Columbia Basin.

Toward the end of his teaching career, an assignment for Richland High School seniors required them to interview a World War II veteran. Oris didn't like to talk about the war -- the sound of screaming babies reminded him of a type of German artillery that U.S. troops called "Screaming Mimis."

"You heard them coming right after they hit," he said. "It scared the bejeebies out of us."

The first few interviews were difficult.

"I think I was pretty cautious and hedged a lot," he said.

After years of repeated interviews, usually twice a school year, talking about it has become easier, he said. There are still some war stories he'll never share, though.

"I think any story like that is still going to remain untold," he said.


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