Veterans' brief stories offer inspiration (w/ galleries)

Tidbits of information about more than 400 veterans with ties to the Tri-Cities flooded into the Herald's offices after we asked our readers to send us photos and brief stories about the men and women in their families who have served their country.

After reading more than 300 of them, I stand in awe of what they achieved, how much was expected of them and how humble and downright matter-of-fact they were about their roles in our history.

Today we offer a special section inserted into the newspaper that contains these brief stories and snapshots in honor of our veterans.

Copies of this special section also can be purchased at the Herald, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick. Herald subscribers receive a copy of this special section with today's paper. Hundreds of veterans' photos also can be seen online at tricityherald.com.

We hope you find it as inspiring as the Herald news staff did as we prepared it for publication. Here's a sampling of what you'll find:

* Lars Hansen was described by his great-grandson as "a terse man." Hansen served with the Madison, Wis., Volunteers from 1862-65 in what remains the bloodiest war our nation has ever fought, partly because we fought one another.

Here are a few lines from his Civil War diary:

1 April 1865: "Richmond fell to General Grant. Armistice -- Gen. Lee surrendered to General Grant."

14 April 1865: "President Lincoln was murdered in Washington."

19 April 1865: "President Lincoln's burial all over -- ceremony."

How daunting was it to be a Civil War soldier? Of the more than 91,000 men who enlisted from Wisconsin, more than 12,000 did not return home.

* Lee Dean was a torpedo-man's mate on PT 489 during World War II in the South Pacific and was awarded a Bronze Star and Silver Star "for distinguishing himself by heroic and meritorious service in action against the enemy. He volunteered to assist in the rescue of a Navy pilot, shot down in an enemy-held bay."

Here's the account sent to the Herald:

"For 2 1/2 hours, his PT crew evaded 90-mm enemy shore batteries, twisting and turning as they crossed and recrossed enemy minefields. He never left his machine gun position. After the PT boat approached within 100 yards of the enemy shore positions under intense fire, the wounded pilot was taken aboard and whisked to safety. Lee was always modest about his service record."

* Bruce Noordhoff still is proud of himself for his genius in acquiring a new Swiss watch at World War II's end by taking advantage of a 1945-46 program that allowed GIs to take a week's vacation in Switzerland:

"... to get enough money to buy a watch, I had to get through their border inspections with about 150-200 packs of chewing gum. These could easily be sold on the street everywhere. I managed to clear Swiss customs with all the gum by dumping the packs into my GI trouser legs (they were tucked into my combat boots at the bottom) and walk stiff-legged past the inspection station to the men's toilet. I sure loved that watch."

Emerson Hough learned to joke about what must have been a traumatic transformation from Navy volunteer into Marine.

"When he arrived at boot camp, every third man was told to step forward," his son reported. "Dad was among those stepping forward, and suddenly found himself a Marine. ... He has dense bones, could not float in the water and had never learned to swim -- but one of the tests necessary to graduate from boot camp was to swim three laps at the pool. The drill sergeant encouraged him to stay in the water by stepping on his fingers when he tried to get out. In a true 'sink or swim' situation, my father managed three laps."

* William J. Bair's account had a reflective tone.

"After V-E Day, we were quickly shipped from Czechoslovakia to the South Pacific where hundreds of ships had assembled for the invasion of Japan. With the atomic bombs forcing Japan's surrender, our mission changed and we went into Japan as part of the Army of Occupation.

"Having witnessed the size of the invasion force and seen some of the preparations in Japan to defend against the invasion, I am certain that, had the invasion occurred, the casualties among the Japanese would have far exceeded the 170,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the casualties for the invading forces also would have been astronomical.

"Ironically, after returning home and earning a Ph.D. in radiation biology at the University of Rochester School Of Medicine in 1954, I came to Hanford where much of my research was directed to understanding the health consequences of inhaling plutonium ... (some of which) very likely came from the B Reactor, which produced plutonium for the Nagasaki bomb that helped save my life and hundreds of thousand others."

One brief, stark message stood out from the rest.

* "Philip Vinnedge joined the Army in September 2009 and was deployed to Afghanistan on Sept. 30, 2010. He had been there 16 days when an IED took his life. He died on Oct. 13, 2010. He was 19 years old. His parents, David and Julie Vinnedge, were raised in Connell."

As much as we honor our living veterans for their service and sacrifice, today also is a day to remember the young men and women like Philip who never will come back home to their families.