By Linda Emley
On Saturday, Sept. 28, the 7th Annual Veteran’s Appreciation Picnic will be held at the Ray County Museum. We are hoping for a perfect day. but if it rains we will move the party to the Eagleton Center. We are expecting over 100 people to join us for lunch, music, fellowship and a patriotic program.
I’ve been working on getting the museum cleaned and ready for a busy day. Last week the yard got a much-needed facelift when a crew removed some old trees and bushes that had seen better days.
Friday night, I will be shopping for enough food to feed an army. It always looks easier on paper than when you’re actually putting three cases of water in your shopping cart. Then I have to figure out how many packages of hotdog buns you need for 72 hot dogs and 32 Polish sausages. I later found out all this didn’t really matter because we always have to send out for more food before the chow line closes down.
David Blyth, our Historical Society president, will preside over the program. It officially starts at 11 a.m. with a flag-raising ceremony. One of our local veterans, Mike Shane, is our guest speaker and I’m sure he will share a few words about the importance of honoring our veterans.
To get the ball rolling, I’d like to share a story about two local veterans who are my friends because they just happened to walk in the front door of the Ray County Museum.
They are Brooke Ahart, who served as a MP in Iraq for eight months and 22 days in 2009, and 93-year-young Ted Thomas, who served in the Navy for 39 months after enlisting Aug. 23, 1942. Brooke and Ted are a good example that there are many different types of veterans.
Ishmael Thedore Thomas still carries his military I.D. In his billfold. Seventy-one years ago, Ted was a 21-year-old sailor who got to see the world. His Navy career started out “full speed ahead” because his boot camp in San Diego only lasted for 13 days before he shipped out to Pearl Harbor. He worked on a submarine base and saw many things while stationed there.
One of my favorite stories he tells is about how they resolved the “dud” torpedoes. Ted said that it was very hard to watch the submarine crews come back from sea duty. They put their lives on the line everyday, but the torpedoes they were using didn’t explode when they hit their target. I found a military page that told this story.
“The USN had a torpedo problem from the beginning of the war through mid-1943. Sailors put their lives on the line to make torpedo attacks with faulty equipment. The Asiatic submarines made 136 attacks, firing 300 torpedoes in the first four months sinking only 10 ships. If the duds had been able to effectively damage their targets, the Japanese expansion may have been more contained and the long path to ending the war may have been shorter and achieved earlier.Finally, in July 1943, Admiral Lockwood ordered his boats to deactivate the magnetic influence exploder.
“Duds, the torpedos that were heard to hit their targets but not explode, were addressed in September 1943 when the first torpedoes with new contact pistols were sent to war. For fully half of the war, submariners, pilots and destroyer crews had risked their lives with faulty equipment.”
Ted Thomas and two co-workers were the men who worked around the clock to correct the problem by making a new firing pin that worked. Ted said they used metal from a crashed Japanese plane to make the new firing pin for the torpedos. That is a true piece of history when we find out first hand that a Japanese plane shot down Dec. 7, 1941 helped us win the war. Ted has a knife that was also made from the metal of a downed Japanese plane.
Another great “Ted story” is he was on the first ship to enter the Japanese harbor after the signing of the peace treaty. He told about how they had to fire ahead of the ship and blow up land mines to clear a path.
Ted had many more adventures while in the Navy, but he’s also lived an exciting life after he got out. He worked for a Fortune 500 company and traveled all over the world. He laughed when he told me about one job in Australia. The job only took 15 minutes, but it just happened to be the day that Ronald Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers, which stopped the planes from flying. His extra days in Australia were spent seeing some of the sights there.
Ted grew up in Oklahoma, and moved back there after his Naval service. He life changed in a matter of a few days when he met the girl of his dreams named Bonnie. He married her the next week and they shared many good years on this earth with their children.
After our Veteran’s Picnic was over last year, I was standing in the front yard of the museum with a few friends and I asked if anyone knew why we have five flag poles. Since no one seemed to believe me, we all walked over to the fence and to our surprise we counted six poles. After a short discussion, it was decided we didn’t have a clue why there were six poles and we started making plans for what we thought should be the six flags. Old Glory and the Missouri state flag get the first two poles, but the other four flag poles are still up for discussion.
The six flag poles were still on my mind when Sunday morning rolled around, so I asked one of my friends what they thought. They suggested that maybe six countries have flown flags over Missouri. We both laughed and thought of the Six Flags amusement parks. I later called Milford Wyss and he agreed that it might be for the different countries. After some research, I still didn’t have an answer, so I called my friend Steve Hitchcock. As usual, he had some answers for me.
The only state that has had six flags flying over it is Texas and that is where the “Six Flag” amusement park franchise started. Missouri has only had three flags. We started out with a French flag, Spain took over, then the French got us back and we finally ended up with Old Glory in 1803.
Hitch also added that he and Mac Proffit had the same discussion a few years ago when they were working at the museum on a work day. At that time there was a U.S flag, a Missouri flag and a Bicentennial flag, a French flag and a Spanish flag. The last flag was a real surprise because it was a Tennessee state flag. Many Ray County settlers came from Tennessee, but I still don’t understand why it was flying on our flag pole. The Bicentennial flag was retired because it was a treasure that could not be replaced and over the years, the other flags followed the same path and finally we were down to one flag, “Old Glory.”
I closed my story last year with the promise that sometime in the near future we would have six flags flying on the hill. I’m happy to report that Sept. 25, 2013, the museum acquired six flags that are now flying high in the sky. A big thank you to Dean Richards for hosting our flags. Many people helped make this happen, but Dean and I were the ones that got to share the final step in this year-long process. It was so much fun getting to decide what order to put the flags in. I laughed and told Dean that it doesn’t take much to make me happy because it was a great day on the hill as we stood there and watched as a gentle breeze started waving our flags.
I’m not going to spoil the surprise and tell you which flags we chose. You’ll just have to come up to the hill and see for yourself. And another chapter is closed in this book we call Ray County History.
Have a flag story or a flag you’d like to donate to the museum? Contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org.