In what has been by far my most memorable week of talk radio, my producer Lee Elliot scheduled various guests as we honored our military in preparation of Armed Forces Day, which, incidentally was Saturday.
As a radio host, I am not really big on guests. They are a lazy man’s way of doing talk radio. But these guests were nothing short of awe-inspiring. My favorite was also the oldest, 87-year-old Lt. William Davis. Davis had kept a diary during his WWII experience and, remarkably, though he had considered his accomplishments not worthy of much praise, someone talked him into publishing it in book form. “Sinking the Rising Sun” is the book’s title.
As a young man, he entered the Navy, became a pilot and was in constant combat in 1944 until the very end of the war. Flying off aircraft carriers, he saw action in all major operations and won the Navy Cross, with only the Medal of Honor a higher award; became a Navy ace, meaning he had at least five confirmed kills; and, in what is one the greatest examples of payback possible, singlehandedly sunk the Japanese aircraft carrier, the Zuikaku, one of the carriers used in the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
I honestly sat mesmerized for the entire interview as this 87-year-old, his mind perfectly clear, told his amazing story. Although told in a very matter-of-fact style, what he said sounded like the plot of a hard-to-believe movie. It was fantastic. Ironically, his personal modesty and the fact that so many of his generation served with distinction kept him from publishing his story until age 84.
I told him, Lt William Davis, USN, holder of the Navy Cross, air combat ace, avenger of Pearl Harbor, that I considered it a much greater honor to speak to him than the president of the United States and I absolutely meant it. What a special privilege for me.
Next was 85-year-old Robert Beardon, who joined the Army in 1940 at age 17, ended up in the 82nd Airborne Division and, on June 6, 1944, dove out of an airplane into pitch blackness and quickly found himself fighting for his life in Normandy. Wounded twice, he fought successfully for two days until his small unit, led by a major, ran out of ammunition and was captured. He then told of being interrogated by the Gestapo in Paris, loaded on cattle cars and, without food or water for five days, was shipped to Germany. He told of his experiences as a prisoner of war, how in January 1945 he was liberated by the Russians, headed east through Germany and into Warsaw, Poland, ended up in Odessa, Russia, and eventually made it back to his home in Texas. Another fantastic true story.
In 1962, a young West Point cadet, Allen Clark, heard firsthand the final speech of the legendary Douglas McArthur, of duty, honor, and country. Heeding his call, he served as an elite member of the U.S. Special Forces, the Green Berets. While serving as a forward observer with mainly South Vietnamese forces, spying on the North Vietnamese using the Ho Chi Minh trail through supposedly off-limits Cambodia, his base camp was attacked and Captain Clark had both his legs blown off by a mortar round. His story is one of the incredible sacrifices and the painful path of healing, going from an elite warrior to a legless cripple and then using his experiences and deep Christian faith to help others deal with their personal tragedies.
The English language does not have words adequate enough to describe how I feel about these great men, the awe their deeds inspire. I am truly grateful to have had the honor of conversing with such outstanding examples of real all-American heroes. What a privilege. They personify the best examples of the noble history of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Ira Hansen is a lifelong resident of Sparks, owner of Ira Hansen and Sons Plumbing and his radio talk show can be heard Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. on 99.1 FM.