Stories of service
From World War II to Vietnam to the War on Terror, from the greatest generation to the millennials, there are many proud servants of the United States Armed Forces who call Hoover home. And whether these soldiers are 19 or 91, they each have a story.
United States Navy
93 years old
For U.S Navy member of 130th Construction Battalion Roy Deerman, Veterans Day harkens memories of the bombing of Okinawa in April 1945.
Arriving at Saipan, his battalion was forced to spend 12 days at sea, dodging Japanese suicide planes while awaiting clearance to land. At camp, the environment only became increasingly hostile, so much so that he witnessed the death of his own tent mate, shot by a Marine on orders to kill anyone on site who could not provide the correct password of the day.
Deerman received a presidential citation for his efforts in helping repurpose a patch of swampland into a traffic circle for supply plane use. Drawing upon his naval training as a water distillation specialist, Deerman came home with a renewed vigor for how he would earn a living. After trading in his pre-war swing shift days at Childersburg’s DuPont powder plant for the role of small business owner, he found lifelong success as sole proprietor of Deerman Plumbing & Heating, eventually counting Bruno’s and the UAB Medical Center among his many customers.
United States Army
65 years old
Not unlike Deerman, John Lewis also found that his military service marked him in more ways than one.
“It never leaves you,” said Lewis, who served in Vietnam in the Army’s Third Brigade of the Fourth Infantry Division. “Any poignant experience, whether in military or civilian life, will probably be branded in your brain but particularly the combat experience. It’s permanent.”
For Lewis, military service became the barometer by which he measured all other challenges.
“It serves as a reference point,” he said. “Compared to what you saw and experienced there, everything else has got to be an improvement throughout your life.”
May 17, 1967 remains the most profound date in his mind. Following injury, Lewis was en route to receive medical care when rocket-propelled grenades began penetrating the armored personnel carrier transporting he and nine others. Four died instantly. As Lewis, now having sustained additional shrapnel injuries, started to climb out of the hatch, ammunition crates fell on his legs, trapping him.
“For a moment, I thought I was done,” he said. “The ammunition had me pinned down, it was starting to burn, and – just for an instant – I accepted the fact that this is where they will find my remains. The one person I thought about in that moment was my mother.”
With a spirit of humbleness and humility, Lewis acknowledges that he left the warzone with more questions than answers.
“Why I was allowed to live will always be one of life’s mysteries,” he said. “I have always known that I was no more deserving than anyone else with whom I served. Someday, I hope God will help me understand the ‘why’ of it all.”
In the meantime, Lewis is doing his part to shape the mindset of the youngest among his brood.
“I want my grandsons to know it’s honorable to serve your country,” he said. During a recent family outing, Lewis emphasized the point by telling his two oldest grandchildren to salute two soldiers who were eating lunch nearby.
“When the soldiers walked by, Will (age 7) and Josh (age 5) saluted them,” said Lewis. “One of them was a general and they both just lit up.” Pleasantly surprised by the boys’ gesture, the soldiers saluted back.
United States Air Force
37 years old
Air National Guard Staff Sergeant Brad Hallmark wishes such exchanges weren’t so uncommon.
“It means a lot to have someone say thank you and give you a handshake or pat on the back,” he said. “I’m proud to say I have defended my country, and I hope that my small role has helped in some way keep us safer or save a life.”
Hallmark is part of the 117th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) of the Alabama Air National Guard. Influenced by his grandfather’s World War II stories and the stories of a close friend’s father who served in the Air Force, Hallmark joined the Air National Guard in 1998 for what he thought would be a four-year commitment.
“That was 15 years ago,” he said. “I’ve just always admired people who served in the military, and I wanted to be a part of something bigger, like this.”
Hallmark is indeed making his mark.Demonstrating his pride for his aircraft maintenance shop, Hallmark recently created a visual identity for the members of the 117th.
“The name ‘Hose Snatchas’ is truly reflective of what we do–pull fuel hoses. The ‘Harder than it has to be’ slogan is something we’ve said for years; nothing is ever as easy as it appears on the surface.”
A source of pride, symbols like these, emblazoned on everything from T-shirts to patches to stickers, are common amongst ARWs.
“It isn’t harmful and kinda serves as a ‘we were here’ note. Usually the reaction we get is ‘Hey those guys from wherever tagged us!’...and you have a good laugh.”
Hallmark can be seen almost every year marching in Birmingham’s annual Veteran’s Day Parade.
“I have always considered myself a pretty patriotic person,” he said. “[This day] means more to me now because I have seen what people are willing to do and sacrifice for their country.”
Hallmark’s pride in his team is infectious.
“I’m so proud of our shop winning the 2011 ‘Best Fuels Flight In The Air National Guard” distinction. This is out of more than 80 bases. I work with the greatest bunch of guys. They’re all knowledgeable and hardworking; it’s like working with family.”