McCook military legacy in spotlight for Memorial Day

Friday, May 23, 2014

It's hard to believe now, but many of us used to grow tired of hearing war stories from our fathers.

For children of World War II parents, those stories are fast becoming a precious commodity. Even stories from Korea and Vietnam are nothing to be taken for granted.

Devoting time to the memory of their sacrifices is an appropriate way to spend at least some of our time on this Memorial Day weekend.

There are plenty of opportunities, but some of them take a little effort.

Many local combat veterans gather for morning coffee at local eateries, usually without ever mentioning their service even to fellow veterans.

Some can be recognized while shopping, sporting nondescript ball caps bearing military unit numbers recognizable only to other veterans.

Billy Loop of McCook survived the sinking of LST-448 during the naval battle for Vella Lavella in 1943. Vietnam veteran Bill Warwick of Cambridge received the Silver Star for jumping from a helicopter in mid-firefight to aid wounded soldiers on the ground below.

Korean War veteran Walt Sehnert and retired Air Force Col. Dick Trail often reflect on their military experiences as part of their regular columns in the Gazette, just to name a few local veterans.

Many local veterans found ways to continue to serve their country after their active duty time came to an end. McCook Police Sr. Sgt. Kevin Darling is a veteran of the Air Force and fellow officer Shannon Brown served in the Coast Guard. McCook firefighter/paramedic Tyler Neff is still an active member of the Wyoming National Guard and several of our other emergency responders are veterans.

Timothy Vap is the son of Nebraska Public Service Commissioner Gerald Vap and is a 1982 McCook High School graduate. Vap joined the Marine Corps in 1988 and in 2011 was promoted to the rank of Master Gunnery Sergeant. The Master Gunnery Sergeant rank (E-9) comprises only 11⁄2 percent of the total number of Marines, roughly 2,500 of the 200,000 on active duty.

Vap's promotion in itself is an achievement to be proud of, but it is further enhanced by the fact that he is actually the second Marine with McCook ties to have done it in recent years. Master Gunnery Sergeant Victor Purvis is the son of Teresa Purvis of McCook and the late Robert Purvis, as well as a 1982 graduate of Grand Island, Nebraska. Purvis was awarded the Purple Heart Medal in 2012 for injuries he sustained in action in Afghanistan.

And there are hundreds of other stories in the McCook area -- Dr. Warren Jones' heroism at the controls of a helicopter in Vietnam, or his father, Willis, a World War II B-17 pilot who spent 13 months in Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany, before being liberated by the Russian Army on April 30, 1945.

If we're among the fortunate ones this weekend, we'll have the opportunity to spend some time with veterans and let them know just how grateful we are.

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