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Bedford town council honors World War II veterans

Union Leader Correspondent

November 20. 2013 6:23PM
During a Nov. 13, Bedford Town Council ceremony honoring veterans for their, Bernie Ruchin, discusses his experiences during World War II and Korea. Listening are fellow veterans, from left, John Caulfield, Arthur Zetes, Vincent Kordack and Earl Isham, along council Chairman Chris Bandazian. (SUSAN CLARK PHOTO)

BEDFORD June 6, 1944, 1000 (ten hundred) hours:

"When I left the craft I had to wade in water up to my waist for about 25 yards. It was the last time I saw any of the corpsmen from B-6 that night. I noticed several tanks under water. After I got to the beach and the shelling stopped I started to dig in. I gave up for there were only 10 yards of sand for us to dig in and there was a lot of gravel in the sand. After I gave up digging, I found Army packs from two dead soldiers and made a barricade around me. Every time I started to take a few steps I would trip over a body for they were scattered all around us."

This passage is from the diary of Navy 3rd Class Pharmacists' Mate Vincent Kordack, of Bedford, who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. The Navy, he said, took care of all casualties on the beaches in France on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Although the men were not allowed to keep diaries, Kordack kept notes from the day he enlisted until he left Omaha Beach, where he spent about two days caring for injured soldiers as bombs and gunfire exploded around him.

"Every year, we had a reunion. There were 50 people and I am the only corpsman left in B Company 6th Naval Beach Battalion," Kordack said.

Kordack, 90, was one of five World War II veterans honored by the Town Council on Nov. 13 for service to their country.

Town Council Chairman Chris Bandazian said although these five men are being recognized, there may be others in the community and the council welcomes any opportunity to honor the town's World War II veterans.

In addition to Kordack, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Bernie Ruchin; Army 1st Class John Caulfield; Earl Isham, who served on a destroyer in the Navy; and 1st Scout Infantryman Arthur Zetes, were presented honorary plaques from the council.

Each man described his experience during the war, some more vividly than others.

Caulfield said he was among the many men at that time who upon graduating from high school took the first opportunity to enlist. He joined the Army with six of his classmates in June, 1946.

"The big push at that time was to enlist and bring the troops home that had not been home for three, four and five years," he said.

He was with the 71st signal service battalion involved with occupation duty in Japan. He helped bring communications back to the country. They set up poles and steel towers and ran cables.

The men spent long days, "putting Japan back on the communications map," he said.

What he remembers most is the devastation of the war-torn country, people starving and some living in caves.

"Fathers were sneaking under fences to steal food from our metal garbage cans to feed their families. That's how bad things were over there," he said about being on kitchen patrol duty in Okinawa.

While on auto maintenance duty in Tokyo, Caulfield noticed some unhappy Japanese men who worked very slowly, mainly because of malnutrition.

"I gave them some yen and when they came back from break, they formed a line and one by one they shook my hand and thanked me," he said. "Their production increased and it lightened their mood."

Caulfield and his wife, Ann, moved to Bedford in 1987. He will be 86 on Dec. 25.

Isham, 88, was in high school when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He had to wait until graduation to enlist, per his mother's request. He joined the Navy in June 1943, and served in the Pacific for about 14 months, and saw battle on Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

"The USS Taussig was attacking Japan when the bomb was dropped in August 1945," he said. "The Taussig was part of the fighting for the liberating of the Philippines. The Taussig was at the Yokosuka Japanese Naval Base when the treaty was signed."

When Isham returned from the war, he worked on the family farm in Bedford and also served many years with the fire department.

"I am very proud to have been able to serve my country. It is indeed a privilege to be honored by a community that I have adopted as my home for the last 67 years," Isham said.

Zetes, 91, served in the 7th Army and fought in Germany, France and Austria.

'The 7th Army went from Marseille up to Dijon and the Vosges Mountains in the winter, which no one did, not even Hannibal and his elephants," he said.

Ruchin, 89, saw battle during World War II and the Korean War, and was injured in both. He served during the invasion of the islands of Cipan and Tinian, and did a short tour of duty in Okinawa.

The war in the Pacific was a prairie dog war, every foot, every yard was brutal and barbaric," Ruchin said. "Every Marine is a rifle man — kill the enemy and take no prisoners, and that's what we did."

Ruchin said the military soon found out "the Japanese were a formidable enemy, who were willing to die for their emperor."

After the war, he was assigned to the War Crimes Tribunal to determine the atrocities of the war.

"There are stories I can tell, but you don't want to know," he said.

When he returned home, he joined the New York state police, but because he had joined the Marine Corps Reserve he was called to service in Korea. His police commander tried to get him a deferment, but Ruchin was given an eight-day notice to report for duty. He served 12 years in the Marines and the Marine Corps Reserve.

"I want to thank the council and the town for honoring us guys who are slowly vanishing from the scene. There's going to be some historical revisionist to tell about what we did and up until a few year ago I just kept it as an ancient history thing and I realized that if we don't tell our story, they're going to get it all wrong," said Ruchin, who has lived in Bedford since 1980.

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