Proud to Serve
While it was preceded by Armistice Day’s remembrance of World War I, Veterans Day officially began in 1954. Since the Eisenhower Administration, November 11 has been the day that Americans remember and honor the men and women that have served in the armed forces. In recognition of Veterans Day, The Daniel Island News met with five veterans at the Daniel Pointe Retirement Resort on Daniel Island to hear and share the stories of their lives and their time of service in the U.S. military.
Ron Klein’s military service took him to Vietnam from 1967 to 1969, where he ran truck convoys in the Army.
“I enjoyed what I was doing and I thought I was serving a purpose well,” he said.
Klein grew up in St. Louis, Missouri.
“It was back in the days when, although they got the protesters going, you were basically expected to grow up, get out of school, put in your time in the military, then find the wife, then find the job,” added Klein.
Before his time in the service, Klein was a student at Washington University and participated in the ROTC program. Afterwards, he attended law school, but joined the military during his time as a law student. “With going out and doing the first half of law school before I went in, I ended up as being one of the older first lieutenants that was running around out there,” he laughed. “I ended up being older than a couple of the captains we had.”
Klein did the required two years in the military, and was contemplating extending his service another six months because he wanted to help out where he could in the Army, but the birth of his first child brought him home.
“I was part way through law school when I went in, so I got out and finished it up,” he continued. “Then I practiced law in Missouri for a couple of years.”
As a lawyer, Klein felt that his legal knowledge could be better served elsewhere.
“I wasn’t that satisfied with what I was doing compared to the efforts I put in,” he commented. “So I joined the FBI and did straight street criminal work for the first three years, four years.”
Klein may have left the military, but he kept working in national security in the FBI. His job in the Bureau sent him to Manhattan, where he worked in international intelligence.
His time in the Army served him well, long after he left in 1969, he said.
“You just learn a lot about how to handle life and your obligations to help other people and get things done.”
Remy Naval’s story of how he started his service in the U.S. Navy is just as interesting as his time in the military. Naval was born and raised in the Philippines. He attended the University of the East in Manila. “Then, when I finished my college down there, I tried to find a job, but the thing down there in Manila, it’s very expensive,” he said. “I worked for six months and then I quit. And I remembered my uncle, who I saw come home in 1945 when General MacArthur liberated the Philippines. My uncle came home and said ‘Remy, when you grow bigger, you will join the Union Navy.’”
Naval followed his uncle’s advice, applying at the U.S. naval base in the Philippines in 1961.
“I went to the recruiting officer in the American base down there,” he said. “I went to apply for the Navy and then after one week, they said ‘you will receive a letter to come over here for an interview.’”
He got the job, becoming a ship serviceman. The U.S. Navy sent him to the West Coast for training. While at the San Diego naval base in California, Naval discovered that he would be stationed on a large carrier ship, with 5,000 other recruits. Knowing that he didn’t want to be on a ship that size, he went back to the recruiter hoping for another assignment.
They sent him to Charleston where he was stationed on a much smaller ammunition boat.
“Then after that: ship, shore, ship, shore,” he said.
Upon returning to the Philippines, Naval attended to other business.
“When I went home, I got married to my girlfriend and she wanted to come to United States,” he said. “Everybody wanted to come to United States. It was a good place to earn money.”
Mrs. Naval saw much success in the United States, which Remy is visibly proud of.
“My wife was a teacher,” he said. “When we got married, my wife only had one year of experience in the Philippines.” She soon became the principal of an elementary school.
Once Naval retired from the service in 1981, he became a member of the Charleston Naval Base’s military police.
Bill Mehard came from a small town in Pennsylvania, where “there was nothing there but steel mills,” he joked.
At the age of 18, Mehard enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1951.
The military took him all around the world for the next 25 years, from Norfolk, Yorktown, French Morocco, Japan, Hawaii, and eventually Charleston.
“After boot camp, I went to school: underwater mines, so I was a mine man,” said Mehard.
“I’m not a hero, I was never shot at, but I did a lot of good in the Navy,” he said about his time in the service. “I learned a lot in the Navy, a lot about mechanics, electronics, electricity, how mines work, underwater mines, influence mines. It was a good career. The Navy did me well.”
Mehard added that his time in the military positively impacted the rest of his life.
“It was fruitful, it was good. The Navy treated me very well and I enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “In fact, I was thinking about staying for 30 [years], but I didn’t want to leave Charleston.”
The naval serviceman said that his transition into civilian life was pretty uneventful.
“My wife was in real estate at the time, so I was a house dad. I had three children in school,” he stated. “After I retired, I didn’t do a lot. I was in the printing business for a while. We had a fire and I got out of that. I took a course at Trident Tech and then I taught at Trident Tech for about three years, part time.”
In his time as a teacher, he educated students in machine shop.
Though unrelated to his time in the service and his short career as an educator, Mehard’s largest thumbprint on the city of Charleston is in a retirement pastime.
“One of my hobbies was foundry work, metal casting,” he said. “And I did a lot of pattern work with another fellow. He had a little shop in North Charleston. I did a lot of pattern making for the JMM Foundry. Then I did mostly out of my garage.”
Mehard casted the letters on the Citadel gate that say “The Military College of South Carolina.” He also made a pattern for the Indigo Inn on Meeting Street, contributed in Waterfront Park, and created door knobs for the Philip Simmons House.
“A lot of my work is around town,” he said.
Tom Lollis knew early on where his military service would take him, thanks to a visit from a general while he was on a U.S. base in Germany.
“One of our guys asked him, ‘What about Vietnam?’ He says ‘there’s only two types of civil engineering officers. Those who are there and those who are going,’” recounted Lollis.
But, Lollis’ career isn’t summed up by his tour of Vietnam. Over the course of his 29 year tenure in the Air Force, Lollis travelled to Germany and Hawaii, flew airplanes, served on a missile crew, earned a master’s degree in the civil engineering field, and retired with the rank of colonel.
“I was the squadron commander, and that was very challenging,” he said. “The people under your command— you’re their dad, you’re their priest, you’re their brother and sister. You’re responsible for their welfare and their development.”
Lollis grew up in Upstate South Carolina, participating in every sport he could in high school and becoming one of the top students in his class.
“I used to consider myself the luckiest boy around because I got to play all the sports,” he said.
Lollis began his career as a student at Clemson, joining the Air Force ROTC.
“The Air Force brought me from a little boy on a mill village to a colonel,” he recalled.
In a position of leadership, Lollis was not just responsible for the people below him, but also responsible for keeping a military base operating smoothly.
“I used to tell my troops ‘if we don’t do our job, the airplanes don’t fly,’” he said.
While it sounds difficult, Lollis mentioned that the Air Force prepared him for it very well.
“At every point in my career, they gave me more responsibility, they gave me the training, the responsibility and the incentive to go on, work harder, work smarter, and create the environment that you can use your imagination or your enthusiasm,” he said. “I tried to turn that back to my troops when I got a higher rank.”
Lollis used those leadership and civil engineering skills after he retired in 1989 to work at Lockheed in Greenville.
JD Johnson is a combat veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, serving in the Infantry and Army, respectively. He served from 1951-1975.
“It was a champagne life on a beer salary,” Johnson said. “I saw the entire world. I’ve been all over this world. I’ve done all different things. In Russia, we were over the Bug River and they [Russian military] had a tank battalion across from me.”
As he stated when talking about his time in the service, it’s difficult to tell civilians what war is like, unless they’ve experienced it firsthand.
“There are all kinds of memories. Good. Scary. Angry. Sheer, unadulterated want to shoot somebody,” he said. “It all impacts you. It follows you. Some of the crap that I saw still burns in my soul. It hurts sometimes and a lot of it I’m very proud of. Some I’m not too proud of, but it had to be done.”
In his 24 years in the service, he earned a slew of medals, including the silver and bronze stars. He is one of the few infantry men to earn an air medal, which was awarded to him after he flew a small aircraft around enemy lines to draw enemy fire.
“Most of those are for being in the right places at the right time and still alive,” he said pointing to a shadow box of ornate honors hanging above his television in his room at Daniel Pointe.
Johnson said that the two wars he participated in were very different.
“Most of my combat experience in Korea was -- we were not in contact with big units,” he recalled. “The North was probing our lines to see if they could find weak spots in the line and stealing everything that they could get their hands on.”
Conversely, he stated that the Vietnam War “was very wet.” Johnson was stationed on the Mekong River as a part of an advising team.
“Vietnam was a war we could have won a hell of a lot sooner if the politicians left us alone, but everything had to be politicized.”
After the service, the decorated veteran began working in construction as an engineer.
“I knew how to tear up things the first part of my life,” he said. “The second part of life I built.”
“My work in engineering was mostly dealing with concrete, steel, bridges, high rises, and that kind of stuff,” he stated. “It was very interesting and I got to do the things I wanted to do all along, which was very fulfilling.”