Category Archives: Military

Local hero U.S. Army Spc. Braden Long

I’m honoring veterans this week.

I took this photo in 2007 and it’s one of my all-time favorites. Airman Bill Long stands in salute as a mournful “Taps” sounds from a single trumpet at the graveside services for Long’s brother, Spc. Braden Joseph Long Sunday afternoon, Aug. 19, at Cedarlawn Memorial Park in Sherman.

Salute to Spc Braden Long

Spc. Long was killed in battle in Iraq Aug. 4, 2007. In the background of the picture is an honor-guard detail from the Sherman Police Department, also standing in salute and further back is part of the Patriot Guard line surrounding the grave site holding U.S. flags. Members of the Sherman Fire Department were also present to honor Sherman’s fallen warrior.

The story of Spc. Braden Joseph Long, by Joyce Godwin appeared in the Herald Democrat Aug. 20, 2007.

A 2005 graduate of Sherman High School, he is remembered for his infectious smile, love of cars, love for his family and the intense desire to serve his country.

Spc. Long died of injuries sustained when his Humvee came under grenade attack in Baghdad just three days shy of his 20th birthday. He was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.

During his short military career, Spc. Long earned the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Combat Action Badge, Iraqi Campaign Medal and Global War on Terrorism Medal. He served as a gunner.

Chaplain Ken Sorenson told mourners at Faith Church of Sherman that one of the outstanding features of Spc. Long was his smile. His father added in a later telephone interview that his son’s smile was always there. Sorenson used the letters in ‘smile’ to describe Spc. Long to family and friends who flocked to his funeral. ‘S’ was for Specialist, Braden’s army rank. ‘M’ was for military. He said Spc. Long wanted to join the military since he was a little boy. ‘I’ was for his intelligence in choosing a supportive wife like Teresa and for choosing the Army. ‘L’ stood for likeable. Sorenson said Spc. Long was an incredibly loving person. “I can see why Teresa would fall in love with him,” Sorenson said.

Lastly, ‘E’ stood for excellence. He described Spc. Long as determined to do the right thing. He would always fulfill his commitments.

Sorenson referred to the scripture Romans 5:7-8. “Christ died for us. There is something about a man who is willing to die for those he doesn’t even know…day after day, a willingness to sacrifice his all for people who didn’t know him, much like his Savior did 2,000 years ago,” he said.

Later in the service, Sorenson said, “Freedom is never free and his (Spc. Long’s) death serves as a reminder of the cost.”

Following the final prayer, the slow cadence of marching military began to echo across the auditorium and grew louder as the military honor guard advanced through the church isle to retrieve Spc. Long’s casket.

Mourners poured from the church and the unmistakable roar of motorcycle engines could be heard as the Patriot Guard prepared to escort Spc. Long and his family to Cedarlawn Memorial Park for the final farewell. This was the third part of the Guard’s mission for Spc. Long.

The Patriot Guard escorted Spc. Graden Long from the time he arrived at the Grayson County Airport to his final resting place at Cedarlawn Park in Sherman. Seen here, the flag bearers formed a wall around the graveside and mourners to protect them from possible intruders/disrupters.

The Patriot Guard escorted Spc. Graden Long from the time he arrived at the Grayson County Airport to his final resting place at Cedarlawn Park in Sherman. Seen here, the flag bearers formed a wall around the graveside and mourners to protect them from possible intruders/disrupters.

Riders met the plane bearing Spc. Long’s casket at Grayson County Airport the Thursday, Aug. 16, and escorted him to Waldo Funeral Home in Sherman. Then the Guard stood in a protective formation around the funeral home during the family’s visitation Friday.

With flags unfurled in the wind, the motorcycles escorted Spc. Long and his family and friends to Cedarlawn.

As the procession passed each police sentry at various intersections on the procession route through Sherman, the officer sentry boarded his unit with lights flashing and joined the end of the procession until there were 10 cruisers bringing up the rear.

Sherman firefighters also honored the fallen hero with a giant U.S. flag suspended between two ladder trucks for the procession to pass under as it turned into Cedarlawn from Texoma Parkway. From that point, the procession stretched west on FM 691 all the way to U.S. Highway 75.

A U.S. Army representative presents the purple heart to Spc. Braden Long's mother at the close of his funeral at the raveside service for Spc. Braden Joseph Long  Aug. 19, 2007, at Cedarlawn Memorial Park in Sherman.

A U.S. Army representative presents the purple heart to Spc. Braden Long’s mother at the close of his funeral at the raveside service for Spc. Braden Joseph Long Aug. 19, 2007, at Cedarlawn Memorial Park in Sherman.

Inside the funeral tent, the awards earned by Spc. Long were each presented to his wife, Teresa, his mother, Melanie Thrasher, and his father.

When a mournful “Taps” sounded out from a single trumpet, military and police alike raise their hands in salute. Then Airman Bill Long, Spc. Long’s older brother who was sitting with the family, stood slowly, turned toward the ceremony and raised his salute. Airman Long, served as escort for his brother’s final return to Sherman. He was his mother’s support along with her husband, Bobby Thrasher, throughout the services.

Hours after the funeral, Spc. Long’s father described their son as a normal teen while he was growing up. “But then, when you look back, you see a teen that almost never caused trouble,” William Long said. “He was focused in wanting to go into the Army and that’s what he did. He was a fantastic kid and a wonderful husband for his wife, and we are really going to miss him.”

William Long commented on the military honors during his son’s service. “The amount of people that showed up was way beyond our expectations,” he added. “We knew the Patriot Guard was coming but we didn’t know how many there would be.”

Sparky Cox of Sherman served as one of the Ride Captains for the Patriot Guard along with Mike Grove of Bells and Gary Winters of Sherman. Cox reported there were 129 motorcycles and several cars carrying Patriot Guard members who came from as far away as Waurika, Okla to the north and Fort Worth and Garland to the South.

William Long said his son was doing what he wanted. “He wanted to join and signed up and enlisted right after his 17th birthday, but couldn’t go in for basic training until eight months later,” William Long said. “He was unbelievably proud to wear the uniform and his whole family was very proud of him.”

Spc. Long was sworn into the Army Oct. 2, 2004. He left for basic training June 28, 2005  at Fort Knox, Ky. He was deployed to Iraq Feb 8, 2007.

He is the fourth military personnel, and the fifth over all, from the Texoma area to die while serving in support of the war against terrorism.

If you know a veteran, get him or her to tell their story. They all have one worth hearing and remembering.  #tellaveteransstory #thankavet #honorveterans

WWII Navy Pilot gets Navy Cross

WWII Navy pilot

Lt. John Tarwater as seen during World War II in one of the many varied planes he flew as a carrier pilot.

one story about a WWII Navy pilot for Veterans Day

Mrs. Tarwater wasn’t happy in 1941 when her son John said he was going to leave school to join the military. After all, he was in college on a basketball scholarship and headed for a good career in his chosen sport. He was the only son of a farming family and that would keep him safe from any military draft, but Tarwater wanted to go.

WWII U.S. Navy Pilot

Lt. John Tarwater in his aviator gear during World War II. This photo appears on the website that describes Tarwater’s efforts in earning his prestigious Navy Cross April 17, 1945.

He said the bombing at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, made him mad, and he was determined to go in spite of his mother’s objections. He entered the recruiting office and saw a Navy representative on the left and an Army rep on his right. He said the Navy guy was the first one he reached.

Four years later, Tarwater earned the Navy Cross (the Navy’s highest honor), the Distinguished Flying Cross several times and a chest full of others. He was a pilot assigned to the USS Lexington and later to the USS Yorktown aircraft carriers. Dodging enemy flak and kamikaze pilots was a daily event for him. But before all that started, he was just a farm boy from Kansas who attended a one-room school from the age of 7, with no greater aspirations than playing basketball.

When his Navy career began, Tarwater was anxious to get to the South Pacific to make his statement, but first came training. He gained a spot in a V-5 program where the Navy selected the best and brightest to attend college for a while and then attend flight training. A couple of days before Christmas in 1943, Tarwater received his shiny new wings that designated him as a Naval Aviator but he wasn’t sent to the South Pacific. No, his mission was to fly new Douglas Avenger TBMs and F-6Fs from the New York plant to San Francisco.

But ferrying planes across the country was not what young Tarwater had in mind for his role in the war. He wanted to be in the South Pacific. He said he found a sympathetic ear in San Francisco after landing one of his new Douglas planes. He said he told the exec there that he could be doing much more than ferrying planes and before long, he was assigned to a flying combat group being formed in Pasco, Wash. From there, the group would catch a troop ship and go to Maui Naval Air Station in Hawaii. In December, they boarded ships for Ponam Island in the Admiralty Islands.

By February 1945, Tarwater found himself included in the Admiral Marc Michner Carrier Group 58. He described how it was on board the USS Lexington on Feb. 16 as pilots and crew readied for a bombing attack on a Japanese aircraft factory 80 miles north of Tokyo. This was the day he earned the first of several Distinguished Flying Cross awards.

He said he was “freezing” aboard the carrier having sailed from two degrees below the equator where the temperature was 100 degrees and the humidity to match. They were now just a couple of hundred miles south of Tokyo where it was winter. They were “about to make history with the first strikes on the Japanese mainland since Jimmy Doolittle’s famous Tokyo raids in 1942.” Tarwater said he couldn’t sleep in his bunk and at 2 a.m. He finally gave up and headed to the “ready room” in search of hot coffee. When he arrived he discovered there were others just as restless.

They were to launch at 5 a.m. in their TBM Avengers laden with four 500-pound bombs headed 80 miles north of Tokyo to bomb the Nakajima aircraft plant. Everyone knew it was a dangerous mission, and the normally boisterous pilots were unusually serious on that morning.

Tarwater said he remembers the weather being overcast that morning as he and the Torpedo Squadron 9 flight arrived over the target area. “Flying instruments in formation with wing tips just a few feet apart is not for the faint of heart,” Tarwater said. “We started our letdown and broke out at about 1,000 feet, and the Japanese had a greeting committee waiting.”

Tarwater’s citation states, “As pilot of a carrier-based torpedo bomber, he pressed his attach through intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire to score direct hits on the target, causing extensive damage. During the attack, two planes in the formation were crippled, and the entire flight thereby was forced to proceed at reduced speed under constant attack by enemy fighters. In the resulting air battle, fought across 80 miles of the Japanese homeland, his courage under fire and superior airmanship were at all times in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

By the following April, Tarwater was aboard the USS Yorktown because the Lexington was taken in for minor repairs. He described the activities of April 17, the day he earned the Navy Cross. “The Yorktown’s smoke-filled ready room quieted as the skipper on that morning emphasized that a remnant of the Japanese fleet was still out there and he intended to find and sink them,” he said. There were no bombs on this mission. The torpedo was the ordinance of choice.”

Tarwater said they climbed through overcast skies and were skimming along the tops of lily white clouds in loose formation. “The skipper signaled for a penetration descent and down we went,” he said. “Breaking out at the bottom of the overcast, a huge ship filled my windscreen.” He said he was surprised with the enormity of the target but he fired and hit it dead center.

U.S. Navy Cross

Lt. John Tarwater’s Navy Cross earned during World War II on April 17, 1945.

His Navy Cross citation states, “Flying by instruments through a heavy overcast, he broke through the clouds only to be caught in a cone of intense anti-aircraft fire. Notwithstanding, he pressed home his attack to point-blank range and scored one of the five direct hits which caused the vessel to roll over and sink a minute later. While retiring, his plan was subjected to continued and intense anti-aircraft fire from the cruiser and an escorting destroyer, but, by superior airmanship, he brought his plane and crew through unscathed. His skill, daring and utter disregard for personal safety were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

By the end of World War II, Lt. Tarwater had earned 13 medals and a large number of ribbons and logged more than 2,760 flight hours and 164 carrier landings.

But his service to the Navy wasn’t finished. He was stationed at San Diego where he continued flying as the player-coach of San Diego Flyers basketball team. “We played the Globe Trotters and the famous Goose Tatum,” he said.

U.S.. Navy WWII Veteran

John Tarwater at his home in Bonham tells his remarkable story of life as a Navy pilot in World War II.

Currently, John Tarwater lives on a quiet property adjacent to Lake Bonham. He’s retired from a successful career in the newspaper business and served eight years as a member of the Silver-Haired Legislature of Texas during which time he was named the 2003 Fannin County Senior Citizen of the Year.

He’s recuperating from a stroke he suffered less than two years ago and said he gets really good care from his son, Douglas Tarwater. “I’m in a program that allows veterans to stay in the home,” he said. “A nurse comes every two weeks and a doctor comes by once a month to see me. The nurse is on call for anytime I need something. They treat me super.”

If you know a veteran, get him or her to tell their story. They all have one worth hearing and remembering.  #tellaveteransstory #thankavet #honorveterans

This story by Joyce Godwin appeared in the Herald Democrat November 10, 2013.