RICHMOND - It all started with a question.
And it turned into an emotional, passionate pursuit for J.O. (James Oliver) Henry, the vice commander of the Richmond American Legion Post 740 Honored Seven.
His question was who exactly were the "honored seven" after whom the post was named, an inquiry that he sadly discovered generated more questions than answers.
HONORING SERVICE — Army veteran J.O. Henry of Irondale, vice commander of the Richmond American Legion Post 740 Honored Seven, will be the featured speaker at Richmond’s Memorial Day service on Monday at Richmond Union Cemetery following the parade that begins at 11 a.m. -- Janice R. Kiaski
Some people knew a little bit about the seven young Richmond men who died during World War II, one of them missing in action. Others knew very little.
"That kind of bothered me," said Henry, who had 27 years of service in the Army between active duty and the reserves. That included two tours of duty in the Middle East, one in Jordan, the other in Kuwait, before retiring as a first sergeant.
So Henry decided to do something about the lack of information and began a project to find out what he could about Bill Elliott, James Hayden, Alfred Hilliard, John Hull, John McCauley, Clarence Myers and John M. Stipec.
It's been a two-year effort so far, the fruit of which is a book of sorts that he compiled, bringing together news clippings, photos and battle information, for example, as part of a research undertaking that he estimates involved more then 300 hours.
He's made several copies, one of which will rightfully be at the Legion post with another one intended for display at the town's hub of historical memorabilia at the Crew House Museum operated by the Richmond Community Historical Society.
And he'll share some of the information as the featured speaker at Richmond's Memorial Day observance, his topic "The Honored Seven." The speech will be delivered Monday at Richmond Union Cemetery following the end of the parade through town that gets under way at 11 a.m.
"I don't want to see these men forgotten," Henry said of his motivation to learn more about the Richmond veterans.
Information came from various sources, all of it pieces of a puzzle that started to connect, open doors and give a flavor for the men who paid the ultimate price in their service to their country, according to Henry, a pipe fitter with Local 495 who resides with his wife, Peggy. Son Charlie is serving overseas in the U.S. Army Reserves.
Henry said a beginning point of the research was with Sandy Day, local historian and genealogist at the Schiappa branch of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County, whom he described as "an undervalued asset."
"From there it kind of got a life of its own," said Henry, who contacted various military museums around the country in his pursuit of information.
"When you see some of the people I have talked to, it is absolutely amazing," he said of what has been an emotional undertaking as he gained a keener appreciation for what their service entailed.
Here is a sampling of what he learned.
- Pfc. Bill Elliott was 27 when he was killed off the shores of Slapton Sands, England, during Exercise Tiger, a training for the Normandy invasion that claimed the lives of 749 servicemen. They encountered nine German E boats, which fired on the convoy of LSTs, an acronym for landing ship tank. The LST that Elliott was on opened fire on the E boats and was hit and exploded moments later. Elliott is buried at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England, and left behind his parents, Charles and Frances Elliott; two brothers, Charles and Gilbert; and a sister, Ruth.
- Pfc. James Hayden was 21 when he was killed in action during the Battle of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. The assault was code named S-Day. It was the second day of the battle when he was killed. He enlisted in the Army in August of 1942. He was attached to the Medic Corps and had been trained at Camp Croft, S.C., before being deployed to the Philippines. The Battle of Luzon left 8,310 soldiers dead and 29,560 wounded. Hayden was laid to rest at Rock Island Cemetery and was survived by his parents, George and Minnie Hayden; brother George; and sisters Norma, Elyse and Marcella.
- Pfc. Alfred Hilliard was 19 when he was killed on Iwo Jima. He had enlisted in the Marines on Jan. 8, 1944, and was assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division. The famous flag raising most people are familiar with occurred on Feb. 23, 1945. Hilliard was wounded at the battle of Iwo Jima, and like most men, only wanted to get back to their unit. He returned to his on March 12 for duty, and two days later was among five Marines killed.
When the 26th Marines landed on Iwo Jima, the unit was comprised of 3,246 Marines but by the time their last mission was completed, it had dwindled to 1,468, only 45 percent of its original strength.
Hilliard was survived by his parents, Ralph and Amanda; his sister, Mildred; and brothers Donald, Gerald, Howard, Wayne and Fredrick. He is buried at Richmond Union Cemetery.
- Pfc. John Hull was 19 when he was killed from shrapnel wounds to the legs and back on the hills of Saipan. Born in West Virginia but enlisting on Oct. 29, 1943, in Pittsburgh, he served with India Co., 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines and was killed in action on June 29, 1944, during Operation Forager, the campaign to secure the islands of Saipan and Tinian. It was on June 28 that the first of the eighth began a drive on four small hills in the north of Saipan known as "the Four Pimples" and encountered stiff Japanese resistance. Hull originally was laid to rest in a Marine division cemetery, then later returned to Union Cemetery in Steubenville in 1947. He was survived by his parents, Manuel and Pearl Hull; three brothers, Manuel, Robert and Guy; and a sister, Ramona.
- Pfc. John McCauley was 24 when he was killed in the Vosges Mountains in France. Jack, as his friends called him, was a member of G. Company, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry, Regiment 3rd Division. He participated in six amphibious landings. Jack met up with a friend, Pvt. Jack Pabian of Steubenville, and complained in a letter he had written home that the two were unable to find any wine when they went into Rome to celebrate.
After leaving Rome, McCauley's company was pushing into the south of France in support of Operation Anvil. The target area was the French Riviera. From that operation, G Company went into the Vosges mountains were McCauley was killed on Oct. 5, 1944. He is buried in the Epinal American Cemetery.
- Pfc. Clarence Myers was 31 when he was declared missing in action during the Battle of Manila. A member of the 37th Infantry Division of the Ohio National Guard during the Battle of Manila, Myers served on Guadalcanal and New Georgia. While he was serving, so were two of his brothers - Blaine and Frank - who were both in training to join the fight at the time of Clarence's disappearance. The battle for Manila left 1,010 U.S. soldiers dead and 5,565 wounded. Myers' body was never recovered. He is listed as a POW-MIA on a memorial at Fort William McKinley, Manila, and on a monument at Richmond Union Cemetery. He was survived by his parents, Charles and Bessie Myers; sisters Bertha, Mildred and Goldie; and his brothers.
- Pvt. John M. Stipec was 19 when he leaped from his plane traveling at 110 mph and 800 feet above the Gulf of Mexico. The target was a small drop zone named Dog Island, about the size of the islands the Army believed it would be fighting the Japanese for in the Pacific. Stipec never made it to the theater of operation he trained for. As the paratroopers exited the aircraft, they overshot the island, causing 10 men to land in the ocean. The accident took the lives of nine other paratroopers. The accident initially was reported as a plane accident to keep the enemy from preparing for the upcoming conflict.
Henry said a story shared with him about Stipec was that before he had left for the Army, he told his friends that in the event he died, he wanted them to walk on the curb that went around a telephone pole in the street by what today is Kenco. His friends honored the request made by Stipec, who is buried in Richmond Union Cemetery.
Henry said he felt a special bonding to Stipec and McCauley as both were paratroopers as he was.
While Henry has gained some knowledge about the honored seven, he believes there is more to know and welcomes hearing from anyone with information. He can be contacted at email@example.com
"I just want to make sure these men get what they deserve," Henry said. "They don't deserve to be forgotten."
Nor do other veterans, according to Henry, especially those whose lives were lost.
"I don't want any veteran forgotten in his service to country," he said.
"They gave up their tomorrows for our tomorrows."