When you are able to gather more than 20,000 people in one place over a period of three days, you’re bound to have some good stories. Here is one involving the All Ohio Balloon Fest.
This good story is about Roger Timmons who is 91 years old. Not only is he a veteran of World War II, but also he was actually in the invasion of Okinawa in the South Pacific near the end of the war. U.S. Navy Petty Officer Third Class Timmons was assigned to an LCI (landing craft infantry). He tells me those were about 15 feet wide and 125 feet long and had a flat bottom. They could run right up on the beach.
But here’s how I came to meet him. At the All Ohio Balloon Fest in Marysville last week, a World War II vintage B-25 bomber, sponsored by the Marysville Journal-Tribune, made an appearance. Those who had purchased a year’s subscription to the J-T were entered in a raffle and winners were invited to ride in the famous wartime aircraft. Roger, who was in a wheelchair that day, told me he’s able to walk, but gets a little dizzy sometimes. When he goes to a big event like the balloon fest he brings his wheelchair along for safety. The day he was invited to ride on the plane, he said he nearly jumped out of his chair. He was so excited to get on board for his first ride on a B-25 and a chance to check off one item on his bucket list.
He commented that it was not a large plane, but he was excited to get inside. He described the plane as having a small area in the front, almost like a bed where someone could lay down (that was for the nose gunner), but then there were four seats toward the back, on the sides, and that was his spot. During the flight there was some vibration and it was a little hot before they took off, but up in the air, he said the temperature was fine and it was a great ride.
Others on board at the same time described the ride as bumpy, a little nauseating and very hot. Roger was having none of that. At 91 he is still really tough and maybe that came from his days aboard the LCI No. 1057.
The B-25, a twin-engine medium bomber also known as the Mitchell bomber, became famous when in April of 1942, four months after Pearl Harbor, 16 of them flew off the aircraft carrier USS Hornet on a bombing mission over Tokyo. The lead pilot was then Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle. The plane has appeared at the balloon fest for the past several years.
Born in 1925, Roger grew up in West Jefferson and in 1943 graduated from West Jefferson High School. Several members of his high school class had already enlisted during their junior year, but Roger’s parents would not allow him to do that. As soon as he graduated, he went right down to enlist in the Navy. After his basic training, he headed to San Diego for more training and four months later he was on a plane headed to the Philippines. The year was 1944.
Once there, he was assigned to a group of 20 LCIs. All of them had mortars on board. During an island invasion, their job was to go right up on the beach, fire the mortars, back off, and do it all over again. This was useful when he was part of the invasion of Okinawa and other small Japanese-held islands in that area of the South Pacific.
The boats took heavy fire, especially in the invasion of Okinawa. Several men were wounded, but none on Roger’s LCI. He also explained that a false fog could be created off the back of the boat, which would help hide the ships in the harbor and those around them.
He became the cook on board the ship after several others had to bow out of that position, and he said that he didn’t know anything about cooking. He told them, “Teach me and I’ll do it.” His most notorious dish was lamb. He doesn’t know where it came from, but the crew hated it and jokingly threatened his life if he ever brought it out again.
When the war was over Roger said he was sent home on one of those LCIs. Can you imagine traveling all the way from the Philippines on such a relatively small vessel? When I asked if that wasn’t a terribly rough trip for him he said, “Just a little.” But then he didn’t have any complaints about the B-25 bomber ride either.
After the war was over, Roger returned home and attended Findlay College. For a while he sold insurance, but his life’s work was selling with the Ohio Seed Company. He lived in Logan County. He married his wife Betty in 1948 and she passed away just two years ago. They had a nice long life together and his health is still so good. His voice is strong, his memories of World War II are good and he has lived at Indian Lake for 20 years. He has two children and three grandchildren and he said, “The Lord’s been good to me!”
(Melanie Behrens – firstname.lastname@example.org)
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