In its fourth year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Stories of Honor series recounts the honorable tales of local American heroes. The series contains true accounts ranging from the valorous tales of WWII and Vietnam to the present day narratives of bravery in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This year's applicant pool was narrowed down to 20 unique individuals who relayed the ups-and-downs of deployment, training and civilian life at length. These stories personalize service members as more than just the bravest of the brave, but also community members who continue to give back to their neighbors, families and peers.
Jessica Ball: U.S. Army
Jessica Ball is one of few who have earned a place as jumpmaster. After her service in Iraq, she conquered her fear of jumping from airplanes and became an instructor for military parachutists.
Frederick Carpenter: U.S. National Guard & Army Reserve
Faced with the desires to serve his country and go to college, Frederick Carpenter did both and entered the U.S. National Guard, and then the U.S. Army Reserve. After deployments to Kuwait and Iraq, he has retired and returned to his pathway in civilian life, as well as volunteer service at a Department of Defense program.
Joseph Carretero: U.S. Marine Corps, Marine Corps Reserve & Army Reserve
Joseph Carretero has served in the Marine Corps, the Marine Corps Reserve and the Army Reserve, achieving the elite and rare military rank of sergeant major. He now serves St. Louis as a police sergeant.
Darnell Cooper: U.S. Army
It was the middle of the night when a U.S. Army reconnaissance team spotted two suspicious figures near a main road in Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq. That meant it was go-time for Sgt. Darnell Cooper and his fellow soldiers manning a nearby checkpoint.
Paul Dixon: U.S. Army
Faith is what kept Paul Dixon going throughout his time in the U.S. Army in Iraq. His company was responsible for bringing enemies into the realm of the main infantry for battle: a dangerous job. He was injured and hospitalized, and he is now opening up to discussing the PTSD he carries with him.
Harold Duanne Eifert: U.S. Air Force
Harold Eifert was a vital part of military missions for both the Air Force and ground forces: he trained in military meteorology to protect aircraft and personnel during missions.
Kara Grady: U.S. Navy & Navy Reserve
Kara Grady aspired to join the U.S. Navy and had her wish come true. She is now forming a foundation to assist veterans, cancer patients and their families to give additional support.
Tom Kreyling: U.S. Army Signal Corps
Tom Kreyling suffered terrible burns while performing the crucial task of cable splicing during Vietnam. He is still healing from the burn scars, as well as the painful memories. A recent Honor Flight opened him up to recovery.
Mike Lavin: U.S. Army
Michael Lavin, U.S. Army veteran, served in Vietnam as a commanding officer over a vital cargo haul team. He is now tracking down the men he served with to allow them an opportunity to openly share what they went through.
Guy Leonard: U.S. Marine Corps
Guy Leonard joined the “walking dead” infantry division in Vietnam, where he had to fight for his life and prove his endurance on the battlefield.
Joseph Middendorf: U.S. Army
Joseph Middendorf was one of the brave gunners responsible for protecting a medic, allowing the doctor to save wounded during Vietnam. Though he was wounded fifty years ago, he recently received his Purple Heart.
William Newton: U.S. Navy, Army National Guard
After 14 years in the U.S. Navy, William Newton was finally back in civilian clothing. But it didn’t last long — at an age when some soldiers are looking forward to retirement, Newton decided to enlist again, this time as a combat medic with the Army National Guard.
Rusty Pendleton: U.S. Army
Winston "Rusty" Pendleton recalls serving in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII and his encounter with concentration camps following the siege.
Rick Rajkovich: U.S. Marine Corps & Missouri Army National Guard
Richard Rajkovich’s three-generation line of military service foreshadowed his time in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving in Vietnam, and he later joined the Missouri National Guard. His daughter is continuing the family’s tradition in the Army.
Mendel Rosenberg: U.S. Army
Mendel Rosenberg was a Jew living in Lithuania when the Nazis carted off his family. Upon being liberated by American soldiers, he went to America and was drafted to serve, which he did out of gratitude to the country that saved him.
Robert Schultz: U.S. Marine Corps
Inspired by a Hollywood film on the Marines, Robert Schultz became a Seagoing Marine in WWII, serving on naval warships and surviving kamikaze attacks.
Ben Stabler: U.S. Army
When U.S. Army veteran Ben Stabler talks to high school students about his experiences while serving in Iraq, he doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He tells of times being sent directly into danger, when his battalion was sent to Dora, a Baghdad neighborhood known for violence
Eugene Ulrich: Army Air Corps
Eugene Ulrich faithfully kept a journal throughout his 50 flight missions during WWII, giving a peek into what the life of an Army Air Corps navigator was like.
Jay Vermillion: U.S. Marine Corps
The Marines taught Jedidiah Vermillion to never give up. Faced with hardships of brain injury from Iraq and the later loss of his wife, Vermillion has engaged in charity foundations centered around helping service members recover.
Ray Zepp: U.S. Army & Army Reserve
Ray Zepp Jr. was quickly promoted to the pilot for a medevac crew during Vietnam. Though he was shot at and faced near-death experiences, his rescue missions saved the critically wounded or dying on the front lines.
Active duty and military veterans alike were honored on July 18 where they gathered together with their friends and families at The National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis for a celebratory dinner ceremony.
The backdrop for the event was the National Personnel Records Center’s incredible log of over 100 million personnel files dating as far back as the mid-19th Century. Each day, they receive 4,000 to 5,000 requests for military personnel records.