There were many heroes of World War II, but few of them would ever classify themselves as such. My dad was part of that great generation. Born April 16, 1922 in Illinois, he entered military service with the 106th Horse Cavalry Regiment on October 23,1940, more than a year before Pearl Harbor. He remained in the service several months after Japan surrendered, receiving his Honorable Discharge on Pearl Harbor Day – December 7, 1945.
Dad qualified as a sharpshooter with the M1 carbine. He was also an instructor on the pistol range, teaching recruits to shoot the Colt .45 ACP. He received his pre-flight training at the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center and his primary flight training at Garner Field in Midland, Texas. Dad qualified as a pilot on the AT-6, BT-13, PT-19 and trained flight officers and combat crews on B-29’s. The Army needed him for 2 1/2 years stateside to teach radio instruction so he was never deployed overseas.
He continued to serve in the Army Reserve Missouri National Guard 35th Infantry Division until 1956. He worked for the Kansas City, Missouri, Postal Service and later accepted a position in the Army Corps of Engineers in the Topographical Division as a Cartographic Photogrametric Technician. Most of his work was classified as Top Secret. Because most of his service in the Corps of Engineers was during the Vietnam War era, it is probable he employed recon film to map bombing runs for F-4’s. Dad retired from the DOD in 1972 after 32 years of faithful and exemplary service to his country.
My dad is my hero. He raised three children, often working two jobs, and stayed faithful to my mom, Helen, for 61 years. Dad gave his life to Christ two weeks before he died at age 85 in 2007. My mom also gave her heart to Jesus two weeks after dad passed away. I look forward to being with them both in heaven one day.
My dad’s older brother, Ralph (Buck) Knoles passed away at his home on August 1, 2009. He was preceded in death by his mother, Martha; father Kirby, sister, Maggie; and his brother Claude. He is survived by his favorite nephew Dr. John Knoles, his sister, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Orphaned at age thirteen, Buck immediately went to work as a farmhand.
Even as a teenager, Buck exhibited an understanding of self-sacrifice. This is perhaps best depicted in a poem he wrote at age sixteen in 1936.
– by Buck Knoles
The billowing waves dashed high –
As if to touch the clouded sky.
A storm was brewing, silently warning;
The wind howled, as if in mourning.
It was time for the lighthouse beacon to be lit,
But it stood alone, without light in it.
A young girl sat, silent with wonder,
In fear ships would be dashed asunder.
She was waiting, hopeful, yearning,
Yet in her heart, a fear was burning;
For her father, the keeper of the light
Was delayed and not back before night.
Meanwhile, into the soul of the lighthouse keeper began to bore
Concern for his lame daughter, Eleanor.
He thought of her in his house alone,
While he was yet so far from home.
She could never cross the rocks at night
To do his work of tending the light.
Eleanor sat with face pale as death;
The fear in her heart slowed her breath.
The light must be lit – no matter how!
If only her legs were not twisted now –
How simple it would be to light
The beacon – a finger pointing into the night.
As the ship grew ever nearer,
Eleanor began to think much clearer;
The beacon must be lit – whatever the cost.
Or many lives would be horribly lost.
Without a thought for her dangerous plight,
She crawled through the storm and into the night;
Over the sharp rocks, cutting her hands,
She left drops of blood upon the sands.
Finally, she felt the pain no more;
At last she had reached the lighthouse door.
After a lifetime it seemed
A light far out into the ocean gleamed.
The lighthouse keeper, running and gasping for breath
Suddenly stood still – as pale as death:
The shining beacon could now be seen.
Amazed and thankful, standing there,
He offered to God a silent prayer.
Many lives were saved that night,
By a brave young girl who provided the light.
The ship now sailed safely away,
And the people on board saw another day.
Her father arrived and caught his breath,
For on the lighthouse floor lay someone in death.
No one can ever really know,
The effect on him – this terrible blow;
Tearfully, he knelt by the girl on the floor:
I t was his darling, Eleanor.
Just a few years after writing this poem, Buck put his own life on the line for others – numerous times. When WW II broke out, he enlisted in the US Navy in January 1942. He earned the rank of signalman first class. During his tour of duty against German forces in Europe, Buck served in Algeria, Tanzania, Morocco, Italy, Sicily, Southern France, Yugoslavia, and Corsica. He earned the American Theater War Ribbon, the Good Conduct Medal, two purple hearts, and five bronze stars.
From his numerous missions behind enemy lines, Buck recalled a few incidents.
<> During one campaign against the Germans, Buck and his company were ordered to approach an enemy pillbox by stealth and simultaneously throw special hand grenades into the gun ports. Having accomplished this, the men ran from the pillbox as fast as possible. Although several hundred yards away, the terrific explosion vaporized the pillbox and knocked our sailors off their feet. “Whether it was those special grenades – or if we hit their ammo supply – we never knew”.
<> On another occasion, he and his party were swiftly approached by two German boats called “Corvettes”. Buck got on the horn and called “Mayday!” He immediately inflated a life raft, by pulling an attached inflator ball. Although Buck was unsure if his message was received, a US Destroyer came swiftly around the island and blew both boats out of the water. After the operation was over, Buck discovered the life raft inflating ball was still clutched in his hand. He said, “I’ve kept it all these years to remind me how close I came that day to the Pearly Gates”. It was fitting, when Buck was laid to rest sixty-five years later, that he held in his hand this same inflating ball.
The following is an excerpt from an article in “Stars and Stripes”, August 1944. Buck was one of the sailors on this operation:
“In Italy…..American troops are doing a fine job. Near the island of Vis, American Troops landed on a small island at night by stealth. Remaining in secured positions in the woods, they scored a direct hit on a German E-boat, 75 yards away. In the dark of night, American machine guns and bazookas opened fire and set another ship ablaze by a direct hit amidships. A third E-boat was mortally damaged by American bazookas. At dawn, the Americans used rubber boats to board evacuation ships and sail back to the island of Vis. The following day, reconnaissance planes reported three German ships burned and wrecked without a single American casualty”.
In a letter dated November 5, 1944, the commander of Aircraft Rescue Boat Squadron One wrote the following:
“Knoles, Ralph A., Signalman First Class, has served on board the squadron which participated in the following campaigns and is entitled to wear the proper ribbon and stars for these campaigns.”
Original sketch by Buck Knoles
1. The Tunisian Area campaign, July 4-9, 1943.
2. The invasion and occupation of Sicily.
3. The leap-frog landings on the North coast of Sicily.
4. The invasion of Italy and the landing operations at Salerno Bay.
5. The leap-frog landing at Anzio, Italy.
6. The participation in special operations with British and U.S. troops and Yogoslav Partisans in the Adriatic, June 6 to August 1, 1944.
7. The invasion and landing operation of Southern France.
Buck got his honorable discharge on September 18, 1945, but not before he and his comrades received the following recommendation for a Presidential Unit Citation. It is from his Commander of the Special Operations Group and addressed to the Commander of the U.S. Eighth Fleet.
“Aircraft Rescue Boat Squadron One is recommended for the following citation:
For outstanding heroism, selfless devotion to duty and intrepidity in action during the Allied landings in Southern France, August 17, 1944. The Assault Unit entered the confined waters in the face of a heavy sweeping fire concentration, illuminated by searchlights, and star-shells employed by the enemy defenders under near ‘target-practice’ conditions while fully aware of the inadequacy of the means available for protection, and there executed their assigned tasks with unswerving vigor and valor. Their inspiring conduct is in accord with the highest national aspirations.
This recommendation is based on the following facts:
The Unit was directed to carry out a diversionary operation on the morning of August 17, 1944. The Unit passed through harbor warning loops, a charted mine-field, searchlight, star-shell illumination, and were continuously swept by cross fire from enemy machine guns and 20, 40, 88, 105 and 240 mm cannon. In the face of intense enemy fire, they entered the harbor and approached under cover of smoke pots and time-delay demolition charges and then retired. This operation continued for one hour. The Unit, with full awareness of the great dangers involved, offered themselves as a decoy, without offensive power, to embarrass the enemy in his planed defense. Due to the bravery and selfless devotion to duty of all personnel engaged, this operation was carried out according to plan and the mission accomplished.”
After the war, Buck worked hard to complete his apprenticeship as a carpenter in November of 1949. He earned his degree in Architecture from Bradley University under the GI Bill while working as a contractor superintendent. He later moved to Boulder, Colorado, where he established his own contracting business. He handcrafted incredible pieces of furniture from woods such as solid oak and black walnut, blessing his nephew, John, with many outstanding examples. His final enterprise in life was to design and build a fantastic motorcycle shop, featuring Yamaha, Bultaco, BSA, and Triumph. With his uncle as owner and manager, John enjoyed some wonderful and memorable years there as a salesman and mechanic.
– Dr. John Knoles, 2009