Vets share their stories on Memorial Day

From left, Liz Van Dyke attends the May 25 observance of Memorial Day ceremony with her parents, Arthur and Helen Eyles, both of whom served in the military during World War II.   - Kirk Boxleitner
From left, Liz Van Dyke attends the May 25 observance of Memorial Day ceremony with her parents, Arthur and Helen Eyles, both of whom served in the military during World War II.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — The May 25 observance of Memorial Day ceremony, and the luncheon that followed, drew a host of former and current service members, many of whom had stories to share about their times in uniform.

Arthur and Helen Eyles met during World War II, while Arthur was serving in England as part of the U.S. Army Air Corps. The twist is that Helen, his “war bride” whom he married 64 years ago, was also serving in the military at the time, as a member of the Royal Army Pay Corps.

“We met on a Friday, got engaged that Sunday, and were married two months later,” Helen Eyles said. “That should tell you how much we liked each other.”

“We were stationed in this beautiful converted opera house in London,” Arthur Eyles said.

All three of their sons joined the military, and have served in Vietnam, Thailand and Montana, respectively, while their grandson has completed a tour of duty in Iraq and is preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.

“We grew up in a patriotic home,” said Liz Van Dyke, the Eyles’ daughter. “I still do everything I can, as an American citizen, to support my country. I’m a band director at Marysville Middle School, and I’ve trained students to play the bugle and carry the flag. One of my former students, Steven Utt, is playing the bugle today.”

Arthur Eyles wasn’t a pilot, but his time as a radio operator gave him plenty of experience in B-17 bomber aircraft, the stories of which Van Dyke still recalls vividly. On days such as Memorial Day, however, not all of Arthur Eyles’ memories are pleasant ones.

“I pray for those who we lost,” Arthur Eyles said. “I try not to remember how many there were.”

A diverse trio of military members, both past and active-duty, met for the first time, and said thanks to each other at the Marysville Cemetery for their respective contributions to their country’s defense.

George Chavis wore his Air Force T-shirt and dog tags, from the five years that he spent in the service, from 1980-1985. He also had a plastic-coated picture of his son, who recently returned from a year in Iraq, hung around his neck.

“I feel blessed every day to have him back,” said Chavis, who served in support of the Grenada invasion in 1983, and said of his own time in service, “I’d do it all over in a heartbeat.”

Fellow Air Force veteran Steven Hampton echoed Chavis’ sentiments. Hampton was active-duty from 1964-1968 as a bandsman, and became an air evacuation medic when he served in Vietnam.

“When I first started, I told them that I didn’t even have a Red Cross certification,” Hampton said. “They said, ‘Oh, don’t worry, you’ll learn,’ and I did.”

Chavis and Hampton were drawn together by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Keashia Garner, a corpsman stationed on board the USS Abraham Lincoln, who’s been active-duty for the past 17 years. Garner, a Marysville resident, had never met Chavis or Hampton before, but she insisted on being photographed with them, and shaking their hands in recognition of their duty, a favor that they gladly returned.

“I’ve met a lot of good people during my time in,” said Garner, joined by her sons Jaylon and Julian. “I’m so thankful for the sacrifices that are made by every member of every branch of service. I didn’t realize how big those sacrifices were before I was deployed myself. Before, I’d always been stationed shoreside at Navy hospitals, but when you’re separated from your family and in harm’s way, it’s a different story.”

Susan Shelby and Jim Shipman met for the first time at the luncheon in the Marysville American Legion Post 178 hall that followed the ceremony. Shelby served in the Army from 1968-1970, while Shipman served in the Navy from 1959-1961, but there was no inter-service rivalry as they traded tales of their experiences.

“I was a young thing who joined right out of high school,” said Shelby, whose son went on to join the Air Force. “So many of the men I met had joined because they had to, because of the draft, that they asked me why a woman would choose to join the service. I told them that the military offered me great educational benefits and that women can be patriotic, too.”

Shelby worried that many Americans take for granted the freedoms that their military affords them, a belief shared by Shipman, who noted the thousands of Americans in each war who have died in defense of their country.

“A lot has been sacrificed to give us what we have now, whether it’s the right to vote, or worship, or get in an RV and drive wherever you want, without anyone asking any questions,” Shipman said. “America is the greatest place in the world, but we can’t forget the sacrifices of the millions who were not only killed, but also wounded and suffered from post-traumatic stress.”

If Walt Bailey learned any lesson from his time in the service, it was, “Be alert.”

After joining the Army on April 9, 1941, Bailey was stationed with the coastal artillery at Fort Shafter in Honolulu, and he survived the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.

“I got off seven rounds on a Japanese plane, but the biggest danger for us was friendly fire,” Bailey said. “They had to stop the Navy from shooting their shells, because they were destroying every place they landed. One shell took out a barracks and blew the legs off a sergeant.”

Bailey laughed as he recalled having just enough time to eat breakfast that morning, before the attack started.

“From then on, it was just confusion,” Bailey said. “I slept maybe three hours in the three days that followed.”

Bailey believes that signs of an impending attack were overlooked, and expressed the hope that such an oversight will not happen again.

“Be alert,” Bailey said. “We should remember what happened. That’s the motto of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.”

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