Heroism continued

A look back on some of JBLM's history: part 2

By J.M. Simpson on December 29, 2017

What follows is part two of this reporter's look at the actions of servicemembers whose names honor Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The Nisei: Technician Fifth Grade James Okubo

At the start of World War II, Okubo was one of the 110,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry to be interred at the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming.

In 1943, he volunteered to serve in the Army.

Trained as a medic, he served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated infantry unit that was led by white officers and composed almost entirely of Nisei.

In late 1944, the 442nd collided with determined German resistance in the Vosages Mountains in France.

During combat, Okubo crawled to within 40 yards of the Germans to retrieve and treat 17 wounded comrades. The next day, he provided care for eight more wounded soldiers while under fire, and a week later he ran 75 yards through enemy fire to pull a wounded soldier from a burning Sherman tank.

Nominated for a Medal of Honor, Okubo received a Silver Star because Okubo was just a medic and not eligible for any higher award.

That changed in 2002 when his Silver Star was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

The Okubo Medical & Dental Clinic honor his service.

The Two Street Fighters and One Fighting Vehicle: Staff Sgt. Jack Pendleton, Pfc. Joe Mann, Pfc. Stuart Stryker and Spc. Robert Stryker

Two streets and a vehicle honor these four Medal of Honor recipients, all of whom gave their lives to save others.

Pendleton Avenue

Facing determined German resistance outside the town of Bardenberg, Staff Sgt. Jack Pendleton led his squad through example. After crawling more than 125 yards while engaging the enemy, he was injured. Despite this, he continued fighting until he was mortally wounded. Pendleton's attack gave his soldiers time to maneuver and destroy the German position.

Mann Avenue

German soldiers had surrounded Pfc. Joe Mann's platoon. Wounded in four places, he moved forward and destroyed much of the enemy's firepower. A grenade landed near him during a German counter attack; unable to raise his bandaged arms, Mann threw himself on the grenade, saving the lives of his soldiers.

The Strykers

A unique combat vehicle honors two unrelated soldiers with the same last name who served in two different wars.

Pfc. Stuart Stryker's valor showed itself in March 1945 when his platoon came under German fire. He rallied his men by charging the German position. Killed by enemy gunfire, his attack allowed his men to capture 200 German soldiers and free three American airmen.

Spc. Robert Stryker died during a firefight with Viet Cong fighters near Loc Ninh, South Vietnam. Caught in an ambush, he engaged and stopped an enemy element trying to encircle his soldiers. As the fighting escalated, Stryker noticed that several wounded squad members were in the kill zone of an enemy mine. He threw himself on the mine as it detonated, shielding his fellow soldiers.

The Army honored both men in 2002 when it named its newest fighting vehicle the "Stryker."

The Southern Gentleman: Master Sgt. Travis E. Watkins

The courtesy of the South could not have been more manifest in Waldo, Arkansas, native Travis Watkins, nor the heroism he displayed in combat.

Described as a soldier from the top of his head to the soles of his shoes, Watkins served in both World War II and the Korean War. In August 1950, the Second Battle of Natkong Bulge began, and Watkins and 30 soldiers were trapped. As the North Koreans pressed the attack, Watkins coordinated his men's actions. When ammunition ran short, he ran out, shot two enemy soldiers and retrieved their weapons and ammunition.

In doing this, more of the enemy attacked. Watkins killed them, taking their weapons and ammunition as well.

As the battle continued, six North Koreans moved to hurl grenades at Watkins' soldiers.

Watkins eliminated the threat. Partially paralyzed, he ordered his men to move back toward friendly lines.

"He remained in his position and cheerfully wished them good luck," reads a part of his Medal of Honor citation.

Watkins Field honors this gentleman.

The Defiant One: Sgt. 1st Class Bruce Grandstaff

In May 1967, nearly 700 North Vietnamese soldiers ambushed a platoon led by Grandstaff.

He established a defensive perimeter, aided several wounded soldiers, called for artillery fire to within 45 meters of his position and used smoke grenades to guide helicopters to his position. Now wounded, Grandstaff radioed for the artillery fire to land closer. Wounded a second time, he crawled to within 10 meters of an enemy machine gun and destroyed it.

Realizing the seriousness of his situation, Grandstaff brought artillery fire down on his position. Before the rain of steel began and an enemy rocket killed him, Grandstaff communicated "ferociously back and forth with the enemy in close range," several soldiers recalled.

Grandstaff Library honors the soldier who defied certain death.