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Raising the flag

NICHOLS — “It was always a dream of the village to have a veterans park right here in Nichols, and Adeline Whitmore made it happen,” Nichols Village Mayor Lesley Pelotte declared Saturday.

That dream culminated with the gathering of local veterans and community members Saturday for the opening of the new Veterans Memorial Park on West River Road in Nichols.

A brand-new sidewalk leads up to two benches located at the park with a large stone and a plaque placed in front of a flag pole, which a group of veterans from the Nichols American Legion used to raise an American flag to kick off the special ceremony.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance by Girl Scout Troop 61082, members of the Tioga Central High School Band led off with a performance of the National Anthem.

That music was followed by the comments from Pelotte, which led to much thanks from Whitmore.

“My hope is that this memorial will be here to honor and remember veterans for many years,” she said. “Without the courageous sacrifices of these men and women, we wouldn’t be here today to enjoy the freedoms that we have.”

For Whitmore, the park is the product of two years of hard work to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award. In order to raise the funds needed for the park, she organized community yard sales, pancake breakfasts, a motorcycle rally and also approached local businesses for donations.

“As a village, we are very proud to have this park to honor our veterans,” Pelotte added.

After WWII, three-quarters of a century battling PTSD

ATHENS — “When I came home, I was ready for the nuthouse,” said World War II veteran Bill Cowles.

Seventy five years later, Cowles has said his memory “doesn’t work like it used to.”

However, he silently dealt with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder over the decades by staying incredibly busy in the Valley community.

Cowles met his wife Virginia in 1947, and married one year later on Dec. 26, 1948.

He has long credited her for saving his life.

The few years after his arrival back home have been lost within foggy memory, but he recalls working for a short time at Ingersoll-Rand as a machinist.

That was until a heated dispute bubbled over, which involved a raised hammer and Cowles strongly suggesting that his co-worker go away. Cowles ended up quitting the job moments before his supervisor came down the hallway with the intent to fire him.

Shortly after, at a union meeting, he was rehired. However, he promptly walked over to his former boss and told him that though the dispute was over, he could take the job and “shove it.”

From there, with an associates degree in engineering, Cowles went on to work for roughly five years at Ward Lafrance Truck Company in Elmira, designing state-of-the-art emergency response vehicles as a draftsman.

It was the suggestion of an acquaintance that prompted Cowles’ application at IBM in Owego, from which he would eventually retire after 30 years.

Cowles said he enjoyed his job in Elmira but went through with the interview at IBM when they called him.

“He asked me when I could start, and I told him seven weeks,” Cowles said. “He said ‘I don’t know if that will work for us.’ But, I told him we were working on a very important project and I wasn’t going to leave my guys before it was finished.’”

“He said I must be a pretty stand-up kind of guy,” he continued. “I told him I try to be, and he offered me the job if I gave my word that I’d be there seven Mondays from that day.”

Cowles’ IBM career started at the airborne computer lab in Vestal as a junior engineer. A few years later in 1957, he was promoted to aircraft installation designer. Again in 1959, he was promoted to design engineer in installation development; associate engineer in tool design and test equipment in 1962, and senior associate tool designer in process engineering in 1969. He became a staff engineer/scientist in test equipment engineering in 1980.

He the worked on Project Gemini capsule in the early 1960s but can’t quite recall the other particular projects he worked on.

But, he did remember that “they always had me in the hot spots.”

“I never understood most of (his job),” Virginia said. “I could see where he was a very good engineer, because he always does things so precisely and correctly.”

Outside of his professional life, Cowles was a whirlwind of activity each day as he tried to keep his mind busy.

“He was always busy and just kept going after retirement,” his wife said.

She also explained that the main way she helped him deal with PTSD was allowing him to go do all the things he wanted.

“I think some women would’ve not gone along with it,” she said. “It was difficult at times — him doing so much.”

Cowles ran at least three miles every day in the same route throughout the Village of Waverly.

He was an instrumental figure in the Penn-York Archer’s Club, which won countless tournaments and received steady news coverage in The Evening Times.

He also bowled and played golf often — he fondly remembers getting a hole-in-one at Tomasso’s.

Being that he has been a lifelong outdoorsman, Cowles was a New York State certified hunter safety teacher and taught archery and marksmanship classes for both adults and youth in the Valley.

Additionally, he was a founding member of the Lockwood Farmers and Sportsmen Association as well as the Valley RC airplane club.

Cowles explained that he wanted to enter the service out of high school as a pilot but did not pass the vertigo test. His love of airplanes and flight continues to this day as he has dozens of photos of model planes and radio control systems he built along with a stack of airplane magazines in his room at Sayre Health Care Center.

With all those activities, Cowles always made time for fishing, trapping and hunting — even getting the IBM award for getting the biggest buck among all company employees, weighing in at 178 pounds.

He recalled fishing up north, where another man was “being a wise guy with his line — the next thing I knew, he was in the river, and I told the other guy ‘I don’t think he’s going to bother you anymore.’”

With Virginia, the two would also practice archery and marksmanship, with her winning several trophies and shooting a perfect score on a few occasions.

Additionally, they would fish together, go on boat rides, rollerblading, dancing lessons and more.

“We had a lot of fun,” she said.

Through it all, “Bill never talked about the war,” Virginia said, “He had very good friends that were in the war, and they never talked about it.”

“He doesn’t like to watch movies or read about it,” she continued. “It’s terrible when you take a 18-year-old and throw them in that kind of situation. Of course it affects them.”

“Especially in that war, at that time, the men came back and didn’t talk about it,” Virginia said. “Now, they have learned that it’s much better if they talk to each other and let it out rather than keep it all buried.”

For decades, they didn’t know he had a PTSD diagnosis.

“I didn’t realize what it was until we went to the VA, and this man there knew what was going on and told us,” she said. “It helped me to realize what it was. It was a long time before we knew what it was.”

Cowles had been prescribed Xanax for a number of years, and when it was discovered that long-term use of the medication was the cause of chronically low blood pressure that led to him passing out, his prescription was changed.

Going on eight decades later, Cowles and his wife — as well as their three children, Bill, Patricia and David — have endured his PTSD and other combat-sustained physical ailments in the most honorable way imaginable.

Bravery, honor, and sacrifice

ATHENS BOROUGH – Around 25 million U.S. military veterans are living today, according to retired U.S. Marine Corps captain and long-time Athens social studies teacher Dr. Frank Kozlowski. And although their experiences while in uniform may have varied greatly, their service all began the same way – with an oath.

“With that oath they implicitly have said, ‘If it comes to it, I will give my life,’” said Kozlowski.

During a Veterans Day assembly Friday, signaling the start of a new tradition of honor and remembrance at the Athens Area High School, Kozlowski asked the students to keep one thing in mind as they listened to him and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. George Crowell that morning: “What are you willing to die for?”

Kozlowski said that question and the sacrifice veterans are willing to make for their country is the foundation to character traits such as honor, selflessness, and bravery.

“Whenever you see a veteran, think about these values that I talk about, that these people have a sense of honor, that love of country,” he stressed to the students.

A few student hands raised when asked if their parents were veterans, or who planned to pursue the military after high school. When asked how many know a veteran, nearly every hand shot up.

As Crowell spoke to the students, he emphasized the connections that everyone has with veterans and how all who serve, whether they are on the front lines or cleaning the mess hall, all play a role in America’s defense.

“Wherever you go, whatever you do, you have people just like yourself that are all serving and doing things like this,” said Crowell, who also encouraged students to visit the Bradford County Veterans Memorial Park in Towanda Borough and check out the many bricks laid honor or memory of county residents who have served.

“If you have the opportunity you should go see them,” said Crowell. “I never in my wildest dreams thought I would see so many veterans until we started seeing things like the bricks and all of the people who go their to pay their respects.”

During his opening remarks, high school Principal Corey Mosher reflected on the stories heard from his grandfather, who served in the U.S. Navy on board the USS Alaska during World War II.

Mosher said he might have not appreciated those stories from his “poppy” during his younger years but now holds on to all of that wisdom to this day.

“They are truly memories that I will always hold onto for the rest of my life,” Mosher said.

“Enjoy them, hold on to them, listen, and soak up all of that information. And, most importantly, spend as much time with them as you can,” he added. “The knowledge and wisdom you can gain from them is indestructible. I am very thankful for all of our veterans and hope that all of you understand the importance of what they have done for our country.”

This includes allowing these students and those throughout the community to enjoy the lives they have today.

“Honor American veterans for their dedication to our country, especially those who gave their lives and those who have sustained life-long disabilities for our sake – physical and psychological, as in PTSD,” said Kozlowski. “ … It’s truly they who have made our nation the home of the brave.”

The unfulfilled mission for a Purple Heart

ATHENS — From Normandy beach on D-Day, through the liberation of Paris and the Battle of the Bulge, World War II veteran Bill Cowles has lived the last 75 years with blown-out hearing, neuropathy from frostbite, and shrapnel in his hand.

However, 95-year-old Cowles has still yet to receive a Purple Heart for being wounded in combat.

This is certainly not due to lack of effort.

Both Dr. Rachel Lee, a now-retired dermatologist, and Vietnam veteran Bernie Pietro of the Sayre Health Care Center, can each point to their own stacks of documents and letters in their respective efforts to get Cowles the well-deserved Purple Heart.

Both have sent countless letters to numerous representatives and military officials, but the medal continues to be elusive.

Thus far, attempts at progress inevitably revert back to the fact that Cowles did not have a medical exam upon discharge in late 1945.

“The proof in the pudding is that I never had a physical for discharge,” Cowles said. “The colonel was so damn mad I wouldn’t re-enlist, he just signed the discharge and the next thing I knew, I was shipped out to come home.”

“The Syracuse VA said I should’ve had my Purple Heart, but the colonel that interviewed me gave me a ring job,” Cowles said. “He didn’t report a damn thing about what had happened to me.”

While sifting through a fat folder of documents, Lee explained that the offices of Rep. Tina Pickett, Sen. Pat Toomey and Sen. Bob Casey were helpful, but they all “kept hitting dead ends.”

Being that Cowles was a Waverly resident, Lee reached out to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for assistance, but she received no response.

“Not a word,” Lee said.

Eventually, she learned that one avenue to pursue was to get the decision before a court.

With the requisite paperwork submitted, the request was denied to hear the case.

“The letter basically said that (Cowles) had to go to a medic when he was hurt,” Lee explained. “Come on — on Omaha Beach, with guys drowning next to you and people having their legs shot off from up on the cliff? He wasn’t going to go to a medic.”

Cowles said the same: “With guys laying around here with their arms missing, shot up all over the place, legs blown off — I knew where they’d tell me I could go.”

Incredibly frustrated at the lack of success in an effort that has spanned more than a decade, Lee reached up as high as she could go.

“I said just get it to President Trump, and he’d say ‘well, screw this,’” she said, certain that he would get it done.

The correspondence was forwarded from the White House to the U.S. Army Awards and Records Branch. But again, a denial came back.

“During World War II and the first part of the Korean War, soldiers requiring hospitalization for severe frostbite were eligible to receive the Purple Heart,” Lee said, reading the letter. “The frostbite must have been incurred while the soldiers were actively engaged in combat operations and must have been subsequent to November 1943.”

Cowles received frostbite after spending 78 hours in a fox hole during the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-1945.

“The severity of the frostbite had to be officially documented in medical records,” she continued reading.

“Upon review of the provided documentation, Mr. Cowles did not seek medical attention following a gunshot wound to the hand,” Lee read from the letter. “Additionally, Army regulation explicitly prohibits the award of a Purple Heart on the basis of hearing loss and tinnitus. While these medical events were clearly unfortunate, they do not meet the criteria for a purple heart.”

D-Day was after 1943, but he wasn’t hospitalized for it, she said.

The latest unresolved effort has been made through the VA hospital in Syracuse, where Cowles has been a patient for years.

It is hoped that, somewhere within their medical records, documented proof of his combat injury can help award a Purple Heart after 75 years.

Valley Color Guard Veterans Day Schedule

The Valley Color Guard will be making stops at the following locations today to pay tribute to all those who have served.

All times are approximate:

  • 9 a.m. — Sayre VFW Post 1536
  • 9:10 a.m. — Athens Township Building
  • 9:20 a.m. — Athens Monument, South Main Street
  • 9:30 a.m. — Athens American Legion Post 246
  • 10 a.m. — Oliver Brown Memorial
  • 10:10 a.m. — Sons of Italy Lodge 1342, Sayre
  • 10:30 a.m. — Howard Elmer Park
  • 10:40 a.m. — Catholic War Veterans 773, East Side, Sayre
  • 11:10 a.m. — J.E. Wheelock Fire Hall, Milltown
  • 11:20 a.m. — Sayre American Legion Post 283, Milltown
  • 12 p.m. — Rest Cemetery, Sayre
  • 12:10 p.m. — Waverly-Barton Fire Hall
  • 12:20 p.m. — Waverly American Legion Monument
  • 12:30 p.m. — Waverly War Memorial Stadium
  • 12:40 p.m. — Muldoon Park, Waverly
  • 12:50 p.m. — South Waverly Community Hall
  • 1 p.m. — Waverly VFW Post 8104.