Veterans Tell Their Stories – A Message to Oklahoma Veterans Organizations

The Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame is excited to announce the 2021 Oklahoma Veterans Film Contest!

The Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame (OKMHF) and the Oklahoma Career Tech Centers (AKA VoTech) have partnered to provide an opportunity for Veterans to “tell their story” of military service for the record. The initiative will document their experiences on video, produced and directed by the State’s Technical Centers. Students at those Centers across the State will conduct filmed interviews and produce finished products for entry in the statewide Veterans Film competition. The OKMHF will recognize the winners and award cash prizes. This inaugural competition will begin with this school year and run until the end of the semester. It is anticipated that this initiative will continue in the coming years.

A copy of the final Technical Center’s veteran’s interview will be entered on the OKMHF’s Oklahoma Honors Campaign website, and a copy of the full interview will be provided to participating veterans for their personal use.

A promotional video explaining this initiative is attached with this message.

So, what would be your role in this initiative? First, I hope that you would enthusiastically support this opportunity for your veterans to “tell their story.” Every veteran has a unique story to tell. If they don’t tell their story, it never happened. That seems be a wasted opportunity, not only for the veteran, but likely also for their family as well. How many of us wish that we had taken the opportunity to discuss the military experiences of our relatives while they were still with us? This effort takes a step in the right direction to make sure that families don’t have to wonder what their veteran did while serving their country.

Second, as Veteran Service Organizations (VSO), we have direct access to the veterans who make up our membership. One of the challenges in this project is bringing together veterans and the students who will conduct the interviews. We hope that you will announce to your state organizations (posts) this initiative and encourage them to participate. That should take care of the identification of veterans willing to take part. At the local level, posts could develop lists and contact information and exchange the information with adjacent Technology Centers on demand. We have identified to Technical Centers that local VSOs are a valuable resource for veteran-related matters, including this effort. The concept is that the interviews will be conducted at the local level, between organizations such as your posts and the nearest Technical Centers (students).

Third, with respect to the Technical Center students who will be conducting the interviews. Many of these students have a limited base of knowledge concerning what military service is all about. They will be provided some basic knowledge and standard military-oriented interview questions to guide them. Nevertheless, your organizations (veterans) may be able to supplement or clarify aspects of military service as the need arises. Additionally, one of the key aspects of student participation is that they will not incur costs. For that reason, student travel will be minimized (i.e. no travel outside the local Technical Center area to distant locations to conduct an interview). Because the Technical Centers are well equipped for video recording and have appropriate facilities for interviewing, it is envisioned that interviews will normally be conducted on site.

As the Technical Centers are in the process of spreading the word to their instructors, it is preferable that your organization get “in the loop” ASAP so that you will not be getting a “cold call” from a Technical Center or student asking you to identify a veteran for them to interview. It would be awkward for your representatives to have no earthly idea what they were talking about. In truth, I believe there is still time to organize before calls begin coming in. Organize now (identify willing veterans) and wait for the call to come later.

Click here to learn how this effort helps veterans “tell their story.”

Please contact us at [email protected], or call 405-269-2251, to verify your organization’s support of this program.

Thanks in advance for helping Oklahoma veterans tell their stories!

Robert S. Cox, Legionnaire, AL Post 129


Oklahoma Soldier Remembered by Texas Students

Army Specialist Four Arlin Koehn

The Moving Story of Enid Soldier Lost in Vietnam

By Doug Dollar

Todd Koehn recently shared a message with members of my Vietnam infantry rifle company about a special tribute to his uncle, Arlin Koehn!

“Some high school students in Austin Texas do tribute to soldiers from Vietnam every year,” noted Todd, adding, “they actually contacted me and did one on my uncle Arlin.”

“Just thought you might be interested to know that there are some high school kids that are learning about the war and the sacrifices that men like you went through,” added Todd.

The video may be seen here on the Austin, TX, Eanes Westlake School Districts site. Be sure to click the sound icon to unmute the audio:

I thought is was worth sharing here since this site is devoted to encouraging middle and high school students in Oklahoma to interview our state’s veterans about their experiences.

The battle of Chop Vum occurred about four months before I arrived in Charlie Company. Now there are two books available on about our company in the battle:

The Men Behind the Scarf: The Battle of Chop Vum
Hill 283, Chop Vum




Newkirk 4-Hers Labeled “Pathfinders” for Honors Campaign Work

The first community-wide Honors Campaign was launched May 8 by the Newkirk 4-H Club when an initial 8 of 26 local veteran volunteers participated in round one of interviews.

Newkirk 4-H Club members conducting the first round of veteran interviews were labeled Honors Campaign “Pathfinders” by OKMHF Ambassador Doug Dollar when visiting with the students about military veterans service.
WWII veteran Ralph Vickery was the first to be interviewed May 8 in Newkirk’s community-wide Honors Campaign.

An Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame ambassador who met with the participating 4-H members the day before used the example of an Airborne paratrooper to illustrate what they might encounter when interviewing local veterans. When the speaker pointed out that the 4-H participants role was similar to airborne “Pathfinders” for the Honors Campaign, the youngsters liked the comparison so much that it was decided they would officially be called Pathfinders in the program.

Of those interviewed May 8, one was a WWII veteran and the rest were Vietnam era vets. A majority of those interviewed the first day were combat veterans. The next round of interviews is scheduled for June 13, according to volunteers working on the campaign.

Participating veterans previously had been given handouts explaining the nature of the Honors Campaign program along with the interview questions. Each veteran will receive a CD containing the video-recorded interview to share with family and friends. Follow up sessions will involve the young 4-Hers in discussions of what they learned in the process and what is involved in military service.

A community event is planned at the end of the summer to recognize the 4-H members and the veterans.


Community-wide Campaign Launched for Newkirk

Young 4-H Club Members Interview Local Veterans

The northern Oklahoma town of Newkirk is likely one of the most patriotic communities in the nation, at least based upon the activities of a number of the residents there. An example of one such activity is participation by a group of young 4-H club members in what is known as an Honors Campaign.

Newkirk 6th grade 4-H member Hannah interviews Walter, her grandfather and a helicopter pilot veteran of the war in Vietnam. The session was videoed by the State’s 4-H Youth Development Program which is incorporating the Honors Campaign effort into its curriculum. ff

The Honors Campaign Program was launched by the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame to recognize greater numbers of veterans across the state and to help Oklahoma’s youth better understand what it means to serve our nation through military service.

“I am really excited about this project,” noted Karen Dye, a local historian and key mover and shaker for the effort. “I think it is important to connect our students with men and women who protected our country. It is quite possible they may each have a relative that served in this capacity. When we did a presentation on the land run, we found that to be the case!”

Dye added that if the number of potential interviews becomes too much for the 4-H club’s 6th through 8th graders, other youth from Newkirk’s Jed Cord Students club 9th through 12th graders may be recruited to help out.

“The club was named after a great young man from Newkirk, Jed Hartley, who died in Iraq serving in the US Army,” said Dye, adding, “Club members pledge to contribute 100 hours of community service during their high school years.”

2019 is the Honors Campaign “pilot” year and so far Memorial and Booker T. Washington High Schools in Tulsa are also participating through the Junior ROTC programs there. The 4-H club in Newkirk is planning for this to be a community-wide effort carried out this summer. All veterans are being identified for video interviews by the 4-Hers.

Librarian Marcina Overman has offered the use of Newkirk’s public library facilities to host the student/veteran interviews, which could number quite a few. The video-recorded interviews will be given to the veterans as well as featured on a new internet site established by the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.

Other communities are invited to become involved this year, and Honors Campaign planners prepared this message as the first of a series of newsletters to go to key participants, and with your permission will include you in the recipient list. Thank you for your interest. Below is a description of the Honors Campaign program from the web site

“Honors Campaigns are special community-based efforts to recognize local military veterans that are organized and managed by middle- and high-school students. Supported by the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame through its Ambassador program, an individual student, or a group such as a classroom, a 4-H or similar club, plans and carries the campaign through to its completion. A campaign may range from a single student interviewing a veteran, perhaps a family member, to a special recognition ceremony for veterans complete with book-length publications and internet sites. Awards and other recognition are presented to students for their work.”

Gary Banz, Creator of Oklahoma Honor Flights

banz-military2Sgt. Gary Banz, who served 12 years as a legislator after military service, will receive this year’s Douglas O. Dollar Distinguished Service Award for creating the Oklahoma Honor Flights organization in 2009 for World War II veterans.

The program was a way to show the nation’s and state’s gratitude by transporting U.S. Military veterans of World War II, free of charge, to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial.

By the time the Honor flights ended six years later, Banz’ organization had paid tribute to 2,055 veterans on 24 flights. Banz obtained commitments and pledges from various individual and corporate donors to raise the money for each flight ahead of time. Korean War veterans were included in some of the later flights when there were extra charter seats available.

Banz was born Dec. 7, 1945, in Sylvia, Kan. He served as a Chaplain’s assistant from 1968 to 1970 with the Army’s 38th Artillery Brigade in Korea. He later was assigned to the U.S. Army Reserve. Banz’s awards include The Army Achievement Medal and Army Commendation Medal.

Banz was a teacher and coach at Putnam City High School, Ada High School and Midwest City High School. He was elected to the Oklahoma Legislature in 2005. He finished his legislative service in 2016 because of term limits.

The Douglas O. Dollar Distinguished Service Award is for service to veterans and is named for Maj. Gen. Dollar, a Vietnam veteran and founder of the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.

James Johnson Continues Fight Despite Wounds

johnson2Corporal James T. Johnson was born Aug. 16, 1947 in Wynnewood. After his father’s death, he moved to Davis to support his family as an oil field worker.

He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on Dec. 5, 1967, and completed infantry training. He was sent to Vietnam and assigned as an assistant Squad Leader with Co. C, First Battalion, 27th Marines of the 3rd Marine Division.

On June 5, 1968, he earned the Silver Star Medal for Gallantry during a fight with a North Vietnamese Army battalion. Although seriously wounded, Johnson, then a Lance Corporal, ignored his injuries and delivered rapid counter fire on the enemy with his grenade launcher.

His weapon was destroyed in the battle, but Johnson crawled through a hazardous area to a forward machine gun position and fed ammunition into the weapon for the machine gunner until all rounds were exhausted.

Refusing medical treatment, he organized a unit of litter bearers and directed the movement of 13 Marine casualties to relative safety. His heroic and timely actions inspired all who saw him and undoubtedly helped save the lives of several Marines, his Silver Star citation said.

Lowell Jones Wounded in Two Wars

jones2First Lieutenant Lowell E. Jones was born Feb. 8, 1919, in Ada. He enlisted in the Army on Sept. 23, 1941, and served with the 45th Infantry Division in the invasion of Sicily and the invasion of Southern France where he received the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart.

After World War II, Jones served as a Second Lieutenant in the 24th Infantry Division. The division and Jones went to Korea in 1950.

In Korea, Jones’ Infantry Company was receiving heavy machine gun fire from the enemy. With “utter disregard for his own safety,” Jones advanced through the enemy fire to an exposed position and attacked the enemy machine gun position until it was destroyed. He received his first of two Silver Stars for Gallantry in that action.

Three months later, Jones and his company fought a numerically superior North Korean Army force. As the enemy was breaking through part of his platoon’s position, Jones called for close artillery support. During the barrage he moved his troops to a safer place and then exposed himself to redirect artillery fire against the enemy. He was wounded but his leadership was instrumental in the defense of his troops’ position. He earned a second Silver Star for that action and another Purple Heart.

Following the Korea War, Jones went into the Army Reserve, serving as a Master Sergeant. He died in 1998.

Phillip Coon Survivor of Bataan Death March

coon2Corporal Phillip W. Coon, a Muscogee Creek Native American, was born May 28, 1919, in Okemah and is a graduate of Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kan.

He enlisted in the Army on Sept. 20, 1941, and was deployed to Manila in the Philippine Islands. World War II began with the Dec. 7, 1941 attack of Pearl Harbor.

Eventually, American forces on the Bataan Peninsula surrendered to the Japanese. Coon and the others were captured April 11, 1942. He and about 75,000 Filipino and American troops were forced on a 65-mile march to prisoner of war camps. It was the infamous Bataan Death March on which thousands died.

Coon survived and like others was placed in different prison camps. From September 1944 to January 1945, the Japanese moved the prisoners to “hell ships” on which prisoners were taken to Tokyo and then to a POW camp. He and others were subjected to harsh, slave labor conditions.

He was liberated following the Japanese surrender in September 1945. His decorations include the American Defense Service Ribbon, The Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbon, the Distinguished Unit Award and the Cross of Valor from the Oklahoma Veterans Commission. (He died June 23, 2014).

Donald Hall Received Silver Stars Rescuing Pilots

hall2Chief Master Sergeant Donald J. Hall, was awarded two Silver Stars, one posthumously. Born March 26, 1937, in Wichita, Kan., Hall was raised in Stroud, graduating from high school there.

He enlisted in the Air Force in 1955 and was trained as a Helicopter Flight Engineer. He also took Tropical Survival School and was sent to Southeast Asia. He was a member of the 38th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron.

On Oct. 5, 1966, Hall and another crew member attempted to rescue a downed American F-4 Phantom jet crew. Numerous attempts failed and on one pass Hall and a crew member were wounded by ground fire. The aircraft’s pilot was ready to abandon the rescue attempt because of the wounded Airmen. Hall, though wounded, insisted he and the other crew member were OK. They made another pass and recovered the F-4 crew.

On Feb. 6, 1967, Hall and a rescue helicopter went to rescue another downed pilot. The weather was foul so they returned to base. Later the same day they returned to rescue the plot. They were hit by heavy ground fire. The helicopter caught fire, lost hydraulic power and spun out of control. Hall and other crew members were killed.

For his bravery, Hall was awarded two Silver Star Medals for Gallantry plus a Purple Heart.