Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Memories of Mike : A family remembers its fallen son

Benton County Daily Record
Memories of Mike : A family remembers its fallen son

By Jessica Weekley Staff Writer

Posted on Monday, May 25, 2009

Siloam Sunday photograph by Gary Burton Ron Evans, left, commander of Siloam Springs American Legion Post 29, and Bennett Howell, World War II veteran and former POW, place a flag on the grave of David "Mike" Randolph at Oak Hill Cemetery on Saturday. Randolph was one of 241 U.S. Marines killed Oct. 23, 1983, by a suicide bomber in Beirut, Lebanon. The Legion will hold its annual Memorial Day service at 11 a.m. Monday at the Community Building in Siloam Springs.

Long before David Michael Randolph wore military-issue camouflage fatigues with his lips set in a grim line, he wore a pair of slick blue running shorts and Nike tennis shoes.

Before he took up a weapon and pledged his life to the United States Constitution, he was a knobby kneed little boy monkeying with his four younger siblings in California.

He loved to fish, stretch his well muscled legs during a long run and hoist his youngest brother into the air balanced on the balls of his feet.

In the early Sunday morning hours of Oct. 23, 1983, he was resting on a cot in U.S. Marines barracks at Beirut (Lebanon) International Airport .

After barreling through barbed wire and past bellowing security officers, a yellow truck hauling more than 12,000 pounds of dynamite crashed through the wall nearest Randolph.

It took less than a second for the five-ton Mercedes-Benz to detonate.

"I don't know how many total Marines were there that day, but he was one of the 243 that died," said Randolph's father and namesake, David Randolph. "What they told me was that my son was in the corner on his cot where he slept. The building collapsed in such a way that a sergeant, whose bed was across the room, survived without a mark on him."

The blasts led to the withdrawal of the International Peacekeeping Force from Lebanon, where troops from the United States and France had been stationed since the withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

David and his wife, Virginia, were told their son was the closest person

to the truck when it exploded. Today, from their home in West Siloam Springs, Okla., the couple easily remember the day, more than 25 years ago, when news came pouring out of the television and radio that the airport turned-Marine barracks where their son was stationed had been devastatingly bombed.

"There were guys on the second and third floor, and it blew them right out of the windows. Some of them survived," David said. "Others were thrown off the roof. Even some of them made it out of there alive."

Randolph, known to family and friends as "Mike," didn't survive the blast.

Three weeks prior to his death, on Oct. 1, he had celebrated his 19th birthday thousands of miles away from his family. He had no way of knowing the letters he wrote would be delivered to his parents weeks after he died.

"His letters kept coming, even after," David said. "It's not easy to read a letter after the fact."

For three months following the bombing, the military listed Mike as missing.

Just days before Christmas, the Randolph family met some unwelcome visitors at their front door. David had spent weeks calling military officials with inquiries of Mike's status but had been given little information.

However unwanted the knocks were, the visitors dressed in military uniforms were expected.

"Months went by, and finally they came to the house one night," David said. "There were five of them. They said, 'We've identified your son.' Of course, I knew it wasn't good if it took that long."

It wasn't until the final day of the year in 1983 that his family was able to hold a memorial service in his honor.

Mike and another Marine were the last to be identified at a forensics lab in Hawaii. In a flag-draped steel coffin, Mike's remains arrived on a plane in Tulsa, Okla., the last week of December.

"It was just before Christmas, and we decided to wait until after to have a service - for the kids, for everybody." David said. "God, it was cold that day. We were told it was the coldest winter they had had here in a hundred years."

The Randolphs, natives of California, had lived on Franklin Street in Siloam Springs for less than six months before the death of their eldest son.

Without Mike, who had enlisted in the Marines at 17 years old, the blended family moved to the area from El Centro, Calif., in July 1983 to be near Virginia's family. Within one day of finding a place to live, David had been hired by Allen Canning Co. as a truck driver.

"So many people ... complete strangers came out, cooked food, donated," Virginia said. "It was amazing. I don't think if we'd still been in California we would've had so much support. I really don't."

More than 1,000 people, including military officials, state represen tatives, two busloads of Marines, area residents and family attended the memorial service.
Posthumously, Mike was promoted to lance corporal.

A 21-gun salute and the solemn sound of taps heralded the end of the service at the Oak Hill Cemetery.

"I think it was the hardest thing that we ever did, signing those papers to let him go into the Marines," Virginia said. "If he wanted it bad enough to graduate early at 16, and worked that hard for it, what else could we do?"

Soon after boot camp at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Mike visited his family in Oregon, where they had moved for a brief period before coming to Arkansas.

Mike never made it to see the family's new home in Siloam Springs before he was shipped to Beirut from Camp Lejeune, N.C.

"After all of this happened, in 1985 or so, the base where he was stationed in Maryland asked if they could name a building after him," David said. "Now, when you walk in the front door, in front of the memorial, there's this picture of him. They said as long as that building was there, his picture would be, too."

Standing next to the highest ranking enlisted Marine in the United States, David was invited to cut the ribbon during the dedication ceremony.

"With four kids at home, I was short on money then, but when I told my boss what they were doing with the building, he said he thought we might be able to work something out," he said. "I took a load up there and went over to the building. Right after it all happened, I took a week off from work, but after that I went back, I couldn't just sit around. They paid me just like I had been there."

Today, a gleaming Purple Heart and other decorations of honor hang on the wall of the Randolphs' home.

Despite the pride the family has for Mike's service to his country, accompanied by the constant reminder of framed photos hanging on walls, Mike is remembered for much more than the time he spent in the Marines and his tragic death.

He loved cross-country track, was idolized by his two younger brothers and two younger sisters and would eat anything placed in front of him. His hazel eyes changed colors depending on the shirt that he wore, Virginia noted.

On family fishing trips to the All American Canal in California, Mike would often pull large fish out of the water.

He was popular in high school and had the time of his life with a friend when he went to Greece on a brief furlough from the military.

Today, the Randolphs have six grandchildren and four great grandchildren. They live a quiet, content life in West Siloam Springs.

But they have never forgotten Mike or the sacrifice that he made on Oct. 23, 1983.

"My consolation is that he was a good kid," David said. "I'm a firm believer that when it's your time to go, you're going. I wished it had been longer, but he was here as long as he was supposed to be."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

He Planted the Trees and has never forgotten

Sunday, May 24, 2009
Era ends for a Memorial Day veteran
Harold 'Bud' Hohl has been the driving force behind decades of ceremonies in Costa Mesa.

The Orange County Register
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There's a picture that Bud Hohl likes to show off, of a flagpole in a Costa Mesa cemetery. The expanse of empty land behind it stretches to Tustin.

In 1954, when the photo was taken, Harbor Rest Memorial Park asked the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3536 to dedicate the flagpole. Hohl, then a 34-year-old Marine pilot, agreed. One of Orange County's longest stage careers was born.

For five and a half decades, Hohl has been the organizer and MC of Post 3536's annual Memorial Day ceremony. But now, with his health failing, Hohl has stepped down and today's ceremony will be the first he's sitting out since 1978, when he attended a friend's funeral.

"I was told to keep my mouth shut," joked Hohl, 89. "This is the first year I really haven't said something."

He'll be succeeded by Jack Hammett, a former Costa Mesa mayor who spent 22 years in the Navy.

"It's an attitude that all military men accept," Hammett said. "We all learn and accept stepping back and letting the young person take over once you've done your duty. Very well done, thank you, next."

Harold 'Bud' Hohl was mining hard rock in Arizona and caring for his widowed mother before he enlisted in 1942. He joined the Marines as a pilot, thinking that he might be stationed with his brother, also a Marine. (He wasn't.)

During World War II, he flew with the squadron known as the Death Rattlers, shooting down Japanese kamikaze pilots before they could attack the ring of American ships that surrounded the islands of Okinawa. The Death Rattlers were the most decorated squadron of the war, developing sophisticated analytical methods to shoot down 124 Japanese planes. Hohl – known by his fellow pilots as "Loophole" – shot down one of them on his first day.

Over the next 22 years, he spent 7,000 hours flying for the Marines. He flew supplies in the Korean War, and shuttled generals to their golf games during peacetime. He was stationed at El Toro for much of the 1950s, and Orange County became his home.

Whenever somebody asked the local VFW for something, Hohl stepped up.

"He is a person that did everything himself, because he couldn't get anybody else to help him," said Ted Marinos, who has volunteered alongside Hohl for 50 years. "You know how volunteers are."

"Semper Fi," Hohl's son, Bud Jr., explains.

Hohl chuckles. "Yeah, Semper Fi. It was the Marine Corps way of doing things you're asked. I believed in the Marine Corps. And I believed in the VFW. So whatever came along, I took an active role in it. If somebody wanted it done, all they had to do was yell out, 'Hey Loop!'"

He built a replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for one Memorial Day ceremony. He built a replica of the Iwo Jima flag raising out of lava rocks. He planted trees in memory of the Marines killed by a terrorist blast in Beirut.

He'd love to still be leading the ceremony. "I'm down to a point where I just have a hard time finding the words," he said. He speaks with long pauses and his eyes closed, and a breathing tube in his nose.

He has dreamed for more than a decade of a large eagle monument in the cemetery. A few years ago, he found the right eagle in an antique store in Spokane, Wash. – a brass-colored statue, 6 feet tall, salvaged from the front of an Argentine bank. The monument is ready for installation once he gets the right text to have printed on its sides. He expects to dedicate it this year.

"That's his ace in the hole, before he leaves his country," Marinos says.

The Costa Mesa Memorial Day ceremony is at 11 a.m. Monday at Harbor Lawn-Mt. Olive Memorial Park, 1625 Gisler Ave.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7884 or

Monday, May 25, 2009

Marine honors the memory of the fallen

Bear Cieri/Daily News correspondent
Bellingham Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal Stephen Russell.

By Michelle Laczkoski/Daily News staff
Posted May 16, 2009 @ 11:50 PM

To Stephen Russell, Memorial Day marks a day to stop, reflect and give due respect to the heroes who have served America.

Russell is one of those heroes.

The grand marshal of today's Memorial Day parade, Russell will pay tribute to all servicemen, especially his 241 brothers who died beside him in Beirut on a peacekeeping force in 1983.

Russell, who is now a retired Marine, survived a harrowing attack on Oct. 23, 1983, when two truck bombs struck separate buildings in Beirut, where American troops were housed. Of 241 Americans killed, 220 were Marines.

Russell was among the 60 Americans injured in the blasts. Just three weeks before he was set to return home, Russell was taken by medical helicopter from Lebanon with a cracked pelvis, broken femur and hand.

"I shouldn't be alive," Russell, 53, said last week from his kitchen table. "They said I wouldn't walk again. But I was determined to stay."

Just one year later, Russell returned to full duty.

"I fought it, I wanted to continue serving," he said.

Russell, a Bellingham native, promised his wife he would retire from the Marines and secure a comfortable life for his family.

"I loved every second of it except for that one second," he said, referring to the barracks bombing in Beirut.

Following his recovery at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Russell went onto Camp Geiger's School of Infantry. Later, he worked as a drill instructor on Parris Island in South Carolina.

Eventually Russell's injuries from Beirut "caught up" to him.

"I couldn't compete with my peers," he said.

The Marine Corps placed Russell on temporary disability. He retired from the Corps in 1994.

Settling back into civilian life with his wife and two children wasn't easy. It remains a struggle.

"I still feel sore, aches and pains," he said. "I toss and turn all night."

Jim Hastings, chairman of the Memorial and Veterans Day Committee, said the committee unanimously chose Russell to lead the annual parade.

"We wanted to pay honor to Marines who lost their lives in Beirut," Hastings said. "Having someone like that right in our town, he was an obvious choice."

Though Memorial Day "brings back bad memories," a humble Russell said it is vital to pay tribute to the nation's fallen.

"That's what my loyalty is all about, those guys, all 241, the dead," he said.

The parade will feature town officials, police, firefighters, bagpipes and several local high school bands.

Following the procession from the high school to the town common, there will be a ceremony with several speakers at the gazebo.

Russell will also speak and honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

"Many gave all, some gave a little and too many gave everything," he said.

Many have forgotten the attack in Beirut, but the terrorist attack is fresh in Russell's mind.

"Everyday, it's here," he said, pointing to his head. "People say, 'Let it go.' I have no desire to let it go. I was a part of it."

Michelle Laczkoski can be reached at or 508-634-7556.