5 recipients with Logan County ties inducted into Ohio Military Hall of Fame
Five local heroes with ties to Logan County were among 17 combat veterans honored Friday during the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor induction at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.
Their family and friends in the audience traveled from all around the state, and as far as from New York, Colorado and Texas to witness and support their loved ones receiving the Class of 2022 recognition. Accounts of their service and their specific accomplishments detailing their bravery — putting service above self — in the face of the enemy were shared during each individual’s induction and medal presentation.
“These are not Hollywood scripts; these are the real stories of heroic actions that have brought us the freedoms we have today,” Master of Ceremonies Rick Colliver said in his closing remarks after presenting medals to the 17 recipients.
Two of the Logan County recipients — U.S. Army Pfc. Herbert S. Bechtel and U.S. Marines Sgt. Randall Leo Erwin — were accepted as posthumous honors by their family members.
Pfc. Bechtel, a 1964 Indian Lake High School graduate, was killed in action in Vietnam due to a gunshot wound to his chest during hostile ground action on Aug. 25, 1966.
Indian Lake area resident Sgt. Erwin survived his tour in Vietnam, but passed away last year, on Aug. 28, 2021, at the Dayton VA Medical Center.
A World War II veteran also was among the ranks of the Logan County honorees — Bellefontaine resident and Army Air Corps veteran Art Kemp received his medal on stage at the spry age of 98. He is a Distinguished Flying Cross recipient and flew 35 combat missions over locations including Germany, France and Poland during the war.
DeGraff resident and U.S. Army veteran Robert S. May also was among the medal recipients at the statehouse. Pfc. May served in the Vietnam War with the U.S. Army Company D, 1st Battalion (Airmobile), 8th Calvary, and earned a Bronze Star for Valor in Combat.
Fellow recipient Bellefontaine native Spec. 4 Franklin D. Moore, who now resides in Columbus, served the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor in Combat for his exceptional heroism in Vietnam in January 1969.
Pfc. Bechtel’s medal was presented to his sister, rural Bellefontaine resident Jodi Prater, who in recent years has joined a number of members of their family in a quest to upgrade his Distinguished Service Cross to a Medal of Honor.
The Indian Lake High School graduate was one of 12 siblings, nine of whom are still living.
The ceremony presenters noted that at the time of his death, Pfc. Bechtel was found dead behind his weapon with his finger still on the trigger and all ammunition expended.
“He had decided that, if necessary, he would sacrifice his own life to enable he comrades to live. Although there was ample opportunity for him to change his mind, he stuck with his decision to the end,” Ted Mosure, Ohio Military Hall of Fame board of directors, said during the award presentation.
Pfc. Bechtel’s niece and goddaughter, Roni Jarnagin of Denver, and Prater noted after the ceremony that they weren’t surprised he was so determined through to the end. This was the kind of “vim and vigor” that their uncle and brother had displayed all of his young life.
He served with the Company B, 1st Battalion, 2d Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. As a machine gunner during Operation AMARILLO, his company moved to assist a beleaguered patrol, who had stumbled across a well-camouflaged enemy base camp.
Pfc. Bechtel realized his platoon faced annihilation unless someone was able to provide sufficient covering fire to enable the platoon to withdraw.
An enemy rifle grenade landed near Pfc. Bechtel during the attack and shrapnel wounded him in his arms and hands. He ignored the pain and crawled back to his position to resume firing on the Viet Cong. Although he was severely wounded and there was someone else to man the weapon, Pfc. Bechtel refused to go to the rear for medical attention.
Instead, he crawled 30 meters through a hail of enemy fire. He secured three boxes of ammunition and started the crawl back to his foxhole.
Another enemy grenade exploded near his position, and Pfc. Bechtel was struck in the shoulder and hip by fragments. His platoon sergeant shouted to him to return to the rear so that his wounds could be treated, but he replied that he would remain at his position. Pfc. Bechtel continued firing at the enemy. His highly accurate suppressive fire effectively covered the extraction of the casualties from the battlefield.
“His conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity, at the cost of his own life, provided the covering fire that enabled his platoon to withdraw from an extremely dangerous situation and allowed his wounded comrades to be carried from the battlefield,” Mosure said.
“Not only did his actions save many of his comrade’s lives but also provided them with the inspiration to continue the battle and resoundingly defeat the enemy. He never relented from his determined effort to destroy the enemy and to assist and impart confidence to his fallen comrades.”
One of Sgt. Erwin’s four daughters, Lien Nguyen from Buffalo, N.Y., accepted the medal in honor of her late father. Also at the ceremony was Sgt. Erwin’s daughter Lisa Cummings of Hillsboro and her sons, Wyatt and Cade Randall, who is named after his grandfather.
“To us, he was our big, tough dad — he took care of us,” Cummings said. “He was very proud to be a Marine.”
Sgt. Erwin was thrilled to learn just a few years ago that he had a fourth daughter, Lien, who was born in Vietnam in 1970. She moved to America with her husband in the early 1990s, and in 2017, her Ancestry.com research helped her find her long-lost father.
The father-and-daughter pair first met in 2017, and then in 2018, Lien surprised her father by meeting him at the conclusion of the Logan County Vets to D.C. trip when the bus arrived back in Bellefontaine.
“Lien also took Randy back to Vietnam where she grew up,” Mosure read during the ceremony. “They visited her mother’s grave near Da Nang. Randy said that trip helped bring some peace to his life and made him feel like something good came out the difficulty he experienced during the war and after.
“The experience helped make Randy’s last years among the happiest of his life.”
Sgt. Erwin also was very involved in the AMVETS Post in Lakeview, serving as a past commander, and was a life member of the VFW Post and the American Legion Post in Bellefontaine.
Fellow award recipient Sgt. Kemp, a native of Shelby County, was a tail gunner for the 50th Bomb Squadron of the 351st Bomb Group during World War II between February 1943 and Sept. 8, 1945.
The 98-year-old, who has lived near Bellefontaine since 1954, said he was 19 years old when he enlisted in 1943, 20 years old when he began flying, and 21 years old when he was honorably discharged.
He is credited with shooting down two German aircraft, an FW-190 and ME-109, he said after the ceremony.
“I was scared all the time — anyone who tells you otherwise is lying,” he said of engaging in the wartime firefight in the air.
Though he is nearing 100, that is not slowing down the decorated veteran with a love of historical aircraft. He is still a regular volunteer at the Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana, and a number of his friends from the museum accompanied him to the ceremony Friday.
Pfc. May was honored for his actions against hostile forces in Vietnam on Dec. 5, 1969. While serving as a rifleman during a ground reconnaissance mission, his unit was engaged by a numerically superior enemy force.
Disregarding his own safety, he ran more than 60 meters to the point of heaviest contact to treat the wounded and carry them to the rear. He then returned to the point of contact and put out a heavy volume of suppressive fire.
“His display of personal bravery and devotion to duty is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon him, his unit and the U.S. Army,” Mosure said.