American Legion Honors The Greatest Generation

American Legion Honors The Greatest Generation

Story and Photos by Betsy Judge

The American Legion Post 305 in St. Pete Beach honored three WWII veterans at their Memorial Day ceremony. More than 16 million people served in uniform during the war, here are the stories of three veterans.

The American Legion Post 305 Memorial Day ceremony honored three WWII veterans. Seated from left are Walter S. (Wally) Gazda, Army Air Corps, John W. (Bill) Jenkins, Navy, and William J. (Bud) Schell, Army Air Corps.

William J. “Bud” Schell, U.S. Army Air Corps
Bud Schell joined the Army a year before WWII began. The New Lebanon New York native who just turned 100, went to boot camp and infantry training in Ft. Blanding Florida

“I got tired of living and sleeping on the ground, so I transferred into the air corps,” says Schell who would be a mechanic, but his progress was waylaid when a transport truck he was riding in between training locations flipped. The guy to his right died and his face was a mess. He spent nine months recuperat- ing in a military hospital. He still recalls his surgeon’s name. “Keating. He was a lieutenant. A damn fine surgeon.” He served in French Morocco as a chief airplane inspector and said he had several close calls including one check ride with a warrant officer. “He was a hotshot, nobody wanted to go in the air with him, but I didn’t mind.” He was in the co-pilot’s seat and they were coming in for a landing. He told the pilot to pull up or they would hit a parked plane. “I could see us drifting and we took about five feet right off that thing. I thought we were going to go up in smoke,” he laughs.

When he got out, he returned to New York, used his GI Bill to attend community college and ended up starting and running a very successful fuel oil and propane business. He also bought, refurbished and ran a campground. He and his wife Carol were married in 1948 and have two daughters and two adopted children. They moved to Pass-a-Grille in the 1970s. Cathy passed away in 2003.

Schell didn’t know he was going to be honored. His neighbor John Taylor took him to the ceremony. “He said we needed to go up early, so we did and then he got up and gave this big speech,” he says. “I liked it. I think they did a real nice service.”

John W. (Bill) Jenkins, U. S. Navy

Bill Jenkins joined the Navy from his hometown of Tampa and was designated a Naval Aviator in 1943.

“Flying was what I wanted to do and that was my opportunity,” says Jenkins, “and I always liked the Navy … maybe because I lived on the water.”

He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross during the invasion of Normandy then was transferred to the Pacific theater and  flew night fighters. Despite the dangers and is nonchalant about it all. “It’s gotta be do You don’t think a lot about it, you just hope you come back  from it,” he said.

When he retired, he returned to the Tampa Bay area and taught math at Disston Junior High School 10 years. He and his wife Gail live in St.Pete Beach and have three daughters.  Bill turned 95 on June 27 and Mayor Al Johnson issued a proclamation naming June 27 as Bill Jenkins Day.

Walter S. (Wally) Gazda, U.S. Army Air Corps

The youngest of the three veterans, 94 -year-old Wally joined the Army Air Corps from Detroit in 1942.

“For boot came I ended up in St. Petersburg, it was my first stop in Air Force,” recalls Gazda.  After boot camp he went to school to work on planes. “I was a mechanic in charge with two men on B-17 bombers,” recalls Gaz 550th Bomb Squadron at Great Ashfield Air northeast of London.

“We worked day and night,” he said noti a couple flights around the area while there test flights. It was exciting. I always liked air air planes.

He also got bombed twice. “We had to jump into the ditch,”  he says laughing, “and you didn’t know whether it was water or mud or what.”

He left the service in 1945 and returned to Detroit where he applied for a construction job. He spent the 36 years working construction and moved to S. Pasadena about 13 years ago.

“I was very happy,” he says about being honored by the America Legion. He is also proud of a plaque he received from The Veterans of South Pinellas County and a flag in a display case from the Air Force.

The ceremony also featured a reading of Flander’s Field by Susie Kessler, president-elect of Auxiliary Unit 305: Dr Greg Nicolosi performed on the bagpipes and John  Stoeffler, with Sweet Dreams Pillows Project, read his poem, “I am America.