Military History in Action

Military History in Action

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Dr. Jeffrey M. Leatherwood
Associate Professor of History for American Military University

Every first week in May, the U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal School (NAVSCOLEOD) holds a wreath-laying ceremony at the National EOD Monument. Usually, this ceremony held at Eglin AFB, Florida involves the addition of names of men and women recently killed in the line of duty. However, with the passing of the World War II and Korea generation, historical researchers are bringing to light new names from old conflicts.

For those unacquainted with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), it has evolved beyond the simple label of “bomb disposal,” as designated in World War II. Today, EOD is considered an important part of military sustenance, rendering its technical services in cases ranging from faulty ordnance to the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that often appear in the Global War on Terror. All four military service branches have EOD detachments, and the Navy EOD School is a joint training facility.

This past week, the Navy EOD School marked the 46th Annual Memorial Service, officiated by guest speaker Lt. Gen. William M. Faulkner. I had the privilege of being invited as a special guest for the EOD ceremony outside the Kauffman Training Complex, named for the U.S. Navy’s famous EOD and Navy SEAL pioneer. I represented the small community of military historians and researchers whose work has resulted in several lost veterans being added to the monument.

Even though the U.S. Army has the lion’s share of names on the monument, few people outside the EOD community are aware of the Army’s pioneering role in EOD during World War II. Col. Thomas J. Kane, together with the U.S. Navy’s Rear Admiral Draper L. Kauffman, ranks as one of the founding fathers of EOD. I had the honor of giving the dedication address at the new Kane Hall EOD Headquarters at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky on March 29, 2013.

This year, 2015, is especially significant for the Army’s EOD branch, as no less than five servicemen received recognition for their supreme sacrifice. Of these, four men were members of the Ordnance Bomb Disposal service of World War II. The names of Capt. Frederick H. Dillon, 1st Lt. Steven Todorovich, Sgt. Ira D. Wiggins, and Pfc. Laurence C. Paystrup were officially added to the Army’s plaque on the morning of May 2.

These soldiers might not have been honored but for the efforts of independent researchers and Army historians. Capt. Ian W. Black, representing the Army EOD community, nominated these four WWII soldiers based on documentary evidence submitted by three sources: Lt. Col. Robert Leiendecker of the National EOD Association, Sgt. Major Mike Vining, and yours truly. I was deeply honored to be a part of this solemn and noble occasion.

Afterward, I met some Gold Star honorees, relatives of the deceased veterans, including retired USAF Maj. Ed Dillon. The last time he saw his older cousin, Capt. F.H. “Harrison” Dillon, Ed was still in grade school. He has spent much of his life trying to discover what befell his kinsman, who was commander of the 235th Bomb Disposal Company in the Tunisia and Sicily Campaigns. Until recently, the official Department of Defense records still listed him as missing in action.

Thanks to the discovery of a missing aircraft report, documented in Nine from Aberdeen, we now know that Capt. Dillon and his executive officer, Lt. Todorovich, were en route from North Africa to Italy when their B-25 vanished on Oct. 10, 1943. The Army Air Forces could locate neither wreckage nor remains, and it now appears likely they were both lost at sea. While Ed Dillon still seeks his cousin’s resting place, he now holds a U.S. flag in honor of Harrison’s service.

As we approach the 75th anniversary of World War II amid its dwindling community of veterans, we need to remember one lesson about warfare. One does not need to be a fighter pilot or an airborne commando in order to prove their heroism. EOD technicians, like their WWII counterparts, routinely put their lives on the line, and their missions do not conclude with battle. They are proverbially on call at all hours and every day, defusing danger.

About the Author

Dr. Jeffrey M. Leatherwood is an Associate Professor of History for AMU. He received his Ph.D. from West Virginia University in 2009, and taught there for ten years prior to becoming a full-time AMU faculty member. He is the author of Nine from Aberdeen , a book about the U.S. Army’s World War II EOD pioneers. He is currently working on a second book based on his doctoral research into the Charlotte Streetcar Strike of 1919.

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