Vafides was born in 1921 in Hull, MA. He was a member of The Citadel class of 1943. He attended The Citadel at the beginning of World War II, leaving in 1943 to serve in the US Army as a paratrooper. He returned to complete his studies after the war ended. He was assigned to duty as part of a bazooka team in the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Co. H, and deployed with his unit in the 17th Airborne Division to England in late 1944. The Division was alerted for Operation Market Garden but did not participate. When the German attack against Allied forces began in mid-December 1944 in the Ardennes in what is known as the Battle of the Bulge, Vafides was in England undergoing training. His entire division was ordered to France and moved by air and then by truck into Belgium near Bastogne where it joined the fighting as part of Gen. Patton's Third Army. While engaged near Flamierge, Belgium, Vafides was wounded and taken captive by the Germans and sent to a POW camp in Germany. He returned to Allied control when his camp was liberated in early 1945 and returned home. After college Vafides worked as a teacher until his retirement.
Richard H. Kellahan was born on April 6, 1923, in Kingstree, SC. He was a member of The Citadel class of 1944 and left to join the Army with his classmates at the end of his junior year in 1943. Kellahan was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army after completing Officer Candidate School in May 1944 and was assigned to the 84th Infantry Division’s 335th regiment. Kellahan reflects on his wartime experience in Belgium and Germany, where he was captured and spent six months in a German prisoner-of-war camp. He arrived in Belgium in October 1944, prior to the Battle of the Bulge. While leading his platoon in the 3rd battalion’s attack on the village of Lindern, Lt. Kellahan and his platoon expended all their ammunition and were captured by the Germans on November 29, 1944. Kellahan was sent to Oflag 64 in Szubin, Poland. In January 1945, as the Russians advanced, he endured forced marches in the snow with temperatures as low as -20 ºF and on a bare subsistence rations. At first, he walked along with refugees fleeing the Russians and then spent a week in a German boxcar traveling before stopping at a camp near Potsdam, German. “We could see through the crack at the doorway if it was night or day. . . . One guy had dysentery. We all had to go and whatever. But they finally stopped the train and opened the doors and we got out. I fell out.” The Russians liberated Kellahan’s camp on April 21, 1945, and he rode in a truck convoy to the Elbe River before ending at a hospital near Nancy, France. There he was put on a train to the French coast and later shipped from Le Havre to New York. A Purple Heart recipient, Kellahan returned to Kingstree, South Carolina, and spent some time hunting and fishing. He did not return to The Citadel. He farmed and helped found the Williamsburg First National Bank, working there until 2000 as director and president.
Raymond Kessler was born November 29, 1922, in Charleston, SC, attended the public schools, and enjoyed his first military experience at Porter Military Academy, now the Porter-Gaud private school. At The Citadel, he majored in civil engineering and served as company commander. After graduation in 1943, he was assigned to an engineering officer candidate school at Fort Belvoir, VA. There he learned the military aspects of civil engineering including training in demolitions. Sent to Fort Leonard Wood, MO, he taught draftee recruits basic engineering skills. In August 1944, he was sent to the 1381st Engineer Air Petroleum Distribution company in Camp Claiborne, LA. Kessler overseas experience began with his departure by ship from California to an unknown destination. After stops in Fiji and Australia, his unit arrived in Bombay [modern Mombai], India, in October 1944 and went from there by train to Assam Province in northern India. From Assam Province, his unit was flown over the Himalayas, the world’s highest mountain range with a dozen peaks higher than 25,000 feet, to China. This route was known in World War II as “the Hump”; it claimed the lives of many airmen. His unit’s assignment was to build a 1,000-mile pipeline from India across Burma to China to pump high octane gasoline for American airfields being built to support the war against Japan. There he was put in charge of fifty men and assigned to build a fifty-mile stretch of the pipeline. Though otherwise safer than in combat, he lost two men who were inspecting the pipeline. Locals presumably knocked a hole in the pipeline for fuel, and when the leaking gasoline caught fire it flashed back up the mountain and burning the two men to death. Shortly after the arriving in the US, Kessler signed up for the army reserve and was promoted to captain. He retired as a colonel in 1976. In his civilian career, he worked for a time with the South Carolina Electric and Gas Company before taking a teaching appointment at The Citadel. He later worked for DuPont and then the US Navy until retirement.
Leila Kikos was born Leila Elizabeth Bailey on President St. in Charleston, SC in 1923. She graduated from Memminger High School in 1940, after which she studied drafting at The Citadel and worked at the shipyards and for the War Department as a switchboard operator on Meeting St. After the formation of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), Kikos consulted with her father and enlisted. She attended basic training at Hunter College in New York City. She was assigned to Washington, D.C. as a drafter. It was there that she met her husband Peter, a Marine studying bomb disposal at American University. After the war, she and her husband moved to Minneapolis briefly before returning to Charleston, where they operated a bakery.
Pearl James Hill was born in 1925, in Aynor, South Carolina. One of fourteen children, she was orphaned at age thirteen, and lived with various family members until she turned sixteen and moved to Charleston. Hill worked at the munitions factory manufacturing hand grenades. Later, she became a ship welder, and worked at the Naval Shipyard until WWII ended in 1945. She then briefly worked at American Tobacco. In this interview with Rebecca Michaud, Hill reflects on her childhood, work at the munitions factory and the ship yard, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Ida Ostendorff was born in Gilbert, South Carolina. At the start of WWII she traveled to Washington D.C. where she passed a typing course and began work as a “government girl” working in the Judge Advocate General’s office. In 1942, upon turning 21 and meeting the minimum age requirement, she jointed the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). She completed her basic training at Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, where she was trained to use a gas mask. She volunteered for an assignment overseas and traveled to New York City to embark on the Queen Elizabeth. She landed in Scotland on June 6, 1944, having no idea at the time that it was D-Day. She was then transported to her assignment at Stone Staffordshire, England. On her way there she remembers the commotion caused by the Normandy landings: “As we were going along, people were just waving wildly to us because they knew it was D-Day, but we didn’t know it.” She remained in England until the end of the war. She met her husband after the war when they both took the same French class. They were married for 61 years and have five children, several of whom have served in the military.
Helen Rooks was born in Beaufort, South Carolina. She was the oldest of five children and her father worked as a lumberman, while her mother was a homemaker. Though she was initially interested in joining the Navy, a recruiter at the local courthouse convinced her to join the Coast Guard in 1943. Her time in the service began with a rough start when the train in which she was traveling struck a cow on the way to Miami. Upon arriving at her duty station, she worked as a yeoman with Air-Sea Rescue. At a hospital in Coral Gables, Florida, she worked in the burn unit. She recalls witnessing debris floating up onto the beach from battles with nearby German submarines. Rooks spent her off-hours enjoying the nightlife in Miami. She received a citation for being a charter member of the Women in the Military Service for America and was recognized for her service by Governor Olin Johnston. She was married to her husband Milton—a World War II veteran—for 53 years before his death in 1991.
Elma England was raised in Grover, SC sixty miles from Charleston. During the war she moved to Charleston to work in the Charleston Navy Yard as a welder. At the shipyard, England worked on the USS Tidewater and she was on board during the destroyer’s ceremonial launch on 30 June 1945. As someone who had worked her whole life, she found it easy to make the adjustment to working at the shipyard. She was laid off after the war and went to work for the phone company.
Robert Kirksey was born in Aliceville, AL, in 1922. Although his family wanted him to attend school closer to home, Kirksey chose to attend The Citadel. He entered in the fall of 1940 without knowing a single person. Kirksey recalls his choice of The Citadel over Virginia Military Institute and his experiences during WWII. As a member of the class of 1944, he served in combat as an infantry lieutenant in Europe during WWII. He was wounded in action during an attack of the Siegfried Line in the fall on 1944, just inside the German border. For his actions he received the Purple Heart and a Silver Star. He notes that although it took a long time for training and preparation, his actual time in combat was very short. After the war, Kirksey returned to The Citadel to complete his final year and graduated in 1947 with a degree in political science. Afterwards, he returned home to Alabama where he became a lawyer and served for many years as probate judge of Pickens County. He later spent a year in Washington, DC, and one in Orangeburg, SC, as secretary to U.S. Rep. Hugo Sims.
Philip S. Minges, Jr. was born on December 1, 1923, in Charleston, SC. He reported for active duty in 1942 during his sophomore year at Clemson University. Although he began training in the Corps of Engineers, combat replacement requirements led to Minges’ assignment as an infantryman to the Eleventh Armored Division. Minges reflects on his combat experience during the Battle of the Bulge when he had to try to dig a foxhole under fire in frozen ground. In his first battle, only three men of a 12-man squad, Minges and two others, came through unharmed. All others were wounded or killed. A few battles later, Minges was wounded: “I heard something hit on the side of the track, about waist high. I knew what it was. [If the shot] had been over about a foot [it would have gotten] me in the back…. I heard another pop and dirt flew up around my feet…. I got shot in the foot.” Following World War II, he enrolled at The Citadel in 1946 and graduated in 1948. After the war, Minges worked fifty years for Dupont in Camden, SC, and retired as an Army Reserve colonel with thirty years of service.