Remembering Our World War II Veterans

With only a few of the 'Greatest Generation' still with us, it is important to reflect on how our brothers influenced the course of world history in the 1940s

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Submitted by Blair Schoell (Iowa '03)

When one considers the history of Phi Kappa Psi, and everything that the life of the Fraternity has endured, one cannot overlook the contribution of our brotherhood to the victory over tyranny in the Second World War. In a time where the security of the nation and world was at stake, the call to service was answered by Phi Kappa Psi. Our brothers were active in the service on all fronts of the war. Service in every branch of the military, in a litany of roles, has been recorded. The men of Phi Kappa Psi not only put their talents gleaned from fraternity and university life to use in the service, but also developed experiences and leadership capabilities that they brought back to their chapters and campuses upon return from the war. As a collective group our brothers represent the war experience of our greater nation. These men, who upheld the greater ideals of our noble purpose, served others selflessly, and in the case of 276 of our brothers, with their lives.  

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans were hungry to get involved in the war. Americans rushed to enlistment centers and joined the military in great numbers. Among those already in the service included Richard O. Joyce Nebraska '37 and Robert G. Emmens Oregon '32. These two (eventually) highly decorated brothers would meet each other aboard the USS Hornet as preparations were being made to make America's first retaliatory strike against Japan. Joyce and Emmens, under the command of Lt. Col. James Doolittle, would pilot and co-pilot a mission which would famously become known as, "Doolittle's Raid."  On April 18, 1942 at 8:46 a.m., 1st. Lt. Emmens took off just minutes before 1st Lt. Joyce's B-25 left the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet at 8:53 a.m. to make its strike against the industrial heart of Japan. 

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Richard O. Joyce

Both planes successfully delivered their payloads and then made a mad dash to ditch their planes in China. Lt. Joyce's plane took anti-aircraft damage and is recorded as being the only plane to take such damage during the raid. He was able to safely pilot his plane and crew to China where they bailed out and eventually made it to safety with the help of Chinese soldiers and civilians. Emmens' journey after the bombing would take a much different turn. His plane, due to a shortage of gas, and rendered defenseless due to a failure of the top machine gun turret, was forced to land near Vladivostok in Soviet Russia. Emmens, his pilot, and crew were later interned by the Russians and were taken to a camp in Penza and held for two-and-a-half months. The crew was then moved to Ohansk in the Ural Mountains for six months and after being moved once more, and a later escape with a Persian smuggler, the crew was finally able to meet British officials in Quetta, Baluchistan (present day Pakistan) and made their way back to Miami over a year after the mission. 

America had delivered its first blow to Japan and the men of Phi Kappa Psi began taking roles in the major operations of World War II. The record includes service in battles such as forgotten places like Gavutu in the Solomon Islands, where Walter X. Young Chicago '37 succumbed to wounds taken in an assault on a Japanese machine gun nest that was taking a toll on the landing zone. Capt. Young would be awarded the Navy Cross posthumously for this assault. This would be one of many instances over the next three-and-a-half years that the brothers of Phi Kappa Psi would experience the pain of lost brothers. Phi Kappa Psi lost brothers such as Lt. James C. Owens Southern Cal '30, who was a member of the doomed Torpedo Squadron 8. Only one member of survived their unassisted attack on Japanese naval vessels during the Battle of Midway. In the European Theatre of operations, brother Richard Jenson UCLA '35 was serving as an aide to General George Patton. While in Tunisia prior to being killed in action during a German Stuka attack he was quoted in the Chicago Tribune Military 3.JPGrelating the experience of prior dive bombing and strafing attacks by German planes. His relationship with the General was so strong that Gen. Patton reportedly wept upon the death of Brother Jenson. Iowa Alpha lost its Heisman Trophy winning hero, Nile Kinnick Iowa '39, to a decision to crash his plane at sea off of Venezuela on a training mission rather than trying to land on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier and risk the lives of those on deck. On numerous other occasions Phi Psis laid down their lives in support of their fellow servicemen and, ultimately, their country. 

Perhaps one of the most climactic moments of the war, and for Phi Kappa Psi, was D-Day. On June 6th, 1944, American forces under the command of Dwight D. Eisenhower assaulted Europe on the Normandy coast. In the early hours of D-Day, Brother Wright Bryan Missouri '27 flew into combat as a war correspondent with American paratroopers of the 101st Airborne. He offered a descriptive minute-by-minute account of the action on NBC to a general audience that was aired at around 4:00 a.m. It was the first eye-witness account to be broadcast. Flying into battle at the same time as Brother Bryan were brothers Lt. Roper Peddicord DePauw '41 and Lt. John C. Feeley Jr. Penn '40, both of the 82nd Airborne Division. Lt. Peddicord would fall to enemy machine gun fire as he led his platoon from the front, assaulting pockets of German resistance near Ste. Mere Eglise, France. 

Landing as part of the seaborne invasion on Omaha Beach were three brothers of Phi Kappa Psi. As a member of the 1st Infantry Division, Lt. John Simons UCLA '40 landed on Omaha Beach along with Gilbert Allis Jr. W&L '31 of the 743rd Tank Battalion. Both of these brothers were killed in action on the Normandy shore and are now buried above the beach on which their lives were lost. The third known brother to assault Omaha Beach, at Pointe du Hoc, was brother Roger Neighborgall West Virginia '42 (Duke '46). Brother Neighborgall would assault up the cliff at Pointe du Hoc with the 5th Ranger Battalion. He would be wounded while climbing the cliff along with his fellow Rangers and upon reaching the top, fought to secure the area that was reported to hold German artillery. Brother Neighborgall would go on to serve in the Battle of the Bulge, as another Phi Psi under the command of General Patton. 

As the war drove to an end, brothers like John Phillips Iowa '43 fought to end the war in Europe during the Battle of the Bulge. After being hit five times by enemy machine gun fire, he was taken prisoner by the SS and was a POW for much of the rest of the war. On the other side of the world another Iowa Alphan, Bob Benson Iowa '47, was serving as a medic on Saipan and Okinawa. Brother Benson would brave a Japanese crossfire to save two wounded soldiers during a battle. He would later be awarded the Bronze Star for his action. After the atomic bombs were dropped, ultimately leading to Japanese surrender, other Phi Psis like Whitney Harris Washington '30 held German military officers accountable during the Nuremburg Trials for their crimes against humanity. 

Phi Kappa Psi has a great history service during the Second World War. The true number of Phi Psis involved in the war is unknown. However, the dedication and service to our country demonstrated by our brothers who served in World War Two should inspire us to higher levels of service to our country in contemporary time. We must recognize, as the torch bearers, that it is our duty to reflect on the sacrifices of our brothers and pledge our lives to the fulfillment of both the Fraternity and the American ideals that our brothers fought for and that some gave their lives for during the Second World War.

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