As usual Greg Hoersten’s Reminiscence article, this one from July 1, was first class.
The story of World War II ace Edward Whitey Feightner is not only thrilling but provides an answer to the question, “Where do we get such heroes?” The second World War was the largest and most destructive war in human history and required an equally large contribution of ordinary Americans to bring it to an end.
It is not surprising that Ensign Feightner, a 1937 graduate of Elida High School, ended up in the same fighter squadron as Lt. John Leppla, a 1934 graduate of Lima South High School. They were reared in a community that taught perseverance, rather than acquiescence, and accomplishment by merit, rather than advancement by entitlement.
While Lt. Leppla, a two-time recipient of the Navy Cross, was lost in action in the same battle that was the first for Whitey Feightner, there were other Naval aviators who hailed from Allen County that he no doubt met or knew of. As noted by Hoersten, Feightner was later assigned to the USS Intrepid (CV-11). The first Commanding Officer of that carrier was Admiral Thomas L. Sprague, Lima High School class of 1912, who called the Intrepid his flagship from August 1943 to February 1944. Thomas Sprague received his wings as an aviator in 1921 and learned carrier take offs and landings aboard the USS Langley (CV-1).
Whether or not Edward Feightner, the victor in at least nine air battles in the Pacific, ever crossed paths with Lt. Cmdr. Edward Emmet DeGarmo, Lima Central High School Class of 1935, is unknown to this writer, but he certainly had heard of him sometime in 1945. Starting in February 1945, Lt.Cmdr. DeGarmo serving as Commanding Officer of VT 82 aboard the USS Bennington (CV-20), flew the first of more than 20 missions against Japanese shipping and the Japanese mainland in the process earning the Navy Cross and a Silver Star. His last mission on June 3, 1945, involved dropping supplies to Marines on Okinawa when his aircraft was hit by enemy fire. He skillfully crash landed his crippled plane saving the lives of two crewmates. He died of wounds received in the crash four days later.
This is only a short list of Ed Feightner’s contemporaries in the field of Naval aviation, but it does answer the question of where do we get such heroes. They come from places like Allen County Ohio. These men have all passed away. They will never truly die, however, unless we no longer mention their names.
Remembering them is the very least we can do. Recording their deeds is necessary to ensure that future citizens of Allen County are aware of what it takes to keep this nation the envy of the free world.
Lawrence Huffman Jr. is a local historian and a member on the Allen County Historical Society’s Board of Trustees.