Oct 27, 2013 Veterans named to hall of fame
by Donna Lampkin Stephens
Separated by wars nearly 30 years apart, a pair of Faulkner County men will be inducted together into the Arkansas Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame on Friday, Nov. 1.
Tech 5 Willard L. Blake of Conway, who stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 9, 1944, and earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart during his service in World War II, and Major Archibald Douglass (Tiger) Odom of Greenbrier, who earned the Silver Star Medal, five awards of the Bronze Star Medal and two Purple Hearts while serving in the Vietnam War, will be among the third class at the induction banquet at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Little Rock.
WILLARD L. BLAKE
“I know we have some limits in the number we can honor each year, and I think there are a lot of people out there who served our country and made it possible for us to continue to live free that we need to make sure we give proper thanks to,” said former State Rep. Linda Tyler, who nominated Blake for the honor. “The Military Hall of Fame does that.”
According to the Hall of Fame’s website, amvhof.org, Blake and Odom are among 10 individuals to be inducted for exceptional military accomplishments. Five more will be inducted for combined military and civilian public service. Blake, now 93, was just 24 when, as part of the 2nd Armored Division “Hell on Wheels” unit, he hit the Normandy beaches on the fourth day of the Allied invasion of France. The division had already helped liberate North Africa and Sicily before being shipped to England to prepare for the D-Day invasion.
“I didn’t think we were ever going to get a beach landing,” said Blake, who had joined the Army and was in training in Fort Benning, Ga., when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. “We were sitting way out there (off Omaha Beach) but didn’t get off the ship until the beachhead was established.”
Once their equipment was set up, the 2nd Armored Division traveled south from Normandy.
“We started going on through France,” Blake remembered. “Then we went into Belgium, the Battle of the Bulge. I was in it. Then we moved out through Belgium and hit Holland, and we headed on into Germany.
“Our unit was the first of the Allies to hit Berlin.”
Blake said he stayed in Europe until the end of the war then returned stateside. He lived most of his life in New Mexico before moving to Conway in 2007. He was born in Jacksonville.
Tyler called him “an inspiration.”
“He’s lived with shrapnel in his back for most of his life,” she said. “He is a delightful man. He has a great sense of humor, but he’s in pain most days with his back from that shrapnel.”
ARCHIBALD DOUGLASS ODOM
Odom, 69, was born into a military family. His father was in the Air Force, so the family moved regularly until settling in North Little Rock in 1957 when the elder Odom was named interim base commander of the Little Rock Air Force Base. The young Odom was 12.
At 20, with the Vietnam War in the background, he was drafted into the Army in 1964, despite being a student at what was then Harding College. Odom had aspirations of becoming a Green Beret (signifying a member of the United States Army Special Forces), so took extra training — including jungle school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — before landing in Vietnam.
He was a four-year veteran by that time. He served three years there, earning what were then called battlefield commissions as staff sergeant and lieutenant before being wounded and sent home in 1971. The master parachutist, ranger and High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) jump master also earned the Air Medal and Army Commendation Medal with a V for Valor.
“What I remember about combat is always just trying to stay alive,” Odom said. “Nobody starts out to earn a medal. Really, the worst times in combat are when there’s nobody around to write you up because everybody got killed.” He said he recalled being in constant combat all three years he was there.
“It seemed like every day I was getting shot at,” he said. “It seemed like a never-ending deal.”
His injuries, however, ended Vietnam — at least the combat part — for him. Although they weren’t life-threatening, “they hurt a lot, and there was a lot of blood there,” he said.
He left Vietnam aboard the hospital ship Hope and sailed to Okinawa, where he caught a plane back to the States. When the plane arrived at Castle Air Force Base in California, the soldiers climbed on a bus with “a big red cross”
“There were those of us who could walk and some stretchers in there, and I asked the driver, ‘Why are these cages on the windows?’” Odom remembered. “He said, ‘You’ll see.’”
“As we went out the gate at Castle Air Force Base, we started getting pummeled with tomatoes and eggs. I said, ‘I see now.’ That was the homecoming we got.”
While trying to stay alive in Vietnam, he said, the troops knew some of the controversy that would await them upon their homecoming.
“We’d listen to Armed Forces Radio, and I knew a little about what was going on,” he remembered. “I knew about Kent State. I knew about Jane Fonda. We stayed pretty well abreast of it.
“But I was there to win the war. I won mine. I came home.”
He spent 28 years with the Army, ultimately reaching the rank of major. After leaving Vietnam, he became an Airborne instructor and Ranger instructor and spent the final two years of his career at the Pentagon and as a company commander in the 75th Ranger Regiment before retiring from the Army in 1992. After returning to Arkansas, he was an instructor pilot at Jones Aviation in Little Rock and flew the U.S. Mail and canceled checks between St. Louis and Dallas.
He married the former Debbie Palmer of Greenbrier 12 years ago, and they settled in her hometown. From 2011-13, Odom was state captain of the Patriot Guard Riders, “an amalgamation of more than 2,000 Arkansas bikers who stand for our fallen at military funerals.” He said he would be a member as long as he lives.
“It’s the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever been involved with,” he said. “We also protect the families from the Westboro Baptist protesters at the funerals for our Arkansas soldiers killed in action.”
Although his parents and only sister are deceased, Odom won’t be alone at his induction Nov. 1.
“It’s nice to be honored in your home state,” he said. “I call Arkansas my home state. I don’t have family, but I’ve got friends. They’ll be there.”
Tickets for the induction banquet may be purchased by calling 888.329.3845. Individuals calling should leave their phone number and indicate the number of tickets desired. The public is also encouraged to nominate deserving Arkansans for the 2014 induction class by downloading nomination forms on the AMVHOF website at amvhof.org.
“We are extremely honored to be able to recognize these extraordinary Arkansans who have honored our state with their heroism and service,” Col. (Ret.) Conrad Reynolds, director of the Arkansas Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame, said, according to a press release. “The narratives of their accomplishments will inspire all who attend the induction ceremony.”
For more information about the Arkansas Military Hall of Fame, contact Bill Russell at 501.590.9622.