Tomoka vets

COURTESY PHOTO

Tomoka Heights will honor, from left, Chester Barber, Arnold Gall, James Johnston and Ralph Bell, its four residents who served during World War II at a special tribute in the community clubhouse at 2 p.m.today, Veterans Day.

Special to the Highlands News-Sun

LAKE PLACID — World War II (1939-1945) was the deadliest conflict in human history with 70 to 85 million fatalities. The residents of Tomoka Heights in Lake Placid are honored and proud to have, in its community, neighbor veterans that participated in and survived this horrible war.

To honor and recognize these neighbors, Tomoka Heights will have a tribute to these four men at 2 p.m. today, Nov. 11 in the community clubhouse.

Staff Sergeant Pilot Chester Barber is one of those veterans. Barber was 19 years old when he joined the military in 1941 with three of his brothers.

“We were a family of rednecks with a strong patriotic feeling,” he said.

Barber served as an air pilot in North Africa and Europe.

“I am grateful to my military service because I was a kid when I joined and they made a man out of me,” he said.

Barber and his wife Nancy (who passed away 16 years ago) moved to Tomoka in 1995. He is enjoying each day and loves to watch his fruit trees.

Sergeant Arnold Gall was born in 1922 and joined the military in 1943, so you do the math. He served in North Field, on Tinian Island, in the Air Force as a mechanic working on Boeing B-29 “Superfortress.” Gall remembers when he first joined the Air Force that they used to drill on golf courses in Miami.

One of the B-29s that he worked on flew the atomic bombing raids on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Gall and his wife moved to Tomoka Heights 35 years ago. He is a very talented craftsman. He built beautiful wooden clocks and even won prizes for his work. He is a poker player and a reader. He reads war books … he must have read them all.

Private First Class James Johnston is also one of the residents to be honored. Johnston was 18 years old when he joined the military in March 1943. He served for a period of four years in the Army and was sent to the South West Pacific, in New Guinea.

One positive thing Johnston got from his military service is education. After the war he became a physical education teacher and a basketball coach in New York.

Johnston and his wife Iona moved to Tomoka Heights more than 20 years ago. James is a veteran, and he likes to paint; all of his paintings have one thing in common, they are all very peaceful.

The last of the four residents to be recognized is Seaman First Class Ralph Bell. He was 17 years old when he joined the military as a Marine in 1944. He served in the Pacific, in the Philippines, at a control torpedo boat base.

One of his best recollections is when they announced that the war was over, their ship headed to the Philippines instead of heading to Tokyo. “We were saved by the atomic bomb,” he said.

Bell feels blessed to have served God and his country. After the war, he went to get an education and became involved in the sales business.

He and his wife Sara moved in Tomoka Heights 15 years ago. He is a very active guy; he runs and plays tennis a few times a week and also exercises on a regular basis. He is also a musician. He used to play the trumpet but is now playing the violin. He is also a music composer.

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