Among the four Yale brothers who served in three different wars, Carl R. Yale is their shining star.
He entered the Marines a private and left a major.
But Carl, 81, is more apt to talk about the sacrifices of his older brother Robert E. Yale than talk himself up.
And 85-year-old Robert would rather talk about Carl, or his deceased brothers, Leonard Yale, a World War II veteran, or Keith Yale, who served several tours in Vietnam.
Such is the way of those who grew up in the “Greatest Generation” – humble to the end.
The Yales are just one of many Buffalo-area families who have sent more than one of their members off to the military in wartime and peacetime.
And this patriotism can be found enshrined at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park, where the USS The Sullivans is anchored. The Navy destroyer is named in honor of brothers George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert Sullivan, who hailed from Iowa, went to war on the light cruiser USS Juneau and died when it was sunk by a Japanese submarine in World War II.
At 10:30 a.m. today, a group of destroyer escort sailors are set to gather at the waterfront park and hold a Veterans Day service. At 6 p.m., Vietnam veterans will gather by their memorial, also at the park, for a service. The events will serve as gestures of thanks to those who answered the call of duty.
And while the thanks are much appreciated, Efner A. “Lucky” Davis, an 88-year-old Army combat medic from World War II, turned the tables Thursday at an advance Veterans Day service at SUNY Buffalo State. He offered a major “thank you” to younger veterans who have and will go to the front lines.
The Amherst resident’s thanks took the form of a $402,000 charitable annuity to Buffalo State’s Transforming Lives campaign and will endow a scholarship fund to assist returning combat veterans who attend the college.
Robert Yale, of South Buffalo, said the call to duty for him arrived in the form of an Army draft notice just as World War II was ending.
The 18-year-old was assigned to Asia to serve in the occupation forces.
“I missed the action. The war was already over,” he said.
When the Korean War started, he was called back to service through the Inactive Army Reserve and sent to the front lines.
During one battle, a sniper shot off Robert’s right ring finger and part of his right elbow. He survived, but his sergeant did not.
“Before I was shot, the sniper got my sergeant. I was right next to him. We were lying on the ground shooting up the hill. The sniper got him in the neck, and the bullet went into his heart and killed him instantly. He said one word, ‘Oh,’ and died,” Robert recalls. “He’d gone through all of World War II – Italy, France and Germany – and never got wounded. Then they called him back for Korea.”
Leonard Yale, the oldest of the four brothers, witnessed plenty of action in World War II, after managing to enlist in the Navy at age 16. Robert proudly says that his brother served on a troopship that delivered infantry to some of the most fiercely fought battles in the Pacific – Leyte, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
But Robert says that it’s his younger brother Carl who really stole the show when it came to military service.
Carl Yale, of Dunkirk, says he followed Robert’s advice:
“He told me not to join the Army. He said the Army will kill you.”
So what did Carl do? He joined the Marines.
And that nearly got him killed.
Three weeks after arriving on the Korean Peninsula in 1951, Carl, a .50-caliber machine gunner, said he and his platoon members fought hand-to-hand with North Korean and Chinese soldiers.
“We were on a hilltop when we were attacked. One of them stuck his bayonet in my right hand, and I got shot through the forearm,” he says. “The enemy then pulled his bayonet out and stabbed me in the stomach with it.”
As Carl crawled away, he remembers, another platoon of Marines charged into the fray “and wiped out the enemy.”
A month later, a patched-up Carl returned to the front lines.
Back home after the war, he decided to re-enlist in 1956 and was on his way to a career that most enlisted members do not experience. He earned the title of “mustang” for breaking through the enlisted ranks and becoming an officer.
“The Marines must have seen something in me,” Carl says.
Apparently, they did. He made it all the way up to the rank of major before retiring in 1972.
In 1968, as a captain, Carl was sent to Vietnam, where the youngest of the Yale brothers, Keith, was already serving as a “ranch hand” in the Air Force.
“I was a captain in the 3rd Division. I was inside the wire, but we had plenty of incoming rocket attacks. They sounded like a freight train coming through the air and then ‘ka-boom!’ ” Carl says. “Keith handled Agent Orange. He’d mix it and go up in the planes that sprayed it. I was able to get him sent home after the second time he was shot out of the sky.”
Keith, a master sergeant, survived multiple tours of duty in Vietnam, but his war service proved deadly long after he left Southeast Asia. Exposure to the cancer-causing defoliant Agent Orange ravaged him.
“Keith looked like a little skeleton in the hospital. We buried him about four years ago,” Robert says. “He suffered terribly in his final days.”
But Robert’s sympathies extend beyond his brother Keith.
He says he feels bad for the service members fighting in the war on terrorism, now in its 13th year.
“I watch what is happening over in Afghanistan, and these young soldiers don’t stand a chance. The odds are stacked against them,” Robert says. “These roadside bombs and other bombings with terrorists coming up beside you and igniting bombs, it’s not normal. It’s not like other wars; it’s not conventional.”
For that reason, the South Buffalo grandfather says, “I wouldn’t recommend that my 19-year-old grandson go and serve.”
As for the service that he and his brothers provided in four military branches in three different wars, Robert Yale says he remains proud.