Southside military men and women from each military branch tell their stories of service to their nation
The Fourth of July, as we all well know, is a celebration of this great nation’s birth—241 years ago Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Since then, millions of citizens have donned the military uniform in service to protect the liberties and freedom of the United States. Countless souls have been lost, untold acts of heroism committed, all in the name of our country ‘tis of thee.
The Southside has more than its share of U.S. veterans who risked their lives for those
freedoms. This Fourth of July, The Southside Times features a Southside representative from each of the military’s five branches: Air Force (Tim Wood), Army (Tom Pollard); Coast Guard (Karen McAndrews); Marines (John K. Rankel); and Navy (Jerry Bennett). No one of these people or stories are like the other. The common factor is they all made sacrifices, away from their families and outside lives, to serve their country.
The Southside Times was informed about a former Greenwood teacher and veteran, Don Smith, who passed away this year. He was known to say, “You know, heroes do not send men into battle. Heroes are the men that go into battle. And true heroes are the ones that don’t return.”
A special tribute is paid in this issue to a former Southside resident and fallen soldier. John K. Rankel laid his life on the line to save the lives of his fellow servicemen. No words can truly reflect the bravery of his actions, and a better example could not be found for this special ‘Faces of Freedom’ section. This July 4th, take some time to reflect on the lives that have been lost to give Americans their freedoms that carry on today.
Marine Corps: John K. Rankel
By Nicole Davis
Selfless doesn’t even begin to describe former Center Grove High School student John Kenneth Rankel.
Determined to join the Marine Corps and serve his country with pride, Sgt. Rankel served three tours and gave the ultimate sacrifice on June 7, 2010 while serving in Afghanistan.
John was born July 28, 1986. His father describes his childhood as typical. As his parents divorced when he was young, he attended both Speedway and Center Grove school systems, graduating from Speedway. As a young child, he enjoyed playing with his G.I. Joes. In high school, John enjoyed football, basketball and baseball.
“Early in John’s freshman year in Center Grove, that was the year the 9/11 events took place in New York and Washington,” said his father, Kevin, at a Flag Day ceremony in Southport. “Even though he never said anything to me, I know these events had a profound impact on him. I do remember him surfing the Marine Corps’ website a year or so after 9/11… I confronted him. I said your skill set, you don’t need the Marine Corps. You should go to college. You should join the military afterwards. You’re officer material. He didn’t feel the same. If he was going to join, he was going to join as an enlisted man and be on the front lines.”
John had been accepted to play football for a few universities, but instead he chose to sign with the Marine Corps in 2004, to join upon graduation. He left for boot camp in August 2005.
“According to his fellow Marines, he was a natural, a Marine’s Marine from the offset,” Kevin said. “He graduated from basic training with honors then went into the school of infantry where he again graduated with honors. He was appointed corporal earlier than his peers. He prepared for his first deployment to Iraq in 2007. Thankfully, his first two deployments to Iraq were pretty uneventful, at least for us.”
John expressed an interest in leaving the Marines and go to college near the end of his second tour. But a week after he returned to the U.S., he told his family that he had reenlisted. He was promoted to sergeant and his next assignment was to be Afghanistan. His original unit’s mission changed and he was instead going to tour on a Navy ship in the Orient. Wanting to go to Afghanistan and join the fight, he sought out another unit that was going to the Middle East. That transfer was accepted late 2009.
June 7, 2010, John was in Afghanistan, out on patrol leading two squads of six men each when another squad came under an enemy ambush. The only cover this squad had was a haystack. Kevin said that John ran approximately 600 yards with 80 pounds of gear on his back to join the squad and start returning fire.
“One of the guys behind this haystack, now out of the Marine Corps, has become family friends with us,” Kevin said. “He recalls that day, John nonchalantly slid behind the haystack and said ‘hey guys, you need any help?’ He started returning fire and was ready to lead a direct assault on that enemy which had about 35 people.”
John was told to bound back because an artillery strike was coming and the Marines were too close to the target.
“He acted in a way I cannot fathom,” Kevin said. “He ordered his six marines to fall back while he stayed behind that haystack and provided covering fire. Each and every one of them were all out of danger. When he began to fall back himself, he was shot. There was such a firefight that day, they couldn’t return to get him out for over an hour after he was shot. He fought for his life for over an hour before he succumbed to his wounds.”
For his actions, John was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with the Valor device for heroism. A command post in a triangle shape, measuring 230 yards each in length, in Afghanistan was named after him, Command Outport Rankel.
“In the years that have past, I have come to realize that John died loving what he was doing, which was leading men and setting an example of how to live and how to die,” Kevin said. “So while I miss my son every single day, I am so very proud of what people thought of him while he was walking upon this earth and the action he took when he was called to act. Through all of this, I have gained a new appreciation for veterans, the nation they fought for and the flag for which this nation stands.”
To keep his selflessness and legacy alive, the Rankel family had a college scholarship endowed in John’s name with the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation. They do an annual fundraiser in September, honoring a different fallen Marine from Indiana each year. The scholarship is awarded to children of Indiana Marines. Kevin also speaks about John whenever he has the opportunity. He has been part of the Center Grove Community School System’s Veteran’s Day ceremonies every year since John passed away.
“I try to make it ring home that he was a kid like they were growing up,” Kevin said. “He came home and he was himself. He just returned to being Johnny: a goofy kid, great smile, lots of friends, like to tease, chase girls: a normal teenage or young 20-year-old man. He tried to protect us from things he encountered or was about to encounter. He didn’t talk much about the Marine Corps when he came back. When he went back, he was definitely a leader and looked after these guys.”
Air Force: Tim Wood
By Nicole Davis
As a youth from the Southside, Tim Wood always wanted to join the Air Force, but that dream initially faded when he got a full-time job after high school.
At 27 years old, inspired by the Libyan crisis in 1986 and with a desire to better support his family and get an education, he decided to take the Air Force tests and see where it led him. Five short days later, he was accepted.
The first base he was sent to was in Germany, where he served as a cook for three years. The military wasn’t what he thought it would be, so he began looking to leave. After returning home to the U.S., he discovered the Readiness Challenge, a competition between Air Force bases in the U.S. That year, his team won first place. The feeling of competitiveness inspired him to stay in the service.
When Desert Storm began in 1990-91, all of the competition for the Readiness Challenge disappeared. It was then that Wood discovered an opening in special operations based at Grissom Air Force Base in Florida. In two-and-a-half years, he went on 14 deployments.
“They were short ones, 30 to 90 days,” Wood said. “We were supporting military personnel of all branches for 1,500 people. I put up 110 Temper Tents, every two or three weeks, tearing them down and going back home again. I’d be home two weeks and right back out again. My bags would still be by the door.”
After 11 years active duty, Wood wanted to be close to his family so he filed the paperwork to be discharged. It wasn’t until the paperwork was accepted that he learned his wife was granted a transfer to his location, but it was too late to reenlist. So he enlisted in the Air Force Reserves in 1997. He took a Base Honor Guard position in 2009, then took a position in Georgia for a year and a half. He again took the Base Honor Guard position for another three years.
Still in the reserves in the rank of Senior Master Sgt. E-8, Wood said he still enjoys cooking and teaching the new generation the proper way to manage food service. Wood now resides on the Southside of Indianapolis with his wife. Combined, they have five children, 16 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and one on the way. He also works for the US Post Office and is working his way toward both a military and civilian retirement with dreams of traveling the globe. He still enjoys helping with the Base Honor Guard when time allows and will carry that on into retirement.
“I’ve been doing base honor guard, funeral support for 14 years,” he said. “It’s very rewarding, seeing the families. I have one image of this older lady. When you’re kneeling down, saying what you need to say when you present that flag to them, I can see her eyes that looked like they were going straight through me. It’s the reward you get, seeing the people when you hand that flag to them, how much that means to them.”
Army: Tom Pollard
By Rebecca Bennett
Sitting behind his big desk in his Real Estate office, Tom Pollard is quiet and thoughtful. He’s a Hoosier, born raised and believes hard work and doing what you’re told is the will that pushed him in the Army.
Pollard hails from a family who served their country, having a father and two uncles who were in the Navy. Now, he also has a son who is a Marine.
After being drafted while attending Purdue University in the 60s, Pollard was sent to Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas for basic training and then was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky for his Advanced Infantry training.
He says he wasn’t sent overseas during his time; the most traveling he did with the Army was going to Camp Grayling in the lower peninsula of Michigan, during the summer for further training.
Pollard says that going to officer school wasn’t his idea, but it to the way to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.
Some of his classmates decided it would be a good idea to become officers, so Pollard joined in and went to officer school. He became the only one of the several from his group to make it all the way through and obtain the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.
He believes that the training wasn’t hard for him because he was “just doing what I was told,” he admits.
Pollard says he didn’t see any combat and thinks that because he wasn’t on the front lines that he didn’t serve his country to the fullest extent that others have.
“Others went to war and didn’t come back, they are the ones who really served their country,” he says.
At the time when he was serving, others who were in training with him were probably bound for Vietnam.
He contributes hard work and doing what was asked or expected of him to getting through his time in the Army.
Pollard says being drafted didn’t seem scary at the time because it was what was expected of young men back then.
As most men from his generation, Pollard says he was only doing what he was supposed to do, doing what was necessary.
“You just did what was expected back then,” he says. He also admits being in the Army, didn’t make feel brave.
He says, of his time in the Army, “I’m glad I did it. I learned lots of life lessons.
By Nicole Davis
When Karen McAndrews graduated from Franklin Central High School, she wasn’t sure what she was going to do. It was a commercial, featuring Alex Haley, the first chief journalist in the Coast Guard, that caught her attention.
“It was the exciting shots of the small boats racing to the scene,” McAndrews said. “As a 19 year old, I thought that would be cool – I could save lives for a living. I talked to a recruiter… Four years seemed like forever. It sounded like a huge commitment but I thought, let’s do this.”
She went to New Jersey for the 9-week boot camp in 1979. Her first unit was at Governors Island, N.Y. Wanting to be a photojournalist, the helped with the base newspaper in layout and photography. With a long waiting list for the school for photography, she instead became a storekeeper, dealing with supply, accounting and budgeting. Two years into her service, she got married. She was going to get out of the Coast Guard after four years, but nothing grabbed her interest yet.
“Four years turned into eight, which turned into 10 and before I knew it, I was halfway to retirement,” McAndrews said. “The people in the Coast Guard are why I stuck around. It’s the camaraderie and how they take care of each other. It’s heartening to feel that people really do look out for you.”
She spent nine years in Seattle with three different units. The first three years were on a Coast Guard Icebreaker in the Antarctic. Her last two years in the military was in Sacramento, Calif.
“I’ve been very blessed in my Coast Guard career,” she said. “I never thought I’d see the world. I’ve been able to do that. Any woman that asks me about joining the service, I’d say the opportunities are amazing.”
McAndrews retired as an E-7 Chief Petty Officer, after 22 years in the service. Her retirement in 2001 was just nine days before 9/11.
“My first unit was New York,” she said. “I had to drive my captain to the airport. To get back, all I had to do was follow the World Trade Center. So when that happened, I was astonished that it fell and when it fell. If it had been Oct. 1, I think they would have kept me. I love what I did but I really was ready to hang up the uniform.”
While spending time in the Antarctic in 1993, she had captured video of the penguins. In ’94, she put music to that video – starting her love for videography. She started her business doing wedding videos. After retirement, she returned to Franklin Township where she resides with her husband of six years, Kevin. The two run Visionary Videos & Marketing Solutions, visionaryvideo.net, offering promotional material for Websites, social media and television.
Although retired, she hasn’t left the Coast Guard completely behind. McAndrews is a member of American Legion Women’s Post 438, enjoys following Coast Guard groups on social media and has participated in the flag presentation at a few funerals of former Coast Guard servicemen.
“You can never take the Coast Guard out of me,” she said.
Navy: Jerry Bennett
By Marianne Coil
Jerry Bennett has never seen the soldier’s ghost in his old Perry Township farmhouse, but Bennett says his now-deceased sons reported many visitations. As a youth, the elder son, Matthew, who died at age 20, had said, “Hey Dad – You know we have a ghost?”
The ghost was in a soldier’s uniform, Matthew said. Bennett showed him a picture of a World War I doughboy, but Matthew said, “No, no, older than that.” In talking it over, Bennett decided the specter could have been a Continental soldier from the American Revolution.
Widowed since 2015, Bennett spoke of his memories over coffee at his favorite Denny’s, his “living room, dining room, and home away from home.” A 26-year veteran of the US Navy Reserve, he retired in 1990 after serving on training ships during annual reserve duty. Destinations included the Philippines and Japan. As a chief quartermaster, his role was to keep navigation records on the bridge of his ship.
He said one of his major contributions to the Navy was to write a software program that enabled pilots to practice their visual navigation skills while under the simulated pressures of hazard and speed.
In private life, he was a typesetter who could do many prepress tasks. He learned much from his father, Don, and his stepmother, Ruth, both well-known photographers. A printing apprenticeship prepared Bennett for jobs in union shops.
He and his late wife, Winona, had moved to Indiana from Connecticut in the 1960s. He worked for several printers, including Shepard Poorman Communications. Now at home, he operates his own press, Bennett Books.
Remembering his sons, he said one thing the ghost shared with Matthew was a preview of his death. Matthew had told his parents he would die as a young person. After he joined the Navy, he was in cryptology school and at the top of his class in Florida. One day a drunk driver hit the motorcycle Matthew was riding with a passenger, who was killed instantly. Matthew died in the hospital, but not before his parents got there.
The younger son, Mark, also joined the Navy and sailed the open seas around Europe. While serving, Mark contracted HIV and died after being ill for many years. As Mark was unable to eat near the end, his father set up infusion lines each night to deliver nutrition formula.
One evening Bennett went to pick up some Mexican fast food. He brought the sack home so he could eat while keeping company with his son. Sitting down across from the bed, Bennett said, “What’s new?” And Mark said he was just visiting with the ghost.
“Is he still here?” Bennett said.
“No, but he was sitting in that chair right where you are now.”
Bennett believes the apparition at the farmhouse could have been George Washington’s drummer boy. A Website, findagrave.com, identifies the drummer as Sgt. John George, whose daughter, Mary, wed Peter Stuck. The couple farmed in Perry Township. Bennett said his own farmhouse was built by Stuck on what is now Epler Avenue.
Sgt. George had been awarded acreage in Kentucky for his military service and he settled there. Alone in old age, he came to Indiana to finish life with his daughter’s family and was buried in Round Hill Cemetery at the corner of Epler Avenue and Meridian Street. A monument describes him as Washington’s drummer boy.
Although the apparition goes uncertified, the spirit of 1776 dwells in Jerry Bennett’s heart.