Zephyrhills 100th Anniversary: Veteran’s Day Tribute to ZHS

By Gregg, 3 March, 2010, 6 Comments

ZHS alumni Linda Sante asked us to develop a countdown article to commemorate Veteran’s Day and the ZHS alumni who have served in the armed forces from our community. With Linda’s assistance, we offer some glimpses of these brave alumni. We invite our readers to share the stories about Veterans and service over time.

ZHS teacher and Zephilsco sponsor, Tracey Snyder, is planning to devote several pages in the 2010/2011 yearbook to ZHS alumni Veterans.  We wish to use this Veteran’s Day article as a springboard to assist Tracey and her student staff in compiling information about military veterans who attended ZHS. The school has maintained no historical record previously. We are humbled by their service and would like to be as all-inclusive as possible in recognizing the ZHS alumni who have served our country. Help us to assist the yearbook staff in this worthwhile endeavor.

We give reverence to two young men from ZHS who offer recent tragic heartache and serve as courageous models–Marcus Mathes and Jonathan O’Neill.

Marcus Mathes was killed in Iraq in 2008. He was a 2002 graduate of ZHS and had joined the U.S. Army in 2005. He completed basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and served in Afghanistan from October 2006 until March 2007. He left for Iraq in November 2007. Mathes’ was awarded the Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, NATO Medal and the Combat Action Badge.

Another hero, Jonathan O’Neill, 22, was “Just a good kid,” said ZHS Coach Tom Fisher. The 2004 ZHS graduate was hit by a roadside bomb that exploded near O’Neill’s vehicle on June 2 in Afghanistan. After he was injured, the military transported O’Neill to Germany — where President Obama, visited him and presented him with the Purple Heart. He was assigned to the 549th Military Police Company, 385th Military Police Battalion, 16th Military Police Brigade (Airborne) at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

ZHS grads of 2001, Mary Katherine Mason and Andrew Prilliman, and ZHS grad of 2000, Aaron Guynn served together in Iraq. Mason was a driver in Iraq and injured in the line of duty. Steven Orosz, President of ZHS Class of 2006, and Ryan Orosz, President of the Class of 2005, both also served in Iraq.

The Florida Vietnam Memorial consists of two granite columns with the American flag suspended between them. On the columns are engraved the names of 1,942 Vietnam War dead and 83 men listed as “Missing in Action.” Linda Sante visited the memorial for the research on the article and discovered the names of  Jonny E. Lewis, Harry L. Thain, and Donnie M. Stokes—all ZHS alumni. In April 1967, the community received word that the first person from the area to have been killed in combat in twenty years –was recent 1965  ZHS graduate Pfc. Johnny E. Lewis. Lewis was a victim of the Vietnam War and his wife, Janice Williams Bassett, also an alumni, suffered the loss of her husband. Recently a commemorative stained glass window was placed at the Zephyrhills Depot Museum to honor Johnny Lewis by his sister, Jackie Lewis Puskas, class of ‘64.

Harry L. ‘Butch’ Thain also succumbed to the Vietnam War when his helicopter was shot down in May of 1972 in the jungle of southeast Asia. Thain, a highly decorated West Pointe graduate, was on his second tour in Vietnam. Thain’s helicopter was shot down just a few weeks after he was awarded the silver star for gallantry for his flying heroics. Thain was honored by his alma matter, West Point, with the establishment of the Captain Harry A. Thain Memorial Award presented annually to the outstanding member of the West Point pistol team. Donnie ‘Freck’ Stokes  a 1961 ZHS graduate was deployed to Vietnam for a one-year term and almost made it home safely when, with two weeks remaining, a sniper’s bullet took his young life. This was on Dec. 3, 1968 and he became the second serviceman from Zephyrhills to be killed in the line of duty. He left behind a wife of one year, Shirley Benefield Stokes from Dade City. ZHS grieved for these losses and others affected by the Vietnam War.

Irene Graf, a 1970 graduate, was one of the first women admitted to the Air Force Academy in Colorado as the AFA 15. Second Lieutenant Graf  held a degree in Chemistry from the University of Florida when she was debuted in the media as one of the first fifteen women officers as full-time cadets at the Academy. We know there have been many other Academy recruits. Other notable women to name just a few were: Lisa Cherry in 1992 and Ashley McGavern in 2002

Donald Harrison, a 1975 graduate, guarded First Lady Nancy Reagan and Air Force One. The News reported:  “He served as a guard on Air Force One, the president’s aircraft and currently serves with the security force protecting First Lady Nancy Reagan, Harrison is one of 130 men chosen to protect the air craft at Andrews…”

Alumni also sent us information regarding Donnie Poe who served our country.  We learned that long-time Zephyrhills attorney, Lester Bales was a Marine stationed at Iwo Jima in World War II as was Art Fish was served as a Marine at Tarawa and Guadalcanal.  Notably, Donald A. Pattie penned a book entitled, To Cock a Cannon about his experiences in the military.

ZHS student, Robert Kersey, was celebrated as a World War II recruit when he graduated in the class of 1944.  Former Zephyrhills Mayor, Dr. Emerson Arnot, Jr. took time off after his 11th grade at ZHS to serve in World War II in the Navy and then returned to graduate with his two siblings in the class of 1947. Two graduating seniors in 1919, Lyle Gilbert and Dale Leonard, were remembered at the Junior-Senior Banquet at Hotel Zephyr with two large American Flags in honor of their graduation in absentia, while they were fighting in World War I in France. A letter from ZHS student, Lyle Gilbert was read at the 1919 graduation ceremony and there was great patriotic pride at the graduation ceremony to know that Zephyrhills was represented at the then “war to end all wars.”

We would like to assist Tracey Snyder and her yearbook staff in compiling a comprehensive list of ZHS veterans.  We invite you to send information to Clereen or Tracey at tsnyder {at} pasco.k12.fl(.)us.  Tracey would also like to receive photographs of the veterans in uniform for inclusion in the yearbook.  The deadline for submitting information and photos to the yearbook for inclusion is July 2010.

Countdown to Centennial

Countdown to Centennial
By Madonna Jervis Wise and Clereen Morrill Brunty of the 100th Anniversary Committee, ZHS. Article originally appeared in the Zephyrhills News on November 12, 2009.

All rights reserved. Photos © Madonna Jervis Wise

6 Responses {+}
  • Doug Vernier

    Thain’s helicopter was shot down just a few weeks after he was awarded the silver star for gallantry for his flying heroics.

    This is a bit of an understatement on his award of the Silver Star.
    When he was contacted, about the surrender of Camp Carroll, and asked if he could get there within 30 minutes to evacuate the two Advisor’s their was no stoping to think about what had to be done. Cpt. Thain dropped the sling load and got there in about than 10 minutes. upon arriving the front gates were open and the NVA were walking into Camp Carroll.

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