Donald J. Gott and John N. Reese Jr. won’t be present when they are inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame on Veterans Day. They, along with 21 other veterans, will be memorialized at the Gaylord Center at Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond. In addition to Medal of Honor recipients Gott and Reese, the inductees include 14 Comanche code talkers. The Comanches used a coded version of their native language to transmit critical radio messages during World War II. All 14 Comanche honorees are deceased.
Gott and Reese are among only 20 Oklahomans to ever receive the Medal of Honor, the U.S.’s highest military decoration, for “conspicuous gallantry” while risking one’s life “above and beyond the call of duty.”
Gott was a bomber pilot whose Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” crashed in Germany in November 1944, after the craft was heavily damaged by enemy fire. The 21-year-old pilot ordered his crew to bail out. However, the co-pilot was unable to do so because his arm had been severed. Attempting to save his co-pilot’s life, Gott stayed with the plane, which exploded in the air.
Reese was killed in the Philippines in February 1945 during an attack on a railroad station defended by 300 Japanese soldiers. Against overwhelming odds, Reese and another soldier fought to within 60 yards of the station and killed more than 80 enemy soldiers between the two of them before being killed themselves.
According to Michael Dean, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Military Hall of Fame, Oklahoma’s contribution defending our country exceeds that of many other states.
“In almost any field of endeavor, there are any number of Oklahomans who have excelled in that field,” says Dean. “For whatever reason, we as a state have excelled in so many areas, I think far more so than other states. Military service is a prime example.”
Oklahoma has more than 329,000 living veterans. The Sooner State is home to almost 50,000 active-duty military personnel stationed at Fort Sill (Lawton), Tinker, Vance and Altus Air Force bases (Midwest City, Enid and Altus, respectively), the U.S. Coast Guard Institute (Oklahoma City), and the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, plus another 10,000 Army and Air National Guard troops.
Many more Oklahoma men and women have paid the ultimate price. Oklahoma had 1,317 fatal casualties in World War I. Those heroes were joined by 6,463 dead in World War II. Fatal casualties in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan comprise more than 1,700, bringing Oklahoma’s total dead and missing in military service to approximately 9,500 men and women.
Still, many Oklahomans have never heard of the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.
“My first relation (with the Hall of Fame) was when I was inducted,” says 88-year-old Pendleton Woods, who was a POW in Germany during World War II and became one of the first inductees into the Hall. “I hadn’t heard about it until that year, 2002.”
Woods now serves as a Hall of Fame volunteer. He says the Hall would draw much more attention when it finally has a tangible home where people can view exhibits telling the stories of military heroes. Woods says the Hall of Fame will have that home when a renovation on an Oklahoma Christian University building is complete.
Dean agrees that the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame needs a permanent home.
“I think that is really important. That’s going to give us greater visibility. It’s going to let people know that … we have so many men and women, dating back to the Territories, who have distinguished themselves in service of our country and have made lasting contributions.”