Jesse Reynolds, age 100, of Gallatin, MO, passed away May 5, 2016, at the Leavenworth VA Community Living Center. Missouri VFW officials considered Jesse Reynolds to be Missouri’s oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor. He was recognized for his long service to the Veterans of Foreign Wars with the presentation of a plaque for “Lifetime Achievement Award” during the 95th VFW Annual State Convention in Springfield on June 5, 2015.

Jesse Reynolds of Gallatin, MO, was recognized for his long service to the Veterans of Foreign Wars with the presentation of a plaque for “Lifetime Achievement Award” during the 95th VFW Annual State Convention in Springfield on June 5, 2015. At the time, Jesse was considered to be Missouri’s oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor.

Jesse Reynolds (1916-2016): A Hometown Hero

Graveside services for Jesse T. Reynolds were conducted last Saturday at Hillcrest Cemetery near Gallatin. The crowd in attendance was small by worldly standards, but the life celebrated was significant.

Jesse Reynolds is a hometown hero.

Journalist Tom Brokaw called Jesse’s generation America’s greatest. In recent years as Jesse approached his 100th birthday and the nation focused on the 75th anniversary marking the start of World War II, Jesse was remembered.

Jesse manned the guns during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and participated in one of the greatest rescues in Naval history. He received a Congressional recommendation. He was assigned to the newly commissioned USS Radford where he served in support of the Battle of Guadalcanal and in the Battle of Kula Gulf.

Jesse was the last living original crew member of the USS Radford DD446 that he put into service in 1942. Missouri VFW officials considered Jesse to be Missouri’s oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor.

Such things are foremost in obituaries (published in last week’s edition) and often in articles that newspapers everywhere publish. Survivors are heroes. As Gen. George S. Patton famously (and most crudely) said, “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country… ”

But famous quotes and flag waving accolades actually aren’t the first to come to mind when folks here think of Jesse. There’s more to hometown heroes than just that. Much more.

Like so many first acquaintances, I met Jesse asking for his help doing what he did to make his living. It was only years later I learned about who he actually was. But first impressions stick. What I recall is how Jesse focused on my need rather than his pocketbook. He directed me to a better place than his to solve my problem.

Jesse wasn’t about the money; Jesse really wanted to help. He may not have realized it but Jesse, like so many others, helped this stranger feel comfortable enough to make Gallatin my home, too. That’s what hometown heroes do.

Years later, after Jesse relocated his residence to Rest Easy Apartments, I observed Jesse’s usual stroll uptown to friends who knew him much more personally than me.

This was after the loss of his wife, still a survivor among the loss of others year by year, still a friend reaching out to others to the end. That’s what hometown heroes do.

Jesse Reynolds endured our version of a ticker-tape parade as the Grand Marshal leading the 2012 Daviess County Chautauqua Parade. Yes, he would talk about his military experiences but he’d rather talk about coon hunting or fishing …you know, the passions, interests, and things familiar to others. That’s what hometown heroes do.

He liked focusing on the positives in life. That’s significant, something too many of us fail to do. His personality took shape as a teenager during the Great Depression, and he could recall one summer when his folks working a tobacco farm near Dearborn didn’t have enough money to buy groceries. Jesse Reynolds was a survivor of note, long before Gen. Patton uttered his wartime quote.

Jesse didn’t set out to be a hometown hero, of course. In 1938, Jesse couldn’t find a job.

So Jesse, then 22, joined the Navy. He wanted to learn the mechanics trade. But he soon learned how sailors were waiting 10 or 12 years to get into that school. He somehow survived that disappointment and wound up learning to cook.

On Dec. 7, 1941, he was the chief cook aboard the USS MacDonough, which was at berth in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked and forced the United States into World War II. He was among the first to spot the incoming Japanese aircraft and respond to the attack.

Jesse was a survivor when America desperately needed them. He was just a regular guy in uniform who got married in September and had expected to leave the service next March when the war erupted. He survived Pearl Harbor and knew one certainty: He wouldn’t get out of the Navy until the war was over.

Thus, without warning, this small town boy turned sailor was suddenly thrust upon history’s stage. His talents, circumstances, and experiences rank below the names of other North Missourians like Black Jack Pershing of World War I fame or Gen. Omar Bradley but in no less way he did his part, just like my dad and perhaps yours and so many, many others. Unlike thousands upon thousands of those less fortunate, Jesse survived.

President Barack Obama — in fact, any person we elect president — would do well to remember hometown boys like Jesse Reynolds. President Obama recently announced his intent to visit Hiroshima, Japan. This rekindles arguments about whether our President should apologize for our use of nuclear bombs to end World War II. It’s a topic I wish I had discussed with Jesse before he left us.

I suspect Jesse’s answer would be similar to so many survivors from the last worldwide war — that it was necessary to break Japan’s will to continue fighting. The alternative was a ground invasion that would have caused much more blood to be shed, the blood of those from hometowns on both sides of the Pacific.

Survivors like Jesse Reynolds have a right to express such things. Heroes don’t run away from tough decisions or rewrite history. America’s Greatest Generation may be departing from us. But we would do well to heed their voices and remember their service. Always.

There are many who served in the military and deserve the honor of being called a hometown hero. You may recall that not long ago Gallatin actually had two Pearl Harbor survivors manning the coffee shop — Jesse and Jub Tomlinson. Former Gallatin Police Chief Dale Cox was a prisoner of war survivor. Danny Critten is a Vietnam survivor. The list is long. Names that deserve mention, survivors as well as those who didn’t survive, should be remembered as people and not as statistics or by brief inscription on cold stone.

A few weeks ago we published an article asking for photographs of Americans buried in military cemeteries in Europe. People there want younger generations to think about the people all those white cemetery crosses represent. As our Greatest Generation passes away, we have the same challenge. Such sacrifice should not be forgotten.

Sometimes I look at the green grass in the vacant lot on the east side of Gallatin’s business square and think there’s an opportunity. What better place for a little park, a prominent space in our daily living to remember the men and women who have served us admirably while in military uniform?

There was a time during World War II when a billboard was posted on the west side of the square to help keep track of those in harm’s way, during times of dread. Perhaps something similar yet opposite could be erected on the east side of the square. Short of somebody actually starting a new business there, what better use for this vacant lot than a patriotic tribute right across from Old Glory flying at our courthouse?

Jesse’s noteworthy experiences in survival and service mean his name should be included on any list of military greats from Daviess County — names like Major Samuel Cox, Rear Admiral Richard Cruzen, USAF Gen. Dick Paul, Brigadier Gen. Jim Sears Jr., and others.

Jesse was a war veteran who survived the transition back into civilian life. He worked at St. Joseph and Parkville but then chose Gallatin to be his hometown in 1951. I’m told that he came here following Art Kordes who opened a car dealership across the street looking out my newspaper office window, where the car wash is now.

Jesse started up his own repair shop in a building where Thompson Implement later located. He eventually operated his business in the building which now houses Garlick’s Body Shop.  But his best work came as a dad, granddad and friend. Gallatin became a better place for this. Jesse, once again, did his part in building up this community.

About five years ago the fire alarm sounded. One of the apartments at Rest Easy was filled with smoke. An off-duty sheriff’s deputy and his wife gained entry and worked to remove the occupant to safety; a spry 95-year-old Jesse Reynolds realized the danger and immediately went about alerting his neighbors and others about the potential danger. It was just his natural reaction.

Jesse was given a Citizenship Award for this admirable effort during presentations involving the sheriff’s office and emergency dispatch. Perhaps this local recognition gets overlooked in comparison with all of Jesse’s military honors. But what better describes his will and effort to serve others, capping an admirable lifetime of service?

I think Jesse would have liked his funeral service. It was a beautiful spring day.

Remarks were appropriate, prayers were said. The ceremony was elegantly simple. Special officers representing the U.S. Navy attended; the VFW gun volley salute and the mournful “Taps” focused on what we honor and celebrate as a life of serving others. Such memories linger.

Farewell, Jesse …hometown hero.

— written by Darryl Wilkinson for the Gallatin North Missourian