Photo by Cindy Klepper.
Originally published April 30, 2009.
Ted Rogers seems almost offended when asked why, after spending four years serving his country during World War II, he agreed to take on the responsibility of establishing an Army National Guard armory in Huntington.
"To protect our country," he says, after a pause. He had the training and the know-how, he adds. "I wanted to pass that on to another generation."
He waves his arm in the general direction of the much-younger men milling about inside Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2689, Huntington-based Guardsmen who had finally wrapped up a mission to Iraq.
"They want to serve their country, too," says Rogers, who now lives at Lake Wawasee. "They sure as hell aren't getting rich doing this."
The current soldiers are Rogers' direct legacy.
With his service during World War II still in the not-too-distant past, Rogers was contacted in 1949 by the adjutant general's office in Indianapolis. Would he, they asked, be willing to organize a Guard unit in Huntington, get an armory built and serve as the unit's first commander?
"I said, ‘Hell, yes, I'd like to do that,'" Rogers recalls.
It was just happenstance that Rogers was living in Huntington at the time. Born and raised near the small town of Ridgeville on the east edge of central Indiana, he'd come to Fort Wayne for college. When he went overseas during World War II - he spent four years as an Army Signal Corps officer - his wife and their two children moved to Huntington to be near her brother. After his service, he joined his family in Huntington.
"I liked what I saw, and I stayed here," says Rogers, who ran a radio repair shop until 1971.
Rogers had kept his commission by signing up for the officer reserve corps. He was also familiar with the role of the National Guard during World War II.
"When the war ended, all the National Guard units were discharged, their terms long since expired," he says. "All we had was a bunch of empty armories. We had to start from scratch."
And in Huntington, there wasn't even an armory. So when he got the call in 1949, he knew what lay ahead.
His first task was to recruit enough men to bring the new unit to 1 percent strength.
"That was me and 10 guys," Rogers says. "I knew I could go to the VFW and recruit World War II combat veterans. It took me a couple of days to get 15 of them ... They were hardened veterans."
The unit had to have 10 members in order to receive federal recognition, he explains.
With the members in place, Rogers says, his next task was to find a place to meet. He found that above Young's Nut House, a business once located in the space now occupied by Sunshine Health Center. The Guard unit used the second and third floors of that building for the next couple of years, he says.
But the unit still needed a real armory.
"I scoured the town and I finally found one square city block," Rogers says. "It belonged to the Catholic church."
Rogers went to Fort Wayne to pay a visit to Bishop John Noll, then the head of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese, and Noll agreed to sell him the land at the corner of Zahn and Dimond streets.
"He gave us a nice deal on it," Rogers says, "about half what we thought."
Then-Mayor Garl Rudicel, the City Council, and then-City Attorney Ray Ade worked together to come up with the funds and paperwork to purchase the land, Rogers says, "and I hand-carried the thing to Indy."
At first, he says, there was just a motor storage building in the corner of the lot.
"About a year later, funds became available and we got an armory," Rogers says.
The Huntington Guard unit, in its original incarnation, was an anti-aircraft unit, Rogers says, and occasionally held training at Lake Clare - where they fired at radio-controlled airplanes. The unit was ready to be called up at any time, he says, but the Korean War ended before it was called to active duty.
Still, he says, the value of a fully staffed, fully trained National Guard can't be underestimated.
"If you have to draft somebody, if you have to train somebody, it takes time," he says. "We're ready to go."
Rogers commanded the Huntington Guard for five years and then ended up serving at state headquarters, where he retired in 1968 as a lieutenant-colonel.
During his time in Huntington, he also served as commander of the local VFW post, in 1950-51.
So it was a double homecoming of sorts for him when he showed up at the VFW post on Saturday night, April 25, to welcome home the troops.
Rogers was presented with a unit coin by Command Sgt. Major Jeffrey Duncan, who was spending his last weekend as first sergeant of Huntington's Delta Company of the National Guard.
"He was the original ‘Dog,'" Duncan said, referring to the unit's nickname, the "Delta Dogs." "You meet somebody like him who started the thing, and it's really neat."
The Huntington unit's mission has changed several times over the years, and it's now an anti-tank unit.
"Our company's specialty is killing tanks," Duncan says.
The unit spent about a year in Iraq, returning in waves last January and December. The unit's final shipment returned from Iraq the weekend of April 25, and Dale Howell, incoming commander of VFW Post 2689, says the VFW decided to use that occasion to throw the unit a welcome home party.
"They are now part of us," Howell says. "They are an elite group of veterans."
The VFW declared it "Delta Day" and invited the troops in for food, games and music.
"It's just a good time for them to come in, relax and kick back," Howell says.
"I was part of Company D a few years ago," Howell says. "I know what they're going through, how busy it is. The first few months, it's busy, busy, busy. They really deserve a good homecoming where they can kick back and relax."