The aging men stood at attention beneath the hot noon sun, in front of the helicopter hangar at the Corpus Christi Army Depot, in full-dress Marine Corps uniform.
Only a fraction of the 52 medals he had earned in World War II draped his chest. But he was there, among the top brass, and he was the guest of honor on the parade stand.
William McCormack, who will be 70 on his next birthday, is one of America's most decorated warriors. He was shot and injured 11 times by Japanese fighting in the Pacific Theater. Then he was taken prisoner.
"I was a POW for 1,212 days, 11 hours and 26 minutes, " he said yesterday during the annual Veterans Appreciation Ceremony for depot workers. "They starved us, beat us and hanged us up by our thumbs. They burned us with cigarettes, and when some of us were killed or died, they let the bodies sit uncovered for days.
"Hell, I saw dogs running around with some of the arms and legs of our men."
The big war for him is over. But every so often he puts on the uniform and snaps to attention and shouts with pride: "Sir!".
His salutes are sharp when the officers walk by.
McCormack, a retired man who lives in Ingleside, was not the only veteran at yesterday's ceremony. As a matter of fact, of the 4,250 depot employees, 3,100 are veterans.Some saw action in Europe, the Pacific, Korea and Vietnam.
Speaking at yesterday's event was Rear Adm. John Disher, Chief of Naval Air Training, who's headquartered at the Corpus Christi National Air Station.
The Admiral praised the men and women for their work at the Army depot and emphasized the importance of their roles in maintaining a strong national defense.
There are stories among the thousands of veterans at the Army depot. Such as: Leonard Vaden was held in a German prison camp at Oflag 64 in Szubin, Poland. He was captured after an amphibious landing on the Italian coast.Gilberto Hernandez lost a leg to machine gun fire in WWII.
There are more recent memories. Its not hard for Alan Hodgkinson to remember the "napalm and tractor illuminated days of the Tet offensive."
"Incoming," he recalls, had a different meaning in Vietnam than it does in the file basket on top his desk at the depot. There was a picture of a buddy in Hodgkinson's photo album.He knew the guy only as "Tex." Hodkinson and some of the other depot employees were looking at the album."If that's the guy I think it is," Lola Lord - a depot employee in the public affairs office - told him, "he is working right here at CCAD."
Hodgkinson was reunited with Daniel Jenson, after a decade.
Corpus Christi Mayor Luther Jones, a former depot commander and combat veteran, was at yesterday's ceremony. So was Dr. Hector Garcia, founder of the G.I. Forum.Jones said he remembered that whenever a Mexican-American was killed in Vietnam and his body was sent home, American flags lined the route from the airport to the funeral.
McCormack was considered the last man to surrender at Corregidor. He was the last to walk off the parade stand yesterday.
By Bob Hardison
Staff Writer of the Corpus Christi Caller Times. May 23, 1986.