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Memories Of Military Service: Three Veterans Reflect On Their Service

Dylan Roche
View Bio
November 8, 2017

Not all heroes wear capes. It’s a truth that many in the community remember every Veterans Day, observed throughout the country on November 11. In honor of the holiday, we asked three local veterans about memories they have from their time in the military, and they shared with us about the reasons they joined, what training challenges they endured, dangers they faced and the lives they created after leaving the service.


Lee “Doc” Stallings

Air Force - World War II

A Pasadena native and a graduate of Glen Burnie High School, Lee “Doc” Stallings doesn’t remember exactly what inspired him to enter the Air Force, but he thinks it was a combination of interest and encouragement. “Flying appealed to me,” he said. “There were a few people in the service who talked me into it, friends of mine. They told me, ‘Go in the Air Force. It’s a gravy train.’ So that’s what I did.”

In his three years in the Air Force, Stallings was stationed in Nadzab, New Guinea, and fought in World War II. As an aerial gunner, he flew A20s, though most of his flying was before Okinawa. “I didn’t have any dangerous assignments,” he recalled. “It was a good life. I’m never sorry. … I always had a sense of patriotism, but the military was a good experience.”

When he returned home after his service, he helped his son, Lee Stallings Jr., operate Stalling’s Funeral Home in Pasadena, and later worked for the Department of Natural Resources. He built his home on the land behind his son’s funeral home and continues to life there today.

William “Craig” Rudder

Navy - Vietnam

Though Pasadena resident William “Craig” Rudder is originally from Maryland, he was raised by foster parents in West Virginia. Right after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Navy because he was interested in getting further schooling and education. “The Navy was about the only place that gave you a guarantee of schools,” he said.

Rudder went to Illinois for boot camp, then Florida for squadron before leaving for two eight-month cruises around Europe. “When I came back from there, we deployed to Vietnam,” he said.

That was in the spring of 1967, and after a brief rest in the Philippines, Rudder was off to the Gulf of Tonkin, where he was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal when an electrical problem discharged a rocket, setting the ship ablaze and instigating a chain of other explosions. “We fought fire and bombs going off all around us from 11:00 in the morning until late that evening,” Rudder said. “We had to push the aircraft overboard because they were on fire. We lost 134 guys in one day, and it was over 200 more people injured.” Senator John McCain, then lieutenant commander, was also a survivor.

When Rudder left the service, he lived in Glen Burnie and went to work for a trucking company. He married in 1985 and moved to Pasadena, where he and his wife raised their son.

“I took a lot of pride in my service and I still do,” he said. “I think most people who served are proud.” He added that he attends the Pasadena Business Association’s Veterans Day ceremony every year.

Manny Airey
Marine Corps - World War II

As proud as he is of his military service, Manny Airey isn’t too proud of the reason he enlisted. “I got kicked out of school,” he explained, “so a buddy of mine and I went down to join the Marine Corps. They took me because I was an excellent swimmer. They flew me into Hawaii, and I was assigned to underwater demolition.”

Part of his training entailed being dropped in the middle of the ocean and having to swim a mile and a half to shore. He recalled his mother’s reaction being one of apprehension when she found out about his diving certification, as his father had been killed as a deep-sea diver, and she encouraged him to quit. “She said, ‘It killed your father, it ain’t gonna kill you,’ and I said, ‘Yes, ma’am, I’m going into the service,’” he said.

Though Airey does not have memories of dangers on any of his assignments, he did find himself hospitalized with frostbite from December 1950 until April 1951. “They were ready to take my feet off, but they saved ‘em, and I still got ‘em,” he said.

He was discharged in 1951 and settled in Baltimore with his wife. They later moved to Pasadena “to get out of the city,” which “was getting to be hectic.”

Today, Airey stays active with fellow veterans through Anne Arundel County Detachment 1049 and the Military Order of the Devil Dogs Pound 2014. He was recently named Marine of the Year and Devil Dog of the Year. “I’m not bragging, but I’m proud of what I’ve done,” he said. “It’s a rough life, but it’s a wonderful life.”

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