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World War II Air Force Vet Recalls War
by USAF Staff Sgt. Timothy Boyer - April 4, 2012

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Retired Senior Master Sgt. Steve Palfey shows his '60s-era blues jacket at his home in Fairfield, Calif., on March 5, 2012. The jacket is decorated with the Silver Star he was awarded for his efforts in World War II. The stripes of that era had three stripes below the star, making the stripes displayed in this photo that of a senior master sergeant. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy Boyer
Retired Senior Master Sgt. Steve Palfey shows his '60s-era blues jacket at his home in Fairfield, Calif., on March 5, 2012. The jacket is decorated with the Silver Star he was awarded for his efforts in World War II. The stripes of that era had three stripes below the star, making the stripes displayed in this photo that of a senior master sergeant. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy Boyer
 TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (3/30/2012) -- When walking through the exchange and spotting an older couple walking hand in hand, one might not give much thought to the experiences and hardships they have endured.

Many of these veterans have experienced the hardships of wars much different than those of today.

Retired Senior Master Sgt. Steve Palfey and his wife of 60 years, Nita, are a classic example of this.

Palfey saw combat in World War II, earning a Silver Star, and flew a combat mission during the Korean War.

Born in 1923 in LaPorte, Mich., Palfey -- a resident of Fairfield, Calif. -- was raised on a small farm with his two brothers and two sisters. Graduating high school in 1941, in the midst of World War II, Palfey wanted to serve.

"I wanted to go fight," he said. "But my dad urged me to just wait until they called me."

The call came in February 1943. Palfey was drafted into the Army as a communicator for his company -- a dangerous job at times. One such time was when Palfey was deployed to the Pacific during World War II.

"It was April 12, 1945. President Roosevelt had died and we were given the word to expect a raid against our position," he said. "The thought was that the enemy would feel empowered because we had lost our leader."

The lines of communication went down at about 5 p.m., Palfey said. Acting on orders from the adjutant, his commanding officer, he took the
half-mile walk to repair the lines.

Retired Senior Master Sgt. Steve Palfey (bottom left), a World War II and Air Force veteran looks at a map in 1949 at Fairfield-Suisun Air Base, Calif., with his fellow B-29 Superfortress crew member. (Courtesy photo)
Retired Senior Master Sgt. Steve Palfey (bottom left), a World War II and Air Force veteran looks at a map in 1949 at Fairfield-Suisun Air Base, Calif., with his fellow B-29 Superfortress crew member. (Courtesy photo)
 "On the way back we took fire," Palfey said, referring to himself and a comrade who joined him on his mission. "At that time, the Japanese had to cock their guns after each shot and reacquire their target. That gave us the opportunity to run from bush to bush at an angle away from the shooter.

"We made it back to our position beside a large rock about the size of my living room and eventually went to sleep for the night," Palfey said with a chuckle, adding, "If you consider it sleeping, we were laying in foxholes. They weren't much for a good night's sleep."

Palfey woke at approximately midnight to the sound of a hand grenade being set and thrown into one of the foxholes, followed by the sound of someone in immense pain, he said.

"At that time food was scarce, so the Japanese were fighting as much to get
our food as they were to win a war," Palfey said. "After the grenade had gone off, I could see a silhouette and hear the sound of food rustling."

Palfey got the silhouette in his sights, shot and hit his target from inside his foxhole, he said. Later that morning, he learned that the sound of pain had been coming from his adjutant's foxhole, where the adjutant had muffled the grenade explosion. Palfey couldn't tell whether the adjutant had muffled the explosion with his hand or his body because the adjutant was in such bad condition and eventually died from his wounds.

Later that day, Palfey's troops noticed some Japanese combatants preparing for a raid of their position.

"I got on the horn, I said, 'This is Private 1st Class Palfey, the adjutant is dead and the first sergeant is gravely wounded -- request permission to call for 4.2 mortar fire to put an end to this bonsai attack,'" he said. "A voice came back that said, 'Sergeant Palfey, you have all the authority you need.' So I called in about a half dozen 4.2 mortar rounds. If there was going to be an attack, it was stopped."

Palfey was awarded the Silver Star for his efforts in preventing the April 13 enemy attack.

After the war, Palfey got out of the military. In 1948 he joined the newly-formed Air Force as a radio operator. He was stationed at Fairfield-Suisun Air Base in 1949, and fondly recalls driving his Model A pickup truck across the country to get to the base that would later be named Travis.

Palfey's Air Force career spanned from October 1949 until May 1962 and included a wealth of experiences not common to many -- witnessing the tragic crash of Brig. Gen. Robert Travis, being in a B-29 Superfortress during a nose dive to extinguish an engine fire and flying a bombing mission during the Korean War with Gen. Emmett "Rosie" O'Donnell, Far East Bomber Command commander at the time.

A World War II and Korean War veteran with 30 years of service to his country, Palfey has advice for the airmen who serve their country today.

"Be honorable, trustworthy and first class," he said. "Be proud of what you do. The Air Force is a great branch to serve in."

By USAF Staff Sgt. Timothy Boyer
60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2012

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