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
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
Many of these veterans have experienced the
hardships of wars much different than those of today.
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
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
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."
lines of communication went down at about 5 p.m., Palfey said.
Acting on orders from the adjutant, his commanding officer, he took
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)
"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
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."
awarded the Silver Star for his efforts in preventing the April 13
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.
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
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