Many veterans keep quiet about what they saw in the military during wartime. After their service is over, they return home, take new jobs and go on with their lives. As the years go by, many of their neighbors may not even know they served. The veterans don't speak about it. They did their duty, and leave it at that. One of these quiet veterans was Byron Gorham.
Byron Elery Gorham was born on Oct. 4, 1911 to Lestor and Lula Gorham of Lock Haven.
"He hated the name Elery," says Mary Johnson, daughter. "He said if we ever named one of our children Elery, he was going to call them 'Celery'."
Gorham attended school in Lock Haven. He played football in high school and graduated in 1929.
"He played football when they didn't have helmets," Mary recalls. "Just leather caps."
After high school, Gorham opened up his own body shop. The garage was located in an alley near the court house. He married in 1937.
Gorham worked at the body shop until the outbreak of WW II. On March 19, 1944 he enlisted in the U.S. Army at Ft. Mead, Md. After basic training, Gorham was trained as a sheet metal worker with the 3118th Ordnance Base Vehicle Company, where he could put his automotive knowledge to work. He also qualified as a sharpshooter with a .30 caliber rifle.
Gorham and his unit took part in the Liberation of the Philippines in 1945.
"My father never spoke about the war," says Mary.
"That was a generation where you did what you had to do," says Jay Johnson, grandson. "And no one ever mentioned it again."
"I know he received a combat citation because our troops were on one side and the Japanese were on the other, lobbing shells," says Jay. "And his unit happened to be in between. I think there was a lot more to it than he would ever say."
"One story he did tell us, was about these two Filipinos that he worked with," recalls Jay. "They had scars on the backs of their necks. The Japanese had made them dig a trench then tried to kill them with swords."
Gorham served in the Philippines from May 13, 1945 until Jan 7, 1946. He was discharged in February of that year at the rank of Technician, 4th Grade. During his time in the service, Gorham was awarded the Philippine Liberation Ribbon and Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with a bronze star and the WW II Victory Medal. With his service in the military completed, Gorham returned home to difficult times. His wife of nine years, Mildred, passed away in 1946.
"I don't recall them ever living together," says Mary. "He was in the service, and then when he got out she was sick in the hospital."
Gorham went back to work in the auto repair industry.
"He had his own garage in Flemington then he worked for Martins, when they had the Ford garage," says Mary. "After that he went to work for the railroad and then for the state when they used to have a highway shed behind the Ford garage."
He retired in 1976, after working for the state for 20 years.
Gorham had two daughters, Mary and Vivian. He also had two step children, Jim and Sandy. Vivian, Jim and Sandy have passed away. He also has a number of grandchildren, many of whom have served or are currently serving in the military. His grandsons Jay and Scott as well as a granddaughter, Amanda, all served. Another grandson, Josh Welty, is currently serving in the National Guard and Gorham's great grandson Drew served as well.
The family has an additional deep connection to the military.
"My step mother's family was the 'Fighting Confers'," says Mary with a laugh. "So yeah, we knew lots of people in the military from this area."
Jay and Mary described Gorham as a strict and tough man who was a hard worker.
"He watched the news at 6 and again at 11," says Mary. "At 11:30, lights and TV were off. Every night."
"He was one of the rough guys," says Jay. "He never complained about aches. If you got hurt, he expected you to deal with it and keep going."
Some of the reason for this attitude, according to Jay, was that Gorham did not believe in doctors. Mary explained with a story from when she was a young girl.
"I put my arm through a window once, cut it straight to the bone," she says. "It wouldn't stop bleeding. My father just took his can of snuff and dumped it on the cut and it stopped. I never went to the hospital, we just bandaged it."
"It was things like that that he learned overseas," says Jay.
Gorham enjoyed hunting when he could find the time. However, he spent a lot of time taking care of his brother, Lawrence.
"Lawrence never learned to drive or got married," says Mary. "He was a good man, but he was a little slow. He worked at the road shed also, and my father lived with him and helped take care of him."
Gorham passed away in 1995 at the age of 84.
Byron Gorham was a no-nonsense, hard-working man and a humble veteran. He would have likely declined to be interviewed about his military service or simply implied that he only did what he had to do. But he saw some fierce fighting against a determined enemy while acting to set others free.
For the simple act of performing his duty, his community remembers and thanks him. Across the Pacific, there is an island nation that is free because of what he and his fellow soldiers did and they would thank him, too.
Editor's Note: Last week's Hometown Hero was John Francis Long. Most people called him Francis. Information in last week's story that he went by "Jay" was incorrect.