Native Toledoan credits faith for surviving 20 years of serviceWritten by Tom Fitt | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Zimmerman went to war wearing a U.S. Army badge signifying his role as an ambulance rescue soldier. In his 20 years of service, he saw warfare around the world, from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Desert Storm to Korea. He faced sniper fire and land mines, surviving, he insists, because of his faith in God. The bullets around him strengthened his faith and his belief in miracles. Given a strict religious upbringing by his mother and grandparents (plus four years at Toledo Central Catholic High School), finding God was not a stretch for the Toledo-born soldier.
Zimmerman and his corpsman, Michael White, wrote a book about Zimmerman’s life before, during and after the combat. White was a chaplain on several of Zimmerman’s deployments around the world.
“A Time for Everything: the Kevin Zimmerman Story” outlines Zimmerman’s youthful days in Toledo, his initial problems attending a predominantly white high school, his brief marriage to his college freshman (Tennessee State) girlfriend; the birth of Zimmerman’s only natural child, daughter Miesha, and the normal financial difficulties facing young newlyweds with a child.
He joined the Army after a short stint flipping hamburgers at the local Burger King after he dropped out of college at the completion of his freshman year.
“I realized that at that time, when things were very, very challenging, it would be very easy for someone to become a product of that environment,” Zimmerman said. “It was simple for an inner-city kid to get caught up in it instead of making a better decision. With us having a daughter, I just didn’t want to get caught up in that inner-city life. I enlisted when I was 20.”
The 20 years in the U.S. Army took Zimmerman to many places, some of which he’d rather not revisit.
“I actually spent several tours overseas. I was in the first Desert Shield, Desert Storm war. Throughout the time I served in the military, I did deploy to Korea for two years and I also spent six years in Germany. While I was in Germany, I deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the book is centered around,” Zimmerman said. “But when I deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Storm, I was stationed in Fort Sill, Okla.”
His duties in Bosnia can be summarized by a quote in the forward of the book by friend and associate Bishop J. Alan Neal, Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany:
“In a world that is over-populated with prideful, self-promoting people, a story of a true public servant and Good Samaritan is easily overlooked. They do great work, thanks to their God-given abilities and seasoned experience.”
One such selfless service involved the rescue of two Swiss soldiers. The Swiss were on a mission in the Bosnian hills when one stepped on a land mine; the entire area was riddled with such devices. They called for help. In came a U.S. Army helicopter ambulance. Unable to land the chopper near the fallen soldier, Zimmerman and a crewmate landed and walked on foot to the suffering soldier, through the same mine field that felled their NATO comrade.
The two U.S. soldiers maneuvered the mine field and reached the injured Swiss soldier. His mate asked in perfect English how and why they would do such a dangerous thing. Zimmerman and his partner said nothing, simply hoisting the wounded solder and retracing their steps to the rescue helicopter.
The Soldier’s Medal, granted to those who risk their lives to perform selfless deeds to save another’s life in time of combat, is just slightly less prestigious than the Medal of Honor. Zimmerman received the award twice for heroic action in the field of combat.
Today, Zimmerman lives a quiet life in San Antonio, but is still connected with the military. He promotes his book and works for a company at Fort Houston that does anatomic testing and research on patients from the armed forces. He is 51 years old and retired from active duty in 2000.
Related story: Toledoan publishes book on WWII life
Former Lt. Col. Gordon Rolla Lanker, a resident of Toledo, has published his first book at the age of 96.
Lanker’s memoir, “Just Another Unsung Hero,” details his life as a pilot in World War II, his life leading up to his deployment and his journey back to the work force upon his return.
Lanker dictated his story on five 90-minute tapes and enlisted the help of his grandson, Cory Lanker, to help put the story into words.
The idea for the book came from Gordon’s wish that he knew more about his great-grandfather’s experiences in the Civil War.
“He was in several important battles in the Civil War,” Gordon said. “I thought ‘Wouldn’t that have been nice if he would have kept some kind of diary or something?’ I thought that it would be a good idea to write a book.”
Gordon eventually mentioned the idea to his family. That prompted Cory Lanker to push his grandfather toward making the memoir a reality.
“He mentioned offhand how he thought it would be nice if he had stories about other people in his family and when he said that I kind of prodded him along,” Cory said.
Cory bought Gordon a book about how to write a memoir before Gordon decided that dictating it to his grandson would be his best option. Cory estimates that he spent nearly 200 hours transcribing and writing his grandfather’s story from the seven-and-a-half hours of audio tapes.
“It was a lot of work to do all that transcription but having him say ‘I have some interest in doing this’ was enough for me to coax him to go through with it,” Cory said. “He wanted to do it and this is all due to his hard work starting something and just getting through all the things he wanted to say.”
In Gordon’s career as a pilot he traveled all around the globe. The Grand Rapids, Ohio, native journeyed to Alaska, China and India, among others.
Gordon’s stories include a narrow escape from a severe crash. As a co-pilot on his way to India carrying two 450-pound gasoline tanks, clouds obstructed the view so much they could hardly see the tips of each wing.
“We really never trained,” Gordon said. “The pilot was concentrating on the airspeed and he was down to about 60. I realized he was in a dive and grabbed the yoke and yanked it back. He was sitting there mesmerized by the airspeed and said ‘What are you trying to do? You will pull the wings off.’ I said ‘Frank, you were in a hell of a dive.’ I looked up and both Pitot tubes had big balls of ice over them so they weren’t working. So I guess I saved the crew. That was one of the biggest scares I had.”
With Gordon’s memoir written, his 33-year-old grandson can now reflect on his experience of helping his grandfather share his story with the world.
“The gratifying part of this whole process was getting to see these stories that we probably wouldn’t have heard,” Cory said.
— Zach Davis