Friday, April 2, 2010

Memories of Richards & Gebaur Still Fly High

By Seann McAnally

Across the nation, military bases honor the names of American soldiers, most of whom have died serving their country.
But over time, those names often become just that – names without a story.
One writer hopes to change that.
Linda Swink, of Hamilton, Ohio, has written a book called In Their Honor: The Men Behind the Names of Our Military Installations. The book profiles more than 520 military heroes who had bases named in their honor.
Two of those men are First Lieutenant John F. Richards, who was killed on the first day of the Argonne offensive while on an artillery spotting mission during World War I, and Arthur William Gebaur, Jr., who was killed on his 99th mission during World War II and is still listed as “missing in action.”
Local residents won’t have trouble recognizing those names: the men were the namesakes of the Richards-Gebaur Air Base, and they lived in the area.
“I realized there was very little information on these men,” Swink said. “I found there were no books on the subject. So I talked to some historians and they agreed that it’s an area where more research needed to be done.”
Swink herself is no stranger to the military. Her father was a U.S. Marine, her husband is a retired Army officer, and she served four years on active duty with the Air Force, and 11 more in the Air Force Reserves.
Contributing to military history wasn’t Swink’s only goal in writing the book. Ultimately, she said, she’s interested in what it’s like to be a hero who makes the ultimate sacrifice.
“The men these bases were named after are so heroic,” she said. “Can you imagine yourself being in a situation where you give your life to save your fellow soldiers? To me, that’s almost beyond comprehension.”
The Richards-Gebaur Air Base was renamed from Richards Field in 1941, and operated in various capacities until 1994, when the air base closed and the Kansas City Port Authority took over the site.
Now, Chicago-based developer CenterPoint Properties is transforming the base into an international inland port for trains and trucks shipping goods across North America.
But that doesn’t mean the names of Richards and Gebaur will be lost to history.
Steve Rinne is the business development officer for the Kansas City Port Authority, which oversees the facility. He says the port authority has been working with CenterPoint to honor the men who died in their country’s service.
“We feel like the name has got a real connection with Grandview and South Kansas City people, and it deserves to be remembered,” Rinne said.
Rinne said the developer and the port authority will name the main road that runs through the new facility 
“Richards Gebaur Way,” although it is currently labeled as a continuation of Botts Road in development plans.
“In addition to that, we would like to build some sort of marker or memorial, but it’s still in the planning stages,” Rinne said. “We want to honor their memory. They gave their lives for this country and we want people to know about them.”
One local man who definitely knows about them is C.N. Seidlitz, Richards’ nephew, who was born two years after his uncle died.
Even though he grew up without his uncle’s presence, Seidlitz said he feels like he knows Richards through his journals.
“He kept a diary, and my grandfather published it, along with letters he wrote during the war,” Seidlitz recalled. “There is a large plaque in Europe where he was shot down.”
Seidlitz said his uncle’s story inspired him to join the Air Force. During World War II, Seidlitz served with the 15th Air Force in Italy, flying B-24 bombers.
It’s always been a source of pride for his family, Seidlitz said, that the air base was named in Richards’ honor.
“It’s been wonderful,” he said. “It has kept his memory alive.”
He said he’s glad that won’t end now that CenterPoint is developing the freight facility, and looks forward to seeing whatever memorial they come up with.
“I hope I get to see it, but they better hurry up,” he joked. “After all, I turn 90 this year.”
Swink said she doesn’t plan to rest on her laurels. She’s already started a book chronicling the adventures of air force Major General Edward Mechenbier, who wrote the introduction to her current book.
“He’s got an interesting story,” Swink said. “He was a POW along with John McCain, so I’ve been interviewing him once a week.”
She also said she hopes to return to the topic of military bases with a second edition of her book, as there are some 250 more bases named after men who she can’t find information about. She said she even hopes to come to Richards-Gebaur for a possible presentation and book signing in the near future.
Either way, she said she’ll continue to research and tell stories of military heroes.
“I have to write,” she said. “It’s what I do.”
Swink’s book is available at or from the publisher, Little Miami Publishing Co., at To read excerpts from her book, visit

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