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“I am wounded but not slain, I will lay me down and bleed awhile, but shall rise and fight again.” It seems as if Rudyard Kipling had Francis Joseph Myers, Jr., in mind when he wrote “The Ballad of Johnny Armstrong.” Joe was a magnificent, natural warrior who could be counted on in any fight. However, this description fails to adequately describe Joe as a friend, husband, father, and grandfather. Perhaps the words of classmate and close friend Fred J. Ascani ’41 of C Company, best describes the more amiable half of Joe. “He was a fun-loving individual who always tried to keep everyone happy.”
Joe was born to Mr. and Mrs. Francis J. Myers, Sr., and spent most of his childhood in the small coal-mining town of Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. In high school, Joe was a standout athlete, lettering in basketball, football, and track, as well as a successful but indifferent student. His hobbies included “smooth dancing” and “fast driving.” His success in high school led to an appointment to the Naval Academy and he attended the Naval Academy preparatory school for one year before entering in 1935. Joe survived the rigors of freshman year at Annapolis only to be dismissed due to academic deficiencies his sophomore year. Joe showed his characteristic resilience for the first time after that disappointment by aggressively seeking an appointment to West Point. He was successful and entered with the Class of 1941 in July of 1937.
Joe’s tenure at West Point was characterized by his natural fighting spirit and showcased on the track and soccer teams, but Joe’s warrior ethic did not win many battles against the Academic and Tactical Departments. Although Joe’s final class standing was less than stellar, he made the most of his four years at “Hell on the Hudson” and gathered his own personal army of loyal friends and acquaintances.
On 7 December 1941, nearly six months after Joe graduated, the U.S. was thrust into World War II. Loeutenant Myers, not wanting to miss out on all the excitement, looked for the quickest way to get into the fight. He found it with the newly formed Airborne Infantry. After Jump School in January 1943, Joe was assigned to the 505th Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team, 82d Airborne Division, and sent to North Africa for the Invasion of Sicily. In July 1943, Joe took part in his first combat parachute jump. After landing, he was knocked unconscious by an exploding shell and woke up in a German hospital in Caltagirone, where he received excellent care. He was a POW for one week before Montgomery and the Canadians took the town from the Germans.
Joe took his second combat jump into Italy, where he was, once again, wounded and sent to England. On D Day, 6 June 1944, Joe attempted his third jump with the famed 82d into St. Mere Eglise and, again, Joe was wounded and evacuated to England. Joe’s three Purple Hearts are a testimony to the theory that “wherever bullets were flying, there you’d find Joe.” A fourth combat jump in daylight near Nijmegen, Holland, was made during Operation Market Garden, “A Bridge Too Far.” His fifth jump was not really a jump, as he tailgated from a “cattle” truck in Werbomont, Belgium, in December 1944 and fought to the Salm River. He participated in the breach of the Siegfried Line, pushing south to the final drive across the Elbe River. There, Joe earned his third Bronze Star for valor.
Occupational duty in Berlin was sweet. Horses were ridden and tennis was played with high spirits. In 1946, Joe marched down 5th Avenue with GEN Gavin ’29 and the rest of the 82d Airborne. He also enjoyed 15 minutes of fame when interviewed on CBS national radio by the famous Arthur Godfrey. In September of that year, Joe married Franny McLean Mullins, the widow of a fellow ’41er, Charles Love “Moon” Mullins IV, in the Cadet Chapel at West Point. Fran had two small children with Moon, Charles V. and James. Joe raised his former track teammate’s children as his own. In addition to Moon’s boys, Joe raised four children of his own, two boys: Francis III and Patrick, and two girls: Debra and Maureen.
Joe won his Army aviator wings at San Marcos, Texas, but had them lifted at Fort Sill. From what we know, Joe was marvelous in the air but treacherous on the ground; parking the aircraft was his downfall. Without missing a beat, Joe returned to the 505th at Fort Bragg for a year before returning to Fort Benning for three years to teach in the Airborne and Ranger departments.
In 1952, Major Myers returned to combat as 25th Infantry Division Battalion Executive Officer in Korea and, in 1953, he served as Advisor to the Korean forces. During 1953–55, Joe served in Japan and during 1956–59, he served with the XVIII Airborne Corps, G-3, and was HQ Commandant. In 1959, he graduated from CGSC and then assumed the role of advisor in Viet Nam. During the early 1960s, Joe was assigned to Ft. Campbell and Ft. McPherson. During 1964–67, he served as Assistant Professor of Military Science in the Army ROTC program at Penn State and, on the side, earned a master’s degree in education. His final tour was in the G-3 section, KMAG, in Seoul, Korea.
In July 1968, Joe retired as a Lieutenant Colonel at Fort Lewis, Washington. He spent the next ten years working at the Army Education Center with the Bootstrap Program. Joe enjoyed his retirement years by sampling golf courses around the country and visiting children and grandchildren.
In July 1992, Joe attended a family reunion in Colorado Springs. One night during that reunion, Joe got out of bed to sit where the whole family gathered, laughing and playing cards. He donned his trademark grin to enjoy the company. “I just want to get one last look,” he told his son. He then went back to sleep and died that night. Joe was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
He will be remembered as a man possessing a dual personality: one half was a happy-go-lucky kid always looking for a good time while the other half was a professional soldier who fought and bled for his country without complaint. He was a true American warrior who lived his life according to West Point’s motto, “Duty, Honor, Country.” In the final analysis, “May it be said, well done,” Papa Joe. “Be thou at peace.”