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MY WORD: One man's story of life and fate

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By Diane Malone

Herbert T. Riddle from Shelbyville was known as “Herb,” and I want to share his story, which is a story of how fate extended his life. He is 85 years old, but for a twist of change, he might not have reached that age.

Mr. Riddle joined the Navy and was stationed at Barbara Point Naval Base in Hawaii. He was a tail gunner in a naval fighter plane that was to fly over the oceans and beaches around the islands of Hawaii.

His squadron was set up to go to Korea in 1952, the day after Labor Day, to clear all oceans and beaches so the U.S. troops could land there. There was a forest behind the beaches, and the Koreans had torn down the trees and pushed them all along the beach areas.

Herbert and his squadron’s job was to bomb and torpedo the beaches so they would be clear for landing. All of the planes had been loaded on the carrier for the trip to Korea.

Because it was to be his last week on Honolulu for a while, Herbert decided to take a liberty there for a few days. While enjoying his time off in September 1952, he was involved in a motorcycle wreck and was hospitalized with serious injuries.

For Herbert, this was a big setback, because he wanted on that following Tuesday to leave with his squadron.

And he also missed out on another opportunity. While stationed in Barbara Point, he had made the softball team. The league was made up of the military bases: Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines. He was hoping to go to Hickman Air Force Base because the winner of a final game got to go to the States to play in the national AAU tournament. He later learned his team lost, 2-1.

After his recovery from the motorcycle accident, Herb was returned to Barbara Point, and he learned that his pilot and the tail gunner who had take his place while he was in the hospital and that the plane in which he would have flown had been shot down.

It was on the second mission that they had flown. The plane went into the sea, and neither of them was found. The Navy gave them a military honorable funeral.

“If I had not of had my motorcycle accident, I would have been on that plane that day,” Riddle said. “I was lucky I was still alive even with my injuries from the accident.”

He spent a year in the hospital in Honolulu then was transferred for 9 months to Oakland Naval Hospital in California. He was medically discharged from the Navy in 1953.

“I never told my mother I was a tail gunner in an airplane because I never wanted her to worry,” he said.

After being discharged from the Navy, even with his injuries his determination within himself, he built apartments and houses and so loved his job.

Three years ago he became a resident of Golden Living Rehabilitation Home in Lyndon, where he is an avid University of Louisville fan and follows football and basketball.

And he recalls just how lucky his life has been.

 

Diane Malone is a former resident of Shelby County.