Milwaukee County War Memorial

Remembering “Good Ole Joes”


Command Sgt. Major Joe Whitford

This past Memorial Day, I had a conversation with some Army friends about the best senior NCO’s we had served with who are no longer with us.

There were many names discussed but one in particular stuck in my mind; Command Sergeant Major Joe Whitford. We all agreed Joe was as good as any with which we had served. He was a complete soldier and leader.

Here is where the story gets interesting.

A few days later my granddaughter, Lauren Torhorst, pictured below, was recognized as the Female Athlete of the Year at Waterford Union High School. With that, she was presented the Joe Whitford Award for her accomplishments (She set school scoring records and is 4th in soccer scoring in Wisconsin history.)

My family was thrilled for her, of course, but receiving an award named after a man I knew and admired was truly incredible. Joe was a teacher and successful head coach of the girls’ basketball team at Waterford High School (two State Finals appearances and one State title) when he lost his battle with cancer. Later, I told my granddaughter his story. Now, the award means even more to her – and to me.

Lauren Torhorst

My granddaughter Lauren Torhorst

One of the turning points in WWII, the battle for Midway, occurred 75 years ago this month (June 4, 1942). Admiral Chester Nimitz, who was in charge of American naval forces in the Pacific, made an incredibly risky decision which, fortunately, paid off. Against the advice of many, he directed all of his aircraft carriers to Midway shortly after they were dispatched to the South Pacific by his superiors in Washington D.C. Adm. Nimitz based his decision on the recommendation of a Navy Commander named Joe Richefort.

A guy who seldom slept or ate regularly, Commander Richefort was tasked with breaking the Japanese code, a herculean task. While he never figured it out completely, what he had was a hunch and with time running out, that was all Nimitz had, as well. It turned out to be all he needed.

Midway was a decisive victory for the U.S. and Japan never recovered from the loss of three aircraft carriers in the battle. The story of Joe Richefort is well known and Nimitz was quick to praise him for his part in what is generally recognized as the greatest naval battle in the history of the world.

The moral of these stories is that you just never know when fate will reach out and touch you. You might brighten the prospects of winning the battle of Midway, or simply brighten the day for an athlete battling for her school in the Midwest.

Today, we celebrate a couple of “good ole Joes” doing their jobs to the best of their ability. Both Joes have passed but we still remember them. And America is a better place because they were here.

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