The name Fred Myers might sound familiar if you live in Maybrook, if only because there is a park named after him near the village government center. History knows him as the first American G.I. to set foot on Japanese soil in World War II. His family simply knows him as a devoted father who died too young.
Myers joined the Army on March 10, 1942. After completing training in Fort Jackson, S.C., and various other locations in Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Arizona, the 24-year-old was sent to World War II’s Pacific Theater, according to historical newspaper reports.
On July 21, 1944, Myers and his 77th Infantry Division participated in the first invasion of Guam—a small island which had been taken over by the Japanese about two and half years earlier.
After several months of intensive fighting, his unit was sent back to New Zealand for a rest, but off the coast of Australia they were diverted back to the Philippines, where they made the initial landings on Leyte, in October 1944.
In December 1944, Myers was first wounded and received his first citation.
After 13 of the men in his platoon were killed and the rest pinned down by enemy fire, Myers was wounded when a bullet ripped through his helmet and the top of his skull.
Refusing first aid and picking up another wounded man’s automatic rifle, he crawled toward the Japanese machine gun position. In spite of enemy fire directed at him, he reached an exposed firing position and destroyed the machine gun, killing six enemy soldiers. Myers then formed a platoon on a hasty defense line. A counterattack by 30 enemy soldiers was repulsed with 20 of them killed.
Myers received a Silver Star for his acts of bravery at Leyte. From there, the 77th started attacking Japanese owned islands. Myers became the first soldier to step foot on Japanese soil on the Isle of Aka.
From there, Myers went to El Shima, where he was wounded after receiving shrapnel to his chest and leg. When his platoon was temporarily halted by enemy fire, Myers moved alone and killed four enemy riflemen. Working his way within 30 feet of an enemy machine gun, he killed three more enemy soldiers. After the enemy abandoned the machine gun his platoon was able to advance and seize its objective.
On May 9, 1945, near Shuri, Myers received the Oak Leaf Cluster for his bravery.
Myers then went to Okinawa, where after months of brutal battle his platoon took hill “29”, which was the last organized resistant on Okinawa and the last organized resistance of the Pacific War.
Myers and his unit returned to the Philippines to get rest and replacements after Okinawa. From the time they left the states to the time they returned to the Philippines, there had been a turnover of more than 250 men from his platoon, with Myers and another sergeant being the only two left from the original group.
The 77th was getting ready to invade Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war.
Myers returned to the United States after a short tour of occupation with the army in Japan. He was discharged with the Bronze Star, the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster.
That is how history remembers Myers. But his family remembers him differently: A devoted father. A successful salesman. An avid golfer.
“He was just a great dad and he loved his family,” daughter Susan Freshko.
Freshko remembers her father as a man who loved to spend time with his family. He was the father who took his family for car rides, to vacations on lakes around the Northeast, who took his daughter when he went door-to-door selling Metropolitan Life Insurance.
He was the man who built his family’s house in Maybrook. He was the man who sang the Beatles’ song “I wanna hold your hand” to his daughter as he walked in the door, coming home from work. He was the man who loved golf and could be found either hitting balls in the yard or on the golf course on his days off.
Unfortunately, Myer’s life was cut short. When she was 13 years old, Freshko was playing in the pool one day when she heard her mother scream. When she rushed in the house, she saw her mother drop the phone. It was then she learned her father had died on the golf course of a heart attack.
“That was the worst day of my life,” Freshko said.
Today, Myers is memorialized by the Frederick Myers Veterans’ Memorial Park in Maybrook. The small park is a testament not only to all veterans who defended America, but to one man’s huge acts of bravery.