By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
HARTWICK – The last weekend Michael Winslow spent with his brother, Marine Sgt. John Kempe Winslow, the two went hunting up on a hill overlooking their hometown of Hartwick.
“We successfully hunted two bucks,” he said, pointing over his shoulder at the hill behind him. “We always enjoyed hunting, fishing and trapping.”
Now, in the valley below that hill, a sign dedicated to Winslow, who was killed by a “friendly fire” airstrike during his second tour of Vietnam on July 30, 1969, marks the portion of Route 205 that cuts through Hartwick hamlet, his hometown.
“My hope is that every time motorists go by, they’re reminded of his service and sacrifice,” said state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford. “This is a fitting way to honor him, and after 51 years, it’s long overdue.”
In 2018, Seward was approached by Hartwick and Cooperstown veterans’ clubs, asking him to put through legislation to dedicate the route in Winslow’s honor.
Seward won approval for the bill in the Senate, and Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, in the lower house, and it was signed by Governor Cuomo, the sign’s unveiling was delayed from spring until Monday, Oct. 5, by the coronavirus threat.
“This proves that Hartwick is a special place where American ideals, like John embodied, are still present,” said Seward.
John’s friend Wayne Bunn recalled their idyllic boyhood days in the hamlet. “In the summer, I spent most of my days with Johnny,” he said. “We’d hitch a ride on Ken Foster’s milk truck, then we’d sit on top of the milk cans as they rolled down the conveyor belt at the Hartwick milk plant.”
A talented wrestler and golfer, he was also well-liked by his Cooperstown classmates. “I don’t recall ever meeting someone who didn’t like Johnny,” Bunn said.
Graduating from Cooperstown Central School in 1964, Winslow enlisted in the Marines. His father, Chester J. Winslow Jr. had served in the Army World War II and his brother, Chester J. Winslow III, had also served in the Army, stationed in Okinawa, Japan, where he trained German shepherds.
Winslow was injured in the leg and sent to Long Island to recuperate in a hospital there, where he received the Purple Heart. “It wasn’t just a band-aid,” said Michael. “I remember him pulling shrapnel from his leg weeks after coming home.”
But when he recovered, and was assigned to Camp Pendleton, where he volunteered for a second tour. “I remember my parents going out there to try and discourage him from going,” said Michael. “But he said the Marines needed experienced men to help train the new recruits. He told me if Dad could survive Patton’s army in World War II, he would be just fine.”
“He never told me why he wanted to return,” recalled Bunn. “But I never saw him after that day.”
He was killed in July; his return date was scheduled for August. “I still miss Johnny,” he said.
Classmate John Reynolds read an email from Randall Brown sent when the sign was announced, reporting meeting a vet named Van Crowder in Florida who remembered his comrade.
“He got out a few weeks before John’s scheduled release date,” Brown wrote. “Soon after John’s release date came, Van drove from Ithaca, where he was from, to Cooperstown to locate John and welcome him back to New York.”
Crowder arrived in Cooperstown late and slept in his car, only to be awoken by a policeman the next day.
“He told the officer why he was there,” Reynolds read. “The cop said he was sorry to have to tell him, but they’d buried John just the week before. Van loved John Winslow, and he named his son Nathan Winslow Crowder.”