Josh Bergeron: Two members of Rowan County’s Greatest Generation lost

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 29, 2021

One was in a tank battalion known as “Patton’s Spearheaders.” The other worked on a destroyer as a torpedoman’s mate.

After their service, one became a brick contractor. The other became a licensed plumber and supervisor of plumbing for the New York City Board of Education.

Figuratively and literally, both were members of the Greatest Generation.

Walter Leather, 95, died Monday at his daughter’s home. Bob Kluttz, 97, died at the Salisbury VA. They were both World War II veterans.

We knew Leather at the Post. He was a nice man who often visited to drop off letters to the editor and have friendly conversation.

He also was an avid photographer and was known to take photos of things at Oak Park Retirement and make copies for all the residents at his own expense. One of the last times he visited the Post, he dropped off a double-exposure photo with his letter to the editor that he wanted me to keep.

Leather was born in Massachusetts and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After the military, he became a plumber in New York City. He lived in Queens for 60 years before coming to Salisbury and Oak Park Retirement with his wife, Doris, to be near his daughter.

Leather was a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

Kluttz was a Rowan County native who graduated from Cleveland High School. He served in the U.S. Army in the 737th Tank Battalion. He worked as a brick mason, was a member of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, the American Legion, VFW and Andrew Jackson Masonic Lodge No. 576.

After the war Kluttz briefly tried his hand at railroad work before fashioning a career in brick masonry, telling Mark Wineka in 2015 that he “about got killed three times in three weeks.”

Along with Jim Deal, who was a member of the same battalion, Kluttz was a grand marshal of the 2015 Faith Fourth of July Parade. They were both drafted as teenagers. Kluttz was a gunner in Company A. Deal was in Company C.

Leather and Kluttz are part of the Greatest Generation because of the years they were born, 1926 and 1924, respectively. The group of people known as the Greatest Generation were born between 1901-1927, just after the Lost Generation and before the Silent Generation.

They also fought for a ensured the freedoms we enjoy today in America during World War II.

Even as the nation has been engaged in the longest period of conflict in its history in the Middle East, maybe we’ve lost sight of what it took to secure and maintain our freedoms — something that Leather and Kluttz knew well. A 2011 Pew Research Study found that a smaller share of Americans served in the U.S. Armed Forces than at any time in the country’s history.

That meant that the broader civilian population was growing more distant from connections to military personnel, the study said. It also meant gaps in public understanding about problems those in the military face and patriotism, respondents told surveyors.

To gain an understanding of sacrifices made in pursuit of America’s founding vision, we owe it to ourselves to learn the stories of local veterans before they grow too few and far between and the Post, as the community’s first draft of history, owes it to the public to redouble our efforts to chronicle the stories of those who served for future generations to read. The Post is working toward the latter and making plans to launch a series of features about Salisbury and Rowan County residents who served in the armed forces.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.