Gerald Elwood “Red” Traphagan, age 99, lifelong resident of McCook, NE passed away on Sunday, May 3, 2020 at Hillcrest Caring Center, McCook.
On February 4, 1921, Gerald Elwood joined his red-haired parents and siblings on the family farm 10 miles northeast of McCook. He was the fifth of six children born to Frederick Andrew and Mattie Josephine (Simmerman) Traphagan. On the farm, at a very young age, Elwood learned the value of hard work and his serious work ethic followed him his entire life. His parents taught their six children to be kind and always put family first.
Elwood first attended Red Willow Public Schools and at the age of 15 was given the job of driving the school bus. The Traphagans moved to McCook in 1936 and Elwood graduated from McCook High School in 1939. He worked for CB & Q Railroad until June 1942 when he enlisted in the US Navy.
Elwood’s Naval training was done at the Great Lakes Training Base. On his first sail on the USS Winona, the ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat. Elwood was blown from the starboard to the portside of the ship. As a result, both of Elwood’s eardrums were ruptured and he lived the rest of his life with a hearing loss. The Winona spent the next 5 months in Trinidad drydock, without any shore leave. He was then reassigned to the USS Murray and spent the next 2 years in the Pacific Ocean. The USS Murray was a DD576 Destroyer which provided cover for US Marines landing on the Pacific Islands. Elwood manned a 20 inch gun and fought at the following battles: Wake Island, Bougainville, Rabaul, Gilbert Islands at Tarawa, Kwajalein, Eniwetok and New Ireland, Aitape, New Guinea, Saipan, Guam, Wewak, Morobai, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa where they were hit by a Japanese bomb. During those two years, Elwood’s ship was credited with shooting down 10 Japanese planes, rescuing numerous downed pilots. Over the years, Elwood enjoyed “Tin Can” Naval reunions with his USS Murray mates.
After his Honorable discharge from the Navy, in December of 1945, Elwood returned to McCook. He went back to his job with the railroad, which required a trip Dr. E.F. Leininger’s Office for a railroad physical. It was there that Elwood met a cute nurse named Irene Pickrel. He asked her to a dance, she went and three months later they married on September 22, 1946. The couple was married for 71 and a half years until Irene died in 2018.
Elwood was involved in the following activities: Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, American Legion, Elks Club, VFW, Senior Center, YMCA, Memorial Methodist Church and helping Veterans throughout his life.
He worked for over 40 years for the railroad, starting our as a coal shoveling fireman, working both freight, branch lines and passenger services. When he started it was called the CB & Q, the Burlington Northern and then Burlington Santa Fe. When he retired, he was engineering the Am Track runs. At the time of Elwood’s death, he was the oldest retired “railroader”.
As a father, grandfather, and uncle, Elwood enjoyed being “Uncle Red”. He loved teaching the family and neighborhood kids to play ball, hunt, fish, play cards and made an effort to be at their school and sporting events. He frequently offered them numerous pieces of advice; “work before play”, “if it can’t be done before midnight, its probably not worth doing”, “if its worth doing, do it right”, “better to drive on the top half of the gas tank than the bottom” and “don’t expect someone else to clean up your mess”. He never knew a stranger and always extended a helping hand to those in need.
Elwood was preceded in death by his parents, Frederick and Mattie Traphaghan; wife, Irene Traphagan; siblings , Dorothy (William) Bortner, Marvin (Nellie) Traphagan, Verna (Edward) Mackey, Henry (Lois) Traphagan, and Faye (Frank) Korell; son and daughter in law, Gerald and Kathy (Kotschwar) Traphagan; and nephews, Gene (Gernadine) Bortner and Dee (Mary) Traphagan.
Those left to celebrate his life include daughter, Susan Yates of Yakima, WA; granddaughter, Amy (Todd) Johnson of Yakima, WA; grandson, Ryan Traphagan of Las Vegas, NV; granddaughter, Lindsey (Glen) Cowie of Melbourne, Australia; daughter in law, Mary Gould Traphagan of Chadron, NE; great granddaughters, Ashlen Johnson and Iris Cowie. Great grandsons, Trent Johnson and Liam Cowie; and a host of extended family members and lifelong friends.
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