Who are the GIs of Comedy?

GIs Korea

Greetings from Korea, the Land of the Rising Sun…wait, that’s not right. Why can’t we get it right?

Who are the GIs of Comedy? Well, per the bio The GIs of Comedy is a comedic troupe of troops, who have taken their love of their country and brought it to the comedy stage. Quite simply, as the motto says, they’re Standup Comics. All Veterans. Still Serving Their Country. One Joke At A Time.

GIs logo

And there are a handful of us, however, on this current Fall 2015 tour to Korea & Japan, there are five of us, courtesy of Armed Forces Entertainment. So, again, who are we? What are we? Apparently, that’s open for debate.

Thom Tran, US Army, ret.

Thom Tran, SSG (ret.) US Army

Follow Thom on Twitter.

First of all there’s the creator of the GIs. His name is Thom Tran. He was born in Vietnam but raised in Buffalo. He’s a medically retired Staff Sergeant who was injured in Iraq in 2003. To be more specific he was shot in the head and awarded a Purple Heart. He the Asian guy in Call of Duty Black Ops. Which Asian guy? All of them. Really. But who is he? What is he? People ask all the time. In fact, the Korean flight attendants on Korean Air started talking to him in Korean.

Major, USAF Reserves

Major, USAF Reserves

Follow Jose on Twitter.

Jose Sarduy is a pilot/instructor for the Air Force when he’s not telling jokes. He’s a graduate of the Air Force Academy and has served for 20 years. He even flew President Bush to China. But who is he? The Mexican and Puerto Rican sergeants at lunch the other day were amazed that he was an expert salsa dancer. Why were they amazed? “Because he was white.” So is he? No. What is he? What kind of name is Sarduy? It’s Cuban. Jose was born in Cuba and raised in Miami.

I met Thom and Jose in 2012. We’ve toured extensively. Great comedians! Great guys! Great Americans! Then there are the rest of the “GIs of the Comedy” as we were once dubbed by a local television anchor in Buffalo. But I’ll talk about us, too, extensively. Sherwood Schwartz dissed the Professor and Mary Ann on the early opening theme of Gilligan’s Island by referring to them as “the rest.” They were just as important as “the millionaire and his wife” and so are the rest of the GIs.

Key Lewis, US Navy

Key Lewis, US Navy

Follow Key on Twitter.

Key Lewis is a veteran of the US Navy. I met Key last year when we entertained troops in Italy, Jordan, Israel, and Jordan. He such a great comedian and so full of energy. Great guy who loves his family, hats, and shoes, but who is he? What is he? He tells a great joke that starts with: “I’m half white, half black, and look Mexican.” And everyone thinks that. He says he didn’t have a choice. Hell, I even call him “Llave” which is Spanish for key.

Ralph Figueroa, US Army

Ralph Figueroa, US Army

Follow Ralph on Twitter.

My newest pal is Ralph Figueroa. We did a show together over the summer in Vegas. He served in the Army for 12 years. Our paths likely crossed at Ft. Sill back in the mid-90’s and we have hit it off well. Ralph is a great guy, too, and does so much to give back to veterans. It’s quite impressive. He’s into cars and hair gel. He let me borrow some last night and after a show, walking in the rain, and 7 hours of sleep, my hair is still holding up well. But who is Ralph? What is Ralph? He’s half Mexican, half El Salvadoran, yet everyone thinks he’s Puerto Rican. They call him “Papi.”

Jody Fuller, Major, USAR

Jody Fuller, Major, USAR

Follow me on Twitter.

Then there’s me. Everyone else has their photo taken in front of a brick wall. I got a tree. I’m cool with that. They’re all big city guys. I’m not. I’m an Army guy for 23 years and counting…Enlisted, Officer, Reserves, National Guard, Regular Army, Salvation Army, you name it and I’ve done it in the Army…but who am I? What am I? I’m a white guy from Alabama, so naturally, people think I speak Roll Tide. I don’t. Not me. I’m an Auburn guy. War Eagle!

So now you know a little bit more about us, specifically, who we are. Now don’t get it mixed up again…

And a special thanks to our tour manager, Kennon, who is doing a great job and has her hands full keeping us all straight. I don’t envy her position at all. She also just happens to be Thom’s fiance.

Thom created the GIs of Comedy hoping to bring the therapy of laughter to troops still serving in combat zones, and technically Korea is still at war, even though they have a Captain D’s, Krispy Kreme, and the largest Base Exchange I have ever seen here at Osan.

Korea / Japan tour schedule

Korea / Japan tour schedule- Y’all come see us!

I’m honored to be able to entertain troops all around the world, but it’s even more special doing with such a great group of guys. I’m not just blowing smoke, I mean it. Now if we could just come up with a joke that starts with “A Korean, a Mexican, a Puerto Rican, a Bama fan, and a white guy named Jose walk into a bar….”

GIs Korea 2

Click here for the official website of the GIs of Comedy.

Click here for the official Facebook of The GIs of Comedy.

Click here for the official Twitter account of The GIs of Comedy.

Click here for the official Instagram account of The GIs of Comedy.

Sorry, we don’t do Pinterest…

Promo pic small

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He is also a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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Freedom isn’t free

Freedom isn’t free

Penland Wall edit

I took this photo at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor in 2012.

I took this photo at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor in 2012.

Memorial Day weekend is upon is. The kids are out of school. It’s time to fire up the grill. It’s time to head to the pool, lake, or beach. It’s time to party with family and friends. It’s the beginning of the summer. That’s what Memorial Day is all about, right?

Wrong.

Memorial Day is a federal holiday which occurs each year on the final Monday of May. It should not be confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, whereas Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, living or dead.

I took this pic at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.Not taking the time to reflect upon the fallen service member and his or her sacrifices on Memorial Day is akin to not taking the time to reflect upon Jesus Christ and his sacrifice at Easter.

Unlike other holidays, we don’t receive tangible gifts on Memorial Day; however, thanks to all of the brave men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice, we do receive the intangible gift of freedom.

One of those brave warriors was Sergeant First Class (SFC) Raymond D. Penland.

Penland 2

I first learned about SFC Penland by way of his son and my dear friend, Opelika native and resident, Steve Penland.
Raymond D. Penland was born July 5, 1921, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Although he started his senior year of high school, he never finished, but that wouldn’t prevent him from living a remarkable life.

He enlisted in the Army on Feb 23, 1940, at the age of 19.

Unfortunately, SFC Penland’s service record is largely unknown.

On July 12, 1973, there was a fire at the National Personnel Records Center, located just outside of St. Louis, that destroyed 80% of the records for U.S. Army personnel discharged over a nearly 50 year span from 1912 to 1960. Additionally, 75% of the records for U.S. Air Force personnel discharged from 1947 to 1964 were also destroyed.

None of the records that were destroyed in the fire had duplicate copies made, nor had they been copied to microfilm.

Regrettably, up to 18 million service records were destroyed leaving veterans and families alike looking for answers.

The family has no record of where Penland attended basic training, but older son, Raymond (Ray) C. Penland, through due diligence alone, has been able to obtain some of his father’s records.

After completing basic training, Penland was assigned to 2nd Infantry Division (ID) as a rifleman from 1940-42, which is significant to me, because I, too, was assigned to 2ID, albeit 61 years later.

Over the next few years, Penland’s stellar performance would allow him to rise up the ranks of 10th Infantry Regiment holding such positions as squad leader, platoon guide, and platoon sergeant.

Penland was part of the greatest generation and saw action in the European theater during World War II. While serving with 10th Infantry, he was awarded his first of two Purple Hearts for injuries sustained along the Moselle River in Northern France.

In 1946, Penland was assigned to recruiting duty in, of all places, Opelika, Alabama. His time here would be very productive.

Raymond D. Penland married Opelika native Sara H. May in Troup County, Georgia, on March 1, 1947.

Over the next few years, Ray and Steve would come along, respectively.

Also, while in Opelika, Penland would go on to earn his GED.

In 1949, SFC Penland returned to 10th Infantry where he reassumed his role as Platoon Sergeant.

He departed Ft. Benning, Georgia, for Korea in July of 1950, just weeks after the outbreak of the Korean War.

Due to the fire of 1973, the family has little knowledge of his duties in Korea, although they do know he was assigned to Company L, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.

According to a letter from CPT McCaffrey, his Commanding Officer, on December 16, 1950, Penland departed the Company Headquarters with the Executive Officer and a driver in order to go to the rear for ammunition. During their return, they were ambushed by a group of North Korean soldiers, and, sadly, Sergeant First Class Raymond D. Penland was killed in action by machine gun fire.

His XO and driver were wounded in the attack.

His unit was evacuated by sea just three days later.

He was just 29 years old. He would leave behind a young wife, the mother of his two sons.

For his leadership and valor, SFC Penland was awarded two Purple Hearts, the American Defense Service Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Good Conduct Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.

The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917 with the U.S. military.

The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917 with the U.S. military.

The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917 with the U.S. military.

He was most likely awarded additional medals including the Bronze Star. Unfortunately, that can’t be verified at this time due to the fire at the records center.

Records show that SFC Penland is buried in what is registered as United Nations Military Cemetery #2 in Hungnam, North Korea; however, there is no evidence of him actually being there. They were intentionally hidden so the enemy wouldn’t dig up the remains for their clothing. There are 48 other soldiers buried there with him. Furthermore, there are thousands of other U.S. servicemen still buried in North Korea.

In the early nineties, Ray, retired U.S. Navy, was stationed in Japan and went to Korea on assignment. His unit visited the U.N. base in P’anmunjom on the demilitarized zone. This is the closest any member of the Penland family has ever been to SFC Penland’s grave.

His name is inscribed on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. This Honolulu memorial is also known as “The Punchbowl.”

Penland Cemetery

I took these photos in Jan 2014.

Penland Wall edit

Korea has often been referred to as “The Forgotten War” because of the lack of public attention it received both during and after the war, but I can assure you that neither the Penland family nor the families of the more than 33,000 casualties from the Korean War have ever forgotten.

“I was 9 months old and my brother was almost 3 when my mother received the telegram. There’s never a day that goes by that I don’t think about him and wish that one day he can be brought back home and given a final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery,” said Steve.

Ray sums it up well, “Each memorial day I remind my friends that there are missing servicemen and women all over the world. They are in unmarked graves in cities, jungles, deserts, and at sea. As we celebrate our nation’s greatness, let us not forget those who gave their all for their country and may never come home again.”

So enjoy the freedom that this holiday allows. Enjoy the outdoor recreation, the barbeques, and the start of summer, but I encourage you to take a moment and reflect upon those men and women whose sacrifice paved the way for you to do so, because a true reflection of this sacred day clearly shows that freedom is not free.

kid with flag

This is what Memorial Day is really about.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier. He is also a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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