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Honoring Heroes with an Honor Flight

It was a day that would live not in infamy but in honor, and in the memories of 40 World War II veterans and their guardians. They were aboard an all-day Honor Flight that whisked members of the “Greatest Generation” to our nation’s capital to finally see and touch the World War II Memorial dedicated in honor of their service.

Their Stories
The WWII veterans from various armed services on the Honor Flight each came with a different story.

Norman Veron, an Army soldier, fought at the Battle of Tunisia and spent nearly two years at a prisoner of war camp—some of it at Stalag VII A in Moosburg, Germany.

Marvin Brumleve, just 17 when he joined the Navy in 1946, joined the Naval Reserve in 1950 following World War II and wound up serving stateside on an aircraft carrier during the Korean war.

Jack Winburn, an Army medic, was in Burma in Southeast Asia when the atomic bomb was dropped.

Fred Woods was drafted into the Army and sent to North Africa. Clinton Springate, drafted into the Navy, worked as an air gunner.

David Obernuefemann, drafted into the Army right out of high school, was part of the tank corps at the invasion of Normandy.

In Tribute and Memorial
The World War II Memorial, opened in 2004, pays tribute to the 16 million who served in the United States Armed Forces, the 400,000-plus who died, and all who supported the war effort on the home front. Showcasing a series of 24 bas-relief sculpture panels—12 depicting the Atlantic front and 12 depicting the Pacific front—the memorial is flanked by the Washington Monument to the east and the Lincoln Memorial to the west.

“It’s much more elaborate than I thought it would be,” says James Carder, who was drafted into the Marine Corps at age 18—a replacement at Iwo Jima. When his tour of duty was unfinished at the end of the war, he was stationed at Quantico, Virginia, where he spent time in the D.C. area during 1946. “We used to run up the 500 or so steps of the Washington Monument.”

“It’s a beautiful spot,” says Woodford “Woody” Hatfield from his wheelchair near the memorial’s Freedom Wall and its 4,000 gold stars commemorating the more than 400,000 who gave their lives in the war. An Army draftee, Hatfield was awarded the Purple Heart for pulling a wounded soldier from a battlefield while all chaos broke loose.

Says Hatfield: “I didn’t want a medal; I wanted to go back home to Kentucky.”

John Eberle served with the Navy in the South Pacific and is one of four over-90-year-old veterans traveling on this October Honor Flight.

Jim Lewis, a Navy veteran, calls himself one of the lucky ones: “I didn’t see any battle.”

O. Thomas Bell, another Navy veteran, says he felt guilty: “These guys did so much more than me.”

Thank You
Family, friends, volunteers—even strangers—showed their admiration and gratitude. And show they did.

Attendants aboard the Southwest Airlines flight, from the Louisville International Airport to Baltimore/Washington International Airport, spent much of the flight posing for pictures with and giving shout outs to the veterans.

“Anybody at the Normandy invasion?” “Anyone with the 70th Infantry?”

A United States Army band launched into Over There and God Bless America—among other patriotic tunes—for a rousing concert when the former soldiers arrived in Baltimore.

At the memorial there was a touching greeting by members of all branches of the military dressed in full regalia.

Care and respect were shown to the veterans by everyone involved in the Honor Flight—including the Washington, D.C., bus driver who gave his tip back to the Honor Flight program.

The welcome home reception rendered veterans, guardians, and everyone traveling on the flight speechless, with applause, balloons, and lots of heartfelt “thank yous” at the Louisville airport.

At each step of the journey, the veterans were honored and feted, whether by design or serendipity, which was the case when the University of Louisville women’s lacrosse team learned the WWII veterans shared their boarding gate area for the return flight—and created something of a media frenzy. Swarming the ex-soldiers like paparazzi surrounding rock stars, the young women asked questions, swapped jokes, and posed for pictures with them.

“Well,” says Jack Winburn, as he smiled. “Well.”

During the return flight, the lacrosse teammates delivered thank-you notes to the veterans that had been made by elementary school students.

As he opened his handwritten note adorned with flowers, Marvin Brumleve says, “Somebody sure went to a lot of trouble for us.”

Speaking on behalf of a grateful nation, we couldn’t agree more.


PORTRAIT OF A HERO

Born in Indiana in June 1920, Norman Veron was inducted into the armed forces in Louisville on October 27, 1941. Assigned to the 2nd Platoon Company D 11th Battalion for basic training, Veron ultimately was assigned to Company F 168th Infantry 34th Division and sent to Belfast, Ireland, where he received commando training in preparation for the Allied invasion of North Africa.

On August 6, Veron arrived in Scotland and then, three months later, on November 8, 1942, he joined the fighting during the invasion of Algeria, heading east toward Tunisia. On February 17, 1943, Veron, along with 3,000 or so other American soldiers, was taken prisoner at Faid Pass.

“Rommel’s army cut us off,” he says. “Their 60-ton German Tiger tanks broke through our lines and surrounded most of us.

“You can’t fight a tank with a gun.”

Veron was marched to Tunisia City, flown across the Mediterranean Sea to Naples, Italy, and sent by boxcar through Brenner Pass in the Alps to Stalag VII A at Moosburg, Germany, arriving on March 16 of that year.

“We were ‘processed’ for two or three weeks. They loaded us like cattle on boxcars and shipped us north.”

Veron eventually arrived at ABTKDO #1 Camp 255 at Trattendorf, a prisoner of war (POW) work camp.

“I was forced to carry cement bags to a hopper on rails to be mixed for concrete,” he recalls. “I had to push the hopper over unsafe scaffolding and carry and lift other material for the construction of a power plant.”

And like the other POWs, he faced the daily grind on a near-empty stomach. “Nourishment” at the camp consisted of rutabaga soup, ersatz coffee or tea, a few boiled potatoes, and bread. For several months in 1944, Veron remembers receiving a weekly Red Cross parcel that contained a tin of liverwurst, a tin of Spam, raisins, chocolate, and cigarettes.

“Then it was cut to a half box and then it was whenever the Germans wanted—which was very rare.”

On April 16, 1945, the POWs left #1 Camp and were marched through snow and ice across Germany. They were given a little water and bread and slept, two sharing a single Army blanket, on the road or in sheds or barns.

“The last night I was a prisoner, a small group of us slept in an abandoned dairy barn,” he says. “The next morning there were no German guards.

“The Russian troops arrived on April 24 and we were told to stay in the area. We lived off the farms, eating eggs and milk, canned foods, and chicken. We butchered a bull and ate that, but I became very sick—the food was too rich for me.”

Eventually, Veron was flown to Camp Lucky Strike at Reims, France, then to West Virginia, and finally to Indiana and home, arriving on June 27, 1945. A handful of days later, he married his “sweetheart,” Norma Collins.

Veron’s story of service and devotion to his country didn’t end with his September 17, 1945, discharge from the Army. The Verons’ son, Murray Lee, born on July 4, 1946, was drafted into the Army in September 1966 and began a tour of duty on July 24, 1967. On January 31, 1968, at 21 years of age, the couple’s only son was killed at Gia Dinh in South Vietnam.


A KENTUCKIAN IN THE PACIFIC

Story by Paul Wesslund

Samuel Edward Holly didn’t visit the WWII Memorial with the Honor Flight veterans in this story, but he shares their experience of an intense span of history.

Holly spent nearly all his life in western Kentucky’s Fulton County, except for his 20 months of service, including seven months on the eight square miles of Iwo Jima island.

As a seaman in the Seabees, the Navy’s construction force, Holly came ashore near the end of the battle known for the iconic flag raising memorialized at Arlington Cemetery.

Holly sorted mail. He operated a rock-crushing truck as part of making roads and airport runways. To find his way around the pork chop-shaped island, he drew a map from memory. Early one morning a last assault by the Japanese attacked the airfield, where he camped. But fighting was for the Marines—Seabees weren’t supposed to shoot “unless fired upon.” So he didn’t.

In the painfully modest “Greatest Generation” style, he scolded me when I told him about printing his story in Kentucky Living: “Don’t try to build me up as a hero.”

He returned to Fulton County after the war, where he worked as the U.S. Department of Agriculture county executive director, and where he and his wife, Doris, had three children. He and Doris were married 77 years as
of June 3, and she passed away June 26, 2010. At 96 years old, he lives just across the state line in South Fulton, Tennessee. His grandson, Bob Nerren, works as an apprentice lineman for Hickman-Fulton Counties Rural Electric Co-op.

On his way home from Iwo Jima just after the war, Holly traveled to Japan with a group of other servicemen. He wrote a four-page memoir of the trip, noting the destruction, the desperate living conditions, and the children who would call to him for chocolate and chewing gum.

His remembrance concluded, “Possibly the treatment that the Americans show the Japanese now will have enough effect on the coming generations that this race will learn to get along with the rest of the world. These little children who already say ‘hallo’ and ‘thank you’ as the Americans feed them are the beginning of that new understanding between races.”


ADOPT-A-VETERAN CHALLENGE

Honor Flight Bluegrass Chapter is a Louisville-based, nonprofit organization created to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. Their mission: To “fly our heroes to Washington, D.C., to visit and reflect at their memorials.” Top priority is given to the senior veterans, including WWII survivors and veterans that may be terminally ill.

Donations to help sponsor an awaiting veteran for a seat on a flight can be made online at www.honor flightbluegrass.org
or by mailing a check (made payable to “Honor Flight”) to Honor Flight, P.O. Box 43986, Louisville, KY 40253.

To be considered for an Honor Flight, WWII veterans can download and print the application form online and return it by mail, fax, or by computer.

To learn about volunteer opportunities, contact Captain Brian Duffy, Honor Flight Bluegrass Chapter, (502) 550-3093 or by e-mail at honorflight @insightbb.com.


KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: To read more about the Washington, D.C., trip and the national Honor Flight Network, go to Honor Flight.

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