Just days before America honors its war dead on Memorial Day, high school students in York Springs got a chance to hear first-hand accounts from some of the men who served during World War II and lived to tell about it.
Everett Weiser, 88, served with the 553rd Military Police and Escort Company, which fought with the First Army on the Western Front.
Walter Greer, 89, served with the 11th Airborne division and parachuted 23 times in training and combat. He received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
Knud Hermansen, 86, served in Europe with the 8th Army Division, as one of the replacement troops. He also served two years in the National Guard during the Korean War.
David Lehigh, 88, served with the Fifth Air Force in the 380th Bomb Group, flying B-24s on 38 combat missions in the South Pacific.
All four men are members of the Richard J. Gross VFW (hash)8896 in East Berlin.
They were invited to Bermudian Springs High School Wednesday, to talk to students in Ryan Updike's history classes.
“This is the second year we've had veterans come in and talk to our students,” said Updike. “It gives both generations a chance to mix it up and offers our students a personal view of the war itself.”
And the rapidly-declining number of World War II vets makes it even more important to hear the stories they have to share, he noted.
Hermansen told the students he is proud to have served his country.
“At my age, looking back, the war was one of those `finding' moments of our lives,” he said. “It's something you think more on as you get older. When you first get out, you're too busy trying to make a life for yourself and your family.”
One student asked how difficult it was to come home and settle down after the war ended.
Weiser said he was fortunate that his father-in-law had farms and needed a hand.
“I started farming and I'm a farmer to this day,” he said.
Lehigh said he worked with his hands, but always wanted to be a history teacher and thought he should have gone back to school to become one.
“We learn from our past,” he said. “You can't go forward without something behind you to guide you.”
Greer got a job at a water company where his father-in-law worked.
Hermansen joined the ``52-20 Club'' until he could find work.
“It was a program for unemployed veterans - 20 dollars a week for 52 weeks - until they could find work,” he said.
Hermansen said the 52-20 Club, along with the GI Bill were some of the good things that came out of the war and helped soldiers get a good chance at life.
“Our generation was fortunate,” he said. “Housing was cheap and there was no shortage of jobs, if you were willing to work.”
“When 16 million GIs came back from the war, most of them discharged in 1945, you had a bunch of 25-year-old men and women back in the system. They couldn't stand still. We were full of so much piss and vinegar, we just had to go out and do something.”
There were waiting lists for things like refrigerators and automobiles. Some of the students seemed skeptical that Everett was able to buy a brand new Chevrolet in 1950 for just $1,600.
“We had some rough times before the war with the Depression, and during the war, but we had good times afterward,” said Hermansen. “Your generation will also face its own difficulties, but hopefully never another war like that one.”
Weiser recounted the story of how he met Gen. George Patton.
“We were in France for three weeks, directing traffic, and those big, two-and-a-half ton 6x6 trucks they used, you just could not turn them without backing them up first,” he said. “Well, one of them was bringing in war materials and it just stopped right there in the middle of the road and caused a jam. This jeep pulled up and out jumped the General. I could see his pocket pistols and I saluted him. And then he saluted me and I thought, `That's neat. A General saluting a PFC.' And then he said, `MP, What the hell is going on here? Get this damn thing straightened out right now!' And I said, `Yes, sir!' And then he turned around and walked back to his jeep and then turned back once more and said, `I mean NOW!' So there was a tank dozer there at the time and I went over to ask the driver of that bulldozer if he could build a road through that field over there and he gave me the `thumbs up' sign. He was rarin' to go on that dozer and he pushed back the bank and built us a road and we got that truck out of there and straightened the damn thing out.”
When talking about their roles, Hermansen joked about Lehigh about being “brass” while the other three were PFCs, but Greer said overseas, rank was not always brought to the forefront.
“We knew who our commissioned officers were, but they kept a low profile in combat. The Japanese snipers would know that if a soldier was dressed differently or had a cleaner uniform that he was probably an officer and they'd pick him off first,” he said.
Greer talked about being in the jungle down a hole with a machine gun section and knowing the enemy was out there somewhere.
“We eventually spotted him, a Japanese sniper in a tree. He was strapped to that tree because he knew he wasn't coming out of there alive, but first, he was going to take out as many of us as he could, or at least try to get our officer.”
Greer told the students that the Japanese fought differently than the Germans.
“They did not care much for life and they were very determined and shrewd,” he said. “If they were taken prisoner, sometimes they'd let themselves be taken with a grenade hidden on themselves somewhere so that they'd take out a few of us, or at least a hand or two, along with themselves. They just didn't care.”
Lehigh said the same about the kamikaze pilots. “They just weren't right.”
The men talked about their tobacco ration, which was part of their essentials. Lehigh said the chocolate, though, tasted like “sand in your mouth. And it didn't melt, not even in the jungle heat. Nasty stuff.''
Original story here: http://bit.ly/1abVDUX