It’s one thing to see the awesome National World War II Memorial, and doubly stirring to experience it in the company of people it honors.
I was fortunate to have that opportunity on Saturday.
The Lehigh Valley Veterans History Project Roundtable brought a busload of 25 World War II veterans and their companions to Washington, D.C.
Invited to go along, I brought my friend Dan Curatola of Bethlehem, who was a few days shy of his 91st birthday and struggling with a gimpy right knee. I had done Dan’s story in two parts for my Morning Call series War Stories: In Their Own Words in 2009. http://www.mcall.com/news/all-a1_5curatola1.6866562may25,0,4282737.story http://www.mcall.com/news/all-online1qsyl.6910821may26,0,2387967.story
If any vet deserved to walk the monument to American spirit, commitment and sacrifice, it is Dan. As a 1st Infantry Division soldier, he fought in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy, where he was in the first wave to hit Omaha Beach on D-Day. He was badly wounded two days later.
Dan was in sterling company. Other aging warriors in our group included Wilmer Myers of Sellersville, who served in the 5th Army’s 681st Ordnance Company in North Africa and Italy, and his buddy, Dwight Rist of the Quakertown area, a 28th Infantry Division vet who fought in the Huertgen Forest and Battle of the Bulge.
There was Gordon Higgins of Whitehall, a veteran of the 431st Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion attached to the 1st Infantry Division. He came with his daughter, Debbie Nagy of Orefield. There was Pearl Harbor survivor Dick Schimmel of Allentown, an Army vet who worked with the radar operators on Oahu. I did his story in 2007. http://www.mcall.com/news/warstories/all-richard-schimmel,0,2980600.story And there was Morris Metz of the 94th Infantry Division, who came with his wife, Dorothy. Morris, who lives near Easton, is president of the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge.
We got a tour of Arlington National Cemetery, where our guide pointed out the graves of such luminaries as Audie Murphy and Claire Chennault. At the Tomb of the Unknowns, we were among hundreds who stood in respectful silence for the changing of the guard.
Then our group of more than 50 joined thousands in the sun at the National World War II Memorial, some of our members in wheelchairs.
The roundtable’s tribute to the World War II vets wasn’t over when we got back to the Lehigh Valley in the evening. The Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem treated us to an elegant dinner at Emeril’s Chop House, where we spent some two hours in fellowship.
“It was a good day,” Dan said afterward while I was driving him home.
We have the Lehigh Valley Veterans History Project Roundtable to thank for it. This dedicated volunteer group meets in Allentown and works “to collect, document and preserve the personal experiences of U.S. wartime veterans, as well as home front workers and volunteers who supported the war effort,” according to its website, http://www.lvveteranshistory.org/. Mike Sewards, Dick Musselman and Tony Phillips organized and raised money for the trip and led our group.
It was a job well done.
This first trip to D.C. for local vets won’t be the last. The roundtable is planning another one for next spring.