I gave Bench Hartman a ride to the D-Day picnic in Nazareth this month. It was the first time he’d gone to the celebration held each year by the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. He was invited to last year’s picnic, after I provided VBOB with the names, addresses and phone numbers of all the D-Day vets I knew of, but he didn’t make it.
This time he was happy he went.
Some 80 people, plus World War II re-enactors with a display of vehicles, showed up at the June 6 event in Boro Park marking the 67th anniversary of the invasion that doomed Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. Besides Bench, the subject of my 2006 D-Day war story in The Morning Call, eight other D-Day vets were there. Among the honorees were my war stories subjects from previous years — Joe Motil of Bethlehem and Nathan Kline of Allentown — and the subject of my story in that day’s paper, Ralph Mann of Coopersburg.
Absent were others who have been to the picnic in the past and were featured in my series War Stories: In Their Own Words: Dr. John Hoch of Nazareth; Dan Curatola, who is in the VA hospital in Wilkes-Barre, and Duncan Cameron,
who is in the Mary Ellen Convalescent Home near Hellertown.
VBOB President Morris Metz had the D-Day vets stand up one by one and talked about their service. Bench rose when his name was called. In awe and admiration, Morris told the crowd that Bench had parachuted into Normandy
with the 101st Airborne Division in the early morning darkness. Heartfelt applause broke out across the pavilion. Bench sat down, turned to me and said, “I’m glad you brought me.”
After the introductions, Bench shook hands with Ralph Mann, who made the jump with the 82nd Airborne Division. It was heartwarming to witness the meeting of these two ex-paratroopers in their late 80s, strangers until now, who had parachuted into northern France in the vanguard of the greatest invasion in history.
The vets were rounded up for photos. The one that accompanies this blog was taken by Dick Musselman, a leader of the Lehigh Valley Veterans History Project Roundtable.
On my way to work after dropping Bench off at his home in Hokendauqua, I thought about the dwindling fraternity of vets who came ashore on June 6, 1944 – and the ones I’ve interviewed who have since died: John Feninez of Allentown; Frank Cudzil of Schnecksville; John Desrosiers of Breinigsville; Earl Metz of Lopatcong Township, N.J.; John Umlauf of Allentown; Ernie Leh of South Whitehall Township; and Harold Saylor of North Catasauqua.
They’re on the honor roll of history. It’s good that I got their stories into the newspaper.
You can find all my D-Day stories, and the complete series,