I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed June 6 as I looked at the nine D-Day veterans seated in front of me, all in their late 80s and beyond.
It was the picnic put on at Nazareth Boro Park by the Lehigh Valley chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge to honor local men who had taken part in the great assault on Normandy 68 years ago.
There were Bulge veterans, World War II re-enactors, a TV crew from Channel 69, interested folks like me in the crowd. Of the nine D-Day vets, I had done “in their own words” stories on seven of them, so most of the faces were familiar.
I introduced Bench Hartman, of the 101st Airborne Division, to Ralph Mann, of the 82nd Airborne. They had made the drop behind the beaches. And I got Joe Motil of the 4th Infantry Division to chat with Bob Gangewere of the 90th Division. They had both hit Utah Beach. Bob was the subject of my war story that day in The Morning Call. Here’s the link: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-dday-veteran-gangewere-20120605,0,660028.story
The other D-Day vets at the picnic were Dr. John Hoch, a Navy helmsman/signalman on an LCT, or landing craft tank; Dr. David Beyerly of the 1st Infantry Division, who hit Omaha Beach; Nate Kline, a B-26 bombardier/navigator with the 323rd Bomb Group; the Rev. Ed McElduff, a Navy ensign aboard a landing ship tank, the LST 981; and Dick Schermerhorn of the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment.
Their backs and legs are no longer strong, their eyes don’t see so well and their ears can’t hear as they once did.
I had given Bench a ride to the picnic. When I picked him up at his home in Hokendauqua, he struggled walking to my car, settled into the seat and sighed.
“Don’t get old,” he quipped.