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Veterans' stories

Columnist Bill Herr taught high school mathematics and science for 32 years before serving as a volunteer and then as a staff chaplain at two nursing homes.  

By Bill Herr

There was one group of residents in the nursing home that had something in common–the veterans. Each had a story to tell. Here are three stories they told me.    

An Air Force veteran was in charge of the radio on a B-17. On a mission his plane was shot up badly and was flying back to the base. Two enemy planes approached from the opposite direction and passed on the sides. They turned around and came up behind the B-17. The resident said he made his peace with God. It turned out the planes were piloted by friendly Swedish pilots that escorted the B-17 safely back to the base.

An Army veteran was in a body of American soldiers that marched through what appeared to be a deserted German village. At the edge of the village they looked back and saw a German soldier waving a white flag where they had just been. The resident was the only soldier that could speak German so the commanding officer asked him to go back and speak to the German soldier.

The German turned out to be a lieutenant, and insisted he would only speak to an American lieutenant. The resident said he told the German his group didn’t have a lieutenant, but the enemy officer insisted.  

When the resident told what the German wanted, they hustled up a lieutenant from another company to speak to the German. He simply wanted to surrender 40 German soldiers to the Americans. They surrendered. They could have ambushed the Americans but chose to surrender.

A Marine veteran said he had been in the fighting on the island of Iwo Jima.  For five weeks the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history raged. 70,000 Marines and 18,000 Japanese soldiers took part in the battle. 7,000 Marines lost their lives and 20,000 were wounded. The resident said he was on Mount Suribachi and witnessed the raising of the American flag at the summit. A photographer captured the flag raising and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the famous photograph. The resident said he felt pride when he saw the raising. I asked him if he prayed during the battle. He responded, “All the time!”  

On the wall by my desk at the nursing home I posted a photo of young Marines on a ship taking them to Iwo Jima. Some had their shirts off and all heads were bowed as a chaplain with a Bible in his hand was praying. I sometimes wondered what their thoughts were. On my desk I kept a picture of my two uncles standing together in their uniforms. Both were in heavy fighting during WWII in different places. I always admired and appreciated the sacrifices of American service men and women, especially those that gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, to protect the freedoms we enjoy.