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Honored for his mettle

May 31, 2003|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

While doing research, Jerome A. Gettler confirmed a rumor about his military past: He earned an aviation medal 59 years ago.

Gettler was a U.S. Air Force lieutenant and part of the 475th Fighter Group, nicknamed "Satan's Angels."

Gettler, 79, who has lived in Hagerstown for about four years, finally received his Air Medal on Friday during a Memorial Day observance at Martin L. "Marty" Snook Memorial Park.

The Joint Veterans Council of Washington County holds the ceremony annually on May 30, the true Memorial Day, not the last Monday of the month when the holiday traditionally is observed.

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The council invited U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., to present the medal to Gettler and invited new Maryland Secretary of Veterans Affairs Thomas E. Hutchins to speak.

Against a backdrop of veterans' plaques, sunlight, whizzing highway traffic and chirping birds, Hutchins told the small crowd about Memorial Day's roots.

In 1868, Union Gen. John Logan designated the day as a time to put flowers on the graves of soldiers who died during the Civil War. It was originally called Decoration Day.

"The important aspect is that we pause and give due respect," Hutchins said.

Bartlett retold a story about Benjamin Franklin after the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Asked by a woman what type of government the country would have, Franklin supposedly answered, "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."

At 227, the United States is the oldest republic in the world, due in large part to 1 million soldiers who over the decades gave "the last full measure of devotion," Bartlett said, quoting from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Bartlett also read from a proclamation extolling Gettler for his work as a pilot.

Although the proclamation honors Gettler for flying 34 combat missions, he said he actually flew 37 between November 1943 and May 1944. He was stationed in New Guinea.

His tour of duty was cut short because of dehydration.

The most vivid memories of that time, Gettler said, were the rough living conditions and the seasons opposite of what he was accustomed.

It was natural for a 19-year-old to be scared during a war, with "people shooting at you," and he was no different, he said.

Gettler flew a twin-engine P-38, which Bartlett said was his favorite military plane. The men stood together after the ceremony, pointing at the image on the patch on Gettler's jacket and describing features of the aircraft.

When he found out he was entitled to the Air Medal, Gettler contacted Bartlett's office for help getting it.

The proclamation cites "his knowledge and skill in combat flying in the Southwest Pacific area during this period, wherein he flew 34 combat sorties in P-38 aircraft and on numerous occasions in mortal combat with the enemy. His courageous action and skillful flying prevented potential disaster to member(s) of his flight, the bombers and the rescue aircraft he was escorting."

"Thank you very much, sir, for your service to your country," Bartlett told Gettler.

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