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Veterans serve as grand marshals

October 31, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

World War II veteran John Leather said he guessed being one of the grand marshals of Saturday night's 80th annual Alsatia Mummers' Parade would be "all right."

"I'm just like millions of other guys. I went in, did what we had to do and got out," said Leather, 79, of Leitersburg.

Doing what Leather had to do included taking over as squad leader during the Battle of the Bulge, said fellow grand marshal and WWII veteran Fred Wishard, 79, of Hagerstown.

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Ten veterans, of whom nine served in WWII, were selected as grand marshals for this year's parade. Greg Henesy, of the 101st Airborne Living History Association, recruited them.

The other grand marshals were WWII veterans Forrest Guth, Clancy Lyall, Ed Shames, Guy Whidden, Ora Delauter, Willis Gunstone, and Meyer Chertoff and Vietnam veteran Tom Warren.

Shames, of Virginia Beach, Va., was grateful to the association for helping to pass along history.

He and the other grand marshals spoke to a reporter on Saturday about their experiences, while they were gathered at the Maryland Army National Guard Hagerstown Armory on Roxbury Road before the parade for dinner.

Shames, along with Guth and Lyall, were members of the 101st Airborne Company E, the "Easy Company" made famous by the "Band of Brothers" book and miniseries.

Shames, who reached the rank of colonel, said he was the first enlisted man in the 101st Airborne to receive a battlefield commission during World War II.

It was on June 13, 1944, his birthday. Shames wouldn't go into detail about what led to the promotion to 1st sergeant.

"I did probably no more than a lot of other people, but I guess somebody saw me do it," said Shames, 82.

Guth, 83, of Hockessin, Del., said it wasn't until author Stephen Ambrose got Easy Company together for the book that members talked to each other about the serious aspects of the war.

"I guess we didn't want to think about it or it didn't seem that important," Guth said.

"We always talked about the dumb things, the fun we had on pass and the tricks we played on each other," Guth said.

One of the funny parts, as Lyall, 80, of Lexington Park, Md., called it was when he was standing on a dike in Holland, under fire. He couldn't get more ammunition for his .30-caliber A6 light machine gun because the ammo supplier was hiding in a foxhole.

He came out quickly after Lyall jokingly tossed a grenade, with pin still attached, into the foxhole, Lyall said.

Guy Whidden, formerly of Hagerstown, returned recently from visiting the Netherlands.

Whidden said he's never talked too much about his war experience.

"It's not that I couldn't talk about it. It's just past history," said Whidden, 81, of Frederick.

But talking about his recent trip to the U.S. cemetery at Margarten in Holland brings up the names of fallen comrades who didn't get their acclaim, he said.

Whidden visited the graves of his best friend, Chuck Schmollinger, and his platoon officer, 1st Lt. Winfield Brungard. The pouring rain ceased when he arrived at the grave sites and returned as he left, he said.

They had parachuted into Holland on Sept. 17, 1944, and were taking heavy casualties during the Battle of Best when a mortar round killed three soldiers and injured Whidden.

Whidden and Schmollinger were talking when it hit.

"The conversation ended right there," he said. Schmollinger died quickly and Whidden's right leg was almost separated above the ankle with the bones protruding.

He treated the wound with sulfur powder and wrapped it, moving around to check on others by dragging his leg. An officer picked Whidden up and carried him on his shoulders to a Dutch farmhouse and Whidden was later evacuated by Jeep to a hospital, Whidden said.

Whidden said he was tagged to have his leg amputated above the ankle, but he refused so the doctor, an officer, left the ankle attached and treated the wound without giving a local anesthetic.

As a motor sergeant, Delauter, 90, of Cavetown, drove around with five mechanics repairing vehicles, including tanks.

His scariest moment came on Dec. 10, 1944, when his unit had just pulled into a forest in Germany to make camp for the night.

"I got hit by a piece of a bomb dropped by a plane," Delauter said. He was trying to get under a halftrack when he was hit. With shrapnel cutting the ligaments in his right leg, Delauter crawled into a foxhole in case another bomb was coming.

"If you weren't scared, you weren't there," he said.

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