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'Modest group of heroes' honored at event

May 27, 2006|by DON AINES

SCOTLAND, Pa. - Dolores Flood can keep a secret.

As a member of the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during World War II, she was involved in breaking enemy codes.

"We helped shorten the war by what we did," the 85-year-old Chambersburg, Pa., resident said Friday at an event honoring World War II veterans at the Scotland School for Veterans Children. WAVES helped build and operate the machines used to decipher Japanese and German military codes, she said.

What Flood and other WAVES did during the war remained a secret until it was declassified decades later, she said.

"My husband passed away and never knew what I did," she said.

Flood was among 208 World War II veterans from Franklin County attending the ceremony hosted by state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland. Each received a bronze medallion marking their war service.

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Memorial Day honors those who gave their lives in the nation's wars, but the holiday weekend began by honoring those who came back from World War II, rebuilt their lives, raised families and contributed to their country in peacetime.

"They were a modest group of heroes and they still are," Kauffman told the veterans and family members.

Col. Robert A. Swenson, the commander of Letterkenny Army Depot, gave the veterans his thanks for their "amazing accomplishments" during and after the war, as well as an update on today's Army and the war in Iraq.

"We have a moral obligation to the Iraqi people to put their country back together," Swenson said. Creating a democracy in a country with no history of that form of government is not an easy task, he said, noting that it was difficult for this country despite 150 years of experience in self-rule before the Revolutionary War.

The number of soldiers, sailors and Marines that served in World War II has declined from the 16 million that were in uniform then to about 3 million now, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The department estimated the county's population of World War II veterans at 3,046 as of May 1, county Director of Veterans Affairs Robert Harris Jr. said. Even the youngest veterans have seen their 79th or 80th birthdays.

After the ceremony, Ed Baer, 82, Leslie "Casey" Jones, 83, and Norman "Sparky" Ott, 84, all originally from Shippensburg, Pa., rehashed old times. Baer served on a Navy LST (Landing Ship Tank) at Omaha Beach on D-Day; Jones with the Army's 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion from North Africa to Germany; and Ott, who now lives in Georgia, served with the Army in the South Pacific.

For them, war was a family matter, with nine brothers between them also joining the armed forces. A few feet away was Baer's brother-in-law, Jack Mellott, 80, of Shippensburg, a Navy veteran of the South Pacific.

Nearby was Gus Bitner, 82, of Chambersburg, a member of a Navy gun crew on a Liberty ship that was sunk while at anchor off Normandy.

"It's something you wouldn't want to go through again, but you wouldn't trade it for the world," Jones said of their wartime experiences.

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