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WWII veterans share stories of surviving war

November 12, 2006|by DON AINES

War stories are best retold rather than lived through, the filter of time helping give voice to memories many veterans would rather not relive.

Recalling the last of his 20 missions over Europe as the ball turret gunner in a B-17 Flying Fortress still brought tears to the eyes of Karl Rohrer, one of several World War II veterans who fielded questions Saturday at Honoring Our Veterans, a Veterans Day tribute sponsored by The Herald Mail Co. and Valley Mall.

Rohrer's unit, the 100th Bomber Group, became known as "The Bloody Hundred," having lost 177 aircraft and nearly 2,000 crewmen during the war.

Hundreds of veterans of America's wars, their families and friends gathered in the mall's food court to hear tributes to the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, and the recollections of a panel of World War II veterans.

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"Every time I climbed into the ball turret and closed that lid, it was like closing the lid on my coffin," Rohrer said, explaining that Luftwaffe fighters usually attacked from behind and below. One time, he accidentally fired on an American P-47 escort fighter, and got an earful from that pilot after the mission.

Rohrer said he did not consider himself a hero for his service.

"I consider myself a survivor," he said.

Rohrer's wife, Nelda, also was on the panel, having enlisted in the Women's Army Corps, as did Florence Miles, who signed up to serve after her brother was killed in North Africa.

"If I were 64 years younger, I'd go today because I'd have the opportunity to carry a gun," Miles said when asked if she would do it all over again.

Charles E. Trite Sr. was just 15 when his brother was killed on Iwo Jima. He told a doctor he lost his birth certificate, and got his mother to say he was 17 so he could enlist in the Navy. The number of underage veterans is unknown, but the youngest known to have served was 12, Trite said.

Wayne Kiser and Asher Edelman were boyhood friends, and served together in the 101st Infantry Regiment of the 26th Infantry Division. Edelman said a shrapnel wound that sent him back to England to recuperate resulted in his missing the Ardennes Offensive in December 1944.

"I missed the Battle of the Bulge. Wayne Kiser had to solve that battle all by himself," Edelman joked.

Arthur "Red" Spangler was an optician in a unit that fashioned 25,000 pairs of eyeglasses in the field, including a pair for Third Army commander Gen. George Patton. He also recalled the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald.

"It was a horrible scene," said Spangler, recalling that the GIs were told not to feed the malnourished inmates because the food might kill them.

Some of the veterans said it was a different time, that they expected to enlist or be drafted. They also praised today's men and woman of the all-volunteer armed forces for serving in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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