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A time to remember

Local WWII veterans' visit to memorial brings back stories of War

Local WWII veterans' visit to memorial brings back stories of War

April 13, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

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Nearly 40 World War II veterans from Hagerstown visited the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

The free bus trip was made possible by local sponsors and the City of Hagerstown.

During the trip, some of the veterans were interviewed about their memories of the war.

Here are their stories.

George Grogan

George Grogan said he took part in an 18-mile retreat after the German army broke through American lines at the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.

A Jeep driver for most of World War II, Grogan, 83, said he watched as paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division raced in the opposite direction to meet the Germans in the town of Bastogne, Belgium.

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The 101st -- short of ammunition, medical supplies and food -- would withstand the German onslaught to hold the strategic crossroads town. It arguably was one of the war's most famous battles, one that was fought in the dead of winter.

Grogan said the retreating Americans didn't say much to the advancing 101st about the horrors that waited ahead.

"They seemed to know what they were doing," he said. "My memory doesn't seem to go back to some of the smaller details."

Grogan said he spent about 41 years in the service, including inactive and reserve duty. He later would serve in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam.

He said he had mixed feelings about seeing the Vietnam Memorial. The veterans didn't stop there, and Grogan said he had not visited it before.

"Maybe sometimes I think I don't want to see it," he said.

When asked whether the names of any of his dead friends would be memorialized on the wall, Grogan said, "Yes ... There would be some."

Kenneth Parks

Kenneth Parks said he was fortunate that his vessel was never sunk during World War II.

An armed guard in the Navy, Parks, 83, said his job was to protect merchant ships from enemy warplanes and submarines.

Parks said he saw action in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, manning guns to protect convoys that were 100 ships strong.

"We mostly saw German and Japanese subs," he said. "We also shot at airplanes as they attacked."

Parks said he wanted to join the Navy, but he was drafted in 1941 before he could sign up. Five years later, he was discharged.

Parks said his son, Garry, graduated form The Citadel and joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Garry fought in Vietnam and attained the rank of lieutenant general before he retired a few years ago, Parks said.

Paul Mentzer Sr.

In 1943, Paul Mentzer Sr. had just made a combat jump with the 82nd Airborne Division over Sicily and was drifting to the ground when a grave thought crossed his mind.

Intelligence showed that the German occupiers of the island built their machine gun pillboxes in round shapes. Mentzer said he thought he was about to land on one when he saw a circular figure directly beneath him.

As fate would have it, the circular shape was a wall of stones around an olive tree, Mentzer said. Farmers on the island built stone walls around the trees to keep animals away. Mentzer said he landed in the tree, freed himself and joined the fight.

"We had some combat," Mentzer said of the battle for Sicily that lasted more than a month. "There's no doubt about it."

Mentzer, 85, said he was in the National Guard when the Army asked for volunteers to join the paratroopers. The idea intrigued him, and in July 1942, he graduated from jump school at Fort Benning, Ga. Shortly thereafter, he was assigned to the 82nd.

Mentzer said he didn't jump into Normandy during D-Day on June 6, 1944, because his unit was awaiting replacements. He did, however, participate in Operation Market Garden -- the largest parachute operation in the history of warfare.

During Market Garden, British paratroopers and elements of the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions jumped into Holland on Sept. 17. Their objective was to capture bridges across the Rhine River so Allied forces could make a run into Germany.

Mentzer said his brother, Daniel, jumped with the 101st. Only a few days later, Mentzer was told Daniel had been killed in action on Sept. 18.

"I was sorry and sad," Mentzer said. "The chaplain got a hold of me."

In 1945, Mentzer was discharged and returned to Hagerstown, where he landed a job overseeing convicts while they worked on construction projects. Ten years later, he joined the Hagerstown Police Department and retired in 1983 as a lieutenant of detectives, he said.

Richard Long

Richard Long said he joined the Navy in 1944 -- just a year before World War II ended, but not too late to see his share of action.

Long was the 21-year-old skipper of a landing craft in the Pacific, he said. As part of the invasion forces at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, his job was to shuttle Marines from a troop ship to the shore, then go back to pick up another load.

Long, 85, said the landing craft were bombarded constantly by Japanese warplanes.

"We were not hit," Long said. "Unfortunately, others were. We were a slow-moving target."

Long said the mood of the roughly 40 Marines on each of his runs was mixed.

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