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World War II and Korean War vets honored at Suns game

On D-Day's 64th anniversary, memories shared

On D-Day's 64th anniversary, memories shared

June 06, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN -- Lester Hart stood proudly on the pitcher's mound Friday night and threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the game between the Hagerstown Suns and Lake County Captains at Municipal Stadium.

Hart, 90, had boasted that he could throw a baseball at about 99 mph.

But on the 64th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe, his thoughts and those of the many veterans who attended Friday's game were focused on that larger contest known as World War II, where winning ensured freedom for future generations of Americans.

"On D-Day, I was in the push through Italy," Hart said. "The news of D-Day made us smile, and then we went back to what we were doing."

Hart and about two dozen veterans of World War II and Korea were special guests at the game in honor of their service to their country.

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"What can we say but thank you, thank you, thank you," Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis Metzner said as he stepped to the microphone before the start of the game.

Metzner spoke of a spring bus trip to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., which the City of Hagerstown sponsored. All of the veterans who took advantage of that free trip also got free tickets to Friday's game.

"That trip was so successful, we are going to have another in the fall," Metzner said. "And we will keep on until all World War II veterans have seen the memorial."

Paul E. Wigfield was in Cairo, Egypt, when he learned of the D-Day invasion at Normandy. He was with the U.S. Air Force and NATO working on aircraft maintenance and loading.

"We hoped it would be over soon, but that optimism was tempered," he said. "We knew in our hearts it might drag on, and it did."

His wife, Helen Wigfield, was a WAVE during World War II.

"I was in Florida working as a parachute rigger when D-Day came," she said.

A Marine, John Gale, 83, was in the Pacific when news of D-Day arrived.

"We wondered what all the fuss was about," Gale said.

Later in 1944, on an island in the Pacific, Gale lost his arm and was shipped home.

George Brody, a U.S. Navy veteran who also served in the South Pacific during the war, said D-Day wasn't as pivotal to him as was the day the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan.

"We were lined up and ready to go to Tokyo when they dropped the bomb - that saved me," Brody said.

Paul Mentzer Sr., 85, was in England on June 6, 1944. His action came over Sicily, when he made combat jumps with the 82nd Airborne Division.

"I knew it wouldn't end the war," Paul Mentzer said of D-Day. Later that year, he participated in Operation Market Garden as the Allied forces continued their push into Europe.

Many of the veterans found themselves signing young Philip Mayhue's autograph book Friday night. The high school junior said about five years ago that he began researching his great uncle's military career during the Korean War.

"I found I just love talking with veterans," Mayhue said as he spoke with Paul Mentzer about his World War II experiences. "I have three of these books now with about 150 veterans' autographs."

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