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Washington Co. vets share moment in the sun at WWII Memorial

October 27, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "I've gone 82 times around the sun," Louis Heinrich Jr. quipped, "and I only feel like I'm 35."

Sixty-three of those rotations have come since World War II ended.

It was only four years ago, however, that a memorial to those who fought in the war was finished in Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, Heinrich was among about 60 Washington County veterans of his era to see the memorial and the United States Marine Corps War Memorial, depicting the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima.

Thanks to the efforts of the City of Hagerstown, Washington County and business sponsors, the trip and two meals were free.

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Several veterans said the experience was priceless.

"I was very emotional," said Heinrich, who lives in Leitersburg. "They are the heroes ... They paid the ultimate price."

Heinrich, who livened up the trip with his yodeling, said that during the war, he was on a flat-bottom cargo ship produced in Hog Island, Pennsylvania.

"They were 9 knots, top speed," he said. "We had to go out and row -- row, row your boat."

Charles Kelley of Clear Spring was stationed 60 miles north of Tokyo with the 99th Field Artillery, 1st Cavalry Division.

He said he was a radio operator for 17 months in 1946 and 1947.

Kelley, 82, said the size and layout of the World War II Memorial were terrific -- something he wouldn't have seen if not for the city setting up the visit.

His wife, Carolee, who needed to accompany him, said she didn't feel comfortable driving to Washington, D.C.

"At his age, he doesn't have that many chances left to see these things," she said.

During the war, Bob Johnston, 85, traveled across the country for naval aviation training.

"I loved every minute if it," Johnston said.

However, "I never got into combat like I wanted to," he said.

After seeing the World War II Memorial, Johnson said, "I thought it was fantastic how they finally put it together. I'm sure everybody in here would echo my thoughts ... We waited a long time."

He added that the organizers did a fine job with every last detail of the trip.

The city took a busload of Hagerstown veterans to see the memorial in the spring.

Johnston, who lives outside Hagerstown, was among those put on a waiting list. He said that when he got a call letting him know he could go on Wednesday's trip, "I was elated."

Brady Haines, 84, of Maugansville, and Bob Swain, 82, who lives near Hagerstown, each belonged to the 87th Infantry Division, which was nicknamed "The Golden Acorn."

Swain said he was in Germany for about a year and a half.

Haines said he was wounded in France on Dec. 17, 1944. A piece of shrapnel went in his right arm; a piece of bone had to be removed.

John Wilson, 84, of Maugansville, was in the Navy for a little more than three years during the war. He said he was a pharmacist's mate, which now is known as a hospital corpsman.

Dozens of men from a war more than a full generation past absorbed the wonder of the memorials. Using disposable cameras given to them as part of the trip, they snapped what seemed like a million pictures.

"This has been one of the most wonderful days of my life," Haines said.

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