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Veterans share memories of service at Potomac Highlands World War II Roundtable event

December 07, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Lester Hart, left, and Leo Fox talk about how Hart can still fit into his World War II uniform Wednesday at a reception for World War II veterans at The Village at Robinwood. Both men live in Hagerstown.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

Lester Hart remembers trying to take a hill in Italy in 1944 during World War II when his U.S. Army unit was hit with a mortar blast that hurled shrapnel into Hart's back and head.

"It blew me out of a fox hole," said Hart, noting that he was unconscious for about two weeks.

After being treated for his wounds, Hart, now 93, of Hagerstown, was sent back to the battle line.

Hart, who continued fighting through the Italian Peninsula and onto the Alps, said he enlisted during the war after his brother was taken captive and held by the Japanese for 3 1/2 years.

"I figured it was my turn to do something," said Hart, who was among about a dozen World War II veterans who gathered at The Village at Robinwood Wednesday night for a special remembrance of the conflict.

The remembrance and Christmas party were sponsored by the Potomac Highlands World War II Roundtable, an organization that meets once a month and features speakers, said Justin Mayhue, one of the group's founders.

The party was held on the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged the United States into the war.

During a reception, veterans sipped on drinks and talked about their experiences in the war. A dinner was scheduled for later in the evening, followed by the showing of the movie, "Silent Night: Christmas in the Ardennes."

When asked how he looks back on the war, Hart said it was like "hell. That's about all I can say about it. But we did it. We made the best of what we had."

Hart talked about soldiers who killed themselves after learning they were going to be sent to the front lines.

"You'd be surprised how much of that goes on," Hart said.

Hart said his brother, Harold, was able to make it out of captivity and return home. His brother died four years ago in Frederick, Md.

Jack Stenger, 85, of Hagerstown said he was sent to join the 99th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army after the Battle of the Bulge. The division had been decimated in the battle, Stenger said.

Stenger said he was sent to Europe toward the end of the war, and much of his work involved rounding up Nazis to imprison them.

Stenger talked about crossing the Rhine River and moving through fields where he saw large numbers of U.S. servicemen lying dead.

"Nothing pleasant to look at. It took a while to gather them up I guess. I'm just happy it wasn't me," Stenger said.

Leo Fox, 94, of Hagerstown, said he was studying to be a chemical engineer in college when he entered the service. He was assigned to a U.S. Army engineering unit that built a larger harbor on Okinawa.

"I had never built a harbor in my life," Fox said.

The harbor in Okinawa was a small inlet about 18 feet deep, and Fox said his unit's job was to enlarge the harbor so it could be used as a supply point for an invasion of Japan.

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