Great day for “Greatest Generation”
Veterans trade war stories
The World War II veterans memorial event Saturday at the United Methodist Church drew a surprisingly large contingent of the same veterans the day was meant to honor.
Phil Hutchinson, a member of the Olsen-McGraw-Thompson-Goins Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6401, which organized the day's activities, said between 45 and 50 World Ward II veterans had attended throughout the day
The event also produced at least one interesting meeting: in 1944, Lloyd Knackstadt, Kansas City, Kan., was a GI in the 94th Infantry Division, fighting to hold the Nazi army back in Lorient, France. Knackstadt's division was to be replaced by the 66th Infantry Division when a ship carrying 802 men from the 66th was sunk in the English Channel. One of the men aboard that ship was Bill South. His brother, Jim South, was a Navy pilot during the war, who met Knackstadt for the first time Saturday.
Jim South, who lives in Ottawa, was stationed on the aircraft carrier Intrepid and flew Corsairs in the Pacific theater.
South said the day's events should "wake up the town -- a lot of people have never seen the uniform" and the memorial celebration serves to remind people that "freedom isn't free."
The "Salute to World War II Veterans" event began with a flag ceremony at the church, followed by a pancake breakfast, a memorial service and speeches. Inside the church, VFW members' war memorabilia, including World War II-era editions of military newspapers, photos, German Reichsbank notes, and uniforms and books were on display. The afternoon offered attendees the chance to watch World War II re-enactors in authentic European theater uniforms demonstrate U.S. infantry weapons in the parking lot.
Larry Hollenbeck, VFW post commander, said of the event, "I think it went really great," and estimated that 250 to 300 people had attended the various activities through the day.
"Hopefully the vets enjoyed it," Hollenbeck said, "because they're the reason we did it."
Dell Yeamans is a Bonner Springs World War II veteran, and served with the Army Amphibian Engineers in the Asia-Pacific theater.
Yeamans, a 1937 graduate of Bonner Springs High School, spent some time perusing VFW members' memorabilia inside the church, and looked at a wartime clipping from the Chieftain, titled "31 Boys Lost From Here."
"I knew at least half of them," Yeamans said. "Some I didn't realize til today they'd passed away."
Yeaman said he'd participated in five different landings on D-Day. His unit's responsibility, he said, was to bring in supplies and equipment once the beachheads were secured.
Also attending the events was a group of eight Marines from the Anti-Tank Platoon of Headquarters Company, 24th Marines, based in Belton, Mo. Tony Rider, a staff sergeant and member of the Bonner Springs VFW post, helped organize the day's events. He and fellow Marines brought two Hummer vehicles to display in the church parking lot for the day.
After the demonstration that afternoon of World War II weapons by re-enactors in authentic European theater uniforms, Rider said he "learned a lot" Saturday.
Rider, who has served two tours in Iraq, said "It's funny, because there's a lot different in tactics, weapons and technology" between the current Iraq war and World War II, "but there's a lot of similarities. You'd think in 50 years a lot would change."
Rider pointed out that some of the weapons were similar, although the technology is different.
"The things we're trying to do," like blowing up a tank, are the same, "but we have specialized weapons" for that, he said.
As an example, Rider said the military uses mortar shells very similar to the ones used in World War II, but have much more accurate tubes for shooting them.
There are other similarities, Rider said: although the Iraq war has in Baghdad and Fallujah meant fighting an enemy relying on guerilla war tactics, the coalition forces still "use a lot of air power," as the Allies did in World War II.
"We still had to use ground soldiers" as well, Rider said.
Rider, whose grandfather, Robert Howell, served in the war, said he'd met a "whole lot of vets" from World War II Saturday.
The event was useful, he said, "to try to bridge the gap" between the generations.
Rider, wearing desert camouflage utilities, said often the older veterans would approach him and his fellow Marines.
"I think the war stories we tell are similar," he said.
One of the six World War II re-enactors Saturday, Dan Skaham of Shawnee, said he got involved in the group because he'd "always been a World War II buff," and that his two grandfathers had fought in the war.
Dressed in olive-drab wool, period leggings and boots, Skaham said his group, which includes 35 members from Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, gets together about once a month. Sometimes they fight simulated battles with another group that dresses up in German uniforms, and camp out for as long as three days for the event.
The re-enactors named their group after an actual Army unit, G Company of the 137th Infantry Regiment of the 35th Infantry Division, and demonstrated for the crowd their authentic uniforms and the firing of rifles, a rifle grenade launcher and a mortar shell.
Blanks were used in the guns and the mortar shell was made of foam. Though it wasn't the real thing, it did require a charge to launch the mortar, which produced a loud enough bang that spectators were advised to cover their ears. The projectile shot about 100 feet in the air and landed about 50 yards away.
The day's events ended with a memorial service at 3 p.m. in the Bonner Springs cemetery.