Last Honor Flight – Wyoming stirs WWII Veterans’ Memories CASPER, Wyo. — Two months after troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, Richard Shober arrived on the shore. Old tanks, abandoned and battered, sat in the sand. Nearby, the tide returned bodies of men washed out to sea. Shober enlisted in the Army when he was 18 years old. He signed up in Cheyenne and did his basic training at what is now F.E. Warren Air Force Base. His older brother Ira, five years his senior, flew B-17s and was shot down and taken prisoner by the Germans. Shober volunteered to run the switchboard in his unit and to help take messages in shorthand. When he took notes on intelligence and the prison camps, he always hoped for word of his brother. He heard nothing. It wasn’t until Shober returned home to Gillette that he learned that his brother was only about 16 miles from Shober’s station at the end of the war. The brothers always wanted to visit the World War II Memorial together. But two years ago, Ira died. Shober thought about not going without him. But someone had to see it for him, to bear witness. So when the final plane for Honor Flight-Wyoming took off Tuesday from Cheyenne, Shober went for both of them. He saw for both of them. He remembered for his brother. On Tuesday, 89 World War II veterans left Wyoming on the final voyage of the state’s Honor Flight, which takes veterans to see the memorial. The program started in 2009. It allowed more than 600 Wyoming WWII veterans to see the memorial, said Larry Barttelbort, director of the Wyoming Veterans Commission. The flights were funded through private donations; veterans paid nothing to go. Wyoming Honor Flight raised more than $600,000 for the six trips. Honor Flight-Wyoming took its final journey Tuesday because it ran out of veterans interested in the trip, Barttelbort said. As WWII veterans age, traveling becomes harder. Some didn’t live to make the trip. The final trip had a roster that ranged from a potato peeler to a brigadier general, Barttelbort said. One reason Honor Flight was possible was because of guardians and medical staff who helped the veterans who might not have been able to travel on their own. First responders, respiratory therapists and a doctor and a nurse made up the medical staffs. The guardians ranged from those taking a father or grandfather to others who volunteered “because it’s the right thing to do,” as one said. They were retired military members, active reservists, truck drivers, veterinarians and teachers. The guardians were charged with keeping tabs on the veterans, making sure if they tired, there was a wheelchair ready; if they were hungry, they had a snack; or if they weren’t feeling well, one of the medical staff was nearby to help. Shelby Smith, 20, who works as the executive assistant for American Legion of Wyoming, applied to be a guardian for every Honor Flight, but wasn’t selected. She went on the last flight as a guardian. “Just getting a thank you isn’t enough,” she said. “They pretty much saved the world, these World War II guys.” Smith had seen the veterans leave Cheyenne and return to throngs of supporters, yet she didn’t fully understand that impact until paired with Shober, and for a moment she saw something she couldn’t quite explain when the crowds offered him a hero’s welcome to Washington, D.C. “It’s touching him so much deeper than I’m ever going to understand,” she said. The trips consisted of two packed days in which veterans were greeted by scouting troops and military personnel who cheered and saluted the veterans. The veterans received hats advertising their WWII status, bringing strangers up to shake their hands, thank them or ask to hear their stories. “They’re told ‘thank you’ about a gazillion times,” Barttelbort said, “which isn’t enough in my mind.” They visited Washington, D.C., memorials such as the Vietnam and Lincoln memorials. From the buses they viewed the U.S. Capitol and the White House. Life in the sky The peace and tranquility of the World War II Memorial is interrupted often by the roar overhead of planes leaving and entering nearby Reagan International Airport. On Wednesday morning, Robert Scott’s face lifted at the sound of an engine above the World War II Memorial. He repeated the words he said before each of the 24 bombing missions he flew over Germany: “Father, let us keep our strength and complete this mission.” “And we did.” The memorial gave the 87-year-old Cody resident a chance to reflect, think of others and try to grasp his own significance. It was Scott’s fascination with planes that took him into the Army Air Corps during WWII. He wanted to eventually become a commercial pilot and needed the training. Scott and his crew flew to England to join combat operations, bombing Germany. The first mission, over Berlin, took Scott and his crew to the “essence of the enemy.” Scott was 20 years old. He held the lives of nine crew members in his hands. The only jet fighters in the war were German, stationed near Berlin. “We knew surely we’d have them on us and there they were,” he said. A fighter pilot in WWII didn’t hear an enemy’s plane. The roar of his own engine was too loud. Instead, it was the flash of light and the burst of anti-aircraft explosions that let one know the skies were no longer your own. When your gunners opened up, the airplane began to vibrate and you had to hold formation and couldn’t flinch, Scott said. “You don’t have time to think about anything else but your job,” Scott said. In the end, you first assessed your own crew, then the other crews. Who is still flying? Who is gone? Who is too damaged to keep pace? Sometimes it was only a plane or two missing. Sometimes it was more. Scott was lucky. None of his crew was ever seriously injured. His plane was never shot down in the 1-1/2 years they flew. When he returned home, the commercial airlines were full of pilots. Scott liked the military and when he learned the United States wanted to create a separate branch, the Air Force, he decided to remain enlisted. He served 31 years and retired a brigadier general. He still wears his brown bomber jacket with patches — a caveman on a tiger and another on a dragon representing his WWII squadrons. The back is hand-painted and while the artwork is beginning to peel, it remains clear that a plane is dropping bombs on the Nazi swastika. The motto of the 92nd bomb group is painted across the top: Fame’s Favored Few. Scott wanted to see the memorial, but he balked at joining previous Honor Flights. He could wait while others had their turns. When the final trip arrived, friends finally convinced Scott he should go, that it was his turn. “It all comes rushing back and you feel emotions you hadn’t felt in a long time,” he said. He talked of his crew, none of whom lived to see the memorial. He thought of the men he knew who died in battle and those who died of old age or sickness long after. This is a memorial to “those guys,” he said. He talked of WWII as a defining moment for the world and what “they” did. “They” are his crew, his fellow veterans, and even those who, stateside, farmed food for the country or worked in plants to create planes. And what about him and what he did? Silence. ‘An obligation’ They call it duty, a job or responsibility. They shy from the salutes and the attention, some even try to walk away. They wave off questions with “it was a long time ago, a different lifetime,” or “it was nothing special.” They call it a perfect tribute to their friends, their brothers, their fellow servicemen and women. They aren’t even sure they deserve to be there to see it. They are called “the greatest generation” by everyone but themselves. Alvin “Gene” Clark, 85, joined the Navy and headed to Japan. Before he arrived he heard the news: The war was over. He arrived in Japan to a country destroyed and worked to help rebuild it. He wanted to see the memorial, but he hesitated to sign up for Honor Flight-Wyoming. He was never in harm’s way. Others deserved the trip more, he said. Larry Rieser, 85, of Jackson, felt mixed emotions about the World War II Memorial. “This whole country is the memorial because if we’d lost, things would be very different,” Rieser said. At 18, Rieser joined the Army Air Corps. It was 1944. He completed pilot training and awaited orders to relieve troops overseas, but the orders never came. The war ended before he left the country. He went back to Chicago and school and thought little of his service. “I don’t feel it was a big deal I was in the service,” he said. “It was my duty. I’m a citizen of this country and the war was on. I thought it was an obligation.” Tommy Kuieper, 85, of Storey, always wanted to go to sea. At 17 he joined the Navy, heading to the Pacific. Radar helped spot approaching enemies, but too often the kamikaze planes appeared suddenly in the daylight as though they came from the sun. The sailors heard allied forces battle in the air. They released yellow dye in the water to ease the strain of searching the water for the downed pilots so they could haul them aboard. Kuieper once spent 60 days at sea without seeing land. A native of Wyoming, Kuieper liked the vastness of the sea. In Tokyo Bay, Kuieper watched officials board the USS Missouri to sign the treaty that ended the war. When he came home to San Francisco Bay, the mountainside lit up with the message: “Welcome Home Boys. Well Done.” But any significance didn’t sink in until the Honor Flight, as he talked about the pilots he helped spot and haul aboard. “I guess it’s kind of amazing what we did,” he said, “now that I look back on it.” Arthur Kirchner, 85, from Cheyenne, waffled about coming on the trip. Kirchner, an Army mortarman, marched across most of France. He arrived to relieve a unit that fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Kirchner went on to help liberate a concentration camp. The name of the camp now eludes his memory, but the images of the bodies, people starved or killed by gas, remain in his mind. As do the images of the walking dead, those he knew on sight wouldn’t live to enjoy the freedom they’d finally won. He thought about those people at the camp, and the two staff sergeants who stood near him until they fell down, shot by German snipers, when he visited the memorial. “It was something we all had to take part in,” he said. “It was something that involved all of us. It was something created by people — the Japanese and Germans — that shouldn’t have happened. It was something we had to stop.” He was glad he went to D.C. He thought about the memorial, reiterating how glad he was he decided to come. “I would never have known what I missed,” he said. The memorial, or remembering what you did? Both. ‘You are my hero’ At the U.S. Navy Memorial, a sailor arrived to play taps to honor the anniversary of the attack on the USS Cole. Surprised to see the Wyoming veterans, he took pictures with the former Navy men. They stood with hands over their hearts and some holding quavering salutes as he played in front of the statue of the Lone Sailor. As the rain started, he made his way, talking to the men braving the weather and venturing onto the buses to talk with those who retreated. Max Porter noticed the insignia of two keys on the taps-playing sailor’s uniform. Porter, too, was a storekeeper during the war. He wore the same insignia on his uniform. He kept the pay records of the men on the ship, balancing their accounts when they bought cigarettes, candy and gum from the ship’s store. He told the sailor he made $56 a month. The pay is a little better now, the sailor said. The men laughed. Then the sailor took his hand. “You are my hero,” the sailor said. As the buses prepared to leave in the pouring rain, the man stood outside, saluting the buses as they pulled away. ‘Thanks for listening’ Many of the veterans found themselves talking about things they’d spoken little of until the trip. As they began to talk, they paused for a moment, as though surprised at the ending of the story they lived. Bob Willis spent his 20th birthday in a hospital in France. It was the Battle of the Bulge, although at the time, Willis and the other men had no idea they fought in the midst of a historical moment. Willis, an infantryman from Laramie, and the company runner, charged with ferrying messages, ran up to an American tank to deliver a message about firing on a house when nearby Germans opened fire on him. The pain knocked him out. Staff at the hospital stitched up his side, leaving in the shrapnel that still sits in him today. He eagerly went back to join his fellow soldiers. He didn’t want to leave them. When the war ended, Willis served as a military policeman in Austria, escorting Russians, shutting down “houses of ill repute” and eventually guarding a group of 20 Jewish women and girls liberated from a concentration camp. The women were expected to testify against the Germans in war crimes trials and Willis’ job was to make sure none of the Germans tried to bother them. The women didn’t speak of what happened in the camps and Willis didn’t ask. One of the girls, he remembered, had been born in a camp. “It’s the only life she ever knew,” he said. With so many witnesses to testify, Willis’ group eventually was released on its own. When Willis thinks back on the war, he has one regret — that he didn’t take the names of the women and girls in his group. Through the years he’s wondered what happened to them. Willis, 86, came home from the war and went to school on the GI bill, becoming a dentist. He practiced in Laramie for 45 years before retiring. He pushed the war behind him. For many WWII veterans, life is measured in “before World War II” and “after World War II,” Willis said. A friend, who served as a guardian on an earlier trip, encouraged Willis to sign up for Honor Flight. He hesitated at first. The memorial and the trip brought back the memories, good and bad, things he hadn’t spoken of, or even thought of, in years. “We were all part of something pretty big,” he said before leaving Cheyenne for Washington, D.C. “It’s overwhelming when you think of what you were a part of. Thanks for asking. Thanks for listening.” Read more: http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/wyoming/article_99b5df99-f501-5dcf-911c-9369f5656e2d.html#ixzz1ayCu435P
Mexican police have found five decomposing heads left in a sack outside a primary school in Acapulco.
Handwritten messages were also found, reportedly threatening the state governor as well as local drug lords.
It was not clear if the discovery of the heads and five decapitated bodies elsewhere in the city was linked to extortion threats against teachers.
Dozens of schools have been closed since last month after teachers went on strike over security concerns.
Police were called to a street in the Garita neighbourhood of Acapulco on Tuesday morning.
There they found a sack inside a wooden crate placed near the school, officers said.
Inside were the heads of five men, as well as the threatening messages.
Police had earlier discovered five headless bodies in another part of the city, left either inside or near a burned-out vehicle.
Acapulco, on Mexico’s Pacific coast, has seen several episodes of gruesome violence as drug gangs fight for control of the resort city.
But as the government crackdown on cartels continues, criminal organisations here and in other parts of Mexico are fracturing and increasingly turning to extortion.
Last month, as the new school year began, dozens of teachers in Acapulco said criminal gangs had threatened them with violence if they did not hand over half their salaries from 1 October.
They and colleagues have since been on strike, leading to the closure of more than 100 schools.
Guerrero State Governor Angel Aguirre has promised a series of measures, including increased police patrols and the installation of security cameras and panic buttons in schools.
But teachers say they still fear for their own and pupils’ safety.
One striking teacher told the BBC that although they welcomed the governor’s proposals, they could not expect the situation to improve overnight.