"It's important for the rest of us to realize what it actually took. If they don’t (tell their stories), we have a cavalier attitude of what it was about, what it took to defend these rights that we have. It's important for us to remember what it takes to defend our way of life," the one-time high school history teacher said.
Casey De Jong
Casey De Jong helped deliver Marines, Seabees and supplies in small boats from the USS Barrow during the assault on Iwo Jima. He watched men bleed to death from mortar fire. His ship went out to sea every night to bury the dead.
While circling near the beach for a place to land, De Jong said he saw the American flag being raised atop Mount Suribachi, a now iconic image captured in a photograph and in a bronze memorial in Washington, D.C.
"We just hollered and yelled. We all cried and was yelling because we knew what happened. They had secured the island," he said.
Even though many veterans were content to leave the war in the past, they admit that their experiences influenced the course of their lives.
"It made my come to attention and find out what's going on because I wasn't living like I should when I went in the service. I wasn't afraid of anything or anybody. When I got blowed up, that changed my attitude," Jenkins said.
Manley Abbott flew 24 missions over Europe as an Army Air Corps gunner in a B-17. He was wounded in a ground accident shortly after his flight in February 1945 and spent 35 days in the hospital. When he got out, the war was basically over.
Jobs were scarce when he returned home, but handling .50-caliber machine guns got him hired at Hill Air Force Base, and that's where he spent the rest of his career. He worked in the armament shop repairing guns and turrets on aircraft and later was assigned to adapt regulations from Air Force headquarters for work at Hill.
"I had a top secret clearance, so I was able work on some highly sensitive equipment, among that was B-36 aircraft, the only bomber we ever built that never dropped a bomb or fired a shot in wartime," he said. "The Peacemaker, they called it. Apparently, it was."
Mel Owen flew 16 bombing missions over Germany and one over Czechoslovakia as a B-17 navigator. His squadron came under attack from the ground and the air and nearly collided with other American aircraft. One time the crew had to land with a partially armed bomb hanging from the plane's bomb bay.
Owen escaped the war without injury.
"When I got back and that ship came into that harbor and I saw the Statue of Liberty and got off the plank and on that American land, I bent over and kissed the land. I was so happy to be back to the United States of America," he said.
"A Red Cross lady gave me a quart of milk and a doughnut. I hadn't had milk hardly ever all that time. I was so thankful."
On the Utah Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., Casey De Jong looked at the wall of stars at the World War II Memorial. Each of the 4,048 stars represent 100 service men and women who died.
"It makes you really feel humble and thankful that we're still here. I'm sure the Lord blessed me in my endeavors in the war. I'm happy to do anything I can to help anybody else," De Jong said.
"There isn't one of us, if we was physically able, that wouldn't go again if they wanted us and needed us. That was our attitude, and I think that's why we were successful."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: dennisromboy
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