WWII veterans travel to Washington, D.C. visit their memorial
John Rogers, 91, was drafted by the U.S. Army two months before he turned 21.
“I tried to enlist in the Navy but I was colorblind,” he said, adding instead of taking a role as Seabee he decided to “just wait and let the Army get me.”
Rogers, an Elwood resident who has lived with his daughter, Marla Campbell, in Noblesville since April, was a World War II gunner in a halftrack, a vehicle with four .50-caliber machine guns. In 32 months of service he fought in the Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe.
Following his arrival in Liverpool, England – nine days after departing from New Jersey – Rogers traveled across the channel to France. As part of 575th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, Rogers was part of the 11th Armored Division, which was assigned to the U.S. Third Army commanded by Gen. George S. Patton. He traveled 500 miles to Belgium to fight in the Battle of the Bulge.
“It was one of the longest convoys in Europe,” Rogers said.
The largest, bloodiest battle fought by the United States in World War II also had inclement weather. Rogers said soldiers dug foxholes in 30 inches of snow and put a tent flat over the top.
“After being on guard you tried to remember where your foxhole was but the field was white. Because it snowed so much you’d walk right on top of somebody,” he said. “In the foxhole you didn’t take your shoes off. You went right into the sleeping bag with shoes in.”
Because frostbite was a major concern, Rogers said soldiers used to line their helmets with socks so they could switch a warm pair when their socks got wet.
“We wore our steel helmets all the time in the combat area,” he said.
One of Rogers haunting memories was when the 11th Armored Division liberated a concentration camp in Linz, Austria.
“Going into the concentration camp, Germans shot a lot of prisoners because we were overrunning the camp. They were killing them miles away from the camp along the road,” he said. “Inside the camp, dead bodies were stacked 200 to 300 side by side. The naked bodies, you couldn’t tell if they were men or women because they had no hair.”
Rogers said the camp had a steel furnace and a building where inhabitants were drowned. He also was told there was a place where bodies were ground and made into fertilizer.
“I want you to remember this. I want you to smell this,” a survivor told Rogers following the liberation.
A month before the war ended, Rogers lost his brother, Jesse.
“That was the hardest person I could ever lose,” he said, adding his cousin and nephew also died while serving in World War II. “Because he had two little children it was sad.”
Rogers returned home on March 13, 1946 aboard the U.S.S. Gen. R. L. Howze.
“I was hoping they’d send me to Japan. I didn’t want the war to go on but I wanted to go to Asia,” he said.
Sixty-seven years after being discharged from the Army, Rogers and Campbell stood in remembrance at the National World War II Memorial as part of the Indy Honor Flight program last month.
“My daughter read about it. They took care of everything. It’s just sad that all veterans couldn’t make it. I’d urge anybody to go. It’s a wonderful trip,” Rogers said.
Indy Honor Flight
Glenn Hines became involved during the second trip in April. A veteran of the Australian Navy, Hines now works as a paramedic and firefighter for the City of Noblesville.
“These people are American treasures,” he said. “The absolute best gift America has.”
Hines recruited fellow Noblesville firefighters Lt. John Melson, Kevin Livingston, Jim Butts and Eric Giegerich to serve as guardians. The cost for guardians to make the day-trip to Washington, D.C. is $450.
“I tell them to think of it as they are paying for a veteran or yourself to go,” he said, adding these soldiers fought under great American military generals like Douglas MacArthur, Paul Tibbets and George Patton. “We have the chance to listen to a story that hasn’t been told in 60 years … There is no dollar amount that you’re being gifted here.”
This past trip in September, Hines was promoted to one of the three bus captains who help lead the trip. Hines said age is a big criterion in the selection process, citing 92-year-old Warren Perney who died just days after he took part in September’s Honor Flight.
“Warren was on my bus. At his funeral I was thinking how four days ago Warren and I were talking in Washington, D.C. in the sun. It hammered home how precious time is and how important it is to get everyone there as quick as we can,” he said. “These veterans waited 60 years for a memorial to be built. A day can be the difference. It really got to me.”
Highlights of their excursion included stops at the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam memorials and Arlington National Cemetery. On the flight home veterans were given cards and letters of thanks that were handed to them in the fashion of the “mail call” they had once looked forward to while serving overseas. The emotion-filled day ends with a surprise Homecoming parade – something Hines said most soldiers missed while still serving overseas at the end of World War II.
The World War II Memorial was opened in 2004 and Hines said most veterans have not seen it before the Honor Flight.
“They did a fantastic job with it. Not a person in this country was not affected by the war,” he said. “How great were these men because they didn’t care, they didn’t fuss but they saved the world.”
Hines said the organization already has a wait list and is planning on four possible trips in 2014. Those interested in learning more or applying can call 559-1600 or visit www.indyhonorflight.org.