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AFNORTH CC hosts World War II, Korean War veterans

  • Published
  • By Mary McHale
  • AFNORTH Public Affairs

Their collective pasts found them in war-torn areas of the Pacific, Europe and Korea.

But recently their collective presence found them in a much more pleasant environment - attending a reception at the Heritage Club commemorating their military service and expressing thanks for it.

Eleven veterans from the World War II and Korean War eras attended the reception, hosted by Lt. Gen. William Etter, Continental United States North American Aerospace Defense Region-1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern). The group traveled to Tyndall Air Force Base from the Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans' Nursing Home and each was assigned a volunteer military escort. While the majority of escorts were from Air Forces Northern, the command chief of the 325th Fighter Wing, Chief Master Sgt. Chris Lantagne, also escorted.

Additionally, the veterans were honored by local civic leaders who attended the reception. They included Parker Mayor Rich Musgrave, Al McCambry of Gulf Coast State College and Tom Neubauer of Bay Defense Alliance.

"It was an honor to host those who have put their lives on the line for our great nation," said Col. Al Wimmer, Director, Air, Space and Information Operations, (A3). "We are their brothers and sisters in the never-ending struggle to maintain freedom."

The colonel escorted Michael Mancos, formerly a U.S. Army Private First Class who served in Korea with the 7th Infantry in such infamous battles as Pork Chop Hill, Old Baldy and Alligator Jaws.

Ginny O'Hare, activities director at the home, said getting such an invitation meant everything to the veterans.

"We were worried about the weather, since the event was originally going to be outside but our guys didn't care," she said. "For them, the invitation was such an honor to receive. My veterans are very humble, they don't seem to realize the enormity of their service, they just say, 'I did what I had to do, somebody had to do it.'"

She added her favorite part of the reception was when each escort stood up and spoke about the veteran they accompanied.

"Getting these veterans together with military currently serving is so beneficial," O'Hare said. "They relate to each other and for those currently serving to take the time out to say thank you, it just meant so much to each of them."

One of those it meant so much to was Mancos, the veteran escorted by Wimmer.

"It was great, especially the friendship between everyone," Mancos said. "I never saw so much rank in one place and the fact they took time from their busy schedules to make themselves available to us, that was great."

Stanley Wellman is a veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War as an avionics technician.

"The reception was extremely comfortable and easy to enjoy," he said. "I didn't feel any rank pressure at all, everyone made us feel so welcome."

And the escorts enjoyed it just as much.

"I thought the opportunity was very rewarding," said Master Sgt. Joseph Cooper Sr., from A3. To have a chance to give back to those who gave so much to secure our way of life was an honor. To be in the same room with the veterans who served this great nation is such a challenging time, knowing the challenges and the full cost of what they were being asked to do was incredible. My greatest joy of the evening was just seeing the smiles on their faces and the solidarity they displayed. You could tell each one was really having a great time."
Cooper escorted Marion Pippin, formerly a private in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

Lt. Col. Robert Donaldson, AFNORTH Commander's Action Group, agreed about the value of the experience. He escorted William Decker, formerly a Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class who served during World War II.

"I thought the experience was outstanding," Donaldson said. "I was able to speak with a World War II veteran who had truly given superior service to his country. I'm honored that I had the opportunity to spend time with him, and will remember the experience as one of the highlights for me here at 1 st Air Force."

Lt. Col. Kristin Ader, AFNORTH Judge Advocate General's office also expressed similar sentiments. She escorted Ed VanBergen, a U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army veteran who served in World War II and Korea.

"I was honored to escort Mr. VanBergen," she said. "He loved every moment and kept saying it was 'overwhelming' and 'what a great day!' It was so interesting to hear about his perspective on war and the military. He commented about how watching the news often discouraged him, but after attending this event and meeting all of us, he felt assured this country was in good hands."