World War 2 Veterans Tell Their Stories
It’s hard for today’s generation to fathom the scale of death, destruction, sacrifice and despair of World War 2. The total number of people killed world wide is estimated at 70 million. That was a whopping 2.5 per cent of the world’s population at the time. Millions more were displaced and entire countries were destroyed.
The United States was involved in the war from 1941 to 1945. In that time about 420,000 servicemen were killed. While this number was much lower than other nations, (Germans military deaths were estimated at 5.5 million, Soviet Union deaths were near 8 million.) it is tough for Americans to imagine death on this scale. To put it into perspective, approximately 3000 people died on 9/11. On average, 3000 American servicemen were killed every 11 days in World War 2. American losses in this war were four times greater than Korea and Vietnam combined. Many Americans are woefully ignorant of the sacrifice and what it took for this nation to mobilize. Many, especially young people, go about their daily lives ignorant of what it took for the US to become the great nation it is today. They take the freedoms they have for granted.
In an effort to educate Americans about World War 2, The Collings Foundation presented a Battle Reenactment and Veterans Roundtable at their facility in Stow, MA one recent weekend.
All equipment was authentically restored and original. Featured were Sherman tanks, halftracks, M-1 rifles, German 88 artillery guns, staff cars, authentic mess kits and various other period items. Reproduced German and American Campsites showed how soldiers lived in the field. The battle was a reenactment of a real World War 2 battle in which US forces attacked a German held airfield and captured it. (see video of battle here). The battle reenactment and campsites were educational, interesting and fun. But what really was fascinating was the Veterans roundtable that was held after the battle
The roundtable consisted of 5 elderly gentlemen. They could have been anyone’s father grandfather. brother or uncle. They looked like normal men. These 5 veterans, along with about a million other American men, selflessly participated in the cruelest, bloodiest war in human history. These 5 American heroes each told their stories to a rapt and attentive audience.
Sgt Frank Currey
Attired in jeans, a brown shirt and a “WWII Veterans” baseball cap, Francis Currey stood and in a soft, yet steady voice told the story of how he won the Medal of Honor he so proudly wore. In the Battle of the Bulge, Sgt Currey braved murderous enemy fire, rescued 5 fellow soldiers who had been pinned down by German fire, inflicted heavy damage to the enemy and thwarted an enemy maneuver that threatened to flank his unit’s position. He was only 19 when he performed this act of bravery. Sgt. Currey went on to earn both a Silver Star and Bronze Star for gallantry in combat in other battles. Currey was awarded the Medal of Honor on July 27, 1945 at Camp Oklahoma City, Reims, France
Mr. Mahoney was a US Navy Quartermaster who was on the bridge of an LST during the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944. Responsible for carrying men and equipment for the invasion, Mahoney watched the horrors on Omaha Beach from the bridge of his ship 300 yards off shore. He told the story of manning an anti aircraft gun when 2 German planes attempted to strafe the beach. He and many other anti aircraft guns in the fleet opened up at the plane. Despite the murderous fire, the planes were not damaged, but they were driven off. However, Mahoney did succeed in shooting down his own barrage balloon. His shipmates did not let him forget it.
Robert Cotnoir was an OSS agent. (the OSS, Office of Strategic Services, was the forerunner of the CIA). Mr. Cotnoir told the story of parachuting under the cover of darkness into Occupied France prior to the invasion of southern France in August 1944. In a soft, halting voice, he described the trepidation and apprehension he felt standing in front of an open aircraft door at 2000 feet, just before he dove into the darkness
Joe Gosselin Flies in the Collings Foundation B-17 at Age 93
- The Longest Mission - New England Photography Guild
The story of a WWII bombardier who is shot down over Berlin in 1944 and returns to fly in a B-17one more time, at the age of 93.
Joseph Gosselin joined the USAAF in 1942 and was initially trained to be an aircraft mechanic. He transferred to the Air Force’s Bombardier School in Big Spring, Texas and joined the 412th Squadron of the 95th Air Group in England in of 1944. On his 19th mission over Germany, in March 1944 mission to Berlin, his B-17 was hit and mortally wounded by flak. He bailed out and was captured. He was held at Stalag Luft III until he was freed by Patton’s forces at wars end.
Captain Dick Dining
Clad in a brown leather flight jacket, khakis and a baseball cap, Mr. Dining looks about a decade younger than his age of 88. An articulate speaker and very good story teller, Dick’s recollections of his actions as a World War 2 B 17 Flying Fortress pilot and Squadron Leader was fascinating. Because of time constraints, Mr. Dining, did not speak with the other veterans in the round table. Instead, he spoke to a small group of us after the main program had ended.
As the Squadron Leader of the 510th Squadron of the 351st Bombardment Group, Captain Dining saw a lot of action in enemy skies. He regaled us with stories of what it was like to fly the B 17 in battle. He told the story of landing his bomber with the windshield frozen over. He was forced to stick his head out the side window and managed to make a bouncing, rough landing. To his chagrin, a civilian film crew had recorded it. Another time they were tasked with bombing a bridge over the river in Cologne, Germany. They flew the mission but when they returned to England, they were told they bombed the wrong bridge. Dining’s bombardier adamantly insisted they hit the correct one. (Years later, the bombardier was still insisting they hit the right bridge,)
But Dining said his most satisfying mission occurred a few days after the war ended. They were to pick up French prisoners, some who had been held by the Germans since 1940. Along the way, they buzzed the stadium in Nuremberg where Hitler held many of his Nazi rallies. Dick was pleased to see it filled with American tanks, vehicles, and equipment.
After the war, the United States rose to be the economic power of the world and the servicemen who sacrificed so much for their country were at the forefront. Those men who had spent their youth being hardened first by The Great Depression and then by the War had an attitude that they took with them into business, research, defense, medicine and technology that made America the envy of the world. They also produced the Baby Boomer generation. This generation questioned everything. When it came time to go to war in Vietnam, some went willingly. Others objected and protested. On the surface it would seem that this was unpatriotic. But one can assume that the children of World War 2 veterans saw what had happened to their fathers’ generation and decided that it would never happen again. We were involved in a 50 year Cold War with the Soviet Union and, despite our differences; both sides were sane and refused to go through this Hell again.
These five veterans on the podium represent the last of a dying breed. They are the last links to a time when the World and America’s futures were in doubt. They were from the group that Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation. Most history is only available in books or films. The oral history that these men tell is invaluable and fascinating. The Collings Foundation holds the Battle Reenactment and Veterans Roundtable every Columbus Day weekend, but there may come a time in the not too distant future when there will be no veterans of World War 2 left to speak. So it is imperative that we learn as much as we can from this generation, remember their sacrifice and pass down this knowledge to future generations. If we allow ourselves to forget, sometime in the future we may find ourselves in the same situation. We cannot let that happen!
About the Collings Foundation
The Collings Foundation of Stow, MA is dedicated “to organize and support “living history” events that enable Americans to learn more about their heritage through direct participation.” The Foundation has a large antique and race car collection and flies 21 restored, historic aircraft at several locations across the country.