World War II veterans of Manchester honored by American Warrior program
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Thu., May. 2, 2013
When Army National Guard Officer Christopher Coutu visited the new National World War II Memorial in 2006, he noticed one thing was missing: the World War II veterans. He made it his mission to increase patriotism and to honor veterans by organizing a nonprofit, American Warrior of Norwich, Conn., which is dedicated to organizing day trips to bring aging veterans to Washington, D.C., to view the monuments that celebrate their service.
The ninth American Warrior Connecticut Day of Honor was held Saturday, April 27. One hundred World War II veterans - 98 men and two women - from 50 communities in Connecticut arrived at Bradley International Airport to depart on a chartered Airbus 320. With them were more than 100 volunteers and “guardians” – including a doctor and nurses on hand to respond to any medical need the veterans may have. The trip was free of charge to the veterans.
When they were there, they visited the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Iwo Jima statue at the Marine Corps. Memorial, as well as the Navy and Air Force memorials. Upon their return to Bradley, family and friends were waiting to give the veterans a hero's welcome.
Three veterans from Manchester were among the 100 in attendance.
“I can't say enough about the organization of the group,” said Bernard Krutt. He recalls the American Warrior volunteers being at both ends of the trip, in Bradley and Washington, D.C. They were highly efficient, and very accommodating to the veterans in wheelchairs, he said.
Krutt was in the Navy during the war. In 1944, he was stationed in the Philippines for a year. He remembers the country's response to the war as very different from wars ever since. “It had universal backing from the public,” he said, which he said was in contrast to the Korean War, Vietnam, and our modern conflicts, where there are people both for and against.
With such strong public support, civilians at home were deeply involved in contributing in their own way. “Everything turned to the war effort,” Krutt said. He was a Boy Scout leader before serving, and he remembers his troop collecting tin cans, paper, even fat from the butcher's shop to contribute to the war effort.
For Bernard Brennan, seeing the crowds that were at Bradley to see them off on their trip was a moving experience. “We walked by a line of people on both sides, and they're clapping and cheering, and walking up to you to shake your hand and saying, 'Thank you for your service,'” he said. “It brought tears to my eyes, to be honest.”
The same happened when they left Washington, D.C. “Kids, 8, 10 years old, walking up and thanking you for your service,” he said. “It was very emotional. Very heartrending, I didn't think I deserved it.”
During the trip, they received letters written by 500 elementary school students from Connecticut and Rhode Island, thanking them for their service. Brennan read one he received. “'I want to thank you for fighting for our country,'” it read. “'You are a real model for all Americans. I hope you know how many people look up to you.'”
Brennan was in the Navy during the war. He served during the Normandy Invasion, and went on to Africa, which served as a stopping-off point for the invasion of southern France. He returned to the U.S. for nine months, and then departed once again. His ship passed through the Panama Canal, went to Hawaii and then stopped at the Philippines in anticipation of the invasion of Japan. But before the invasion could begin, the two atomic bombs were dropped, and the war ended.
“I just hope people realize how great this country is, and it isn't for free,” Brennan said. “Sometimes you have to fight for it.”
Former airman William Figley greatly enjoyed the day. “It was a day I will never forget,” he said. “It was one of the most memorable days of my life.”
Figley was originally not going to go. But when a friend urged him to come along, he changed his mind, and was happy he had done so. “It was just a fantastic day,” he said. He recalls hundreds of people cheering and approaching him to shake hands and thank him. “I heard it 14 hundred times: 'Thank you, sir, for your service.'”
After boarding their plane at Bradley, the pilot asked them to look out their windows. Outside, a fire truck presented a water cannon salute to the veterans.
“The whole thing was planned perfectly,” he said. He enjoyed seeing all the memorials, especially the new Air Force Memorial.
Figley was a tail gunner on a Martin PBM Mariner Patrol Bomber. However, he and the rest of the crew never left the Corpus Christi Air Station in Texas. When victory was declared over Germany, the plane's principal pilot, having served seven years, got out of service. The next two pilots also left soon after being assigned to the plane. “We were scheduled to go to the Pacific but never made it there,” he said.
“It was one of the biggest, most dangerous wars we ever fought,” he said. He believes it is incredible that the country won on two fronts.
“People like Hitler and Hirohito, they don't realize how resolute this country is, how great it is,” Brennan said. “We should have taken Hitler down to the Caterpillar Tractor Plant in Peoria, Illinois, and watched them make a thousand tanks a week.”