Heroes#039; tales: Veterans recount World War II

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 29, 2004

They are aging now. Their hair is gray and lines are evident in their faces. But each of them have a story to tell, and their stories are now saved for the sake of history.

At Ohio University Southern Saturday afternoon, members of the Gamma Beta Phi Honor Society unveiled a collection of tapes of local World War II veterans who recalled their service to their country.

"We decided to do this after the National Honor Society convention in February,"

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history project committee member Melissa Meyers said. "At that time 1,500 World War II veterans were dying every day. Now, it's 1,700 a day. We wanted to make sure we presented stories of local veterans who are still with us and are able to speak of their experiences."

Veterans were found through a cable television channel public service announcement, through the American Legion and by word of mouth. Nine men and one woman agreed to sit for an interview.The tapes of those interviews will be sent to the American Folk Life Center in Washington, D.C. Portions of the taped interviews were played for a small audience of family and friends Saturday.

"I was one of the most homesick boys that ever walked,"Army veteran Franklin Gibson, of South Point, recalled.

Gibson was not part of the D-Day invasion of France, but he did not escape the horrors of war. Arriving at Omaha Beach a month later he remembered "There were still bodies lying on the beach."

Navy Reserve veteran Paul Fairchild recalled the Japanese kamikaze pilots who bombarded his aircraft carrier. "There were 10 planes in the initial air strike. We shot down five in five minutes,"

he said. The rest tore holes in the carrier, one hitting an area where only minutes before he had sat down to play cards with some buddies, only to leave because the heavy cigarette smoke was bothering him. He recalled that this one decision, seemingly insignificant at the time, saved his life: more than 20 men in that area were killed.

"My wife asked me from time to time 'were you scared?' But I can't ever remember being scared. We didn't have time to be scared," Fairchild said.

Air Force veteran James Kennedy, of Ironton, recalled that war was a life-changing experience for those who served their country. Some returning servicemen got down on their hands and knees and kissed the ground when their feet stepped again on American soil. They had done their duty and they were glad to be home.

This is the greatest country in the world," he said.