It was an emotional return for our senior veterans, many who went through Pearl Harbor on their way to fight the Japanese in WWII. Stops were made along the way at the USS Arizona Memorial, The Punchbowl Cemetery, and the USS Missouri, among many more. Enjoy the pictures. You helped make this possible.
The war in Italy during WWII is known as the Forgotten Campaign, but not for the nine aging heroes who returned in May 2015. For them, its where these boys became men, something hard to forget.
“I was a green kid out of the country. I learned life here,” said 343rd Engineer, Ed Bach. “It was rough, yea, but I learned what it was all about and that’s the survival of the fittest.” Ed landed on the beaches at Salerno in December of 1943. We got off the boat and none of our equipment was there so we started walking, all the way to Rome,” Ed said. “It was a rough day but we survived. What more can you ask for?”
Ed built roads and repaired bridges and railroads. Even though he wasn’t on the front lines, Ed is just thankful he made it out alive. “I feel sorry for these guys,” Ed said, standing by rows of crosses at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery. “I could be one of them, but I’m not. Thank God, I’m not.”
The tragedy of war strikes many of our veterans one way or another, like B-24 pilot, Jim Weaver. His brother Cliff Weaver was a fighter pilot who also served in Italy, just a few miles from Jim. Jim went to see his brother only to learn upon arrival that Cliff the day before, on his very first mission, disappeared.
“My mind was racing,” Jim said. “I went to his squadron commander to find out as much as I could.” What Jim found out is his younger brother, likely lost oxygen and crashed into the ocean. No one knows for sure, but his body was never recovered. For the first time ever, Jim got to see his brother’s name memorialized on the wall at the Florence-American Cemetery in Italy. “I’m thankful to be able to come up here and see it,” Jim said.
Fourteen-hundred names are listed on the Wall of the Missing in Florence. Sadly 85 percent are Army Air Corps airmen, even still, B-17 Flight Engineer Jep Williams, said infantry had it the worst. “I always bled for those guys, I mean, I’ve got a cot to sleep on, no mattress, but a mattress cover,” said Jep. “If we got back we had it pretty easy compared to those guys.”
Not everyone made it back to base, including his buddy, Harold Morgenstern. “He was in a tent right across from us, he was in Snyder’s crew, a tail-gunner,” said Jep. “He took a piece of flak right through the head.”
These aging heroes don’t ask for much, but they long to return to honor their heroes, the ones that never made it home. “It’s heartwarming in a way to see the care that has been given to these men, said Jep as he got emotional, “I can’t even really talk about it.
"Bless your heart," Jep said, and at 95-years-old, he got down on his knees at the foot his buddy’s cross and wept.
This is one of Forever Young’s greatest achievements, returning Normandy D-Day veterans back to France for the 70th Anniversary of the invasion. It could not have been done without the organizations, companies, and individual donors who gave so generously to these aging heroes.