PIQUA — Two veterans who served during World War II visited Piqua Central Intermediate School on Tuesday to speak with students in Macarena Dunn’s class, bringing with them firsthand knowledge and artifacts of the global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945.
Donald Verhotz, 93, of Piqua, served in the PFC Company D, 38th Infantry Regiment and the 2nd Infantry Division. He was involved in the second wave in Normandy during the Allied invasion of German-occupied France that lasted from June to August 1944.
Verhotz was also wounded during the Battle of the Bulge, which was the last major offensive campaign from the Germans on the western front that lasted between December 1944 and January 1945. Verhotz received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his actions and sacrifices during the war.
“I’m happy to be here,” Verhotz said.
Verhotz is a graduate of Ohio State University with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in education, but the military wanted to draft him weeks before his high school graduation. The school board helped him get a brief deferment so he could finish high school.
“I got to graduate with my class,” Verhotz said.
Verhotz discussed the training he went through and the places he traveled before fighting in those historical battles. He trained in camps across the U.S., including Camp Wheeler in Georgia, and he also traveled from the U.S. to Scotland to England and to Northern Ireland. Verhotz was trained in mortar gunnery skills, noting how they did not have proper hearing protection when he used mortars.
“I wound up being a little bit hard of hearing,” he said.
With Verhotz were also artifacts he brought back from the war, including different kinds of Nazi flags. He also had an American helmet and a German helmet, discussing the slight differences between the two. “Ours has a little rim around it, and theirs doesn’t. They did that to save the metal,” Verhotz said.
Verhotz’s son, Jim, told the fifth-grade students that Verhotz also had two brothers that served during WWII. One of Verhotz’s brothers served in a tank division and helped liberate victims at a concentration camp. About his father, Jim said, “I think he would tell you he’s very proud to be an American.”
After Verhotz, Paul Holfinger of Washington Township talked about his experiences serving near the end of WWII.
Holfinger worked for Piqua City Schools as a maintenance worker and a substitute bus driver for many years. He is a lifelong musician, playing tenor saxophone in the U.S. Army.
“I volunteered to play music for entertainment,” Holfinger said.
He was called into the Army near the close of the war and served in the Asiatic Pacific area. After going through basic training, he left in February 1945, three months before the end of the war on European front.
Holfinger served in the Asiatic Pacific area during the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945, respectively. Holfinger recalled how the bombings leveled the cities and how he witnessed the aftermath at Hiroshima.
“I was there,” Holfinger said. He said that there was rubble approximately 3-4 feet deep with “a few concrete structures not standing straight anymore.”
Holfinger said that Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945.
He said that it was because of veterans that everyone had their freedom, encouraging the students to be grateful for living in the U.S.
“You’ve heard we’ve been called the greatest generation,” Holfinger said, adding that he felt like they were still the greatest generation. He said he felt that way because if they had not won WWII, “Who knows? We might all be speaking German.”
Reach Sam Wildow at email@example.com or (937) 451-3336