PIQUA — With some standing with their canes or walkers, over half of the room at the Emerson Theater stood up to be recognized as a war veteran or a family member of one.
The Miami County Foundation and the Piqua Community Foundation sponsored an event honoring the men and women of Miami Valley who served during World War II at Edison State Community College on Thursday.
The event featured guest speakers and military songs performed by Thien Snipps. The band performed medleys for each military branch and asked veterans and families who identified with the medleys to stand to be recognized.
“I thank them for their sacrifice, for the red, white, and blue,” was a lyric sang from the band’s song “The Debt.”
The veterans that were honored were: Marion Adams, radioman in the U.S. Navy from 1942-1946; Harry Ashburn, corporal in the U.S. Army from 1942-1945; Harry Christy, staff sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1942-1945; Les Edsall, captain in the U.S. Army from 1942-1945; Nadine Nagle, WASP pilot from 1942-1944 with a Congressional Gold Medal; Robert Tweed, captain in the U.S. Army from 1943-1944; and Bill Brower, lieutenant junior grade in the U.S. Navy from 1943-1946.
Adams joined the U.S. Navy when he was 17 in 1942 and did not deploy for war until he turned 19. He was on four of the five beaches in Normandy during the war. When he was on Omaha Beach, more than 2,000 U.S. military men were killed that morning.
“I’m lucky I came back,” he said. He traded cigarettes with a prisoner of war just to take home a souvenir — a “toilet out of order” sign. He brought the sign to show during the ceremony.
Out of 25,000 women who applied for the Jackie Cochran pilot program for women, about 2,800 were accepted and only 1,047 graduated – Nagle proudly stated that she graduated from the program in 1944.
When the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) were disbanded during the war, Nagle said the pilots had to “find a way home.”
“I was so proud to be a WASP and I didn’t want to get out of uniform,” Nagle said.
Nagle transported mission-critical personnel and equipment throughout the U.S. during the war. She shared a memory abouat a flight to Texas.
“You would not believe the zillions of lights in San Antonio,” she said, “I had a hard time finding the airport.”
Ashburn spent his 21st birthday getting “royally seasick,” and was surrounded by bombs detonating and bodies decomposing.
“I know what it’s like to be hungry and to be shoeless,” Ashburn said. “We’ve (veterans) been survivors most of our lives.” He recalled seeing some of the American POWs that were released from Japanese captivity, “some of the skinniest people you ever saw.” He was glad to learn a friend from high school, who was one of the POWs, survived.
Edsall was an actual prisoner of war in Poland and Germany during WWII. He was taken Nov. 13, 1944 — on his daughter’s first birthday.
“They took everything I had that was G.I., but let me keep my wedding band,” Edsall said.
Edsall said his unit had no artillery or tanks and were counter-attacked by Germans at midnight that day. He was put in a prison cell in one of the villages and was taken to Camp Limburg the following day.
Terry Calvert, assistant professor of mathematics at Edison, was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force from 1983-2006 and spoke on behalf of Edison.
“At Edison, we take pride in using our facility to honor vets and educate vets,” Calvert said. She gave recognition to Nagle. “It’s women like her that paved the way for women like me (in military).”
Mitch Fogle, CEO of the Miami Valley Veterans Museum, awarded the veterans a lifetime membership to the museum.
“Often our privileges are taken advantage of … all of these privileges come at a great cost,” Fogle said. “We cannot thank (veterans) enough.”
Reach reporter Amy Barger at (937) 451-3340 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall.