View Full Version : Veterans of wars share their stories at Boca Raton event

11-08-07, 06:06 AM
South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
Veterans of wars share their stories at Boca Raton event

By Luis Perez

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

November 8, 2007

Boca Raton

The stories tumbled out of the veterans Wednesday like a Ken Burns war documentary, hitting on historic moments with personal anecdotes.

Bernard Berk, a B-29 tailgunner in World War II, said he flew over the USS Missouri as the Japanese surrendered. Milton Gilbert said he helped liberate a concentration camp. Edward Wilen, a B-24 navigator, said he was on the first American air raid on Berlin before being shot down and spending a year in three prisoner-of-war camps. He said he served with Academy Award-winning actor Jimmy Stewart.

As Veterans Day approaches, the Rotary Club of Boca Raton invited more than a dozen veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War to reminisce about their service. It was a luncheon filled with reverence and remembrance.

The ongoing Iraq war was on the minds of many of the former soldiers, sailors and Marines. But they steered clear of making political statements, even the Vietnam fighter pilot who said he spent time with Republican presidential candidate John McCain in a POW camp.

It was a day to look back.

"I remember our Victory Garden," said retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. John Van Blois.

At the end of World War II, he was a small boy when his father told him to grab all the pots, pans and hammers. It was V-E Day in May 1945. They banged the kitchenware at a downtown Saginaw, Mich., celebration.

"The country was very unified then," said Van Blois, who served for 39 years and flew more than 3,000 missions on 13 types of airplanes. "The country was one."

The Rotary luncheon was the first time Elvira Dunaier and Jeanette Eno, former Marines who served in World War II, spoke at an event commemorating their service.

Irwin Stovroff, a B-24 bombardier, recalled a German officer in his POW camp who spoke perfect English and knew Stovroff's hometown, his parents' names, where he went to school and even the name of a girl he dated. That German officer grew up in the same Buffalo neighborhood as the captured airman.

Stovroff recalled the officer telling him: "You were my mother's paperboy."

The veterans talked about the comrades who couldn't be there. They spoke with pride about the "American ingenuity" that overcame momentous challenges in their youth. That same spirit will help the country overcome its current problems, they said.

And some made sure not to take themselves too seriously, recalling comic routines from the likes of George Burns and others.

"It's sure nice to be here," Berk said as he thanked the Rotary for honoring the veterans. "As a matter of fact, at this age, it's nice to be anywhere."

Luis F. Perez can be reached at lfperez@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6641.