World War II veterans honored for their service and sacrifice

Kat Miller, director of the Nevada Deprtment of Veterans Services, delivers closing comments.

Kat Miller, director of the Nevada Deprtment of Veterans Services, delivers closing comments.

FERNLEY —World War II veteran Chuck Harton remembers the final months and days of intense fighting in the Pacific against Japan.

As a young man serving in the United States Marine Corps, Harton celebrated war’s end 70 years ago with his fellow comrades from the 4th Marine Corps Division at their base camp in Maui; yet, prior to the end of the war, the division had captured Saipan, Tinian and then Iwo Jima, all strategic islands.

“Once we secured Iwo Jima, we went back to Maui,” said the retired first sergeant, who served from 1943-1966 and now lives in Reno.

Harton, though, remembers that in a month of fighting at Iwo Jima, the Japanese killed 6,000 American servicemen, which he said averaged three Marine Corps rifle companies.

“It was tough deal,” Harton recollected, shaking his head..

The Nevada Department of Veterans Services hosted the event for Harton and other World War veterans on Sunday at both state veterans’ cemeteries in Boulder City and Fernley. The event at the Northern Nevada Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Fernley drew about two dozen World War II veterans, many of them ranging in ages from the late 80s to 105 years old. They were guests to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II (Aug. 14, 1945) and the annual “Keep the Spirit of ‘45 Alive” campaign. Veterans who served in combat, behind the lines or in the United States during the war were invited to attend the ceremony and received a commemorative pin.

Fernley Mayor Roy Edgington Jr., who served in the U.S. Air Force, delivered the keynote address and thanked the veterans from “The Greatest Generation” for their dedication to their country.

“Let us not forget all the sacrifices that were made up to the time of V-J (Victory Japan) Day,” Edgington said.

During his speech, Edgington revealed statistics about the United States’ involvement during the war. He said 6.5 million men and women enlisted while 11 million were drafted. The Fernley mayor, though, focused on the sacrifices of a country at war.

“When the U.S. went to war, it began building ships,” Edgington said, citing that 2,710 Liberty ships (a class of cargo ship) were manned by sailors coming from every segment of society, and it took workers 42 days to build each vessel.

The average time of military service was 33 months, and Edgington said that meant every service man and woman spent almost three years away from home, loved ones, family and jobs. Receiving communication was not as simple and quick today, he pointed out. For example, he said it took months to receive letters to the war zone.

The nation’s industrial machine, though, contributed to the war effort. Edgington said an unprecedented amount of production occurred with the building of aircraft carriers, planes, railroad locomotives, rifles and ammunition. During the war, Edgington said Boeing built 12,731 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, each one manned by nine to 10 crewmen who depended on each other, specifically during their mission over hostile enemy territory..

“We bombed them (Germans) during the day, and the RAF (Royal Air Force) bombed at night. We did that when all odds were against us,” he said of the hundreds of B-17 missions.

As Edgington discussed the losses, the 8th Bomber Command, later the 8th Air Force, suffered one-half of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ casualties in World War II including 26,000 deaths. Overall during both fronts of the war, Edgington said more than 416,800 servicemen and women died during, but millions more made sacrifices on the home front by changing their eating habits to limiting their consumption of gasoline to four gallons o fuel per week unless they were in a critical job.

By 1943, however, Edgington said the allies began to gain the upper hand against the Germans and Japanese. In mid-August 1945, three months after the Allies captured Germany, Japan surrendered after two B-29s dropped atomic bombs on key cities. Edgington said the U.S. was relieved the war ended.

“Celebrations took part in every major U.S city … the largest crowds in U.S history at New York City gathered in Times Square,” he said.

Edgington discussed President John F. Kennedy’s role during the war as a PT (Patrol Torpedo) boat skipper. In Kennedy’s inaugural speech in 1961, he said, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

That comment made more than 50 years ago still resonates with Edgington.

“You ask me that’s exactly what that generation did — (they) asked what do you need and stood up and did everything asked,” Edgington said.

During the ceremony, Edgington, along with veterans Ivan Bell Woodford and Ray Gawronski, posted a wreath commemorating the anniversary.

Gawronski, who lives in Carson City, served as flight engineer on a B-24 Liberator, a heavy bomber that saw action in every theater of the war. He successfully flew 25 combat missions over enemy terrain.

“We flew all over Germany, flew on D-Day and Battle of the Bulge,” Gawronski said.

But their missions — which began at England’s RAF Tibenham, a former Royal Air Force station southwest of Norwich — also came with the ultimate price.

“Our fatality rate was 18 percent of us,” he said.

After the war ended, Gawronski returned stateside where he was placed into the B-29 program, qualifying as a central fire control officer. He never saw action on a B-29 because of Japan’s surrender.

Many people who attended the ceremonies were friends and family of the veterans and also members of the chief petty officers mess and CPO selectees from Naval Air Station Fallon. They attended to pay their respects to the military men and women who fought in

“This is our heritage. These people have formed our country and military to what it is,” said Chief Petty Officer Cody Berg, who is assigned to the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC). “These were the leaders to what we are today.”


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