Veterans of five American wars appeared at the Old Fort on Sunday to mark Memorial Day, share stories from the wars where they served and raise money for Honor Flight Northeast Indiana, the flights that take World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial.
Some veterans shared stories, while re-enactors told stories of life as a soldier as far back as the American Revolution.
In a dusty room in one corner of the fort, two World War II veterans shared stories of their experiences 70 years ago.
Clairus Dew, 97, of Fort Wayne, an Army Air Corps veteran who worked on radar systems in C-46 airplanes, talked of coming home at the end of the war. Unable to find a hotel room, a hotel clerk let him sleep on a sofa in the lobby and woke him up in time to catch a ride home on a bus.
When he finally arrived home, he was greeted by his parents and his wife, and for the first time met his 6-month-old child. He'd been away at war, but when offered a chance to hold his child for the first time, he was terrified, he said.
Ed Goetz of Ossian, who is 93 and also served in the Army Air Corps, was studying engineering at the University of Cincinnati when he enlisted in the military and was assigned to aviation engineering.
By late 1944, he was a flight engineer on a B-29, flying out of Saipan and bombing Japan from 30,000 to 32,000 feet.
That's when they discovered the jet stream, he said, explaining that high winds at high altitudes could propel a B-29 at 500 mph in one direction or slow them down to 50 mph in another direction, which made them sitting ducks for antiaircraft guns.
By 1945, they were dropping incendiary bombs from 5,000 to 13,000 feet and dropping notes that looked like yen on one side but contained warnings that the city would be bombed in the near future and urging people to get out of town.
In a room on the opposite end of the fort sat two Vietnam veterans, Bill Lewis and Bill Norris. One of the most common questions from visitors, they said, was how they felt about being there.
Both Lewis, who was in the Air Force, and Norris, who was in the Army, volunteered for the military.
They all grew up with protests, Norris said, but when their boots were on the ground, they were doing their jobs and watching out for one another.
And returning troops weren't all treated poorly. On Memorial Day in 1973, Norris said, he was in a parade in Tennessee, “and they cheered us like we were heroes. It looked like a victory parade.” Times have changed, Norris said. Most people say “thank you for your service.”
Visitors were invited to contribute to Honor Flight.
Donations can be made online at hfnei.org, or mailed to Honor Flight NEI, Post Office Box 5, Huntertown, IN 46748.