MIDDLEBURY — Ask about Ken Weber and people remembered him as a really nice guy and maybe as their Little League coach.
Few had any idea of his earlier service, flying P-47 fighter planes on dangerous ground attacks over occupied Europe and Nazi Germany 75 years ago.
Perry native Dan Kostrzebski and his Army team were caught in a harrowing standoff and firefight before being rescued by a helicopter during the 1991 Gulf War. He wanted to see the media highlight the work of military civil affairs and medical personnel, who often changed the minds of people raised to hate Americans.
One interviews a lot of veterans working for a newspaper and their recollections are almost always a learning experience. They’re everyday people, who you might not have thought of wearing a uniform.
But they share perspectives from to the humorous to the horrific:
n About 20 years ago, The Daily News interviewed a World War I veteran at the VA Medical Center in Batavia. He said he joined the Army at 16 years old and served in France.
He matter-of-factly remembered stepping behind a medical tent an seeing dead comrades laid in a trench — fellow soldiers he knew personally.
n Waiting for a school board meeting in Holley, again a long time ago, a Navy veteran shared a few experiences from serving aboard a Sturgeon class nuclear submarine in the 1970s. He confirmed the legend that submariners used the Navy’s equivalent of Kool-Aid mix for cleaning floors — the stuff was that acidic.
n A retired Le Roy police officer, who was an Army reservist, discussed in 2011 the challenges of teaching professional policing in Afghanistan. How do you even begin with a culture which only has a word for “sin” but not “crime”?
n Two Korean War veterans and Chosin Reservoir survivors were happy to talk about their experiences during a gathering at the VA Medical Center about 2007.
The Marines had fought a brutal battle, surrounded and outnumbered by several Chinese army divisions, as they fought their way to the sea and safety. Temperatures were unbelievably cold at -40 degrees.
One of the old Marines said he and his comrades were dressed essentially in denim jackets and dungarees — nothing warmer than that. The other was happy to fetch an X-ray image from his pickup, showing the two Chinese “burp gun” bullets still lodged in his chest and shoulder.
n Former Pastor Don Vogel of the Perry Congregationalist Church served in the Pacific in World War II: “You wouldn’t like it,” he said.
n Gordon Link of Warsaw described duties as a B-52 crewman, flying slow orbits over the Aleutian Islands at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
His plane was carrying a load of nuclear bombs meant to obliterate a city somewhere in Russia if war erupted. He had gotten word to his wife Mary earlier, instructing her to get to Colorado with her mother, where she’d be safer.
After he returned home, he was a bit miffed to discover she stayed at home anyway.
And those are among hundreds of interviews, involving men and women of all branches. And the stories aren’t necessarily unique, as the current and former military personnel still live throughout the area, and they all have their share of memories.
Even though the COVID-19 crisis has limited ceremonies and canceled parades, they and people throughout the GLOW region will nonetheless commemorate their service and experiences on Memorial Day.