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North Country WWII veterans honored all the way to D.C.

Alfred Kurtz, of Elizabethtown, was one of 18 World War II veterans on the inaugural North Country Honor Flight to the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Kurtz served for three years in the U.S. Army and spent most of that time in a stockade in Naples, Italy, where he did guard duty as a military police officer.

Alfred Kurtz, of Elizabethtown, was one of 18 World War II veterans on the inaugural North Country Honor Flight to the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Kurtz served for three years in the U.S. Army and spent most of that time in a stockade in Naples, Italy, where he did guard duty as a military police officer. Photo by Shaun Kittle.

— On board, the veterans were feeling the excitement, too.

There was a smile on every wide-eyed face, and many stood to watch as motorcycles zipped by, leaving tracers of red, white and blue in their wake.

“This is so much more than I expected,” said U.S. Navy veteran Ralph P. Filion as he peered over the seat in front of him to watch a motorcyclist pass the bus, his long gray beard plastered against his face.

“A lot of us don’t talk because it brings back bad memories. As many years ago as it happened, it’s never far away.”

Filion, who entered the Navy on May 18, 1944, and received an honorable discharge March 10, 1946, spent time on a destroyer in the Atlantic Ocean.

His ship’s job was to escort a convoy of 100 American ships to Reykjavík, Iceland, in submarine infested waters.

“We had to destroy the subs before they could get to the fleet,” Filion said.

Submarines weren’t the only threat, though.

“There was one time when we hit an iceberg, and it put a big split in the ship,” Filion said. “That was close. It put a crack in the bottom and we began taking on water.”

They made it back to Virginia, where the ship was welded and sent back out.

Filion also served in Panama and the South Pacific

“We were never told what was going on,” Filion said. “I don’t know how many days we were on the water (in the South Pacific). We were waiting for the Enola Gay.”

The Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, was flown by Col. Paul Tibbets. The plane is famous for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

“I had switched ships from a destroyer to an assault ship,” Filion said. “We had 3000 marines aboard when they dropped the atomic bomb. When that happened we went into a bay in Japan.”

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