I was fortunate to spend the weekend of June 10-11 in the picturesque small town of Brooklyn, Iowa which is the home of Corporal Harold "Pie" Keller, one of the Iwo Jima flag raisers in the famous Joe Rosenthal photograph. Pie Keller was finally identified by Brent "Westy" Westemeyer and formally recognized by the U.S. Marine Corps in 2019 as the latest misidentified flag raiser. In 2014, I was the first person to correctly identify that Pfc. Harold Henry Schultz was in the Number 5 position always thought to be Franklin Sousley. The Marine Corps recognized Schultz as an official flag raiser in June 2016. I spent Friday night just taking in all the sights and sounds of Brooklyn which is a charming little town. I ate dinner and had a slice of pie at The Classic Deli and Ice Cream Shoppe which was delicious. I saw the boyhood home of John Wayne and a couple of neat old fashioned gas stations. Saturday morning after some coffee and breakfast at the Classic Deli I met Westy for the first time. We marched in the Brooklyn Festival of Flags Parade which was a great parade for a small town! It rained off and on throughout the morning but it couldn't damped the spirits of Brooklyn and its parade goers. Afterwards was the formal dedication ceremony for the Harold "Pie" Keller statue. Pie's family was in attendance and got to help in revealing the bronze statue and four informational bronze signs about Pie and the Iwo Jima campaign. There was a luncheon following the ceremony which was a lot of fun to attend as well. The whole weekend was just top notch and I was so happy to be a part of such a momentous event for the town and for the Keller family!
On Saturday, May 28, the World War 2 Guys marched in Omaha's 2nd Annual Memorial Weekend Parade through downtown Omaha. After tossing around a few other ideas, we decided to go with a timeline walk again this year. Our representative soldiers were Will for World War II, Cody for the Korean War, Eric for the Vietnam War, and Mark for Desert Storm. The crowds were huge once again and the weather was about as nice as you could get for a Saturday morning parade! We'll certainly be back again next year.
On Saturday, April 23, the World War 2 Guys were excited and honored to be a part of a ceremony remembering the 51 members of the 73rd Cavalry Regiment who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the Global War on Terror. The event took place at Omaha's beautiful Memorial Park near the Airborne Memorial. 51 new bricks were unveiled directly behind the Airborne trooper statue in a moving ceremony. To assist with the unveiling were Jerrimy representing a World War II paratrooper of the 82nd Airborne Division, Eric representing an 82nd trooper from 1965 in the Dominican Republic, and Joe representing an 82nd trooper from 1983 in Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. It was a great event to be associated with and a pleasure to help recognize and remember those who have given their lives in the service of our country.
On Tuesday, March 29, Eric and Joe attended the official groundbreaking ceremony for the new Nebraska Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the Sumtur Amphitheater in Papillion, Nebraska. Eric was representing a US Marine from 1965 in his OG-107 utility uniform and Joe was representing a US Army soldier for the late war period in his ERDL jungle fatigues. In attendance were hundreds of local Vietnam veterans accompanied by their loved ones. It was truly impressive seeing so many Vietnam veterans gathered together at one time! Nebraska Governor, Pete Ricketts, gave an inspired opening speech and then former US Senator and former US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, gave the keynote address. Hagel and his brother, Tom, served together in the 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam. The future memorial will sit atop the hill which overlooks the Sumtur Amphitheater. If all goes as planned, the memorial will be dedicated on March 29, 2023 which is designated as National Vietnam War Veterans Day across the nation.
On Sunday, September 12, the World War 2 Guys were invited to celebrate the 20th Anniversary re-dedication of the Andrew Jackson Higgins Memorial in Columbus, Nebraska. Our participants for the day were Mark representing the "Big Red One" of the 1st Infantry Division on D-Day, Cody representing the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II, and Eric representing the 1st Cavalry Division in the Korean War. The park and memorial in Columbus were beautiful and the public interaction was great as well. It was very rewarding to show off the uniforms, weapons and equipment of our soldiers and marines who rode Higgins Boats to the battlefield in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
The highlight of my Memorial Day was finding and cleaning the gravesite of Lt. Col. Alfred Thomsen of Omaha. He was the 3rd Battalion commander of the 134th Infantry Regiment, a Nebraska National Guard unit that made the Cornhusker state proud during World War II. The 134th took Hill 122 on July 15 and was "officially" the first unit to enter St. Lo. Thomsen was wounded by German artillery on July 30 and died a few weeks later when a blog clot reached his brain. The Big Colonel or "Tommy" as he was known was a larger than life personality and a legend in Nebraska's military ranks. He's buried in Westlawn-Hillcrest cemetery, and surprisingly he's only 50 yards or so away from my parents' burial site! His marker is right at base of an ancient tree and near the Westlawn Singing Tower which has watched over him for many, many years. I read aloud excerpts from 'Biography of a Battalion' and some of author James A. Huston's recollections of his friend and the leader of so many Nebraska boys. Lt. Col. Thomsen has been a hero of mine for over 20 years now when I first started learning actual WWII stories from WWII veterans, so it was nice to finally slow down, sit with him, and share some French Calvados at long last.
On Saturday, May 29 the fellas were back in action at a monuments re-dedication ceremony at Omaha's beautiful Memorial Park. It was a gorgeous, sunny day with Eric and Cody representing H/507, Will representing F/502 and Joe representing the 101st Airborne in Vietnam. There were parachute jumpers and a nice presentation by various speakers including our 2nd District Representative Don Bacon. Afterwards we had lots of photos taken at the Airborne Memorial which was one of the monuments being formally re-dedicated after it's move from Heartland of America Park. It was a great chance to remember and honor all of our Airborne veterans throughout our nation's history.
On May 25, the World War 2 Guys visited St. Mary's Cemetery for our annual cleaning of the Furmanski brothers' gravesites. It's always amazing at how overgrown a headstone can get in one year's time. This year at St. Mary's we thoroughly cleaned and trimmed around headstones for Privates First Class Floyd and Aloysius Furmanski, Flight Officer Martin P. Schmitt, Jr. and Sergeant James P. McNeil. Afterwards we went to Omaha Central and laid flowers at the Central High School Vietnam Memorial. We then went on to spend some time at Omaha's Memorial Park where we were able to see the relocated Airborne Memorial and the Victory '95 Memorial which both looked outstanding in their new home.
On Memorial Day, Eric and Jon visited St. Mary's Cemetery for our annual cleaning of the Furmanski brothers' gravesites. It's truly amazing how overgrown a headstone can get in one year's time. This year at St. Mary's we thoroughly cleaned and trimmed around headstones for Privates First Class Floyd and Aloysius Furmanski, Flight Officer Martin P. Schmitt, Jr. and Staff Sergeant Joseph B. Labanowski. Afterwards we went to Omaha Central and laid a wreath at the Central High School Vietnam Memorial. Eric later went to Forest Lawn Cemetery and placed flowers at the markers for two Omaha men killed in Vietnam, Specialist 4 Donald Steven Waite of the 101st Airborne Division and Corporal William Warner Utts of the Americal Division.
On Monday, May 28, the World War 2 Guys gathered for our annual Memorial Day visit to St. Mary's Cemetery in South Omaha to once again honor Floyd and Aloysius Furmanski. Cody, Jon, Eric and Grant spent time cleaning the grave markers of the two brothers both killed in the summer of 1944. We held a silent vigil and played Taps to honor the incredible sevice and sacrifice of Floyd and Aloysius and all of our fallen military heroes. Afterwards, we visited Omaha's Central High School and laid flowers at their Vietnam War Memorial erected to honor the Central High students who gave their lives for their comrades and their country in Vietnam. It was a great day to get out and honor those who gave all so that we could have today.
Read all about the great events that the World War 2 Guys take part in throughout the year.