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 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 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.
On Saturday, May 20, the World War 2 Guys put on another great display at the La Vista Cabela's annual Armed Force Day celebration. The festivities kicked off with the Quilts of Valor Foundation presenting their custom designed and hand-stitched quilts to eight local veterans. The quilts were amazing this year and the veterans were very appreciative. For our military display, Jeff presented an assortment of U.S. Navy and U.S. Army uniforms and equipment. Jon was our 507th Parachute Infantry representative and primarily presented a medical and Airborne display. Eric was representing the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War. A special sign was created to honor Pfc. Edward "Babe" Gomez from Omaha who was killed in action on September 14, 1951 and posthumously received the Medal of Honor. In addition, Eric also created a sign to remember the 69 men from Omaha, Nebraska who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the Korean War. Cabela's was once again a wonderful host and we were so appreciative to get the chance to interact and teach dozens of visitors throughout the day.
On Saturday, May 21, I presented a Vietnam themed display at the annual Cabela's Armed Forces Day event. The day began with a flag raising ceremony and a presentation by the ladies of the Quilts of Valor Foundation to eight local veterans. All of the veterans were very appreciative of the quilts that had been uniquely designed and hand-stitched for them. For my display this year I chose to represent the men of Alpha Company, 4/47th Infantry of the 9th Division. My display was dedicated to Sergeant Daniel Joseph Sandstedt of Omaha who was with A Co. when he was killed in action on June 19, 1967. I got to speak with a Vietnam vet who actually knew Dan Sandstedt which was quite a treat. The men of the 2nd Infantry Division Living History Association put on a fine World War II display and Erik Muttersbough did an excellent early WWII cavalry display with his horse, Sunny. It was another wonderful event at Cabela's with a lot of visitors to our displays and some truly spectacular weather.
The World War 2 Guys were given the privilege of taking part in Christ Community Church's "America" celebration the evening of Sunday, June 28. We had great unit participation for the event with Will honoring the US Army Air Corps, Matt the 8th Infantry Division, Bob and Luke the 101st Airborne Division, Eli the 2nd Infantry Division, Cody the US Army Medics, Jeff the US Navy, and Eric the US Marine Corps. Turnout for the event was impressive with hundreds of visitors talking with us about our World War II themed display. The night kicked-off with a patriotic concert honoring our nation's veterans both past and present, followed by an ice cream social and an awesome fireworks display. The highlight of the night was when Technical Sergeant Paul Andreas stopped by our tables. A veteran of the 28th Infantry Division and the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest, Paul was a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient who was captured by the Germans as a POW. He's quite a guy and it was great to have him talk with us for a few minutes. This was a great summertime event and one we'll hopefully be back for next year!
The World War 2 Guys were invited to be a part of the 2nd Infantry Division Association's 93rd National Reunion which took place at Omaha's Downtown DoubleTree Hotel from September 16-20. Members of our group dressed in military uniforms depicting several eras of the 2nd Infantry Division's proud history. We were also invited to set up display tables to exhibit uniforms, field equipment, weapons, personal effects, insignia, photographs, and printed materials of the division from World War I up through the 1970's. Dave, Will, Jeff, Matt, Eric, Eli and Darrell were all able to attend the event on Friday which quickly turned into one of the most memorable and rewarding days in our unit's history. We spent time throughout the day talking with 2nd Division veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam-era vets who patrolled the dangerous Korean DMZ. We were honored to eat lunch with two veterans who shared stories with us as we ate. Members of our unit were also invited to attend the division's annual Memorial service where the remember all of their comrades who have passed over the course of the past year. It was an unbelievable experience and one that none of us will ever forget. The National Reunion is being held in San Antonio, Texas in 2015... it's a long way from Omaha, but it would be worth the trip to spend some more time with these guys!!!
Read all about the great events that the World War 2 Guys take part in throughout the year.