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WWII vets open up to high school students

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WASHINGTON, DC -

On a cold, December day at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. a small group of elderly veterans got off the bus from their home, the Greenspring retirement community in Springfield, Va.

Most of these veterans had already visited the huge memorial to the collective sacrifice that saved Western democracies from Nazi and Japanese aggression in the 1940's.

On this day, the vets came to talk one-on-one to students from West Springfield High School. The kids, mostly seniors, were astonished to hear of the personal risks that were routinely necessary for victory.

Eck Muessig, a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, told them, in a very sober voice, "Your first combat is the most scary thing you'll ever get into. And you're just fighting to overcome your fear... Most people are able to do it."

Charles Fletcher, now 89, was a radio operator on a bomber crew. "We were pretty well shot up, one day, and lost an engine," Fletcher recalled. "And the plane, although it flew well on one engine, we were losing altitude badly, preparing to ditch in the ocean. And we looked in the bomb bay, and we still had a live 1,000 pound bomb in there." Fletcher said two crew members managed to defuse the bomb, and the plane made it to an alternate airport.

Edward R. DeMeter, now 88, flew a remarkable 149 combat missions in the Southwest Pacific theater of the war. "We would lose one or two, maybe three or four [planes] every mission of, say, 16 planes," DeMeter recalled. DeMeter laughed as he added,

"I went [into the war] as 19, and came out at 60 years old, so to speak."

For some of the students, hearing these stories about World War Two has been a life-changing experience.

"I think if there's a veteran on the street (just walking along), and there's a student there, I think [the student] definitely should go over and shake their hand," said Elizabeth Bowman, a senior at West Springfield H.S. "And thank them for their service. And have a little chat with them. You can never learn too much about a war or a veteran's experience."

Bowman plans to major in history in college next year.

The high schoolers from West Springfield are recording their interviews with World War Two vets, and putting the interviews online. Everyone here realizes: in just a few more years, this opportunity will no longer exist.

The project, which began in September, can be found online at wwiimemorialfriends.org

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