World War II soldiers remembered
by W. Winston Skinner
When Dick Stender was a boy growing up in Pennsylvania, he used to listen to the radio with his grandmother.
They always listened to the war news. At the end of one program, announcer Gabriel Heatter added a postscript: There were fewer than 2,000 Civil War veterans still living.
“When I was a girl, everybody was a Civil War veteran,” his grandmother mused.
Stender recalled that experience at the community Memorial Day program on Monday in Newnan. “I saw and lived the World War II homefront experience,” Stender said at the ceremonies held at Veterans Memorial Plaza. “Now I tell you that, when I was a boy, everybody was a World War II veteran.”
Sixteen million American men and women enlisted in the armed services from 1941-1945 and “fought around the world,” Stender said.
Stender recalled his mother was a waitress at a Howard Johnson’s. She would gather used cigarette packs at the end of her shift and bring them home. Then she and Stender would retrieve the foil from them and have it ready for the salvage dealer.
“It was a time of sacrifice,” Stender said. “People put patches on the patches on the patches on the patches of their tires. There was no rubber for tires.”
One of Stender’s jobs was working the color into margarine, which was white and lard-like. Veterans from World War I served as air raid wardens and would castigate people who had lights on at night without blackout curtains. Stender also remembered walking to church with his grandmother in Scranton. “Almost every window had a banner in it,” he said. The ones with gold stars signified someone from that home had been killed in the service. “As a boy, I had no real knowledge of the impact of that,” he said. His grandmother, however, knew who each of the young men were. He said those who died were remembered in many ways, including photos in albums and empty places at the dinner table.
Stender, who in later life moved to Newnan, has been helping organize Memorial Day programs locally for several years. Monday’s program included Stender and Jeff Carroll, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2667, reading the names of 67 Cowetans who died in World War II and whose names are inscribed on a plaque at Veterans Memorial Plaza.
The tribute was held at the plaza, located in the city park at Jackson Street and Temple Avenue.
During the ceremonies, it was learned that another Cowetan, Robert Eugene Adams Jr., had been killed in World War II and had family at the ceremonies.
Living veterans of World War II were asked to stand. The group of about eight included 102-year-old Henry Wilkerson and Aubrey Burnette, the last World War II prisoner-of-war still living in the county.
“Before it’s too late, we need to say – again – thank you, thank you,” Stender said.
World War II sent Americans around the globe, and 400,000 of them gave their lives. Those who returned “rebuilt America,” Stender said. “You’ll never be forgotten.”
Carroll spoke of the impact of some of those returning veterans. He mentioned Fred Morgan, a longtime downtown merchant; Gene Cook, a poet and speaker; and Tom Glanton, an educator. All have died in recent months.
Just a few days ago Robert Pittman, a tail gunner during the war, died. “They were a big part of bringing this country back together,” Carroll said.
Reflecting on those who were killed in action, Carroll said, “They didn’t want to be remembered as young men. They wanted to be remembered as gray-haired old men up here at the park.”