News>“The Greatest Generation” recall World War II era
Crowds at the Great New England Air Show gather under the wings of the enormous C-5 to find shade and also tour the aircraft at Westover Air Reserve Base on August 4, 2012. The Air Show this weekend is the largest Westover has had since 1974, boasting more than 60 aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/TSgt. Timm Huffman)
by TSgt. Timm Huffman
439th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
8/29/2012 - WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- In the shadow of Westover's World War II-era hangars, once the point of departure for thousands headed to fight the Axis Powers, 160 veterans of that war had front row seats to the 2012 Great New England Air Show, Aug. 4-5.
The veterans were invited through the Galaxy Community Council, the non-profit community organization that partnered with the base to help put on the air show. John Harrington, a GCC volunteer, was in charge of making the invitations.
"I met a lot of amazing guys who did incredible things at 18, 19, 20 years of age," he said. "I was in college at that age and these guys were flying bombing missions over Japan."
Although the Greatest Generation is notoriously tight-lipped, here are five veterans who shared their stories.
Cpl. John Garvulenski, U.S. Army, 1943-1946
Cpl. Garvulenski left his high school graduating class of 1943 before he received his diploma to serve in the European theater. He arrived in Normandy on D-Day +6.
As a medic in the infantry, he treated the injured on battlefields and in foxholes across France until being injured himself. "It's not easy. I was glad to get out. I was so close to death so many times," he said.
After recovering, he transferred to the 5th Infantry Division and served as a Military Policeman.
During this time, Cpl. Garvulenski had the opportunity to work with the French mounted cavalry for about a month in Auxerre, France.
A lover of horses, Garvulenski said he saw the cavalry ride by one day and asked his commanding officer about it. Before he knew it, he was buddied up with a French lieutenant and was rounding up German soldiers to go to the prisoner of war camps.
"I enjoyed that so damn much."
Cpl. Gregoire G. Rochon, U.S. Army Air Corps, 1943-1946
Cpl. Rochon joined the Army Air Corps in 1943 and became a surgical technician at DeRidder Army Air Base, La., a P-51 Mustang training school.
While there, he was instrumental in saving the lives of many airmen.
He recalled the time he was called to help a doctor recover two troops who suffered head injuries in a vehicle roll-over. He said the doc asked him to load the patients into the ambulance. Cpl. Rochon loaded the injured men head-first into the vehicle. He said if they had been loaded feet-first, blood would have rushed to their injured brains as the ambulance sped away, possibly resulting in worse injury.
After the war ended, he was transferred to Delaware, where he worked receiving injured troops back from overseas. He said they would care for the wounded while they rested from the long journey, before sending them off to hospitals nearer their homes.
"Even though I never served overseas, I'm still proud of my service," he said. "I did my job well."
Cpl. Henry Faokowski, U.S. Army, 1943-1946
Cpl. Faokowski started his World War II adventure on D-Day at Normandy and fought his way across Europe until U.S. and Russian troops met in Germany.
He served as a rifleman in four major campaigns across the continent and earned the Bronze Star along the way.
"It was no picnic," he said. "So many times you're surprised you didn't get killed."
Cpl. Faokowski said he stays as close to his military roots as he can and currently serves as an honor guardsman in Connecticut. He performs duties as a rifleman at the funerals of veterans.
Lt. Col. Chester Faokowski, U.S. Army Air Corps
Lt. Col. Faokowski, a C-47 Skytrain pilot, served in China during World War II, delivering supplies to the Chinese army "over the hump."
Flying through the Himalayan Mountains was rife with danger, he said. The C-47s he flew were unable to fly at altitudes high enough to go over the mountains, so he would have to pilot the aircraft through the mountain passes.
"The weather killed more pilots than the Japanese," he said.
While many who served in this particular region were stationed in India and flew into China, Lt. Col. Faokowski was stationed in China and had to rely on the Chinese for support. The planes flying in were packed with military equipment, so there was no room for other supplies, he said.
Lt. Col. Faokowski recalls flying to Manchuria at the end of the war to pick up a group of prisoners of war who were being repatriated, and among those men was a Doolittle Raid survivor and others from the war. Upon returning they were greeted with a red-carpet welcome.
"It was an experience for sure," he said.
After the war, Lt. Col. Faokowski returned to the States and was stationed at Westover.
Maury Levesque U.S. Army Air Corps/U.S. Air Force
World War II and Korean War veteran Maury Levesque seemed not to mind the wilting heat Aug. 4 that affected many air show attendees half his age.
Levesque flew B-17s out of England during World War II. His commander was then-Col. Curtis LeMay. He recalled flying in the famous combat box formation that Col. LeMay helped to develop, in which B-17 strategic bombers flew in a tight group to increase both offensive and defensive value.
Levesque said he was in the Army Air Corps the day it changed to the Air Force.
"One day I came in wearing an Army uniform, and the next day I was wearing Air Force blues," he said. The Army Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force on Sept. 18, 1947.
Levesque was recalled to active duty during the Korean War but remained state side.
"The service had a rule that said you couldn't be deployed overseas if you were involuntarily recalled," he said, speaking in a strong voice that belied his years.
After leaving active duty a second time, Levesque flew corporate aircraft, including Gulf stream jets, until he retired.
The air show was a salute to the sacrifices these and the millions of other American men and women made during that war. Numerous heritage aerial performances, static ground displays and special treatment were among the ways Westover Airmen honored these men and women of "The Greatest Generation."