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Veteran respect spans generations

WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- World War II veteran Armond J. Baron and Tech. Sgt. Christopher Harry salute the flag at the Base Ellipse. (US Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Sandi Michon)

WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- World War II veteran Armond J. Baron and Tech. Sgt. Christopher Harry salute the flag at the Base Ellipse. (US Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Sandi Michon)

WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. - -- Armond Baron's sacrifices in World War II are not lost on current combat veteran Christopher Harry. The 24-year-
old technical sergeant has deployed to Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Kuwait, and serves at 80 military funerals a
year - to make sure every veteran is properly honored.
The young 42nd aerial port sergeant listened intently as Baron
told his story.
At one point in the interview, 83-year-old Armond J. Baron slowly rose from his chair and sank to his knees to show how he hunkered down
in the landing craft during the two-hour, pre-dawn channel approach to a beach in France. He raised his arm to show the 4-foot height he had to keep his head under to keep from being shot.
The date was June 6, 1944. The beach was Omaha Beach -
the most heavily fortified beachhead at Normandy. Dark, choppy seas
foreshadowed what would be the bloodiest D-Day battle. Then 20-year-old Baron listened to the other 15 guys in his craft as some prayed, some talked and some were silent. "Everyone wondered who was going
to get it, but in the end, what the hell you going to do?" Baron said.
"If you want to live, get the hell out of the boat and make it to the beach."
Baron was one of the four infantrymen in his squad that made
it safely to the beach as the famed German 352nd Infantry Division incessantly fired on them from machine gun nests, pillboxes and concrete fortifications. Although they made it out of the water, they were pinned down. He can't remember all the details, but distinctly
recalls the "screaming meamies" - German, multi-barreled Nebelwerfer mortars.
"They didn't do a lot of damage, but the incoming sound
was scary," he said. "After the first night on the beach, it takes
some of the starch out of you, but you just had to deal with it." While he struggled with the details, he unconsciously clenched and
unclenched his left hand, suggesting the deep anguish the memories still hold.
The young infantry scout spent 12 days on the beach, and the battle for Normandy continued for more than two months. When they
began the march through France, Baron patrolled towns looking for German soldiers. During one building search, he was face-to-face
with an armed enemy soldier. "It was him or me. I had to shoot him," he said. "There is no easy part to war."
War got much harder for Baron just outside the town of Lemans. Baron and his patrol were up on a hill when a German tank rounded a corner and fired on them. "I heard a huge blast and the next
time I woke up, I was in a British hospital. The attack blew a hole in my head and my helmet probably saved my life," said the Purple
Heart and Bronze Star recipient. After three months in the British hospital, Baron learned he was no longer eligible for infantry
duty. After a 90-day furlough, he began a three-year hitch with the Army Air Corps at Westover Air Force Base, just 15 miles from
his hometown of Southampton, Mass. He served three years with the 1600th Maintenance Squadron painting insignia, lettering and
weather-related treatments on C-124 Globemaster transports and other aircraft. He then filled his own military vacancy as a civilian and remained at Westover another 14 years.
After listening to Baron's "living history" accounts, Sergeant Harry could relate on several levels. Both entered the military as teen-agers, both are tall and lanky, patriotic, love sports - and respect each
other's service to country. But Baron's blue eyes, white hair and weathered, lined face stand in stark contrast to Sergeant Harry's dark
brown eyes, crew cut, and youthful, lean face. "If we served together today, I think we'd be friends," Sergeant Harry said.
At honor guard events, Sergeant Harry has heard lots of war stories, but, unlike the narrators, they never get old. "If they didn't do
what they did, our military would not be what it is," he said. In fact, the young sergeant followed the military heritage set by his father and
two grandfathers who set the pace in the Army and Navy. His Air Force choice was formed through Westover air show visits from his home town of West Brookfield, Mass.
The significance of Veterans' Day deepened for Sergeant Harry during his 2004 deployment to Kuwait. Just before Christmas, he was on duty when aircraft arrived carrying soldiers killed when insurgents bombed their dining facility in Mosul. Aerial porters stood at
attention in two lines and saluted their fallen comrades as they passed. "I didn't have to know them and it didn't matter what branch. We
are a 'brotherhood,' serving a common goal. We do it to pay respect and as a gesture of gratitude," he said.
When he got back to Westover, Sergeant Harry joined the honor guard for more opportunities to show respect and showcase the military. Although they serve at many celebratory events, he values the funerals. "We fire the shots, play taps, and present the flag to
family members. It's the last thing they remember," he said of the poignant events.
"Veterans' Day is not just another day off," he said. "People should take a closer look and take the time to thank a veteran."
Sergeant Harry leads by example. He shook hands with Armond Baron and said, "Thank you."