National Security

Memorial visit conjures memories for WWII vets

Veterans and their guardians, part of the Central Valley (Calif.) Honor Flight, pose for a group photo with Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif. on Tuesday, Sept. 16. at the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. (Samantha Ehlinger/McClatchy)
Veterans and their guardians, part of the Central Valley (Calif.) Honor Flight, pose for a group photo with Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif. on Tuesday, Sept. 16. at the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. (Samantha Ehlinger/McClatchy) McClatchy

A 97-year-old woman from Fresno sat looking out at the sun shining on the World War II Memorial.

“I’m impressed, that’s one thing. I’m very impressed,” said Jane McCoy, a World War II nurse.

Children came up to thank her for her service and shake her hand. She smiled and greeted each one from beneath her red cap marking her as a guest of the Central Valley Honor Flight.

McCoy earned a Bronze Star for her service on a nuerosurgical team. But the only way to find out was to ask her granddaughter, who was standing beside her.

McCoy said shyly that she was “just doing a job.”

She was one of 69 veterans and their guardians visiting the World War II Memorial as a part of the fourth Central Valley Honor Flight to Washington. The Honor Flight Network was designed to help veterans see the memorials built in their honor. Their journey was free, funded by donations.

They arrived Monday and visited the memorial Tuesday, as well as other landmarks. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., welcomed them to the capital. They will attend a lunch Wednesday at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Fresno resident and veteran Phillip Hauck, 93, smiled and warmly greeted people in his path, handing out pamphlets about his new book, “Foxholes of My Life.”

It’s about his time in the service, he said, but also about his marriage of 70 years “with the same beautiful woman.” He smiled and unfolded the enclosure for his name tag to reveal a small, square envelope.

“I’m carrying home a love letter to her that I wrote in 1944,” he said. “It’s never been opened.”

Hauck had never sent the letter and only discovered it recently. But better late than never: He intends to finally deliver it to his wife, seven decades later.

Hauck was a combat engineer on Omaha Beach on D-Day, and he also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, among other honors. On Christmas Day 1944, Hauck was wounded and spent three months in a French hospital.

“Unbelievable,” is how he described the day. “It brought so many memories back.”

Albert Metzger, 90, said the trip has been something he will never forget.

“I wish every veteran could come here and see what we’ve been seeing so far today,” the Fresno resident said.

In 1943, a 19-year-old Metzger enlisted in the Army Air Corps, eventually became a staff sergeant and was sent to join the 398th Bomber Group in Europe. At his base assignment in England, he was trained as a nose gunner, and later became a waist gunner. Shortly after arriving, he realized that his older brother, Adam, was also stationed there.

“He was a typewriter kid and I was a flying kid,” Metzger, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, said with a laugh. “That was one of the biggest deals, was when I got over there and met my brother there.”

He flew 30 missions in total, including two over Normandy on D-Day in the bomber “Sweet Pea II.” And he knew “I always had somebody there when I got back from a mission,” Metzger said of his brother.

The Central Valley veterans posed for a group picture in front of the memorial’s fountain, along with mounted photographs, biographies and flags to honor two missing comrades: the late Fresno Bee columnist and reporter, Eli Setencich, and truck driver Harmon Atwater.

Atwater, from Tulare, died June 23, the night before his scheduled honor flight. His biography told the story of a brave man, awarded the Silver Star for knocking out a German machine gun nest, and who was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.

Setencich flew 142 missions during the war and was twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was interested in traveling with the Central Valley Honor Flight but was in poor physical health. He died on July 12 at age 90.

“We honor both Harmon Atwater and Eli Setencich as we honor each and every one of you, because America would not be here today without you,” Costa told the veterans. “So God bless each and every one of you for your service.”