Rick Beyer Pays Tribute to 6 WWII Veterans Who Attended the WWII Conference | Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours

Rick Beyer Pays Tribute to 6 WWII Veterans Who Attended the WWII Conference

WWII veterans at WWII Conference

Rick Beyer, a Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours historian and the co-host of History Happy Hour, was a featured speaker at a WWII Conference held at the Zephyrhills Museum of Military History in Central Florida in January. In addition to speaking about the top-secret WWII deception unit, The Ghost Army, Rick was honored to have met six WWII veterans at the conference.

Rick Beyer Pays Tribute to 6 WWII Veterans Who Attended the WWII Conference

It was a stirring sight in this day and age. Six WWII veterans, most over 100 years old, sitting right in front of me, telling stories of their time in the service more than 80 years ago. This was the highlight of a WWII conference in Lakeland Florida that I attended in January. This picture captures it all.

From left to right in the photo above…

Chief Master Sergeant Mel Jenner was a waist gunner with the 452 Bomb Group. He flew 31 missions, including six to Berlin. His last WWII mission was over Normandy on June 6, 1944. Later, he flew 25 missions in the Berlin Airlift and also flew in Korea and Vietnam, retiring in 1968.

Next, resplendent in his Marine uniform, is Louis Boria, who fought in Leyte. He told the story of how he reported for the draft, and they told him he was going to be in the Navy. “I don’t want to go to the Navy” he told them. “The next thing I know there are two policeman on either side of me, and they say, ‘What do you mean, troublemaker.’ I said, ‘I want to go into the Marines.’ At that very moment, a Marine Corporal happened to be walking by, and he said, ‘He’s mine.’ And so I ended up in the Marines!” Boria fought at Leyte Gulf under MacArthur, and stayed in the service until 1954. His four sons all served in the Marines, and one was killed in Vietnam. I sat across from him at lunch, and he regaled us with many stories of his life.

Sallie Amato was also a marine—and a bugler. She saw a poster that read, “Be a Marine.” It prompted her to enlist. From marching orders to “Taps,” Amato played a bugle to keep fellow soldiers on track. “I did what was supposed to be done,” she said. “It was there to be done, just the same as you would’ve done had you been there at the time.” She later went to college on the GI Bill, where she met her future husband.

Robert Hodge, 104, remembered D-Day quite well. “Pearl Harbor was the beginning of a completely new era,” Hodge said. He served on the USS Osberg.

99-year old Col. George Hardy is another veteran of three wars. An African-American from Philadelphia, he joined the Tuskeegee Airmen. He recalled the racism he faced traveling to basic training. “We had our Pullman seats, three of us going to Tuskegee down to Kessler Field for basic training,” he said. “The rest of the car was all white. This is where we first ran into racial segregation. When we went to eat in the dining car, we had to sit behind a curtain.” He flew 21 combat missions over Germany in 1945, escorting bombers to their targets. In Korea he piloted a B-29 for 45 combat missions. In Vietnam he flew 70 missions in a C-119 Gunship.

Bill Monfort, looking good for someone who is 107 years old, joined the navy in 1935. On December 7, 1941, he was a radioman aboard the USS Mahon, 800 miles from Hawaii, when he heard the message, “Air raid Pearl Harbor: This is no drill.” While aboard the USS Claxton on Nov. 1, 1944, Monfort witnessed one of the first Japanese suicide pilot attacks in Leyte Gulf.

Todd Depastino from the Veterans Breakfast Club interviewed these veterans one-by-one, and it was striking, 80 years after the war, to hear the stories from their own mouths.

Thanks to organizers, Jay Wertz and Bill Briedenstein, and sponsor Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours, for organizing this event and bringing these warriors on stage to share their lives.

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