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Friday, December 2, 2011

Military Veterans Celebrated at Y Luncheon

Military Veterans Celebrated 
at Y Luncheon
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Fairfield, CT – Each was proud to have served. Most were glad to have returned home. And all were happy to share their stories of glory, difficult loss and even love during the wartime eras in which they served.

On Sunday, the Westport/Weston Family Y, 59 Post Road East, celebrated local military veterans with a luncheon, the second consecutive year the event has been conducted. More than a dozen veterans, many accompanied by their spouses, attended. Y CEO Rob Reeves welcomed the gathering, VP of Operations David Cohen gave some background about the event, Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn gave an invocation and several veterans stood to share their experiences with the group.

“In getting to know the members, I found so many with military history in their backgrounds,” said Cohen, with regard to how the event initially came about. “I thought that was unusual and unexpected in a town like Westport with its socio-economic orientation. I would have lots of individual conversations and hear about amazing acts of heroism that I felt we should celebrate and keep alive. While many of these veterans are of an older generation, others cut across younger age groups. I felt we owed all of them a debt of thanks for the freedoms that we enjoy.”

As Staples High School senior Gabrielle Winer played the violin as an ambient backdrop, veterans like Gunvald “Gun” Moen, 82, told their tales. Moen served in the Korean War during the years 1951-1955 as a B-29 bomber pilot in the U.S. Strategic Air Force (SAC).

“I was prepared to do whatever I was ordered to do,” said Moen. “At one point, I had orders to go to Japan, to do photo reconnaissance. Those orders were canceled the day before I was due to leave. I always wondered about the purpose of that mission and, after the service, read that the U.S. lost some 30 planes and 150 airmen over North Korea, China and Russia from the 1950s to 1970s. They were shot down. I put two-and-two together and realized that these were spy missions and that my mission was going to be to spy on enemy operations.”

Stanley Adelman was a major who served 1943 to 1984, spanning WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam. He started in the Army Air Corps, then went over to the Air Force. He began as a bombardier/navigator, then pilot, in a B-26 Martin Marauder bomber. He flew 53 combat missions over that time span.

When asked about his most memorable moment during his service, it was expected Adelman would share a battle experience, but he gave a surprising reply. “In 1944, I was stationed in Braintree, England, and met a young Navy lady named Jill,” he said. “She was a radio operator in the Woman’s Royal Naval Service… and she became my wife.”

Jill, a veteran herself, joined him at the luncheon and encouraged him to share a military moment. “During the Battle of the Bulge, along the border between Germany and France, my crew and I were grounded by poor weather,” Adelman related. “Then, on Christmas day, the weather broke and we flew two missions in support of American troops that were surrounded. That was the beginning of the final defeat of the Germans.”

Eighty-eight-year-old Larry Aasen was a paratrooper in the 13th Airborne Division, in the years 1944 to 1946. He said his most memorable moment was the day he got out of the service, as he wanted to get back to college. “The army was complete boredom except for four or five minutes at a time,” he said. Despite this, Aasen said it was an honor to serve. “We knew that we had to stop the Germans and Japanese.”

Aasen recalled how two men in his unit were killed. “One was going out to the latrine, and stepped off the path and on a land mine,” he said. “Another reached for a Luger pistol he wanted as a souvenir and it was booby-trapped and exploded.”

Aasen also remembered German V-2 rockets passing overhead on their way to England. “They made a chugging sound like Model T cars,” he said.

Westporter Paul Schiavone, 86, was an infantryman who went to the front in 1944 during WWII. He fought in France and Germany and saw action with General George Patton’s Third Army. Though he was not wounded, he bears lifetime reminder.

“That first winter, they had no boots to give us,” he said. “I only had shoes, socks and leggings. Our feet froze in the snow. I got trench foot and was hospitalized for four months in England. To this day, I have no feeling in my feet.” 

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