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Six WWII Veterans Tell Their Stories at Coatesville Senior Center
COATESVILLE (November 9, 2018) – Six World War II veterans brought together by state Senator Andy Dinniman discussed their experiences serving our nation on Friday at the Coatesville Area Senior Center.
The group of men, who served in every branch of the military and every theatre of war during World War II, spoke frankly about their training, service, and return home after the war during the roundtable discussion Dinniman organized in honor of Veterans Day.
“You don’t forget about it,” Don Wallace said of his wartime service.
Wallace served as Quartermaster in the United States Navy beginning in 1944. Later, he was stationed in occupied Japan and witnessed the signing of the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri. He also recalled seeing Emperor Hirohito and his family driving in an automobile.
Henry Jacks, 96, left Coatesville in April and found himself fighting with the U.S. Army in Africa by June.
“At 18 years old you think you know everything, but later in life, you learn that you really don’t,” he remarked.
After serving in Africa, Jacks fought in Italy where his service spanned the country’s entire “boot.” One of his fondest memories was visiting St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome and attending a private audience with Pope Pius XII after V-E Day.
Al Newman, 92, of East Fallowfield, spoke matter-of-factly about his service as an Army Staff Sergeant with an infantry unit in France and Germany.
“The big deal was to get across the Rhine. And I don’t remember how we did it, but we did it,” he said. “Then we went down through Germany and into Bavaria and that’s where the war finally came to an end.”
Upon returning home, Newman attended West Chester Teachers College and spent nearly 30 years as a school teacher in New Jersey, during which time he met his wife, Dolores.
Charles Gibbs, 92, of Coatesville talked about facing the daily life in a combat zone.
“Most of my time was in Okinawa. I was there when they dropped the atomic bomb,” Gibbs said. “But I was around a lot of snipers. I was recognized for being fired at quite a bit, but they didn’t get me. I went in on the tail end of the war, so I made out ok.”
Like Gibbs, Henry Root said that coming of age toward the conclusion of the war meant their service was generally less perilous than those who served earlier on.
“My brother joined the Army, but I didn’t want to sleep on the ground, so I joined the Navy,” he said with a smile. “Everybody was celebrating V-J Day and I was on a boat in the middle of the Pacific. It was more like a two-and-a-half-year vacation.”
Tony Genaro, 92, of West Caln agreed.
“I was on my way over to Japan and they quit. They heard I was coming,” he said, jokingly.
Dinniman, who serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, thanked the men for their service and encouraged others to document their stories.
“Notice these men all served towards the end of the war. Those who witnessed its beginning are now gone and with them so many stories and experiences,” Dinniman said. “The past is so important. The service and sacrifice of the Greatest Generation made our nation what it is today. If you have a veteran in your family, spend some time with them. Sit down, have them tell their stories and take a video to preserve it for posterity.”