Hundreds honor veterans

DALLAS -- One minute he was working on air conditioners. The next, he was in the nose of a B-26 Marauder flying over Europe.

DALLAS -- One minute he was working on air conditioners. The next, he was in the nose of a B-26 Marauder flying over Europe.

Charlie Bair knew why he was there.

"We were there to stop an evil ideology. We had no desire to lay claim to anything. We just wanted to get this thing over with and go home."

Bombers during World War II were cramped, especially the B-26. It was among the smallest of the bombers, designed to obliterate bridges, railroad yards and fuel dumps.

The crew of six added 10,000 more pounds of guns and ammunition than the plane was supposed to carry.

Two waist gunners fired through open hatches in the side of the plane. There was a gun turret on top and twin 50s in the tail.

Bair had a flexible .50 caliber with him in the nose of the plane. "It was a matter of doing what you had to do with what you had to work with," Bair said.

It helped knowing the prayers of the folks back home were with them. "We had total support of the people back home and knew that.

"It was a total effort."

That it was, said Amy Lowery.

In recognition of that fact, the new World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., honors not only veterans, but all the people who contributed to the war effort on the home front as well.

Lowery's family business, Bollman Funeral Home in Dallas, has been spearheading an effort to collect Polk County names for the memorial.

The effort got a final push Nov. 11 during Veterans Day ceremonies at the Polk County Courthouse.

It was a multipurpose ceremony.

About 300 people came to honor veterans, dedicate a new flag pole, talk about the World War II memorial and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the courthouse.

Elliot "Nick" Nichols of Dallas was presented the Bronze Star by Lt. Brian Riece of the Army National Guard. Nichols earned the medal 60 years ago during the war, but was only formally bestowed the honor two weeks ago.

Onslow Althaus of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Jess Cagle of the American Legion dedicated the flag pole.

Bill Harland led the centennial celebration of the courthouse and shared anecdotes from its history.

The Dragonaires from Dallas High School performed both "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Cub Scouts from Pack 24 released 300 biodegradable balloons in honor of the first 300 Polk County residents registered with the World War II Memorial.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., President Clinton was breaking ground on the World War II Memorial between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

"We realize a lot of people will never get to D.C. to see the memorial, but we wanted to bring the memorial back to Dallas," Lowery said.

She and her brother, Mike Bollman, had a great uncle who served in World War II. That was one thing that sparked their interest in the project.

Another was the National Funeral Directors Association. Leaders of the association asked members last January to help raise money for the memorial.

Lowery said she and Mike wanted to do more than raise money. They wanted to raise names. "I thought this was a really unique campaign," she said. "We wanted to make sure local residents are represented."

Even more names were added Veterans Day. After the ceremonies, at least 100 people came up to add names to the registry.

"It was awesome," Lowery said. "We literally thought most people had already signed up. We're just so proud to be involved in this."

As a funeral director, Lowery said she sees a lot of old soldiers fade away. Nationally, about 1,000 World War II veterans are dying every day.

Bair sees that on a personal level. His old squadron regularly holds reunions. The events used to draw 300 men. At the last reunion, there were only 52.

Death was not the only reason attendance was down, Bair said. "But we're definitely dwindling."

The people who fought in World War II share an extraordinary common bond, Bair said. "We were youngsters and venturesome. Many of us, like myself, were in love with flying."

Bair was 6 years old when Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. "I decided then and there I was going to be an airman."

By the middle of 1943, however, the Army Air Corps had a lot more pilots than it did bombardiers and navigators. "Our careers were redirected," Bair said.

It was another World War II veteran, retired postal carrier Richard Durbin, who got the memorial going. He was visiting some of his old battlefields in Europe where he noticed memorials to American forces.

It didn't seem right that there were American memorials on foreign soil, but none in the United States. The Iwo Jima Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery doesn't qualify.

It is meant just for the Marines.

Ceremonies like the one in Polk County were held throughout the United States on Veterans Day, all coinciding with the ground-breaking in Washington, D.C. Literally thousands of balloons were released simultaneously with the ones on the Polk County Courthouse lawn.

"It really made us feel a part of it," Lowery said.

For Bair and the other veterans, it was recognition long overdue.

He was among the first veterans to start raising money for the memorial.

Although war is hell, Bair said he emerged from the experience a better person. Before the war, he slogged his way through a couple of semesters of college.

He wasn't very focused and didn't get good grades.

After the war, he went back to school on the G.I. bill and became a bioengineer. His grades were high. "I knew where I was headed when I got back," he said.

"I came back a man."


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