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updated: 7/2/2011 7:39 AM

World War II Jewish vets from Buffalo Grove honored in Washington

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  • Bill Hunter, left, of Buffalo Grove, shown talking to Michael Hoff of Lake Forest, said he was moved to tears by a memorial to World War II nurses.

       Bill Hunter, left, of Buffalo Grove, shown talking to Michael Hoff of Lake Forest, said he was moved to tears by a memorial to World War II nurses.
    Samantha Bowden | Staff Photographer

  • Milton Davis, left, of Wheeling talks with Joe Groner of Northbrook about their time in the service and the Honor Flight for World War II veterans they made Wednesday to Washington.

       Milton Davis, left, of Wheeling talks with Joe Groner of Northbrook about their time in the service and the Honor Flight for World War II veterans they made Wednesday to Washington.
    Samantha Bowden | Staff Photographer

  • Milton Davis, left, of Wheeling talks with Joe Groner of Northbrook about their time in the service and the Honor Flight for World War II veterans they made Wednesday to Washington.

       Milton Davis, left, of Wheeling talks with Joe Groner of Northbrook about their time in the service and the Honor Flight for World War II veterans they made Wednesday to Washington.
    photos by Samantha Bowden | Staff Photographer

 
By Jeff Engelhardt
Daily Herald Correspondent

They are men who easily find the words to describe their time as soldiers in Germany and the Pacific islands during World War II.

They have seen and described battles many could not comprehend, but even these war veterans were at a loss for words when it came to the honor they received in the nation's capital Wednesday.

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"It was something that was absolutely indescribable," said Milton Davis, an 85-year-old World War II veteran from Wheeling.

Davis was one of three members of Buffalo Grove Jewish War Veterans Post 89 who flew to Washington, D.C., Wednesday to be honored and see the war memorials as a guest of Honor Flight Chicago. The program sends veterans at no cost to see the war memorials, the Lincoln Memorial and Udvar Hazy National Air and Space Museum.

Davis, who was a sharpshooter stationed in Europe during the war, said it is both a proud and sad moment to see the memorials and think about all those who never made it home.

But this trip was filled with much more pride than sadness for Davis, who said he was touched by the thousands of people who thanked the veterans during the trip.

"Thousands of people greeted us, from little kids to seniors who couldn't walk," he said. "They probably paid $20 for parking just to come say hello and thank you."

His ultimate moment came when he was able to take a picture in front of the World War II monument with his son, grandson and great-grandchild.

Others had moments of sadness. A memorial to nurses moved Bill Hunter, a Navy veteran from Buffalo Grove, to tears.

Hunter, who drove landing craft in the Pacific, was wounded twice, once on a mission in the Philippines and another time in a kamikaze attack during the Battle of Okinawa.

"Those women weren't nurses," Hunter said. "They were our angels."

Hunter said he was honored to have a nurse from Washington's largest hospital as his "guardian" for the trip. A "guardian" accompanies each veteran, ready to help when needed.

Though the three men belong to a Jewish veterans post, Joe Groner, who spent two years as a technician on a hospital ship during World War II, said his Jewish heritage and the Holocaust, now the defining event of the war, didn't figure predominantly in his military service at the time.

Back then, Americans weren't aware of the scale of the atrocities being committed, he said.

"We knew things weren't good in Germany, but we didn't know they were exterminating people like cockroaches," he said. "It wasn't until after that we started to see what happened."

Instead, he said he was inspired to volunteer for the Army after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

"I'm an American first," he said. "We had a sense of patriotism at that time and we wanted to stop the tyranny. We wanted to defend our country."

Groner was "wounded" in an unusual way, contracting cancer from operating x-ray equipment without proper training. His military experience led him to become a pediatrician, he said.

He was amazed by the Honor Flight, from the medical staff ready to help on the plane and buses in case of an emergency to the Girl Scouts who brought them homemade cookies.

"Mind-boggling, absolutely mind-boggling," Groner, a Northbrook resident, said of the kindness and appreciation everyone showed them. "There are no words to explain it, I just sobbed from it all."

All three men agreed it was the little things that meant the most: servicemen lining up to salute them, little kids excited to shake their hands, getting to know their guardians.

"You would be crazy not to do this trip," Groner said.

Honor Flight Chicago has 10 flights scheduled this year, with a waiting list of more than 1,500 veterans. To donate or volunteer, go to honorflightchicago.org.

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