Erv Szewczuga spent much of this year’s Sept. 11 in Washington, D.C.
The 92-year-old World War II veteran went to the nation’s capital on an Old Glory Honor Flight.
He left Outagamie County Regional Airport that morning.
“It was fabulous. We landed in Washington, D.C. and a firetruck, I couldn’t believe it, it squirted us (the plane) with water. They told us that was a welcome sign,” Szewczuga said.
As he walked through the terminal taking video with his camera, a woman said to him,” We should be taking pictures of you.”
They made their way through the capital.
“Lots of buildings had flags hanging on them,” Szewczuga said. “They took us past the Pentagon. There was a flag on there where the building had been hit.”
The last time he was in Washington, D.C. was when John F. Kennedy was president.
On this trip, Szewczuga visited the World War II, Korean and Vietnam war memorials.
“I was very fascinated and very proud,” he said of the World War II Memorial. “They had a huge wall of flags. It was quite tall and long, and each flag represented 100 GIs that were killed. It’s unbelievable to see all those stars and think about all those representing 100 GIs that were killed.”
It made him feel grateful to be alive.
Szewczuga was drafted into the U.S. Army in December of 1942.
The Milwaukee native was in the 103rd Division.
His experience being part of the Old Glory Honor Flight brought back memories of his years in the service.
“I started my service in Camp Claiborne in Louisiana,” he said.
From there, he went to Texas for additional training.
“Then I went to Marseille in France. I ended up in Innsbruck, Austria, which is when the war ended for us,” Szewczuga said.
He said his job in the service was in the Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon.
“What we did was we supplied all the ammunition,” Szewczuga said. “If there was a battalion aid station, we had to go and make sure there were no mines around it. We walked with the infantry down the roads. We weren’t on the front line, except when we brought up ammunition and gasoline.”
He remembers the first time they were in combat.
“We go out on the road and start marching. All of a sudden, there would be shelling,” Szewczuga said. “Every time, we would go to the ditch.”
They had a German prisoner and asked him if it was an American or German shell.
“By the sound, each one had a distinctive sound,” he said. “It’s been a long time
70 years. There’s some things you do forget.”
He said the mothers and fathers of those who served deserve a lot credit.
“They has torment every day with their children in the service,” he said.
Szewczuga was discharged in November 1945.
He returned to Milwaukee and was an electrician at Miller Brewing Company for 33 years.
About 20 years ago, he and his wife Alice moved to Waupaca.
She is originally from Big Falls and wanted to return to the area.
Their marriage is a second one for both of them.
The couple met at a dance hall in Milwaukee. She worked at Pabst Brewing Company.
He has two children and three grandchildren. She has one child, two grandchildren and one-great grandchild.
Her granddaughter, Penny Harper, was instrumental in getting him an Old Glory Honor Flight.
On the trip, Jean Eake, of Fremont, was assigned to be his guardian.
“The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was probably the most dramatic,” he said of his trip.
Szewczuga especially enjoyed the “mail call” he received during the flight back to Wisconsin.
“That was a pleasant surprise,” he said.
Among the letters were notes from students. The wife of Alice’s grandson teaches and had her students write and thank him for his service.
“They couldn’t do enough for you,” Szewczuga said of the trip. “They made everything so delightful.”
When he walked through the terminal in Outagamie County Regional Airport, a young girl gave him cookies.
“All the people, the handshakes. It was wonderful,” he said. “It brought tears to your eyes.”