Vets share their service stories
By Scott Bellile
Apartment manager Sylvia Farvour takes pride in the fact that eight veterans from World War II through the Vietnam War call Rosewood Glen Senior Apartments on Partridge Drive their home.
A U.S. Air Force vet herself, Farvour decided that the senior citizens who served their country deserved some form of a “thank you” each time they walk into the building. So she got to work painting and decorating.
Just after Thanksgiving, Farvour finished her display: an “Honor Wall” outside the community room. The wall displays American flags and a photograph of each veteran living at Rosewood Glen. Community members are welcome to come view it, she said.
The nine veterans whose faces appear on the wall, including Farvour, are:
• David Wochinski, U.S. Army, Sergeant First Class E-7, Vietnam War, 1953-68
• Phillip Amador, U.S. Air Force, Airman First Class, Korean War, 1951-55
• Richard Roberts, U.S. Army, Specialist 2nd Class, 1954-56
• Gerald Sanders, U.S. Army, World War II, 1943-46
• Donald Abraham, U.S. Army, Sergeant, 1943-16
• Earl Berkhahm, U.S. Army, Specialist 3rd Class, Korean War, 1954-56
• Ed Steffeck, U.S. Army, Private 1st Class, World War II, 1945-47
• Leslie Houk, U.S. Air Force (Women’s Army Corps), Private 1st Class, World War II, 1944-45
• Sylvia Farvour, U.S. Air Force, Airman First Class, 1979-81
Three veterans, Houk, Wochinski and Sanders, told the Press Star they like the display. They also shared background on their time in the military.
Originally from Texas, Houk joined the U.S. Air Force at age 20 during World War II. Her sister was to join with her but backed out before Houk was sworn in.
An airplane mechanic, Houk trained in Georgia and then was sent to Ellington Field in Houston to fix airplanes including C-47s.
She said she got out of the service what she wanted: a husband. New London native Robert Houk was an aircraft gunner who flew 25 missions over Europe before returning to Ellington Field. The couple met in February 1945 and married that September.
They returned to New London and enjoyed a 70-year marriage before he died from a brief illness in 2015.
Houk said she had fun in the Air Force and it felt meaningful to contribute to the war effort.
Wochinski was a 17-year-old student at Washington Senior High School in New London when he left to join the U.S. Army 84th Division in 1953, right as the Korean War ended.
“Maybe I made a mistake, maybe, but I don’t think I did,” Wochinski said.
He justified his decision to drop out of school by saying that every man felt he had an obligation to serve his country back then.
Wochinski eventually became a platoon sergeant. His job was providing 225 soldiers their eight-week basic training before they went off to Vietnam to fight in the jungles. Skills he taught included map reading, rifle shooting and hand-to-hand combat.
“A lot of times you had to be a little rough on them because if they don’t learn, well, some of them didn’t come back,” Wochinski said.
Sanders graduated from Washington Senior High in 1943 and was drafted at age 18 to fight in Europe during World War II.
A combat engineer for the U.S. Army, Sanders’s work brought him to England, France, Germany, Belgium and Holland.
He built 49 bridges across water while oftentimes running away from German soldiers, he said.
“You learned a lot. I guess you learned how to survive as much as anything,” Sanders said.
Sanders remembered one time back when he was a tenor saxophonist in a dance band and his camp got shelled by enemy forces. Not everyone lived through the ambush, but Sanders was a lucky survivor. After the attack, he found the bell of his saxophone with a shrapnel hole in it lying 200 feet away from the camp.
He laughed recalling how one of his fellow soldiers earned a Purple Heart in France after he was shelled by Germans while using the outhouse. At the military reunion years later, Sanders said, the soldiers didn’t let their friend live down how he got that Purple Heart.
Sanders has positive memories of Europe such as meeting Winston Churchill, George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower and Bernard Montgomery.
Sanders said he became more open to sharing his stories after years of being quiet. Regardless of whether other veterans feel the same way, he feels the wall is a nice way for Rosewood Glen’s management to pay tribute to those who served.
“They sure have the people’s health and feelings to heart,” Sanders said of Rosewood Glen. “They’re wonderful people.”