DELPHOS – On Sept. 8, Pfc. Thomas L. Buettner and Petty Officer 2nd Class Ellis “Gene” Buettner were honored with a trip to Washington,
D. C., to visit and reflect at their memorials.
Both Gene and Thomas feel as if the experience brought them the recognition they did not receive when they returned home from war — there were no parades, no hero’s welcome and very few thank-you’s.
“We felt humbled and appreciated,” Gene explained with emotion. “It gave me goose bumps.”
Thomas’ son Michael and grandson Travis traveled alongside both as guardians throughout the trip.
Their “Honor Flight,” which was a day trip, began with a flight from Port Columbus International Airport to Baltimore Washington International Airport. After landing, they were honored with a water canon salute sprayed onto the plane by a fire truck.
The brothers then boarded a tour bus and were transported to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where the tour took them to the National World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. A short bus ride later, Gene and Thomas arrived at Arlington National Cemetery, where they experienced the reverence of the The Tomb of the Unknowns, which has been perpetually guarded since July 2, 1937, by the U.S. Army, and the Iwo Jima Memorial/U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial.
The day of sightseeing wrapped up with a flight back to Columbus, where they were surprised with quite a homecoming celebration. Family members, service members, Boy Scouts and OSU band members welcomed them back.
Thomas served in the United States Army from 1944-46 as a Private First Class (Pfc.). He received his basic training at Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Arkansas, and was assigned to the 7th Army, 42nd Infantry Division, 1st Battalion, 242 Regiment, Company B.
“We were on a 25-mile hike and left at suppertime. Toward the end [of the hike], guys in the platoon were falling behind and I had the energy to move faster,” Thomas reflected with a grin, “I caught up with the sergeant, asked if I could run ahead and after getting the go ahead, I ran ahead and was the first soldier back to the barracks.”
In 1945, Thomas began his tour of duty in France after the Battle of the Bulge, where his company, the 42nd Rainbow [Infantry] Division, replaced the soldiers of the 242nd Regiment wiped out by the Germans in Hattan, France. He trained for combat as an assistant BAR gunner and was required to carry extra ammunition and clips of solid tracers used to destroy sniper-ridden houses and train stations.
In case of capture, he could disassemble a BAR in seconds so that the enemy could not use the weapon. Thomas also served as a “human tripod” for Parker, his BAR man. Throughout World War II, the 42nd covered 6,000 square miles, captured 45,000 prisoners and felt their duty was to “Never Forget.”
“I was in a foxhole and my commanding officer called me to his headquarters,” Thomas fondly recalled the opportunity. “My captain presented my brother Donald to me, who had arrived on a mail truck. We [Don and Thomas] went back to the foxhole and spent the night together under heavy artillery fire.”
The vast majority of World War II vets are very familiar with the phrase “Kilroy Was Here” found written just about everywhere on every piece of equipment from Tokyo to Berlin. Quite a few Korean War vets also saw it.
Screaming Mimies [Nebelwerfers] were used in every campaign of the German Army during World War II with the exception of the Balkans Campaign.
“If you could hear it [screaming mimi] flying overhead, you were safe,” Thomas mused. “If you heard it flying toward you and then you could not hear it, you were in trouble.”
Following the end of the war, Thomas was transferred to Hallein, Austria, where he guarded a stockade of 3,000 prisoners for approximately 6 months and worked on the confiscation of guns and motor vehicles. In July of 1946, Thomas was discharged from the Army, took a taxi home, found a job and settled back into life in the States.
Thomas received many awards while serving his country, including: Army Good Conduct Medal BAR Badge, Bayonet Badge, Bazooka Badge, Bronze Star Medal, Carbine Badge, Combat Infantry Badge, European/African/Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, M-1 Badge, Marksman Badge, Overseas Service, Presidential Unit Citation, Rifle Badge, World War II Army of Occupation Service Medal and World War II Victory Medal.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Ellis (Gene) Buettner graduated from high school on May, 24, 1949, and choose to enlist — along with five friends — in the Navy that very day. He was recruited in Lima and traveled to Columbus, where he was sworn in for a 3-year enlistment. He wanted the opportunity to learn a trade but more importantly, he did not want to get drafted by the Army. After enlisting, Gene was sent by train, which was a 3-day trip, to San Diego for boot camp.
“Basic training consisted of marching, marching and more marching,” Gene said.
After three months of basic training, Gene boarded a train to Memphis, Tenn., for aviation machinist school — Class (A) AD school for 9 months.
In April 1950, Gene left Memphis and was sent by train to Alameda Naval Air Station for two weeks. He was then stationed in Monterey, Calif., for almost two years, working on the line as an aircraft mechanic and plane captain. Gene was rated AD3 third class aircraft engine mechanic.
“Even though our barracks were up off the ground, we had to fight off the cockroaches. I’d reach into my closet to get my clothes and I would have cockroaches all over them,” Gene mused. “It [the base] smelled all the time.”
In June 1951, the Korean War started and Gene’s enlistment was extended one year. While assigned to Aircraft Carrier USS Boxer (CV21), Gene was rated (AD2) second-class mechanic. En route to Korea, Gene pulled liberty in Hawaii with his brother-in-law, John Feather, who was on the USS Mansfield. During the next year, Gene had liberty in Tokyo and Yokosuka, Japan.
“We were the first to send drone F6Fs into the tunnels of the hydro-electric plants. This plugged-up tunnels to keep trains from supplying the North Koreans,” Gene said.
A “sailor’s worst fear” came true on Aug. 6, 1952. Fire on the hangar deck of USS Boxer started when a sailor improperly removed a shell from a machine gun on an aircraft, which discharged a bullet, striking a 1,000-pound bomb.
“The bomb went off under the flight deck and the concussion raised us up about six inches off the deck,” Gene detailed the incident. “I couldn’t stay at the fire station. The ship was too hot. Sixty-three sailors jumped for safety out of the ship’s portholes and nine died from smoke inhalation or shrapnel wounds.”
In February 1953, the USS Boxer returned to the States by way of Hawaii to San Diego. Gene was discharged two months early because the USS Boxer was due to return to Korea.
Gene received a Korean Service Medal, Navy Good Conduct Medal and a United Nations (UN) Korean Service Medal commemorating his service in the Armed Forces of the United States during operations in the Korean area.
The Honor Flight Network (HFN) is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. The organization transports “our heroes” to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials, at no cost to the veterans. Top priority is given to the senior veterans – World War II survivors, along with other veterans who may be terminally ill.
The Honor Flight Network program was conceived by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force captain, to honor the veterans he had taken care of for the past 27 years. After retiring from the Air Force in 1998, Earl was hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs to work in a small clinic in Springfield, Ohio. After the completion and dedication of the World War II Memorial in May 2004, it became the topic of discussion among his World War II veteran patients.
The inaugural Honor Flight took place in May 2005. Six small planes flew out of Springfield, taking 12 World War II veterans on a visit to the memorial in Washington, DC. In August 2005, an ever-expanding waiting list of veterans led the program’s transition to commercial airline carriers with the goal of accommodating as many veterans as possible. Partnering with HonorAir in Hendersonville, North Carolina, we formed the “Honor Flight Network.” HFN has continued to expand its programs to other cities across the nation. By the end of the 2011 flying season, more than 81,000 veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam visited the memorials built to honor their suffering and sacrifice.
Please visit these sites for more information honorflight.org/mywarhistory.com.