This year, we asked two World War II veterans to reflect on their own stories in honor of Veterans Day on Saturday. The veterans shared their memories of what that time was like and what their service means to them decades later.
Now 93 years old, Jim Peters was drafted when he was 18. He worked as an aircraft mechanic in the Army Air Forces. He spent time in areas of Europe carrying out 27 total bombing missions. During 25 of those missions, Peters’ bomb squad received fire.
Peters spent a total of 20 years in the military, also serving in the Korean War. He was discharged in 1965. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio, but now spends his days in Columbus, Indiana near his son.
“I left the states the 18th of November. We arrived over there on the 3rd of December, so we were about two weeks of getting over there, and then I flew my missions out of there. I had a couple occasions where I had to go over the old bomb bay without a parachute, looking down 27,000 feet below and crank the doors closed. Kind of wild.
“The last mission, I counted 11 bursts that would shake the airplane.”
I think we were too young to be actually petrified otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to go.
The last mission, I counted 11 bursts that would shake the airplane. You’d hear a bang and then a rattle like that from fragments hitting the airplane.
I remember the good things and not so much the bad things. Most of the time the bad things people just put them away. I’m the only one that’s left alive right now. Everybody else is gone, and I figure I have something left to do, otherwise I’d be gone myself. I’m not sure what exactly that is unless it’s telling stories like this.”
A.J. Lehman also lives in Columbus, Indiana. He’s originally from the southern part of the state.
“It has made me appreciate everything in this good old country of ours.”
Lehman enlisted in the Marine Corps when he was 19 years old. The now 95-year-old says the memories he has of World War II never leave him. Lehman spent nearly two and a half years overseas on the front line, invading several islands in the Pacific. A stint of malaria and double-pneumonia nearly killed him during that time.
He married his high school sweet heart when he returned to the U.S. and was discharged in 1945. Since then, he’s received multiple medals and bronze stars and the Distinguished Hoosier Award.
The veteran says serving the U.S. made him who he is, and he would do it again.
“At Tarawa, I was there in an invasion. I think it was about 10 days. And I got in trouble, and I went in a coma. Somebody said they had me in the pile with the deceased people who were killed. Somebody had seen my hand move, and they took me out and took me to where we had a hospital.
You hated to see your friends killed and everything. It was sad. You never forget a corpsman.
When they dropped the bomb, you can’t imagine how the sky lit up. It was continuous light from all the ships. All the people were partying on the beach. We were skeptical of the war being over. We just couldn’t believe it, but then after we found out how many bombs and A-bombs, it didn’t take long to change their mind.
It took us all to win the war. The war was won by red-blooded Americans that wanted this country free and all the good assets of life we were accustomed to.
It has made me appreciate everything in this good old country of ours. God bless America.”