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Veteran remembers unity of World War II

June 3, 2011
By WARREN SCOTT - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

FOLLANSBEE - A local World War II veteran recalled the spirit of those who served during the war and the many back home who supported them during Follansbee's Memorial Day service.

Wearing his World War II Army uniform, Bill Schwertfeger, a former Follansbee councilman and retired schoolteacher and principal, took those attending the program back to his days in elementary school in the 1930s.

Schwertfeger recalled on Armistice Day, the forerunner of Memorial Day, singing patriotic songs with his classmates while wearing the helmet and leggings worn by his uncle, a World War I veteran.

He asked them to flash forward to Dec. 7, 1941, when he and many others heard a radio news report of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Like many Americans, Follansbee residents were stunned by the news but soon became heavily involved in supporting the war effort, with many planting "victory gardens" to conserve the nation's food supply, and purchasing "war bonds" to support the construction of military vehicles, Schwertfeger said.

Local barber Bill Blakely held a fund drive to purchase cigarettes for the troops, a move intended as a morale booster; and local industries provided various materials for the war effort, he said.

Schwertfeger noted assembly lines and other workplaces were becoming increasingly filled with women, as many of the men volunteered or were called to serve in the military.

Following their high school graduation, Schwertfeger and his male classmates were notified to report to the Brooke County Courthouse, from which they were bused to a Clarksburg hotel to be sworn into the service.

"Those boys on the bus turned into men because things began to get serious," he said.

Schwertfeger didn't delve into his two years of military service in Italy, for which he received the Bronze Star. Instead he flashed forward again to himself walking the peaceful streets of Follansbee in the early morning on the day he returned home.

He said he once saw in the inscription for a monument the words "Lest we forget." He later learned the meaning of 'lest' is 'for fear that we forget.'

Noting that many World War II veterans are dying, he urged everyone to remember the sacrifices all veterans have made while serving their country.

The service was held outside Emrys Watkins American Legion Post 45, where a stone monument to all local veterans was built under the direction of stonemason John Martino Sr. following World War II.

Mayor Tony Paesano, who served as master of ceremonies, said the monument and its surroundings were refurbished recently, at no cost to the post or city, through the efforts of Mike Strean and his Wintersville-based restoration company, ABCorp.; Professional Lawn and Landscape of Steubenville and volunteers Lenny Baldauf, Paul DiGiacinto and Robert Shute.

Paesano noted the names of 1,832 veterans are recorded on the honor roll posted not far from the post by Raymond Street. He added 46 are designated as having been killed in action.

Post 45 Commander Bill Haught noted the symbolism of a vacant table placed near the monument to recognize the many American troops who are still missing in action. He also announced a wreath at the base of the podium was in honor of the late Walter "Frosty" Frees, a 67-year-old Navy veteran who died Sunday.

Also participating were: the Ohio Valley Veterans Memorial Squad, who fired a military salute; Taylor Pannett, who recited the Gettysburg Address; Brent Kimball and Stacy Klinger, who sang; Bill Cooper, who offered prayer; Tri-State Young Marines, who led the Pledge of Allegiance; and representatives of the Gold Star Mothers, Post 45 and its auxiliary, Garibaldi Lodge, Follansbee Chamber of Commerce, Purple Hearts and Sons of the American Legion, who placed wreaths at the monuments.

The service followed a short parade that involved the Ohio Valley Veterans Memorial Squad, Tri-State Young Marines, Sons of the American Legion and Follansbee Fire Department.

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