- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

A four-day World War II reunion begins today on the Mall and area veterans say they are more than a little misty-eyed about it.

The Smithsonian Institution’s “Tribute to a Generation: National World War II Reunion” is expected to draw about 800,000 visitors this weekend and will mix county fair-style amusements with history lessons as veterans take center stage to share their wartime stories.

Becky Haberacker, Smithsonian Institution spokeswoman, said there will be volunteers on the Mall today to help veterans locate one another and to record oral histories. The events are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.

“We hope people will come learn what life was like during World War II,” Miss Haberacker said. “We’re excited and ready to go.”

Yesterday, area veterans had mixed emotions about seeing their comrades in arms again.

“I don’t think you feel sentimental about it,” said Alan Voorhees, 81, an ex-Navy frogman who lives in Alexandria. “I think you feel that you did what you had to do.”

Edward A. Gonet of Vienna, Va., was 19 years old when, as a B-17 radio operator, he began flying the first of 28 missions from Ridgewell air base in England to Germany. Mr. Gonet flew his last mission on April 17, 1945, over Dresden, Germany.

“I’m sure a lot of people are going to have heavy hearts,” said Mr. Gonet, now 81 and a retired salesman. “Over half of my crew is dead now, so I don’t know that I’ll see any of them, but it will be good to see all the folks who participated in World War II. I think of them as brothers in arms. … This is long overdue.”

Today’s program will include everything from military band performances to sharing wartime stories to swing-dance lessons for families. The weather is expected to be sunny and slightly humid, with a high of 78 degrees.

In the afternoon, discussion panels will be led by prisoners of war, D-Day survivors and veterans-turned-historians. A panel of veterans-turned-presidential candidates will feature former Sens. Bob Dole, Kansas Republican, and George McGovern, South Dakota Democrat. That panel discussion is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.

“I think veterans are going to be very pleased to see us there,” said Edward A. Powell, president of the United Service Organizations (USO), which is hosting a meet-and-greet in the Reunion Hall Pavilion near Fourth Street NW. “It’s amazing how many stories I’ve heard from couples who met at a USO dance.”

Mr. Powell said USO volunteers also will hand out water “just like we did in World War II.”

Tomorrow’s reunion events will feature Navajo code talkers, Tuskegee Airmen, and veterans-turned-journalists, including Mike Wallace of CBS News and Daniel Schorr of National Public Radio.

On Saturday, the reunion will resume at 4 p.m. — after the memorial’s dedication ceremony — with panel discussions featuring fighter pilots and home-front radio personalities. During the dedication ceremony, low-flying fighter jets from Andrews Air Force Base are scheduled to fly over the Mall about 3 p.m. The dedication ceremony begins at 2 p.m.

Sunday will bring more performances and panels. Speakers that day will include Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, baseball heroes Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians and Monte Irvin of the now-defunct New York Giants, and wartime correspondents William McNamara of the Stars and Stripes newspaper and David Richardson of Yank.

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