- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) - Gerard Sirois Sr. figures he’s a lucky man.

Training as a gunner’s mate in the Navy in World War II, Sirois was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a lieutenant, making conversation, when a sudden explosion threw shrapnel in every direction. As he turned to tell the officer that a gun barrel had just blown off, he could see blood flowing from the lieutenant’s neck.

Minutes before they had been chatting. Now the man next to him was dead.

“I was right alongside him and I was all right. That’s why I was lucky,” Sirois said.

At 89, Sirois can still remember that incident, though some details like the exact name of the place have started to fade from his mind. It happened during training with a 40 mm anti-aircraft gun at a Navy base somewhere in the south, he says.

Sirois shook off the shock of the incident and kept going, serving four years in the Navy during the war before returning home to Waterbury. Luck kept him safe. A teenager’s curiosity about the world kept him going.

His story is similar to that of thousands of veterans who served during World War II and many others who have served since. Like many veterans, he never asked for help until recently, when he contacted the office of U.S. Rep. Elizabeth H. Esty, D-Conn., about pension benefits.

Esty’s office worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs to arrange the benefits that help him get the round-the-clock care he needs.

Esty said she wishes more veterans asked for help in getting benefits they’ve earned by serving their country.

For Sirois, memories of the war are decades away, the amazing adventures of a young man from a different life. On a recent day, he sat at a dining table at The Village at East Farms, the assisted-living facility where he now lives, and shared those war stories with his three adult sons, Gerard Jr., Thomas and Kenneth Sirois.

They’ve heard them many times and know every glorious detail.

“How about the time you were steering the ship and you went off course?” Kenneth reminded his dad.

“Oh yeah, way off course,” Sirois said. Somehow he turned it 90 degrees in the wrong direction.

Sirois joined the Navy on Nov. 2, 1942, lying about his age. He was 17. His education at Crosby High School would have to wait until after the war.

He said he joined because his brother Roland, a Navy career man who was five years older, told him to.

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