Three local veterans representing three different wars sat down together to talk about their recent trip to Washington, D.C., with the Honor Flight Savannah but also to share and compare war stories from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Fred Mingledorff Jr., George Ginter and Lou Carreras met Tuesday at Mingledorff’s Hinesville Ford dealership for an afternoon that saw the exchange of enough information to fill the pages of a history book. Mingledorff, 90, entered the Marine Corps in 1943 at age 19, serving until the end of World War II. Ginter was a 19-year-old in the Georgia National Guard when he was activated in 1950 to serve in the Korean War. Carreras, who was born in Cuba, was a young man when he went to Vietnam as a helicopter pilot.
Ginter and Carreras stayed in the Army until they retired. Mingledorff said he left the service as soon as the Marine Corps released him, eventually going back to school at the University of Georgia. The three men joined other veterans of services and wars during their Sept. 5 trip to Washington.
“I was choked up the whole trip,” Mingledorff said. “I told my wife I’ve never been treated so good. My guardian, a Dr. Guy Petracelli from Memorial hospital and his wife, Leslie, took time off and paid their own way just so they could take care of me. … And you know, they’re ready to go back. When some of those vets found out there was a doctor on the bus, they felt better.”
Ginter they stopped at a restaurant, where he ordered a cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie. He said one of the guardians sat down next to him and told Ginter that he couldn’t pay for his own coffee and pie. He said he was told he wasn’t allowed to spend one dime of his own money on that trip.
He and Mingledorff talked about other veterans they met during the trip, including a 95-year-old female veteran. Ginter said she “got along real good except going up and down the steps on that bus.”
Both men and Carreras, an Honor Flight Savannah board member, said they had two of the best bus drivers any group of seniors could ever want for a long road trip. They said they appreciated all the work and effort everyone made to make the trip to see America’s monuments so wonderful.
“I’d had a year of college, so when I was in boot camp, after about four weeks they pulled me out and said I didn’t need any more close-order drill,” Mingledorff said. “They sent me to the rifle range and I stayed out there the rest of my boot camp. Then they sent me to Oceanside, California. One day, a guy came up to me and said, ‘Mingledorff, you’re shipping out the day after tomorrow.
“They loaded me on an LST with a group that had been training in Florida for two years. They were an amphibious track outfit. When they said ‘amphibious tractor,’ I thought I was going to be some kind of farmer. I was very fortunate that I had a (gunnery sergeant) who took care of me, taught me what to do and what not to do to survive.”
Ginter related a story about another “local boy,” Talmadge Wheeler, who left for Korea just before he did. He was severely wounded in his lower leg, Ginter said. It was the only exposed part of his body when he ducked behind a rock for cover as a wave of Chinese attacked their position.
While sharing their stories with each other, Mingledorff and Ginter realized this was the first time they were sharing some of their war experiences. In fact, both men said their fathers had served in World War I but never said much about their war. Carreras said that after he returned from Vietnam, he did talk about the war with other soldiers but few others. Each agreed that the wars were things they just wanted to leave behind.
Mingledorff said when he first went back to UGA, there were only 4,000 students there, but after they released everyone from the service, it went to 18,000 students, mostly veterans from various services. None of them spoke about the war, however. Ginter said he believes the reason they tried so hard not to remember their war experiences was because of their comrades who didn’t come home.
“If I had to give you an answer for the reason we don’t discuss it, it’s because of the fellows we saw go in those body bags,” Ginter said. “That was one of our missions when I went to Vietnam. We had to handle the body bags. You don’t want to talk about it — period — with anybody.”
Carreras said he thinks the World War I, World War II and Korean War veterans came home and chose not to talk about the war because they wanted to put it behind them. But now there have been so many wars, a younger generation is almost used to war, which makes it easier to talk about it. He admitted he feels ambivalent about whether that is a good thing.
Carreras said there will be another Honor Flight Savannah going to Washington in May 2015. Any living World War II or Korean War veterans who have not made the trip should try to go, he said. Every veteran should see the monuments dedicated to their service and visit the capitol of the country they served so honorably, he added.