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Veterans Of The Greatest Generation Reflect On World War II

Veterans Day is a day to celebrate the service, sacrifice and achievements of Americans who served our nation in uniform.  While you may know veterans from Vietnam and the most recent wars, there is a vanishing breed.  Texas Public Radio recently spoke with two veterans of the "Greatest Generation."

Ninety-two-year-old Fred Chapal still works every day for the Army at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.  But on June 6, 1944, D-Day, he was on a ship headed for Normandy and Utah Beach in the European Theater.

“You could look anywhere out on that ocean and there were ships everywhere,” Chapal said. 

Chapal was part of a chemical mortar battalion.  If the Germans used mustard gas, his unit would return fire with poison gas.  That didn't happen.  But he and his fellow soldiers took plenty of fire on the way onto the beach.  “Oh yeah, there was a lot of firing and there was already dead people all over the place,”

Chapal recalled.

Later in the war he was at the Battle of the Bulge launching mortars from within a mile or two of the German lines.  After two-and-a-half years of action in most of the major battles he had had enough.  “I got out just as fast as I could and went straight to Saint Mary’s University right here in San Antonio,”  Chapal said.

Credit Courtesy Photo
A bio on George Thomas.

  Meanwhile 94-year-old San Antonio resident George Thomas was a navigator-bombardier on B-29s, based on the island of Saipan in the Pacific Theater.  He flew many 14-hour bombing missions over Japan, notably over Osaka, Kobe, Yokohama and Tokyo. 

Credit Courtesy Photo
Bombs from George Thomas's B-29 destroys the Hitachi engineering plant in Japan.

He manned a 50-caliber gun in the nose of the aircraft.  “The Japanese would fly up high and then they’d come down between the squadrons just firing away and I was credited with shooting down one, one-and-a-half actually,” Thomas said.  I don’t know how they figured that.”

Some of his missions involved fire-bombing Japanese cities.  “I used to be kind of sorry for the people we killed,” Thomas said.  They weren’t warriors, but that’s war.”

Then there were the letters from home.  “My dad wrote me every day,” Thomas said.  “I was one of the lucky guys; I got mail all the time.  Many of the guys never got a letter,” Thomas said.

Credit Courtesy Photo
George Thomas was written up in a local paper for his medical illustration expertise at then Brooke Army Hospital.

  Thomas went on to spend 24 years as a celebrated medical illustrator Fort Sam Houston.

Events around San Antonio today are recognizing the more than 22-million living Americans who served in uniform.