By Martha Nodar
World War II veteran Bill Owens remembers enlisting seemed an easy choice.
“At 17, I had a choice between working in a farm picking cotton or volunteer to join the U.S. Navy,” Owens said. “The decision was easy.”
He recalls his mission aboard the USS Nevada was to help protect smaller ships on their way to France in preparation for D-Day.
“We were the big guns,” he said. “We escorted about 5,000 ships to safety for the Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944, while the French Resistance cleared the beaches for our troops to land.”
Owens was one of several service men and women from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and today’s conflicts who shared their stories at the Atlanta History Center on May 30 as part of its annual Veterans Remembrance Day. The remembrance day was held during the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
Laura Hiller, joined by her daughter Carley, 10, and her friend Margaux Ratcliff, 11, first-timers to the annual event, were drawn to the story told by a re-enactor of another U.S. soldier who had also served in WWII. The display included the soldier’s photo, his war journal and a torn U.S. flag he had brought home in 1945.
Laura Mallard said it was “fascinating to talk to the veterans and hear their stories.”
Mallard attended with her husband and their two young sons. They were among several families who attended this year’s event for the first time.
Many return to the annual event year after year, such as Bob Babcock and several of his fellow soldiers who fought in Vietnam.
Babcock was 23 when he was deployed to Pleiku Air Base in central Vietnam in 1966. He served in the U.S. Army as a rifle platoon leader until 1967, when he returned to the States.
“Serving in Vietnam offered me lessons in leadership and a bond among my fellow soldiers that only another soldier could understand,” Babcock said.
Babcock. a historian who retired from IBM, has written the book “What Now, Lieutenant?” about his experiences in Vietnam. He and Tony Hilliard are both involved with veterans’ affairs and are members of the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association (AVVBA).
Hilliard was 24 when he was commissioned to South Vietnam in 1968 until 1969, serving as a platoon leader for a combat engineer platoon in the 1st Marine Division.
“Our job was to sweep and clear the roads of mines and booby traps each day, so that both military and civilian traffic could flow freely,” Hilliard said. “It was hot, humid, scary, lonely, and tiring.”
Hilliard retired about 26 years later from the Marines Corps.
“The memories and the relationships you develop while in service are the ones you remember throughout your lifetime,” Hilliard said.
Buckhead resident Carol Kelly remembers when her husband was drafted shortly after their wedding day to serve within the U.S. and Germany during the Vietnam era. Kelly and her husband were among those enjoying the exhibitions of wartime memorabilia during the event, which also included a book signing by Evelyn Monahan, who co-wrote with Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee: “A Few Good Women: America’s Military Women from WWI to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Monahan said their book is dedicated to “women warriors” and the struggles they face in a career mostly dominated by men. Now retired, Monahan served in the Women’s Army Corps, while Neidel-Greenlee served in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps.
Also remembering those engaged in today’s conflicts, donations, such as telephone calling cards and care packages were accepted for the Skymasters — a military unit responsible for operating the air-traffic control’s towers in Afghanistan.