Petersburg Pilot -

Local vets visit memorials in Washington D.C.


Kyle Clayton / Petersburg Pilot

From left to right: Petersburg Boy Scouts performed songs for WWII veterans Art Hammer, Tom Lewis Sr. and Gerald Lind in the James A. Johnson airport Tuesday before their flight departed.

Three Petersburg WWII veterans are touring war memorials and monuments in Washington D.C. as part of an Honor Flights program.

Alaska Airlines donated seats to Art Hammer, Gerald Lind and Tom Lewis for their trip to D.C. as they join vets from across Alaska who are also traveling to the nation's capitol.

Stan Hjort helped organize the event and is acting as a guardian during the trip.

"We're losing so many of our WWII vets now," Hjort said. "Most of them have already passed away. Not too many of those vets get to see a memorial that was built for them."

Veterans will visit sites such as the Arlington Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as well as take a boat ride along the Potomac River.

Riding in a boat won't be too out of the ordinary for Petersburg vets and particularly for Lind, 88, who served in the Air Force for two years working on crash boats.

"This air sea rescue business was a copy of what the English were doing," Lind said. They were chartering little boats and rigging them to pick up the pilots and their planes falling in the English Channel."

Lind said an Air Force Lieutenant at the time began recruiting Alaskans to serve on the crash boats across the state.

"Nobody knew anything about us, even in the service," Lind said. "Other services didn't know anything because it was brand new. They didn't know what we were. We were claiming to be in the Air Force but we were in a boat. To top that off, we were wearing Navy clothes."

Lind was on an 85-foot crash boat with two 1650 horsepower engines. His ten to 11 man crew spent the majority of its time running supplies, medevac'ing troops from remote bases and rescuing downed pilots along the Aleutian Islands. They worked 24 hours a day seven days a week.

"We went out many times on bad weather and we almost lost our lives a couple of times because all we had to go ashore with was rubber rafts," Lind said. "You get it into a chop or going onto the beach the rubber raft wanted to fold up or fly away from us. There we were, in the water ourselves. Thank god we lived through a couple of them. You dig your hands into the beach and wait for the water to go away and get up before the next hits you."

Lind and his crew rescued a handful of downed pilots.

"Their engine's conked out or they didn't make it back far enough," Lind said.

"I think of more the things that happened to friends of ours that didn't make it."

Lewis, 92, was living in Oregon when he joined the Navy. He worked as a Machinist Mate for several years on an 80-foot torpedo boat in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific.

He said he has tried to forget most of his experiences, or tries to.

"Generally we had work to do on the engines and then we could rest," Lewis said. "We patrolled at night. The boats looked like a fancy looking cruisers but they had torpedoes and guns."

Part of their missions was to interrupt Japanese shipping.

Hammer served in administration on Annette Island and worked in a unit that assisted crash boat operations.

"I didn't do anything heroic," Hammer joked. "Like Vanna White says, somebody's gotta

do it."


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