Skip to comments.Tucson veteran, 96, being honored today (Charity is flying him to DC for ceremony at WWII memorial)
Posted on 06/06/2009 1:14:36 PM PDT by SandRat
At 96, former Army Sgt. Fred Wedhorn still describes himself with the phrase "Freddie is always ready."
He was ready six decades ago as a combat engineer on the beaches of Normandy. And he was ready in a flash when he recently learned he was being honored with a trip from Tucson to Washington, D.C., for the 65th anniversary of D-Day.
"I'm already packed," Wedhorn declared with a chuckle five days before his scheduled departure to see the national World War II memorial. He's due to attend a ceremony there today.
Among the prized items that went with him an American Legion cap decked out with miniatures of his many military medals.
The trip was made possible by the Honor Flight Network, a national charity. The Ohio-based nonprofit agency raises money to send World War II veterans such as Wedhorn who are dying at the rate of 1,000 or so per day to the nation's capital to see the memorial that's dedicated to them. The memorial didn't open until 2004, nearly 60 years after the war's end, creating a time crunch for elderly veterans to get there before they die.
Honor Flight normally raises funds through regional chapters for such trips. But its Arizona chapter, based in Prescott, isn't quite off the ground yet, and Wedhorn's application was submitted two years ago.
Because of his advanced age, charity officials agreed to send Wedhorn and niece Barbara Friedman of Tucson with funding from other sources, including a special donation from Tucson philanthropist Dorothy Finley. For Wedhorn, a jolly man more given to laughter than tears, it will be an emotional journey.
He was 32, serving with the 237th Engineer Combat Battalion, when the Army sent him to the coast of France to take part in the largest sea-to-land invasion in history.
Wedhorn, who will turn 97 on June 23, was part of a group that arrived first to physically clear the way for troops to follow. That meant blowing up a seawall so Allied troops could move inland, clearing mines planted by Nazis and building temporary bridges over ravines and waterways.
He was assigned to land at Utah Beach, half a mile or so from the infamous bloodbath at Omaha Beach depicted in the movie "Saving Private Ryan."
Wedhorn's group had more than 100 dead and wounded, many of whom he still can describe with clarity.
There was a soldier named Welch from Ohio, who was 17 and lied about his age to enlist. Wedhorn remembers how Welch's head left his body and sailed through the air when he was hit by a grenade.
Another soldier, whose name has faded with time, staggered toward him on the sand, asking " 'Freddie, am I hit?' And I could see a hole right through his chest." Wedhorn said of the D.C. memorial: "When I look at the names engraved on the wall, I will place myself right back there and think of the guys who were 17 and 18 years old and never got to grow up.
"Then I'll probably try to think of a joke, so I'll get over it quick."
Wedhorn, who went on to serve in several more bloody battles, including the Siege of Bastogne, said humor has helped keep his spirits high despite the violence he witnessed in combat.
After the war's end, he eventually became a furniture buyer for Macy's and other New York City retailers. He and his wife, Stella, an Alzheimer's patient in a local care home, relocated to Tucson a few years ago to be close to family here.
Judy Lemmons, a spokeswoman for the Honor Flight Network, said the charity is privileged to honor veterans such as Wedhorn. "It's our way of saying thanks," she said, "to a generation that literally saved the world."
Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at 573-4138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Honor Flight Network was founded in 2005, a year after the national World War II memorial opened, and has so far flown nearly 27,000 veterans to Washington, D.C.
The charity has 73 chapters in 35 states and can be reached at www.honorflight.org or by phone at 1-937-521-2400.
I just made a donation to Honor Flights, Inc. and was so happy to do so.
My bro in law was taken to D.C. soon after the memorial was built and he was just so proud of being able to attend.
This group does good work.
God bless Army Sgt. Fred Wedhorn, and all our veterans.
May all of them making this trip have a wonderful time, and may they know how very much they are appreciated for their service to our country.
God bless all these American Hero’s. We should never forget the 1,000 who laid down their lives on the beaches of Normandy.
Let’s hope his hat comes true. (Flushing NY.)
Correction!!!! bad bad bad typo
15,000 which includes allied forces as well.
I hope and pray that Mr. Wedhorn has a wonderful trip and maybe, the Good Lord willing, even run into an old acquaintance or two while there. That would be awesome.