Retired IBEW Vets Visit WW II Memorial
September 7, 2011
Laskowitz was one of six Local 1 retirees, the youngest 82 years old, who flew to Washington on a bright August morning to tour the massive memorial. Their trip was sponsored by the Honor Flight program which, since 2005, has covered transportation expenses for more than 55,000 veterans to visit the memorial. Each retiree, part of a group of 30 veterans, was accompanied by a guide for the whirlwind trip.
Guy O’Neill, 89, was accompanied by his son Eugene, who, along with his brothers, Gary and Gregory, is a Local 1 member. The elder O’Neill, who retired in 1985, was awarded two Bronze Stars as a member of the 42nd Infantry (Rainbow) Division, fighting in the vicious Battle of the Bulge and helping liberate the death camp at Dachau .Looking out at the vast memorial from under a column representing Missouri, O’Neill, whose grandson Patrick is also a Local 1 member, said:
Ron Birsinger, a 49-year member who retired in 1989, worked as a maintenance electrician at Anheuser-Busch. He served on the Naval destroyer, the USS Marshall, during the Korean War. “This memorial is wonderful,” said Birsinger, who was given priority by Honor Flight organizers since he is losing his sight.
Harry Koettker, a Navy veteran who entered the electrical trade in 1948, was inspired by the welcome his delegation received from travelers at the airports in St. Louis and Baltimore. He said:
Bill Fitzgerald, a 70-year Local 1 member, worked cleaning motors, then was promoted to foreman at Anheuser-Busch. He served on the aircraft carrier Bonhomme Richard during the war. After the ship transported 5,000 Marines to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Fitzgerald served as an armature winder in a ship repair unit rewinding Russian motors from two-phase to three-phase. A fit and extremely active 88-year-old, who prides himself on having mowed his yard the day before his trip to Washington, Fitzgerald recalled how, during the war, his ship was degaussed, a method of reducing magnetism to help avoid mines. He said:
Urban Abel, 87, who retired in 1982, worked as an electronic technician at Westinghouse. Urban, who endured brutal battles in the jungle of New Guinea, was asked by his guide to state his full name. “Urban Spencer Abel,” he said. “That’s USA. No coincidence,” said Abel.
On their return flight home, all Honor Flight veterans received mailbags filled with letters from friends and relatives thanking them for their service to their country.
The IBEW retirees are among a rapidly dwindling flank of WW II survivors. One thousand veterans of the war die every day. Says International President Edwin D. Hill:
Answering how he has maintained the health and vitality that carried him to Washington, Fitzgerald quoted General Douglas MacArthur:
Asked how he feels about current happenings, so many decades after his service in the military, his union and community, Fitzgerald, who volunteers at a local hospital, says, “I’m scared for our nation’s future,” referencing moves by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and right-wing, Tea Party politicians to eliminate collective bargaining and weaken the labor movement that sustained his family for so long.
Dave Reinheimer, a Local 1 retiree and Vietnam veteran, who is a tireless advocate for the Honor Flight program, encourages members to visit www.honorflight.org and help to send more retirees to Washington. Reinheimer told The Electrical Worker last December: