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Day: July 4, 2015

Quite the honor

Jerry Bowerly, Paul Morgan and Ed Bietshek, three Keizer-area veterans, all ended up on the same Honor Flight in May that took them to visit the nation's war memorials. (Submitted)
Jerry Bowerly, Paul Morgan and Ed Bietshek, three Keizer-area veterans, all ended up on the same Honor Flight in May that took them to visit the nation’s war memorials. (Submitted)

BY ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

This July 4, four U.S. Armed Forces veterans with Keizer ties are feeling especially patriotic.

The quartet – Jerry Bowerly (Navy), Alfred Bochsler (Air Force), Paul Morgan (Navy) and Ed Bietshek (Air Force) – took part in an Honor Flight of Oregon allowing them to visit numerous memorials and museums in Washington D.C. in late May. The trips are designed specifically for World War II veterans to visit the national war monuments.

Bowerly, Morgan and Bietshek were interviewed about the experience two weeks ago.

“We were strangers in the beginning and we were all buddies by the time we came back. The esprit de corps was almost immediate,” said Morgan, 89.

For Bowerly, it was the WWII memorial itself that left the biggest impression.

“There are so many parts that represent so many things about the war. On the Wall of Gold, there’s 448 stars and they all represent 100 men who died. It’s stunning and it’s all handmade,” Bowerly, 95, said.

Each of the men performed very different roles in service of the country. Bietshek had wanted to join the Navy for much of his teenage years. But when he went to enlist, in early 1942, color blindness kept him out of the loop. He turned 18 in October that year and was drafted by Christmas. Still intent on joining the Navy, Bietshek went to Ft. Lewis in Washington to complete basic training and a slate of exams, then headed south on a train expecting to end up with orders to report for a ship. He woke up in Fresno as a member of the Army Air Force.

“I had a buddy who had done some flying and I could understand how he had been pulled into the Air Force, but I went up to the old sergeant and asked him how in the hell I ended up there,” Bietshek, 91, said. “I had gotten 100 on the code test and they had sent me to radio school.”

Bietshek had never flown before in his life, but soon found himself handling communications in the 73rd Wing on a B-29 bomber flying on 35 missions during his tour of duty.

“There’s some nightmares in those missions,” Bietshek said, not elaborating. “The winds over Japan were 100 miles per hour. If you tried to bomb into the wind and you ran out of gas, running with the wind, you were going too fast for the bombardier to hit the target. We lost more planes to running out of gas than we did getting shot down.”

Bowerly had just finished dental school and was on a ship bound for Pearl Harbor when a senior officer let him know he qualified for discharge because of his degree.

He spent three months in Hawaii as a dental corpsman.

“All they had was a suitcase that had all the dental equipment in it, including the chair,” Bowerly said.

Bowerly returned to the Keizer area and set up his own practice, but Uncle Sam came calling again a few years later.

“They said I never completed the original tour and they sent me to the Marine base in Ft. Pendleton, Calif. I spent the next 18 months there taking care of the boys coming and going during the Korean conflict,” Bowerly said.

He attained the rank of captain before returning home and resuming his dental practice.

Morgan had turned 18 in August 1943 and got his draft notice the following month along with eight other players on the Enumclaw High School football team in Washington. The school’s head football coach and principal went to the draft board in person and requested a deferment until the end of the football season and it was granted.

“At the time, I don’t think anyone realized the head coach and principal had that kind of power,” Morgan joked.

Morgan ended up a signalman aboard a troop ship built in Astoria. His role involved helping coordinate ship movements using flags while posted in the ship’s crow’s nest. Radios were too likely to give away location. Morgan traveled with the boat through getting supplies in California, picking up troops in Honolulu and then went straight to the front lines at Iwo Jima.

“We sat off the coast for nine days watching the fighting and I saw the flag go up on Mt. Suribachi through a pair of binoculars,” Morgan said. The raising of that particular flag became an iconic image in American war history and a sculpture in its honor was one of the sites the trio visited on their Honor Flight trip.

In addition to the veterans themselves, each former serviceman took along a guardian. Judy Luse served as guardian to Bowerly, her father. Her husband Walt served as guardian to a Roseburg veteran.

“The guys were opening up about things that they’d bottled up for 70 years. One of them teared up as he told me a story, and the guy I was with landed in Nagasaki two months after they dropped the bomb,” Walt said.

“What they did doesn’t happen anymore,” added Judy. “As a country, they came together around a big goal, went and did what they had to do and then came home and got back to work.”

For more information about Honor Flight of Oregon, including how to register for a flight, visit www.honorflightoforegon.org.