At 93, yielding to the unalterable process of aging, W.R. “Doc” Gentzler has some trouble seeing and hearing, but he still possesses a keen mind and wit.
Generations of Augustans fondly remember him as an active community supporter and a role model for Augusta youth. But even before he became a husband and father, he was eager to serve his country. He joined the Marines, eventually becoming a Platoon Sergeant.
“I was excited to serve. It was before the war and I was volunteering for everything,” he explained with a smile.
He shared how his Germanic surname most likely saved his life. He and a fellow Marine were selected for assignments at the American embassy in London and were preparing to leave when he was told at the last minute that he would not be making the trip.
“The English were afraid of the ‘z’ in my name,” he continued, “My friend that did go was killed in the first bombing of London.”
The young Marine saw action in the South Pacific Islands.
“I was glad of that because I never could stand the cold,” he laughed.
He was then stationed at the New York Naval Shipyard. During that time he met his late wife Jane, a Naval Yeoman from Pennsylvania. Her three brothers all served in the military and her twin brother was killed in the Battle of the Bulge.
“We had a whirlwind romance, were married four months later and soon I went back to the Pacific,” he said.
He explained that most of his time was spent working with the military police in charge of Japanese prisoners.
Doc is one of the remaining WWII veterans who will be part of an Honor Flight to visit the WWII War Memorial in Washington, D.C. He, along with 51 other attendees will leave July 17th from the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport to travel to our nations’s capital for a several days.
In addition to visiting the memorial built in the honor of WWII soldiers, the group will also visit the Korean Memorial, the Vietnam Wall and Monument, the Smithsonian Air Museum, the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknowns and Arlington National Cemetery.
His son Jerry will be accompanying him on the journey.
“I’m looking forward to it. This will be a great thing. I kept hearing about the Honor Flights and my son David asked me if I wanted to go. He filled out the paper work and got it started,” Doc said.
As one of the Greatest Generation takes the Honor Flight, he carries best wishes and hopes from his community that he enjoy the company and camaraderie among his fellow soldiers on one last mission.
Page 2 of 2 - WWII veteran numbers decreasing
Approximately every two minutes a memory of World War II – its sights and sounds, its terrors and triumphs – disappears. The men and women who fought and won the great conflict are now in their 80s and 90s. They are dying quickly – at the rate of just over 600 a day, according to recent US Veterans Administration figures.
Honor Flight has brought over 100,000 veterans to Washington, D.C. The oldest was 108. Top priority goes to WWII veterans and terminally ill veterans of any conflict.
Demand is great. Some 20,000 are on a waiting list.
Forty-one states have Honor Flight groups. The hope is that the number of visits will continue to grow.
For more information on Honor Flights go to: www.kansashonorflight.org.