Three Veterans’ Stories
Washtenaw County’s Honor List of the men and women who died or disappeared during World War II includes names still familiar to our communities: Hafly, Heselschwerdt, Koch, Schaible, Schneider, Salter, Van Dyken, Vetter, Vocker, Volz, Webb, and White, among hundreds of others. Every veteran fortunate enough to return brought home important, and sometimes difficult, stories. Many didn’t share them for decades.
The last veterans are in their nineties now. But they haven’t forgotten.
On Christmas Eve 1944, in Southampton, England, George Bigelow and the U.S. Army’s Sixty-Sixth Division boarded the Leopoldville, a converted Belgian cruise liner bound for France. They were rushing to reinforce depleted American forces fighting the Battle of the Bulge. But the unit, nicknamed the Black Panthers, never reached that battlefield. A German U-boat sank their ship, plunging Bigelow and 2,000 other soldiers and sailors under the icy waters of the English Channel in the middle of the night.
Will the VVA outlive its founding generation?
Ken Rogge vividly recalls his return from a tour of duty on a fighter-bomber base in Thailand. In 1970, an Air Force transport plane dropped him off at the San Francisco airport, where the staff sergeant was obliged to walk through an angry mob of hollering, spitting war protesters. “There was one of me and twenty of them,” he recalls. “The United States was not a pleasant country for someone serving his country in those days.”
Sandie Wilson was an Army nurse who spent “eleven months, twenty-nine days, and six hours” in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. “It wasn’t easy for anyone–man or woman–coming home from Vietnam,” she says.