West Allis — The West Allis Memorial Day parade will be a little like when Alfred Korth rode in a convoy in France, except that German planes won't rip the column with their machine guns.
But he will be surrounded by other veterans on the honor trolley and as a veteran of the Memorial Day trolley rides, Korth said the crowd of fellow Americans outside the trolley window makes the ride.
"Some stand and salute," he said. "And we salute back."
These warriors who ride the honor trolleys in West Allis have many stories to tell — of being a tank commander in General George S. Patton's army, of liberating a concentration camp, of firing the big guns ahead of American soldiers on the Philippines and of being part of the island hopping campaign in the South Pacific.
There are lots of stories, and Alderman Dan Roadt who pays for the trolleys to honor the warriors on Memorial Day, said, "These guys are heroes."
"It's a real tear-jerker," he said, when the crowd stands as the trolleys roll by.
Bursting with the desire to say thanks to the veterans, Roadt said the Memorial Day trolleys: "It's a Roadt project. To me it's a selfish indulgence."
Coming of age between wars, Roadt said he was never in the military, but the Memorial Day rides honoring the veterans is his way to thank them.
"I absolutely love doing it," he said, and there is always room for more, even at the last minute.
This will be Korth's third or forth time riding in the Memorial Day honor trolley and he said of his military service, "I was glad to serve to protect this country."
He was an anti-aircraft artillery gunner in World War II aboard a half-track which has regular wheels in front and tank-like treads in the back. Korth stood his ground firing his machine gun at low-flying planes that strafed his positions. But there was a real risk for those enemy pilots that flew into his gun sights.
"Oh yeah, we got quite a few of them," Korth said.
But the enemy was formidable. A soldier near him was killed, and he saw fire rolling up the line of his convoy from a fire bomb a plane had dropped, Korth said.
Only a short time later a mortar exploded near him, and Korth caught some shrapnel in his neck and head and landed in the hospital. The injury won him a Purple Heart but in two weeks he was back in harm's way in the Battle of the Bulge. A German artillery shell exploded in front of him. His half-track took the blast and it was out of commission instead of Korth.
He was only 22 when he went to war, and he served for more than two and a half years.
Young Wallace Morden was just 18 when he enlisted and found himself in Patton's famed Fourth Armored Division serving aboard a tank in World War II. Morden did everything — he drove it, was a gunner, loaded the guns and even served as tank commander riding with his head and upper body outside the tank, a dangerous place to be.
"There were no original officers in our company. They were all picked off by snipers," Morden said. Steering the tank was no picnic either, as there was no steering wheel, just a lever for each track.
His tank was a lighter one designed for reconnaissance. Its guns were light but it could crank up to 60 mph on a flat surface compared with the Sherman tank's lumbering 15 to 20 mph, Morden said.
He came under fire several times as his tank ranged alone in front of the main body of tanks, Morden said.
One day he came upon a large fenced in complex.
"We didn't know what it was. We took our tank and drove it through the fence," Morden said.
They had found a concentration camp.
Starving people with arms and legs that looked like bare bones lay on wooden beds. The young American's did what they could for them, sharing their K-rations.
A little later, the soldiers found the ovens where bodies of the dead were disposed of. It was a grisly discovery.
"The ovens were still warm and you could smell the flesh," he said. "There was a trench with a bunch of bodies they didn't have time to cover up."
The Americans figure that they were only 12 hours behind the Germans who ran the camp, Morden said.
Monday will be his second ride on the honor trolley, and he said: "I love the reaction of the crowds." He and his fellow veterans didn't have a welcome when they came home, he said.
The crowd also is the highlight for World War II radio man Ed Mikush.
"You see them standing up and you see the salutes," he said. It's meaningful to him because they realize freedom must be defended, he said.
Mikush was only two months out of high school when he was drafted to go to war. He ended up a radio man attached to the army and critical messages passed through his communication unit in the South Pacific. Mikush remembers climbing down rope ladders into landing crafts headed for beaches that Marines had already taken.
"We were pretty well protected because communications were so important," Mikush said. But he did face enemy fire on Luzon in the Philippines when a Japanese coastal gun fired down on them. Bombers also flew overhead but they were looking for ammunition depots, Mikush said.
In his more than two years in World War II, Mikush said, "I grew up." He had never been outside Wisconsin before and he met and lived with other young men from all over the country and protected his fellow soldiers and they protected him. It changed him, he said.
AT A GLANCE
The Memorial Day parade route and observance in West Allis:
· The parade will step off at 10 a.m. at S. 70th Street and W. Greenfield Avenue and proceed west on to 75 Street, turning south on 75th to National Avenue. The parade then turns left and follow National Avenue to Veterans' Memorial Park at 69th Street.
· An 11 a.m. Memorial Service honoring veterans will follow at the park. Memorial tributes will be given by Mayor Dan Devine and the Rev. Les Takkinen of Grace Bible Church.
· Wreaths will be laid and the flag ceremony performed by Boy Scouts. For more information, call West Allis DPW at (414) 302-8833.
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