Veterans Day is a time to reflect on the service of those who were willing to lay down their lives in defense of the United States.
The World War II Generation — The Greatest Generation — who came of age during the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II, is quickly dwindling. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics show 167,284 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive in 2022 with 9,635 in New York, according to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
The average age of a World War II veteran is 96 and on an average 180 World War II veterans die each day.
Locally, we still have a number of World War II veterans who are alive and well.
Many veterans of their generation felt it was their duty to serve. Some, with parental permission, enlisted at age 17.
Feeling it was his obligation and duty, Edward J. Mullen, 99, of Deferiet, as well as Harold R. Engelhart, 95, of Watson, joined the military at 17.
“I couldn’t wait until I got old enough,” said Mr. Engelhart, who joined the Navy.
His older brothers were in the Army and his sister served in the WAVES — Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
Reflecting on their service, local veterans feel the military was good for them.
“It made me a leader,” said Robert E. Ingersoll, 99, of Glenfield, who was drafted into the Army at age 20.
Mr. Ingersoll, who was working as a mechanic at a local Oldsmobile dealership at the time, said he could have gotten a six-month deferment but did not.
He said early on that he had “responsibility thrown at me and I handled it.”
“Those in charge had confidence in me,” he said. “It brought me out of my shell and made me more confident.”
Robert S. Pelo, 98, of Beaver Falls, who was drafted at age 18 while living in California, said his military service changed his whole life. He had planned on returning to California after his stint in the Army and almost reenlisted after being overseas for three years but backed out and returned to the north country.
Enlisting at 17, John H. Foley, 95, of West Carthage, said the service was a big change for him.
“I grew up,” he said.
These veterans feel that today’s all-volunteer military and its involvement of women is a good thing.
However, Mr. Engelhart said the discipline is more lax in today’s military.
“It’s different, really different, but the times have changed too,” Mr. Foley said. “It should be voluntary. There’s nothing wrong with women in the service.”
He noted he has great admiration for Mary Sherman, a retired Army lieutenant who now works for the VA.
“The whole thing has changed,” Mr. Pelo said. “There were few women in the service back then. Today it’s a different world. The style of training has changed but for the better, according to the way the world is. They’re doing good, the best they can.”
Although he feels the military is OK, Mr. Ingersoll said, “The administration is screwing up. The military is being depleted. That makes us vulnerable — you need a good strong military to be safe. Bringing back the draft might be a good thing. Women in the military is a good thing but I don’t think it’s good in the battle part.”
Mr. Mullen said he is concerned about low recruitment.
“I wish there were more young people interested in serving,” he said, adding, “women are definitely an asset to our military.”
These men would and have encouraged military service.
“It’s good for some,” Mr. Ingersoll said. “It makes them a better person, helps them to learn to do things.”
Mr. Pelo, whose grandson-in-law has made a career in the Army and earned an engineering degree, said “It’s a good opportunity for a young man. You can get out and get college benefits.”
“It’s great if you do exactly what they tell you, when they tell you,” Mr. Engelhart said. “It keeps a person out of trouble and gives them direction. They can go to any kind of school they want.”
“I told my son to join,” Mr. Foley said. “I told him, ‘Get a job or go into the service.’ He served in the Navy for six years. It turned out great for him. He got an education. There is a lot to learn in the service.”
We tried to contact as many veterans as possible to be included in this Salute to World War II Veterans. If we excluded anyone who would like to be recognized, contact the paper.
The Black River American Legion reported they have a life member, Howard Adams, 99, who now lives in the Syracuse area.
The American Legion Beaver River Memorial Post 1663 lists Eldred F. Lehman, 96, of Croghan as a World War II veteran having served in the Navy, 1944-1945.
Residence: Grandview Courts, West Carthage
Branch: Navy, 1944-1946
Service: The native of Sackets Harbor quit school at age 17 to enlist. He boarded the landing ship tank — LST 1051 — in Pittsburgh, and traveled down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, and crossed through the Panama Canal en route to San Francisco.
He served as a radio operator in the Pacific theater.
“We took two trips to Japan with troops,” Mr. Foley said.
Life after service: Following his discharge, he married the former Louise S. Antonelli, Nov. 17, 1946. The couple moved to Carthage where Mr. Foley was the meat department manager for the A&P food company and Mrs. Foley was the head cashier. Mrs. Foley died in 1970. He married the former Marion C. Condino Storms Jan. 2, 1971. Mrs. Foley died in 2006.
Mr. Foley has a son, David of Richmond, Virginia, and daughter Sheila Steinburg of Black River.
He is a life member of Carlowden Country Club and a past president. Mr. Foley is a past Grand Knight and fourth degree member of the Knights of Columbus. He is a life member of the Elks and a member of the American Legion.
Continue Reading on NNY360