Seventy-seven World War II veterans from upstate South Carolina are on their way Tuesday morning to see their memorial in Washington DC. They’re taking what’s called an Honor Flight. These flights have transported thousands of vets to DC free of charge since the memorial opened in 2004. With an estimated 600 World War II vets dying every day, there’s a real urgency to these flights.
Vince Adametz is one vet on the flight who thought he’d never make the trip.
Vince Adametz can tell you some stories. He was on the front lines in World War II as a private first class. He fought the Nazis in Italy, France, and Germany. And then the war ended and for a long time he chose not to tell those stories.
“We were coming home. We didn’t want to know nothing. We just wanted to get out and get back to a natural life and live our life the way it should be. And that’s what I did,” says Adametz.
He got married to the love of his life Marge three weeks after he came home to New Jersey. Adametz became a sheet metal mechanic and they soon had three children. The kids grew up. He retired. And then his wife died and he ended up living with his son in Laurens, South Carolina. Nine years ago, he was watching the dedication of the World War II memorial on TV.
“I had to get up three or four times because I was crying,” he remembers. “I think of it now and I get tears in my eyes because of what I went through and all my buddies that I lost. Right then and there, I said, ‘I don’t want to go up and see the monument. No way, no way, no way.’”
But the memories started coming back. They were good ones, bad ones, funny ones and tragic ones and Adametz realized they were memories worth sharing. He started talking to his son Bluejay about them and Bluejay discovered a whole new side of his dad.
“You know, the one making you go to bed at night and not having any fun and that sort of thing and then you find out they were running a flame thrower and it’s just a whole different image of him as a person,” says Bluejay.
Now, Adametz is used to telling his war stories. He’s almost 90, but he’s still proud of what he calls his infantry legs. He brings over a big black box filled with things from the war.
“I can still carry heavy stuff,” he chuckles.
“Don’t get him started,” laughs his son.
But he already has. Adametz pulls out a scrapbook with pictures and clippings from the war.
“The story behind this is: My wife while I was gone was collecting all these pictures. This is a soldier coming home to his girl. That’s what she was looking forward to,” he smiles.
They were engaged while he was away at war and Adametz says she wrote him a lot. He remembers the day he received several months worth of her letters.
“I took all of her letters and put them in order. She was sending me a letter every single day.”
He has a lot of fond memories like this, but, of course, there are plenty of bad ones too. Take his first combat experience. He was one of thousands of troops who landed on the beaches of Anzio, just south of Rome.
The idea was the allies would liberate Rome quickly. But it took four months and by the time they got there 4,400 allied troops were dead. One day was especially bad.
“The rangers we’re fighting ahead of us and we moved up to start the front line. Walking up the ditches and all that and at 20 years old looking at what I saw in those ditches…all these dead GIs were laying there. The rangers were massacred. They caught them off guard and they killed them all,” remembers Adametz.
He wondered how he’d make it through. But two years later he was home. And sixty years after that, he started telling the stories. He cherishes them.
“I really do because how many of us are really alive yet, like me, infantryman. How many of us are alive? I don’t know, but it’s something that should be recognized, really.”