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Vienna Vets Remember

World War II veterans share their experiences and offer their impressions of the World War II Memorial.

The stories that veterans who served in World War II relate are not always about life-altering or dramatic scenarios like being wounded or surrounded by gunfire. Sometimes they are memories of humorous encounters or slice-of-life situations.

Russ Simpson of Vienna remembers running with 1910’s boxer Jean Willard, known for his devastating defeat at the hands of Jack Dempsey. It was Simpson's first year, and Willard decided to run track with them one day with his platoon. That was 1941. In 1942, he met Dempsey when Simpson ate at Dempsey’s restaurant in New York.

"There's all kinds of stories," said Simpson, who later fought in naval campaigns in Casablanca, Sicily, Salerno and Anzio. Simpson spent 22 years in the Navy, rising in rank to master chief radio operator before working in the Army's civil service for 17 years.

Simpson was a guest speaker at a ceremony for World War II veterans at the Dyer-Gunnell American Legion Post 180. The May 29 ceremony coincided with the opening dedication for the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

WHILE MANY of the veterans attending the Vienna ceremony said they appreciated the World War II Memorial, they wished that it had been built sooner, especially since veterans of World War II are dying at an increasing rate as they age.

"It should've been the first one put up," said Larry Rentrop of Vienna. He spent 20 years in the military, from 1944-64, doing administrative work for most of that period. From 1946-47, he was in the 86th Engineer Aviation Battalion in Europe.

Chip Boyle of Vienna agreed with Rentrop's assessment. Boyle was decorated with the Purple Heart after receiving injuries in the Marshall Islands and Saipan. He has attended the U.S. Marine reunion in Branson, Mo., every year for the past 21 years. Only four other Marines from his platoon are still living.

"I think it [the WW !! Memorial] was overdue," said Boyle, who will turn 82 next month.

Some of the veterans who attended the ceremony had already seen the World War II Memorial. Boyle has seen the Memorial, as well as

Bob Ehrhardt of Milford, Ohio, visited the Memorial last Thursday and Friday and told his war experiences to a Library of Congress volunteer working on the veterans oral history project.

He was staying with his daughter, who lives in the area. When he heard that he could not go to opening ceremonies on the Mall because he did not have tickets, he went to Post 180 to take part in the celebrations there.

"I thought it was beautiful," said Ehrhardt, who was in the U.S. Navy.

At the ceremony veterans reminisced about their lives during the war while enjoying lunch and watching the Mall ceremonies on a big-screen television.

Post 180 arranged a ceremony at the Post in Vienna for the veterans unable to make it down to Washington. The Vienna chapter has over 100 World War II veterans within its 720-member organization.