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Mecca: Memories are made of this
WWII veteran Perry "Roy" Pugh with his memories at the Iwo Jima memorial in Washington D.C. - photo by Pete Mecca/The News

On Sept 25, Honor Flight Conyers boarded another group of twenty-five WWII veterans and their guardians for a day of closure and poignant remembrance of a horrific war that ended over 68 years ago. Honor Flights teem with excitement and expectations, yet shrouded in the memories of buddies and battles and bombs are the seldom-spoken words of combat veterans. Albeit, within a short time, and only with each other, their tacit memories suddenly spring forth into full-blown conversations among the Band of Brothers.

My veteran, Perry "Roy" Pugh, enlisted in the Marines in 1940. After a posting in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay, Roy was shipped out to an island in the Pacific called Guadalcanal. Landing with the first Marines to hit the beach, Roy engaged in fighting best described as a gruesome, no-quarters affair. On a diminutive knoll called Bloody Ridge, the combat was hand-to-hand. Roy fought alongside Sgt. John Basilone, Medal of Honor recipient on Guadalcanal. Roy went on to serve in New Guinea and later survived the bloodbath called Peleliu. General Ray Davis of Conyers was his immediate commander.

The Sept. 25th Honor Flight was no different than any other, if compared to the sacrifice and service of those honored. A rather spirited lady was on the flight; she was a registered nurse during the war who followed the boys across Europe to patch the wounded or hold the hands of the dying.

The men represented a varied pool of warriors: A pilot who flew in three wars — WWII, Korea, and Vietnam; an infantryman who survived Omaha Beach and then fought his way into Germany. A medic spoke of medicine while a B-24 Liberator waist gunner recalled being shot down over France. A Sherman tanker and his son made the flight as did a Navy "black gang" veteran (engine room crew) of a destroyer. And we’ll never forget the 101 year-old veteran of Europe and the Pacific who had more get-up-and-go than the rest of us combined.

It was their Honor Flight. Indeed, it was their war, a crusade fought by young boys who never voted or legally chug-a-lugged a cold beer. They learned how to march, take orders, and disobey the Fifth Commandment. Thousands of city slickers that never saw a farm or farm boys that never saw a big city were soon on islands and atolls in the middle of nowhere.

The barnstormers and aerial daredevils born of the Great Depression influenced many a future pilot into the Air Corps. Over Europe alone, 80,000 baby-faced aviators became casualties of which 26,000 never made it home.

Backwoods sharpshooters became deadly snipers. Tough guys, trouble-makers, contact sportsmen, and undisciplined ruffians met their match at Parris Island then fought their way across the Pacific as United States Marines. Boys who had never glimpsed an ocean were soon beneath the waves in submarines. Other youngsters scampered aboard modern aircraft carriers larger than their hometowns. Many came home with horrendous wounds, others without a scratch, most with mental scars — they were the lucky ones. Too many young men were tagged M.I.A. (Missing in Action) and too many M.I.A.s are still on those islands or atolls or in a deep ocean trench. A direct hit by German 88mm anti-aircraft guns on fully-loaded B-17 Flying Fortresses meant 10 men simply disappeared and were "presumed" dead.

Boys became men. Those men wept for their fallen companions. Gold Star mothers wept for their sons. Stateside, 18,000 aviation cadets lost their lives in training as did women ferrying aircraft from plants to ports to airfields.

Many of the campaigns on land, sea and in the air are still mentioned in history books, but most have been deleted. But as with any account of war, the words speak of statistics, time and place, success or failure, and numbers instead of names.

Our flight met and talked with other Honor Flights visiting Washington, DC. Smiles were plentiful, the back-slaps loud, the handshakes strong. But, listening closely, you’d hear one question over and over: "Where did you serve and with what unit?" The inquiry was not to make small talk. Rather, it was an anxious attempt to find a lost buddy from an old unit from an old war; old men who were once young men attempting to rekindle old friendships one last time.

I took a photo of Roy resting in his wheelchair contemplating the larger-than-life Iwo Jima Memorial. I thought perhaps I finally understood the sacrifices of these brave men. But then realized I understood nothing at all. This warrior, this Marine, this man of the Greatest Generation had finally achieved closure with his war. That part I understood, but Roy’s memories are still his own and neither you nor I need to go there.





Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and writer. Reach him at or