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WWII veterans share their experiences

KINGWOOD — One of Preston County’s few remaining World War II veterans is the oldest member of the Preston County Honor Guard. He was on hand at the observance in Kingwood Thursday.

“I’m slowing down a bit,” Foster Huffman,  96, said. “I’ve been a member of the Honor Guard for 36 years. When I went into the service I took an oath to serve. We are not like politicians, we remember our oath.”

Huffman joined the Navy in 1943 and served on an aircraft carrier during World War II from 1943-46.

An aircraft carrier is a navel vessel that serves as a seagoing airbase. It is equipped with a full-length flight deck and facilities for carrying, arming, deploying and recovering aircraft.

Huffman said after completing boot camp,  his carrier was stationed in the Atlantic until the Normandy invasion, then it was sent to Africa.

He said he spent a year or so on deck force and maintenance before he was switched over to gunner’s mate.

“I took care of the bomb magazine — the area we stored the bombs,” Huffman said.

He said after Africa, the aircraft carrier went back to dry dock to be overhauled. Huffman said from there, his crew went to the Pacific and  traveled all over the place.

“Our planes went out, but we weren’t close to any battles,” he said. “We watched for submarines. They are the biggest threat to carriers, so we couldn’t go out without three escorts (ships that traveled with the aircraft carrier).”

Huffman said he was impressed when the aircraft carrier he was aboard went through the Panama Canal.

“We went through it twice,” he said. “Going through that was something to see. There was only a few inches of space on both sides of the ship.”

Huffman said he visited one place, the memory of which will remain with him forever.

“I’ll never forget Pearl Harbor. I will always remember the Arizona,” he said, referring to The USS Arizona Memorial, which marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, in Honolulu, Hawaii.  “It’s there as a museum. 1,000 sailors are buried there. It was never raised.”

Huffman said he is proud to be a member of the Preston County Honor guard and is proud of the crew he serves with.

“They are the best we’ve ever had,” he said. “They are the very best.”

Another 96-year-old Preston County World War II veteran, John Paddy, was one of the more than 156,000  American, British and Canadians to be part of the Normandy invasion, where 2,000 American soldiers lost their lives.

“I was in the 82nd Airborne. We were there for D-Day,” Paddy said during a previous interview.

D-Day, the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, brought together the land, air and sea forces of Britain, the United States, Canada and France’s armies. It was known as the largest invasion force in human history and was given the code name Overlord. It became the turning point for World War II.

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