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WW II vet happy to see national memorial while he is able

December 1, 2011

World War II veteran Gene McKee of Big Run is shown during his first visit to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The memorial is encircled by 54 columns that surround a large pool. (Photo submitted)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Two members of VFW Post 9044, Big Run, recently returned from a visit from Washington, D.C., to view the World War II Memorial and other memorials commemorating other fallen soldiers.

Robert Lott and his wife, Ann, had visited the memorial while it was still under construction. It opened in 2004.

Gene McKee, a veteran of the U.S. Navy in World War II, said he had always wanted to view the memorial constructed to honor his many comrades who lost their lives during the war. He donated money when the large memorial was in the planning stages and received a photo of what it would look like when construction was completed.

Lott said the memorial is quite large and features 54 separate columns surrounding a large pond located in the center of the memorial, which includes the name of each state and territory.

According to the World War II Memorial Web site: “The memorial honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the U.S. during World War II, the more than 400,000 who died and the millions who supported the war effort from home.

“Symbolic of the defining event of the 20th Century, the memorial is a monument to the spirit, sacrifice and commitment of the American people to the common defense of the nation and to the broader causes of peace and freedom from tyranny throughout the world.

“It will inspire future generations of Americans, deepening their appreciation of what the World War II generation accomplished in securing freedom and democracy.”

The southern end of the memorial is dedicated to the Pacific Theater, the northern end to the Atlantic Theater.

McKee said he served on a cruiser ship, the USS Portsmouth, in the Atlantic during the war, which carried 800 men, nine six-inch guns, 10 five-inch .38 guns and five pontoon airplanes.

“We would shoot the planes off the deck with a catapult, and it would land in the water, and we used a large crane that would reach out and pick them up,” he said. “Once the war with Germany was concluded, we were supposed to move to the Pacific to fight in that theater also and participate in the planned invasion of Japan.”

McKee said the Portsmouth would’ve been involved in the first invasion since it had its orders to head for the Pacific, which never occurred due to Japan’s surrender.

“When I first saw the memorial, it kind of surprised me; I didn’t expect it to be so large,” McKee said. He said it did choke him up because it reminded him of the many people who lost their lives in the large war.
Following World War II, McKee concluded his naval service by serving on a submarine that would eventually be retired.

“I would encourage all World War II vets to travel to Washington and see the memorial while they still can get around, as it requires a lot of walking,” he said.

Lott said it is getting hard for World War II veterans to get around.
“I asked several World War II vets to come on the trip, and many said it would be too hard for them to get around,” he said, because the tour includes a large amount of walking.

McKee said he was glad he finally had a chance to see the monument before he would be unable to make the trip himself.

For more information about the memorial, check out www.wwiimemorial.com.

SUNDAY:
VFW Post 9044 and its Ladies’ Auxiliary will hold a Pearl Harbor remembrance service at 7 p.m. Sunday at the War Memorial, Big Run.
The guest speaker is C. Eugene McKee, a World War II veteran who served in the U.S. Navy.
All area veterans and residents are invited.
For more information, call Post Adjutant Robert Lott at 938-4589 or Senior Vice-Commander Jim Soliday at 938-4934.

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