12/07/08 — Veterans' stories

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Veterans' stories

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on December 7, 2008 2:00 AM

One saw Europe through the eyes of a fighter pilot.

Another watched friends fall in the Vietnam jungle.

And there is a marksman, weapons officer and truck driver -- even a pair of medics.

Eight men living together in an assisted-living facility called Woodard's Care.

Aging veterans who understand loss -- outliving a spouse or friend, waking up to find that strength and virility are as fleeting as the memories they made in World War II, Vietnam and Korea.

Men bound by the service some don't quite remember and others find too painful to discuss.

But each remembers the day he first donned his nation's uniform.

And just how proud he is that he did.


Roger Manuel stares down at a picture of his younger self.

He nods and smiles as a member of the residence's staff tells his story -- just as he needed her to help him take off his jacket moments earlier.

"I've been through so much," the 96-year-old said at one point. "My mind is so messed up."

But a few memories do surface.

Like flying over Europe during his stint in World War II.

"It was fast," he said of the aircraft he commanded, even if he doesn't remember what kind it was. "I was really proud of it."


Kenneth Quakenbush, 60, remembers the details.

Sometimes, that is the problem, he said.

"It was intense, real intense," he said of the mortar attack in Vietnam that sent him home and earned him a Purple Heart. "It was a terrible thing. I'm still not over it."

He was sent to the jungle with a Reserve unit. "A M.A.S.H. unit," he said.

He had no idea the images that unfolded there would haunt him decades later.

"It just hangs with me every day," he said. "When I got back, I couldn't function -- nightmares, the whole ball of wax."

But even now, as he fights Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Quakenbush says he wouldn't change a thing.

"I would do the same thing," he said. "That was my duty."


Sam Isler still sings the songs he says helped get his Army unit through a stint in World War II.

"I never did say we could sing," the 95-year-old said. "But we did the best we could."

He remembers feeling excited about joining the fight in Europe.

"I was ready to go," Isler said. "Other boys were going, so why not me?"

But he can still sense the fear he felt there -- even if many of the memories that generated it have escaped him.

"At first you were scared -- real scared. We were walking, fighting, then you train, train, train," Isler said. "Still, I think I did pretty good for a country boy."


Lawrence Capps, 58, only spent a year in the service.

The National Guardsman was medically discharged before stories could form.

But he won't soon forget his training.

"It was a lot of climbing," he said. "A lot of climbing and a whole lot of marching."


Robert McLamb, 53, can still see rocks skipping across a river in Germany.

"It was real beautiful," he said. "Real beautiful."

The Army took him there in 1979.

For three years, he moved supplies across the country.

"We did everything," he said. "We built roads, we drove trucks."

It was one of the greatest times of his life.

"I would do every one of those things again," McLamb said. "I just wanted to serve my country, that's all. And that's what I did."


Harry Hogan, 66, worked weapons.

The airman was charged with making sure missiles at different military installations were operational.

"It was dangerous," he said.

But he would rather talk about the friends he met during a stint in Okinawa.

"It was all right. Parts of it were pretty," he said. "But what you really enjoy is the company."


Frank Fredere, 76, was a medic in the Korean War.

So he likely has a few stories to spare.

Only he does not define himself by his time spent serving.

"It was time for me to go, so I went," he said. "That's all."

In fact, his time playing for the University of North Carolina football team is all he wants to talk about.

"I hit a guy from N.C. State one time," he said, chuckling. "Now that was exciting. You love that."


Bernice Howell starts to cry.

The 76-year-old is the last to tell his story, but after a few words about working as an Air Force finance clerk, he finds that many memories are lost.

"I can't even remember," he says, a tear running down his face. "I just can't remember."