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July 24, 2014

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Blowing Rock veterans, from left, Bryan Crutcher, Byron Cooke, Bill Magruder, Nick Lyons, Kent Eidson, Jim West, Pete Page, Perry Davis, Graeme Justice, Bill Parker, Pete Goss, Ron Oberle and Brad Piatek pose for a group photo after the annual Veterans Day ceremony at Blowing Rock Memorial Park. Jeff Eason photo

Originally published: 2013-11-14 08:17:40
Last modified: 2013-11-14 08:18:25

Town honors veterans

According to some government estimates, the median age for a United States veteran of World War II is 94 years old.

It is also estimated that more than 650 American WWII veterans die each day.

“It is important that we seek out these veterans and learn their stories,” said Col. William Parker, a retired U.S. Marine veteran who was one of the main speakers at Blowing Rock’s annual Veterans Day celebration at Blowing Rock Memorial Park on Monday.

Parker, Navy veteran Ron Oberle and Air Force veteran Jim West gave a presentation to a crowd of veterans, their families and friends from the gazebo at the park. It included the singing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and the official anthems of all five military branches, plus stories from Oberle and Parker.

Attending the ceremony were military veterans Bill Magruder, Bryan Crutcher, Byron Cooke, Nick Lyons, Kent Eidson, Pete Page, Perry Davis, Graeme Justice, Pete Goss and Brad Piatek.

Bob Winston and the Brewsters

“My wife and I had the pleasure of traveling to Finland last year to participate in a Rotary International function,” Parker said. “While we were there, a Finnish Air Force colonel told me, ‘Thank you for Bob Winston  and the Brewsters.’”

“Upon some research, here is the story behind that statement. In 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union had signed a nonaggression pact and proceeded to invade and take over Poland. During this same time, Joseph Stalin told the Balkan countries to give him warm seaports to use. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia bowed to his demands and paid the price of being under Russian control until 1992. Finland said ‘no.’

“In November 1939, Russia invaded Finland with almost a million men. President Franklin Roosevelt, in response to a request for help, declared 44 Navy aircraft as surplus and sent them to Finland. The airplanes were the Brewster Buffaloes, an airplane hated by almost everyone who flew them.

“Bob Winston had just retired from the Navy and read a newspaper article about the transfer of these aircraft to Finland. He made a number of calls and, as a result, was immediately hired by the Brewster Aircraft Company to supervise the shipment, assembly, test and delivery of these aircraft to Finland.

“Bob flew to Sweden on the 19th of February 1940 and supervised the arrival of the crated aircraft by ship to Stockholm and by rail to an airfield at Trollhattan, Sweden, owned by the Saab Aircraft Company. With a group of volunteers from Norway, Sweden and Finland, the aircraft were uncrated, assembled, test flown and then delivered to Finland.

“On the 13th of March 1940, an armistice was signed between Finland and the Soviet Union. Only nine Brewsters had been delivered, so they were not used in combat during what the Finns referred to as the ‘Winter War.’ In 1941, Finland again fought with the Soviet Union and this phase of the war was called the ‘Continual War’ and it lasted until 1944. During this time, Finnish pilots achieved an unheard of kill ratio of 32-to-one against Soviet aircraft. The 44 Brewsters made a huge difference in helping the Finnish war effort.

“Meanwhile, Bob Winston, having successfully completed his mission despite significant logistic and weather problems, discovered he could not leave Norway because the Germans had successfully invaded that country.

“He tried to get to Brussels, but Belgium fell to the Germans while he was en route. He traveled through backcountry roads, arriving in Paris the day before it fell to the advancing German army. He traveled to Spain and then to Portugal, where he finally managed to get on a Yankee Clipper seaplane from Lisbon to New York.

“Bob was recalled to active duty in the U.S. Navy where he became a fighter ace in the Pacific. He never fully told his story of all that happened in Sweden and Finland, but he received the Swedish Royal Order of the Sword and the Finnish Mannerheim Cross and Winter War Medal.

“Bob retired from the Navy as a lieutenant commander in 1946. He died in 1974, an unsung hero to many of us, but is remembered to this day by grateful Finns. What a difference in history one veteran made.”

For more information and stories, see The Blowing Rocket.

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