MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Of the 16 million members who served in the Armed Forces during World War Two, less than 500 thousand remain today. Most now are in their 80’s or 90’s.
The Veterans Administration estimates we’re losing about 350 members of this ‘Greatest Generation’ every day. Over the years here at News 5, and in large part, thanks to Honor Flight South Alabama, we’ve introduced you to many of those WWII vets. Now, we’d like to introduce a few more.
Like Canton, Ohio native Mark Wakeley. Wakeley served on a ship in the Pacific during the war.
“And when the service needed me, they got me,” he told us. “And I went from one place to another, onboard ship, and we were strictly a gun crew, that’s all we did…man the guns, that’s all we did. And we did a good job, and a lot of them didn’t make it back.”
Wakeley, now 95, says he and the crew of his ship were at particular risk because of the type of cargo they carried.
“They were really out to get us, the Japanese because we carried ammunition and supplies. It made it pretty rough at times because we didn’t know if we were going to live or die,” said Wakeley.
While Wakeley was on a ship in the Pacific, Robert Serling was island hopping there.
“I put three years in Okinawa, Guam, Leyte, and Manilla,” he said.
Serling, who was born in Tuskegee, but now lives in Mt. Vernon, is 98 years old. Like Wakeley, he didn’t know which day during the war might be his last.
“It was dangerous. I didn’t think I would make it back. I had no idea if I’d make it back,” said Serling.
On the other side of the world, soldiers who because trailblazers were busy as well.
“I was with the 761st tank battalion, the only black battalion that was in existence at that time,” said Robert Andry.
He was a gunner on a Sherman tank. The 761st was part of General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army. He was the recipient of a Purple Heart.
“Happened to meet up with a German bazooka, and the bazooka hit the tank, you know how they operated, it drilled a hole inside and then exploded and when it exploded it hit me all over my body and burnt my face up,” said Andry.
He said when he was pulled out by medics, he was given morphine and then buried, temporarily. They put him about 18 inches underground with an opening left for him to breathe, just to keep him protected.
“It protected me and I was there for about 10 hours,” he said.
All three of these veterans and others were honored back on September 11th in a special ceremony at the re-emerging Oaklawn Cemetery in Mobile.