Five busloads with 200 veterans from American Legion Post 449 in Brookfield landed at the Field of Honor ceremonies Aug. 11 at Miller Park.
The post is situated on the eastern edge of the city. Brookfield and Wauwatosa residents make up the largest share of the 800 members and were a big reason the event drew a Guinness world record of about 30,000 for a movie premiere.
In this case, it was the documentary about the Stars and Stripes Honor Flights that provide free trips to Washington, D.C., for veterans of World War II.
Evening to remember
The evening was about much more than that. A few post members wore bright green shirts provided by the post. Some wore their military caps and vests indicating the branch they served in. Everyone wore their heart on their sleeves.
Post Commander David Latimer of Brookfield, a Vietnam War veteran, was teary-eyed before the ceremony began.
"I am so blessed to be able to serve these men and women," Latimer said. Afterward, he said he thought the evening was special to so many of the veterans in different ways, but especially those from World War II who may or may not have gone to the memorial in Washington.
"For those who have not gone to the memorial it was a way for them to experience it and maybe be inspired to go," Latimer said.
For those who have gone, he said, it was a way to see what it looked like from a different perspective.
"Some who went to the memorial were so overwhelmed by the outpouring of support," Latimer said. "They didn't remember it all."
Other Vietnam veterans, like Bob Kelley of Milwaukee and Pete Schiller of Wauwatosa said the night made them proud to be part of the military history being honored throughout the evening.
"We have been with World War II vets at the post for so many years and learned about what they went through, so this is very special," Schiller said. After the event, he was at a loss for words.
"I don't think words can describe it," Schiller said. "We sat next to a gentleman who was a World War II veteran but not from our post. He had tears in his eyes most of the time."
"It was very emotional, especially the film," Kelley said. "The songs, everything, was awesome. I will go to my grave remembering this."
Those with closer ties to the documentary were World War II veterans Betty Vogt of Wauwatosa and Ken Lamster of Brookfield.
"It was very memorable," said Vogt, who served as a Navy WAVE at a training facility in Memphis during the war. She said one of her most vivid memories was the kind treatment of two servicemen who were happy that she arrived at the base.
"They were so happy I came there to take their place, they took me out to dinner," she said. "They really wanted to go into active duty."
Active duty was a big part of the military experience for Lamster. As a member of the Army Air Corps, he flew 34 missions as a bomber over Germany.
"The movie had a lot of down-to-earth facts," said Lamster, who three years ago participated in an Honor Flight that brought back many memories. He said Saturday's event generated many new memories, as well as tears.
After the war, Lamster said he was not accepted into the newly formed Air Force. Commercial airlines already had their pilots, so he made a living in the construction trades.
"It's been quite a life," Lamster said. "Going to the Field of Honor is pretty much at the top of my list of best places I have gone. So many memories. It was nice to be thanked for my service. It was all in the line of duty."
Two generations removed from the veterans of World War II, Dan Hayes felt his duty to make the documentary. The 2001 graduate of Wauwatosa East High School shot hundreds of hours of film to create the less than 90-minute film. Addressing the crowd at Miller Park before the showing, he thanked veterans "for providing perspective - and especially for our freedom."
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