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Houston World War II veterans share stories for Independence Day

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Celebrating freedom on the Fourth of July can begin with the learning and listening from America’s veterans who have dedicated their lives to this cause.

At Houston area assisted living facilities, veterans are celebrating and sharing their stories.

At Treemont Retirement Community, Activities Director, Aimee Dubuisson said they have “many heroes” with amazing stories at their location.

Proud veterans include a Buffalo Soldier, a Hall of Fame Baseball player and a paratrooper that was able to jump on and liberate Corregidor.

Treemont resident, Lewis LaGesse was a 19 year old man at Pearl Harbor and lived to tell the tale. His story of being reported “Lost in Action,” placed among casualties, but was rescued at the flutter of an eyelid. After being patched up at a hospital, he was released to finish fighting the war. His family in Waco, Texas, however, were mourning his death at a memorial service. LaGesse still has the telegram informing his family of his death as well as a letter home from the USS West Virginia 48 hours postmarked, “USS West Virginia-December 5, 1941.”

“This man’s story is incredible and sometimes chilling,” said Dubuisson. “He has documentation that should be in a museum. What a historian! What a hero! Lewis is only one of many heroes we have here at Treemont. We even have women who served in front-line hospitals and in other capacities that are all heroes in my book. I never miss an opportunity to thank them for their service and our freedom.”

The Treemont, which is celebrating their 40th anniversary from July 14-18, 2014, hosts quarterly “Generation of Quiet Heroes” luncheons for their residents.

At Parkway Place in Houston, stories are as abundant here as at the Treemont.

“Parkway Place veterans are very special to all the staff and residents,” executive director at Parkway Place, Jimmy Johnson, said. “As you listen to the stories of these men and women, you realize how young they were when they went to war and the sacrifice they made for their country and families.”

One particular story is that of Birt Brumby, then 23, was leading the second crew of the 458th Bombardment Group, flying a B24 Liberator over Bielefeld, Germany in his fifth mission.

During training camp, the Houston native was known by his crew as “the meanest son of a gun who ever walked,” said Ann Brumby, his wife who often acts as Brumby’s historian. “He wanted everything done right and wouldn’t let the crew, mostly teenage boys, rest until everything was perfect and complete. They hated him for it.” But once they arrived in Europe and saw all the “dumb mistakes” other pilots and soldiers made, their opinions changed immediately. What started as resentment quickly became respect for their leader.

A piece of flak came straight toward Brumby’s plane and he turned it at the last second so it wouldn’t hit his copilot. But it struck his hand instead and started bleeding everywhere. As he writhed in pain, Brumby’s copilot took over and landed the bomber.

While he recuperated for a month, his crew secretly got the steering wheel – with the piece of flak still lodged in the center – to present Brumby as a badge of honor for his heroic flight. When the military found out, they almost didn’t let him keep it. When Brumby boarded the boat to go back to the United States, they said he needed to return it because it was government property. But he eventually talked them into letting him keep it. It now hangs on the wall of his Parkway Place apartment in Houston.
At the end of his service, the Air Force awarded him the Purple Heart for his wounding during combat. He ultimately saved his copilot’s life by taking the flak. He was the only one in his crew to receive the award.

He totaled more than 30 missions during his three years of war service, mostly over France and Germany. He was often the lead pilot, the most dangerous position. Brumby never lost a man and he never lost a plane, which was rare.

Ann Brumby said the crew credited Brumby for his direction during their missions. “The crew told me they felt like Birt was the one who got them all home safely because they had been trained so well,” she said.

Now, at age 97, this American war hero is a living example of unmeasured bravery and sacrifice for his country. He’s only one of three men who are still alive from his crew. Brumby said it wasn’t until the past 10 years or so that her husband opened up about his service. “Men in World War II did not come home talking about (the war),” she said. “It was not to be talked about. They said it was not good conversation. But because of that, a lot of their stories are gone.”

Thanking our veterans is always on their minds at Parkway Place explained Johnson.

“When you realize what they gave up to help keep the foundation of our freedom as we know it today alive, we can’t thank them enough. I can only say it is truly an honor for Parkway to have them as residents in our community,” he said.

For more information about the Treemont, go to www.treemont.com and for Parkway Place, go to www.bucknerparkwayplace.org.

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