Middle Haddam — Twenty-one World War II veterans gathered with family and friends to share memories at a special picnic held in honor of D-Day, which was June 6, 1944.
Now in its eighth year, the event was organized by Pierre Faber and his wife Margaret McCutcheon Faber at their residence at Highveld Farm in Middle Haddam.
Charles Alex, age 99, of New Britain, who was the oldest veteran at the picnic, served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. At the end of 1940, he joined the Army as an infantryman in the 43rd division, serving in the Pacific in New Guinea and the Philippines for three years. In 1944 and 1945, he served in Germany and France.
“I got out of the service for four years but I stayed in the National Guard and got called back to active duty in 1949,” he said. He served in Korea and was later called to serve in Vietnam. He entered the military service as an “E1” and retired 29 years later as a Lt. Colonel.
This year was the third time he had been at the Fabers’ picnic. “I got an invitation from a friend.”
Alex said he admired Pierre Faber for putting the event together.
“Anyone who’s doing what he’s doing has to be truly American,” he said. “It’s terrific that he would go through all of this expense and time to recognize the veterans.”
George Ruhe, 93, who sat near his wife, Helga Ruhe, said he joined the Army and went to World War II when he was 18 years old. He grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Ruhe said that when saw destruction “like I had never seen in my life” during the war.
“We knew we were moving up close to where there was activity. The artillery and the flashes in the sky made it obvious that something was going on, but we didn’t know what. We approached with trepidation and at that point I said, ‘God, don’t let me be a coward, don’t let me be a coward.’”
He said his most shocking experience was seeing the concentration camp at Flossenburg.
“Getting in there and seeing the depravity man can commit against man, we saw bodies lying all over the place,” he said.
Ruhe met his wife, Helga, in Germany where she was working in an American Post Exchange, known as a PX. After he left Germany in 1946, the two wrote numerous letters to one another until he proposed in January 1947.
Now married for 71 years, Ruhe smiled and said they hope to die together and that “they put us in one big casket.”
Angelo Bartolotta, 94, of Middletown, joined the Army when he was 18 and fought at Omaha Beach and in the Battle of the Bulge as an anti-aircraft artilleryman.
“It was quite an experience,” he said. “I was lucky, I was never wounded.”
Pierre Faber said he and his family started the event eight years ago to honor WWII veterans after he got to know a few veterans in Middle Haddam.
“I come from a background where WWII veterans are held in very high esteem and great honor, so finding WWII veterans was a big deal for me and an amazing opportunity. I thought why not get a bunch of them together.”
The event gathered 11 veterans from the area the first year and grew from there to about 50 or 55 people a few years ago.
“The more people heard about it, the more people wanted to be part of it,” he said.
As the veterans are aging, the number who come to the picnic is diminishing.
“We’re fighting a losing battle and we know that,” he said. “And that’s just the nature of what we do, it’s going to get smaller and smaller.”
Even though the memory of World War II is fading, Faber said he wanted the general public to remember the war and how it affected the United States.
“Maybe 10 or 15 years ago a lot of people still had grandparents who were involved in the war but more and more people are losing that connection and forgetting — it’s sad. The people who are conscious of history and study history are always going to understand it, but the general population is losing touch,” he said. “I want people to remember how important it was, how big it was and what this generation did for us and the extent to which the rest of us are benefiting from the sacrifices they made and the triumph that they achieved.”