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Veterans, reenactors keep history alive at World War II Tribute Day

CARLISLE, Pa. - The crowd on the Dill's Tavern lawn listened attentively as World War II bomber pilot Clint Hammond talked about his co-pilot fainting during a bombing mission over Munich.

After safely returning from the mission, Hammond was ready to greet the co-pilot, who had been revived with oxygen.

"I cussed him clear across Germany, across France, across the North Sea, back to England," he said.

Forced to fly with, and at times yell at, the same co-pilot for about eight more missions, Hammond watched him grow as an airman -- so much so that 15 years after the war, he ran into the co-pilot on the street and discovered he had become a lieutenant colonel.

"I turned around and went the other way. I wasn't going to give him the opportunity to chew my butt out," he said.

More than 400 people visited the Dill's Tavern and Plantation on Baltimore Street to hear stories like Hammond's, view art, and handle artifacts Saturday, during a World War II 70th-anniversary Tribute Day organized by local residents Doug Riley and Clair Zeiders. The commemoration began in 2011 as a nighttime dance, and the daytime tribute was added the following year, Riley said.

The crowd represented a "banner turnout" for the event, which featured extensive displays from re-enactors spread throughout the Plantation lawn, a movie by the grandson of a World War II veteran, and a wall of honor for Dillsburg-area World War II veterans, he said.

Riley hopes the event helps document the stories of World War II veterans, many of whom, like his father, have typically been reluctant to talk about their combat experiences.

"He said nothing, and he took most of his stories and anecdotes with him when he died," Riley said. "They really didn't want to talk about it."

That attitude started changing about fifteen years ago after the release of movie "Saving Private Ryan" and the television mini-series "Band of Brothers," he said.

"Only then the veterans felt they had to tell their stories and get it out," he said.

Veterans like Private Cosmo Zizzi, who brought five posterboard displays and a table filled with artifacts to Tribute Day. The 95-year-old Zizzi said he spent a lot of time creating the displays that chronicle his wartime experiences because he wants his daughters to be able to tell his stories when he can no longer tell them.

Zizzi was drafted five days after Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and was part of the Seventh Armored Division until it liberated Germany in May 1945. He also worked three years at a cemetery in Holland after the war. His posters document how German civilians ran to American troops to avoid becoming prisoners of Soviet soldiers approaching from the east, and how he narrowly escaped being among a group of prisoners of war captured by the German army in December 1944 and later killed during the Malmedy massacre.

Hammond, a veteran of 32 bombing missions to Europe, stressed how dangerous and frightening combat can be.

"You never get used to it, that's for sure," he said. "If you get complacent, that's when you die."

In addition to the veterans themselves, the event drew a younger crowd that 27-year-old Gettysburg-based re-enactor Paul Driscoll believes is increasingly interested in the war. His re-enacted 325th Glider Infantry Regiment displayed authentic weapons, personal items, and reading materials from World War II soldiers in an effort to spark interest in history among those attending.

"Each items tells a history, and part of telling people that history is showing them what it is, letting them see how it works," he said. "If they can see the real thing in person -- if they can hold it -- that connection holds a bigger impact to them."

In addition to the intrinsic value of remembering history, Riley believes the renewed interest in World War II veterans corresponds with a level of respect for Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans that did not take place during the Vietnam War.

"Our veterans today have really, I think, turned the public opinion -- not necessarily about the war itself, but about veterans -- into a really positive thing," he said.

Hammond also hopes his stories not only provide insight into World War II, but help engender respect for soldiers today.

"Those young guys in Afghanistan and Iraq, they did a hell of a job," he said.

The event at Dill's Tavern also featured information about the home front during World War II, a display of chaplains' materials, and an array of military trucks, command vehicles, and World War II-era cars. Riley plans to hold the event again at least next year, the final 70th anniversary year for World War II.

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