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WWII veterans honored during banner project kickoff

By CARSON GERBER | Kokomo Tribune, Ind. | Published: August 29, 2020

GREENTOWN, Ind. (Tribune News Service) — Fred David was just 18 when he stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 5, 1944. It was one of the most iconic and deadly battles in World War II, and David was there as a technical corporal who had just been drafted into the U.S. Army.

Today, the 94-year-old Greentown native is one of the few surviving D-Day veterans. He still operates his own farming business, and he's about ready to celebrate his 73rd wedding anniversary with his wife, Norma Gene.

David's daughter, Jennifer Smith, said her dad never received much recognition for his service because he was never one to talk much about his military experience.

But on Thursday, David did receive some recognition, and he'll continue to receive it for the next year.

David is one of 115 local Greentown veterans who now have a banner prominently displayed on nearly every light pole as part of the town's Hometown Hero project.

And he was one of four local World War II veterans who received special recognition during a kickoff ceremony on Thursday for the project.

David stood with his family and others from the community beneath a banner with a photo from when he was 18, decked out in his military uniform, and ready to serve in World War II.

"It makes me proud as a peacock," his wife said as she looked up at the photo of her husband as a bright-eyed teenager.

Greg Sumpter, commander of the Greentown American Legion post, was the one who volunteered to attach every single banner now hanging in town. The banners were purchased at-cost by families and hung for free by Sumpter, who had help from other project volunteers.

He said Greentown veterans from every war since World War I are represented by the banners, as well as members of the volunteer fire department and EMT drivers.

In fact, Sumpter has his own banner hanging on the last light pole before leaving town on North Meridian Street.

"It's a little humbling," he said. "I think any veteran would say they don't fit the hometown hero description, but they do. At the end of the day, they all served. They all answered the call, and a few of them didn't make it home."

Sumpter said at least four banners show veterans who were killed in action. Those were given the most prominent locations in town, near the corner of Meridian and Main streets.

But the guests of honor during Thursday's celebration were Greentown's four living World War II veterans.

Mark Lantz, a town councilman and the chairman of the Hometown Heroes committee, said the fact there are four living veterans from the war was something no one even knew until they launched the project, and their families started calling in to reserve a banner.

But once they knew, he said, it was a no-brainer to give them all a special place of honor during the ceremony.

"It is only decent to recognize those who have created a life, a family and made many friends here in Greentown after serving in the Second World War," he said.

One of those veterans was 99-year-old Jean Malott, who served on a Navy destroyer in the South Pacific. He sat beneath his banner with his family beside him, as people snapped pictures and thanked him for his service.

His daughter, Lisa Malott-Heck, said her dad never told many people about his time in the war, but in the last few years, he started opening up about his experiences.

"He saw a lot of horrors that he didn't talk about," she said.

That included a Japanese kamikaze pilot smashing into his ship, after being shot out of the air, and killing the seaman standing right next to him.

Katy Heck-Smith, Malott's granddaughter, said it's veterans like her grandfather who ensured places like Greentown could hold events like the Hometown Heroes ceremony.

"I tell him I'm thankful there are people that did what he did and saw what he did, so that we don't have to," she said.

Eugene Downs, 93, was another World War II Navy veteran who served in the South Pacific and who had his banner prominently displayed in the downtown. Downs choked up when he talked about standing beneath the banner honoring his service.

"I can hardly believe it," he said. "It means a lot. It really does."

Downs's brother, Wayne, also served in the war, but passed away in December. Wayne had a banner hanging in his honor. Wayne's son, Don, was there, too. Don had his own banner, as well, for his service in the Army during the Vietnam War.

Don said it made him proud to see banners for his father and uncle hanging in Greentown so everyone would know about their courage and sacrifice.

"I'm very proud of them," he said. "I'm proud of all the veterans."

Charles Ormsby, a 100-year-old Army Air Corps veteran who flew 35 combat missions over places such as Germany, Czechoslovakia, Norway and France before finally coming back home to Greentown, was also on hand for the ceremony. He sat in a wheelchair, and his son and daughter stood beside him.

Councilman Mantz said the banners honoring the town's veterans will hang for the next year. He said the whole project is an extension of a resolution passed last year naming Greentown a veteran-friendly community.

"There was a lot of work involved, but it went smooth and there was a lot of encouragement along the way," he said. "Things just kind of fell together. It's been a great thing for the town."

But it only seemed right, Mantz said, to give the town's four living World War II veterans a special shout out. And that's just what he did inside the American Legion post following the kickoff ceremony, when he gave each veteran a plaque honoring their service.

"It seems weak to only use the words 'thank you,'" he said. "However, as a way to show our heartfelt thanks, we collectively stand here today with tremendous respect and humility as our small way of expressing the deep gratitude we hold in our hearts for the part you personally played in the freedom we continue to enjoy."

"We owe our World War II veterans, and all our veterans, a debt we cannot ever fully repay," Mantz said.

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