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Veterans share stories of service at Whitehall library

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

World War II veteran George Morgan didn't have to go.

During his military training, he developed pneumonia in his left lung. Doctors told him he would be medically discharged. He wouldn't have to go overseas. He would never have to see an enemy combatant.

Morgan asked if he could refuse discharge.

“You were more patriotic if you stayed, and they thought I was crazy,” Morgan said. “They said OK, and then I had some experiences I'll never forget.”

Morgan, 88, of Whitehall is one of nearly a dozen veterans who share stories at Whitehall Public Library on the last Wednesday of each month from 9:30 to 11 a.m. To register, call the library at 412-882-6622. Anyone, including non-veterans, is welcome.

Although Morgan didn't know anything about cars — because his family, from Schenley Heights, didn't own one — he drove and maintained military vehicles in the jungle.

The only time Morgan saw an enemy combatant was when bare-naked Japanese soldiers surrendered.

“The war was over,” Morgan said. “They wanted to show they didn't have any weapons.”

He also got to ride on an elephant and had a pet tiger and leopard.

Joe Michaels, who spent the better part of three years aboard the USS Lenawee that transported troops across the Pacific Ocean, saw something in the Philippines in 1958 that startled him.

Michaels, 74, of Whitehall was sitting on a plane that was due to fly to Okinawa, Japan, when a Vietnamese ranger boarded and lingered at the plane. He didn't figure out why until two years later.

“The United States saw (the Vietnam War) coming, and they were training the Vietnamese how to fly,” Michaels said.

Michaels served as a legal yeoman, because he could type fast and take shorthand. He prepared notes under the direction of his lieutenant for anyone who got into trouble.

“We had a crew of over 300 on that ship, and some drank more than they should have,” Michaels said. “I was right there to take down all the details, and they had to be punished. They'd be confined to the ship for 30 to 60 days.”

However, Michaels wanted to serve as a Navy pilot. While he didn't meet the qualifications to be an aviator, he took up photography and began to collect pictures of military aircraft. He said he has over 150,000 slides in his collection.

“I met a lot of great people in the service,” Michaels said. “It was an opportunity to find my way in life.”

Vietnam veteran Mike Romano has coordinated the group since it began in June 2013.

Romano, 73, of Whitehall was drafted when he was 23. He had a wife and nine-month-old son at the time and served in the reserves for six years.

“I have a lot of respect for everyone in our group, not because they fought in a war, but because they served,” Romano said. “We just openly share our experiences in service and enjoy learning new and interesting things each meeting.”

Shawn Annarelli is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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