Bert English, host of the 2010 Naval Reunion (center), introduced David Neuenschwanderm of Biloxi, Miss., (right) to McDonough Mayor Billy Copeland. Copeland attended the Naval reunion kick-off, held Friday, to give proclamations to the veterans.
By Valerie Baldowski
Military veterans from around the country, who served more than 50 years ago, gathered in Henry County to re-establish old friendships and share past memories.
The annual Naval reunion for shipmates who served aboard the U.S.S. Enoree, an oil tanker, from 1943, to 1959, began Thursday, at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Atlanta, in McDonough.
Naval veterans attended from as far away as New York, Nebraska and California, according to Mike Starnes, a Navy veteran who served from 1958, through 1966, and is one of the organizers of this year's event, which provided an opportunity for many to formally recognize the veterans' service to their country.
"This is the largest number of shipmates that have come to the reunion," said Starnes.
"It was an honor to honor them."
On hand to give proclamations to the veterans, was McDonough Mayor Billy Copeland.
"On behalf of our citizens and the council, I wanted to thank the men for their service to our nation, and wish them a wonderful time as they celebrate their shared history," Copeland said Friday. "I believe that the City of McDonough is well-known as a community that regularly reaffirms our gratitude to those who have served so faithfully in defense of the freedoms which we continue to enjoy as American citizens."
During next Monday's McDonough City Council meeting, Copeland is expected to read Certificates of Appreciation for 20 veterans who served on the Enoree, according to the meeting's agenda.
Starnes said the reunion activities kicked off at the McDonough hotel, and will continue through the weekend. On Friday, the veterans toured the Carter Center, the Cyclorama, and Mary Mac's Tea Room, in Atlanta, he added.
On Saturday, they are scheduled to visit Stone Mountain. Sunday, they are expected to take a trip to the Veteran's Wall of Honor at Heritage Park in McDonough. On Sunday at 5 p.m., the reunion's "grand finale"will be held at the Hazlehurst House, 77 Sloan St., McDonough, said Starnes.
The Naval gatherings are held in different cities each year. Starnes said last year's reunion was held in Branson, Mo., and next year's event is scheduled for Nashville, Tenn.
The hosts for this year's reunion were Bert and Phyllis English, of McDonough. Bert English, 84, served aboard the Enoree from January 1944, through February 1946, said his wife, Phyllis, 79.
She said she accompanies her husband on the reunions whenever possible, and said each one has a special significance. "These veterans were on this ship during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War," said Phyllis English.
The couple was not yet married when Bert English joined the Navy at age 16. Despite being a minor, he found a way to dodge the age requirement set by the Naval recruiters, she said.
"He forged his mother's signature to where they would accept it," said the military wife. "Then, things were not like they are now. They were needing people to serve in the military so bad, they didn't question what was going on."
She said her husband experienced the battle firsthand. In late 1945, a sister oil ship, the U.S.S. Misawanna, was bombed and sunk. The Enoree and the Misawanna were floating near each other, and many servicemen were left stranded in the water. The crew of the Enoree had to rescue them, she said.
"It just missed the Enoree," continued Phyllis English. "My husband's ship pulled a lot of them out of the water. They were burned and covered with oil."
After he completed his tour of duty, the couple were married in 1947. Bert English later finished high school, graduating in 1948. He attended Piedmont College, where he studied bookkeeping and accounting.
In light of their military experiences, veterans have the opportunity to re-connect with one another, during the reunions, Phyllis English said.
"A few years ago, they got together and decided to have a reunion. [It's] just the camaraderie of seeing the ones you spent so much time with," she said.