Local men share war, Honor Flight experiences

Marianne Gillespie
mgillespie@timestoday.com
Three local veterans spoke Oct. 9 at the Chillicothe Tea Party Patriots meeting at the VFW Post 4999 on their World War II and Honor Flight experiences. Pictured are the men with their guardian on the Honor Flight. They are, from left, guardian Shauna Segler and Bill Roger, Mel Campbell and his son/guardian, Clyde, and Bob Berg with guardian Sam Massengill.

Three local men spoke recently of their time of serving their country and their adventures being on Honor Flight trips.

The Chillicothe Tea Party Patriots invited Bill Roger and Mel Campbell, who were both on a recent Honor Flight, and Bob Berg, a previous trip recipient, to speak at their meeting Oct. 9.

One of the highlights of the trip, which features a flight to Washington, D.C., in a day with special stops at the war memorials, is the homecoming.

"That's the biggest welcoming crowd I've ever seen in my life," said Campbell.

"I shook more hands than I ever have in my life," said Roger when they returned Sept. 24, which was the second flight for the Greater Peoria chapter.

Berg made the trip almost a year ago with the Land of Lincoln chapter, which flies from Springfield.

Each of the World War II veterans represented a different branch of service — Roger in the Navy, Campbell in the Army and Berg in the Marines. Roger also served in the Korean War.

Men from central Illinois, like Berg, were traveling to the state capital to experience Honor Flight, and eventually residents of the Peoria area began their own chapter.

All the chapters are purely philanthropic work, said Dr. Tim Vega, the medical director for the Greater Peoria Honor Flights.

He told the crowd at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4999 that it costs $500 for the trip per veteran, which is free to the veteran. They then seek donors and fundraise to pay the cost.

The veterans are partnered with a guardian, who assists them in whatever they need that day. The guardians each pay $500 for their way.

Vega is known in Chillicothe as he came to Chillicothe almost 20 years ago with OSF Medical Group.

The cause is near to his heart as his father was wounded in World War II.

The flights coming out of the Gen. Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport are over for this year, but three flights next year will be in April, June and September.

Vega said there is a backlog of more than 200 veterans waiting to get on a flight.

Accompanying the men to talk about their trip were their guardians.

Roger's guardian, Shauna Segler, found a new friend through the experience.

A Dunlap Middle School teacher, she showed her students the Honor Flight video, and decided to be a guardian herself.

She was paired with someone else originally, but as fate would have it, Roger ended up being her veteran.

The duo met each other's families and found common outdoor interests, resulting in Roger giving Segler a fishing pole for her time outdoors with her husband and children.

"It will be a lifelong friendship for sure," Segler said.

Campbell shared the experience with his son, Clyde.

Berg was accompanied by Sam Massengill, the son of his best friend and companion, Mary Massengill Potter. They were instrumental in getting him on his first airplane ride.

Bill Roger

Roger copied Japanese code during World War II and Russian code during the Korean War.

"We intercepted a message where they saw the vice admiral of the Japanese Navy was flying somewhere. They interpreted that message and they shot him down in the air," Roger said of his unit's work.

His two years of typing in high school and apprenticeship as a telegrapher for the Santa Fe helped his work.

He told a few humorous stories of his time in the service, including that he never spent time aboard a ship.

"I was in the Navy for five years and never been aboard a ship," he said with a chuckle.

While he was in Idaho, he had a friend who was afraid to go to sick bay, so Roger said he had a sore throat and went with him.

As it turned out, his buddy was fine, but Roger had scarlet fever and was in the hospital for two weeks.

Mel Campbell

Campbell is both a Purple Heart and Silver Star award recipient and told stories around both of those.

He was wounded Christmas night 1944 after a visit from "Bed Check Charlie," a German pilot who would fly low and turn off the engine looking for any activity and then drop bombs.

He was taken to a hospital in Nancy, France, and was operated on to retrieve shrapnel in his head. The following day, a nurse visited him.

"She said, 'Yesterday we got in a shipment of some new medicine — it's called penicillin and you got the first shot.' I wasn't quite sure whether I should be real proud of that but it worked out all right. I healed up pretty nicely ..." Campbell said.

After a few days of recuperation, he decided he needed a shower.

When he returned, there laying on his bed was a box with his Purple Heart.

Not too long later he met back up with his unit.

Campbell was a Jeep driver for a machine gun squadron and told stories of all the things he kept on his Jeep, including his adventures in getting eggs to make pancakes and stove hooked to the Jeep.

The unit was all about business, however, on April 16, 1945, as he drove the lead vehicle into Elsterberg, Germany.

The Germans were preparing a bridge there for demolition, knowing it was critical to the Allies.

Campbell's unit saw three enemy soldiers on bicycles and followed and captured them, and in turn, secured the bridge.

His "gallant" action that day was noted with a Silver Star award.

Campbell also chuckled as he missed his Silver Star ceremony as he took a trip to Paris.

Bob Berg

One of Berg's memorable experiences while part of the Marines was a problem tooth.

Unfortunately, he was on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on the way to Guam, and what he needed was not on his ship.

Arrangements were made, but they involved Berg getting into a basket to be "transported" from his ship to the Elliott Roosevelt's destroyer.

Needless to say, Berg was dunked in the water in his transferrance. A few days later, he was sent back over to his shop.

He was part of the rear echelon, which meant his unit was the last to leave an area and was in charge of packing up supplies and equipment.

He also experienced a typhoon while leaving Okinawa.

A resident asked him why he went into the Marines.

"Uncle Sam," he replied with a chuckle.

His voice became serious, though.

"I'd give my life for the United States any old time," Berg said.

He and his fellow veterans received a standing ovation from the crowd.