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“They are amazing heroes:” Group hopes to send WWII vets to national reunion

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OAK CREEK -- Images on a page become living history through the words of Ralph Anderson.

“50 missions," the Racine native said. "And we didn’t get a person wounded or lose a plane.”

Anderson was a bombardier during World War II, a member of the 8th Air Force that attacked Nazi targets in Europe.

Ralph Anderson

“The only bridge that they had that could move that equipment was this one," Anderson said, pointing to a picture of a particularly memorable mission in France in the wake of D-Day. "If we took that bridge out, they couldn’t move any equipment from the south to the north."

The 8th Air Force Historical Society aims to celebrate heroes like Anderson while there’s still time.

“Unfortunately these guys aren’t getting any younger," Cindy Drehmel, President of the Wisconsin chapter of the 8th AFHS said. "Our World War II veterans, the youngest is 93 years of age.”

Cindy Drehmel, President of the Wisconsin chapter of the 8th AFHS

The Wisconsin chapter is raising money to send six airmen and their families to the annual reunion in New Orleans this week, the site of the National World War II Museum. Drehmel estimates it costs about $1,500 per person for five days of hotels, food, tours and activities.

Don Hilbig

“Their story needs to be told over and over and over again," Don Hilbig said. "Because it’s a story of America and defense of principles and ideas and democracy.”

Hilbig served four years in the Air Force during the 1950s. He’s 84, and still looks up to the men who flew in World War II.

“They just went about their duties and fought for their country and their family," Hilberg said. "And I don’t think, personally, we’ll ever see that kind of patriotism again.”

“They never wanted a thank you, they never wanted to be considered heroes," Drehmel said. "But the bottom line is they are amazing heroes because, quite frankly, if they had not had successful missions, we wouldn’t be the United States of America.”