Veterans mark 70th anniversary of World War II end

DOVER — Seventy years ago today, the deadliest and most wide-ranging war in human history officially came to a close.

On Sept. 2, 1945, six years and one day after Germany invaded Poland, World War II ended.

Former Navy Cmdr. C.J. Bannowsky in the pilot’s seat.

Former Navy Cmdr. C.J. Bannowsky in the pilot’s seat.

Tens of millions died during the conflict, and the war’s outcome continues to shape the modern world.

After announcing their intention to surrender on Aug. 15, Japanese leaders signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on Sept. 2.

Delaware, despite its small size and population, like all the states played a role in the war. According to the Delaware Public Archives, about 33,000 Delawareans fought in the conflict. Wilmington’s chemical, manufacturing and shipbuilding industries were key to the war effort, while elsewhere in the state, farmers produced crops and chickens to feed troops.

The Delaware National Guard’s 198th Coast Artillery Regiment was one of the first units to be sent overseas after the United States entered the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Fort DuPont was used as a military base and a camp for German prisoners of war. Towers were built along the coast to watch for enemy ships. A German submarine, U-858, surrendered at Lewes’ Fort Miles in 1945.

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Army veteran Louis Savini, pictured at his home in December, holds a photo of himself from decades ago.

Some museums and monuments around the country will take part in celebrations today in honor of the anniversary.

The fighters

While statistics and records share important details about the war, it’s the stories from participants that carry the most weight.

The number of World War II veterans continues to shrink, but some who were directly involved continue to share their memories of the war.

One of them is C.J. Bannowsky, a 29-year Navy veteran who was witness to history on multiple occasions during the conflict.

Mr. Bannowsky, of Wilmington, was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked and, he said, for an “accidental” Japanese surrender a few weeks before that nation officially submitted.

Inspired by men like Rear Admiral Richard Byrd and the aviator Charles Lindbergh, Mr. Bannowsky joined the Navy on his 18th birthday. A native Texan, he was sworn in standing by himself on a railroad platform in Houston in 1933.

“I flew every plane that the Air Corps and the Navy had, every model of it,” he said. “So that was the absolute most wonderful thing that a pilot could do.”

In 1941 he was stationed in Hawaii and returned there from a mission two days before the “date which will live in infamy” — the attack on Pearl Harbor.

During the war, he worked with Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., the elder brother of John F. Kennedy, and Ernest Lawrence, a scientist who helped develop the atomic bomb.

He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart after saving his plane, which had been shot up by Japanese fighters, from crashing.

Mr. Bannowsky, who achieved the rank of commander, opted to stay and try to save the plane instead of jumping out.

“It was a pretty perilous situation,” his son Phillip said. “The pilot and the co-pilot are out the door and he’s about to go out the door after getting his parachute on and he saw these three crewmen still in there. They wouldn’t have got a chance to get out if he had jumped.

“They wouldn’t have got their parachutes on … If he couldn’t have got it under control, he’d have gone down with them, put it that way. So he made quite a decision there to do it.

“But he was that kind of a pilot. That if anybody could fly this plane, with all the canvas fabric shot off, he could. And he did.”

Mr. Bannowsky was wounded by shrapnel after landing but made it safely.

Vivid memories

In December, Army veteran Louis Savini, of Dover, told of his time in the war.

He took part in the famous Battle of the Bulge, a last-gasp German offensive on the Western Front.

Seventy years later, what he remembered most was the cold.

“It was one of the coldest winters I ever experienced,” he told the Delaware State News last year.

In April, paratrooper George Shenkle, of Lansdale, Pa., visited the Air Mobility Command Museum, site of the very plane he leapt out of over Normandy, France on D-Day.

“Dwight Eisenhower’s words still bring shivers up and down my spine. ‘The eyes of the world are (upon) you’ … if that doesn’t make you feel important,” he said.

In July, another soldier who jumped into Normandy on that day came to the Dover museum.

Joe Morettini, of Erie, Pa., tried to join the military at age 17 but was denied by his father. Three months later, however, he was drafted.

He made four jumps over a two-year period, carrying 50 pounds of supplies with him each time.

On D-Day, he was shot in the arm, but recovered.

“Jumping is the easy part — it’s the landing that’s difficult,” Mr. Morettini said.

“But coming down, I had never seen so many paratroopers at once. There were people everywhere and when I saw what was going on, I thought my life would be over.”

He took part in an event at Normandy in 2014 for the anniversary of D-Day, where he met President Obama.

“Veterans, we’re inclined to talk,” Mr. Morettini said. “We like to be asked to talk. I really do feel honored. I guess that everybody, as they get older, likes to feel they’re still alive and that someone still thinks that they are important.”

‘Everyone prays’

Marvin Skeath, a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, told of his experience in the Battle of Okinawa in an April interview with the Delaware State News. He dodged several near-death incidents during the conflict.

“Everyone prays, and you wonder why this guy who prays as much as you did didn’t make it,” said Mr. Skeath, of Dover. “It kind of shakes your faith and it’s very hard to understand.”

His 4th Marine Regiment was selected to lead the occupying American force after the Japanese surrendered.

The official end of the war brought jubilation. Mr. Savini was preparing to be sent from France to the Pacific in August 1945 before the war’s close. The announcement came as a relief to him.

Mr. Bannowsky did not return home until April, thanks in part to a faulty engine on his plane.

He settled in Delaware in the early 1960s, after a distinguished military career.

Reflecting on his life as a member of the Greatest Generation, Mr. Bannowsky said with a chuckle, “I guess I’m lucky because I’m alive.”

He was able to find a silver lining in every cloud during his time in the war.

“I don’t know why, but you are occupied with what you’re doing and you suddenly don’t have any fear until it’s over,” he said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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