At age 18, Sgt. Paul Thurn was drafted during World War II and served in what was the beginning of the postwar occupation of Japan.
In March of 2001 Thurn, now 85, a Grove City resident, returned to Japan to visit the places at which he was stationed, and this month he participated in the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., visiting the World War II Memorial that honors veterans like himself.
Accompanied by his daughter, Monica Walters, Thurn visited Washington, D.C., for a day. Upon arriving at Baltimore Washington International Airport, Thurn and other veterans were greeted by military and civilians.
"Everybody was so very thankful to us for serving," Thurn recalled.
Thurn visited the World War II Memorial, the Marine War Memorial and the Air Force Memorial. He also took a tour of the city and saw the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
"I thought it was very wonderful," Thurn said.
He was a few months shy of finishing high school at Aquinas College (now the site of Columbus State Community College) when he registered for service. He was allowed to graduate before being drafted.
In 1944, Thurn started his service, traveling to Denver at what is now Lowry Air Force Base and serving as a firearms instructor. After the Japanese surrendered on Aug. 14, 1945, Thurn served in Tokyo and Nagoya in Japan as part of the Fifth Air Force of the U.S. Army Air Corps.
The war was over when he arrived in Japan, but evidence of the conflict was widespread. In Tokyo, "there were many, many buildings that were destroyed," Thurn said.
Despite not knowing the language, Thurn was able to communicate with the Japanese.
"We didn't understand each other very well, but we conversed," Thurn said. "They were very friendly and nice."
Upon returning home, Thurn immediately went back to work for his family's meat-processing business, A. Thurn Sons, on Greenlawn Avenue in Columbus.
Thurn's son-in-law, U.S.Marine Corps Reserve (Ret.) Master Sgt. Steve Walter, said his father-in-law was like many men and women of that time.
"They saw it as their duty, they did their duty and then came home to continue their lives," Walter said.
Walter served in Vietnam in the U.S. Air Force with the 632nd Security Police Squadron at the Binh Thuy Air Base during the Vietnam War.
Since the World War II era, "our military ventures have lacked that clarity and resolve," Walter said. Now, during the War on Terror, the United States is fighting an idea rather than a nation, he said.
Walter had a chance to assist those affected by the Iraq war during his work as a casualty assistance call officer for the U.S. Marines in Lima Company, 3rd Battalion. As a reservist, Walter was assigned to a peacetime-wartime support team, which does community outreach.
Walter accompanied three other Marines in notifying the primary next of kin that a Marine had died or was killed in action. While another officer in charge delivered the news, Walter contacted the families regarding funeral arrangements.
He handled five next-of-kin contacts.
The last came after a Lima Company vehicle struck a mine on Aug. 3, 2005, killing nine Marines in Al Anbar province in western Iraq.
As a sergeant with the Columbus Police Department, Walter said he earlier had to deliver calls for serious injuries. "The wisdom of middle age gave me an insight in what to say when, or more importantly, when to say nothing," he said.
Participating in the calls for the Lima Company Marines "was like taking a slice out of my arm," Walter said.
Lima Company sent 164 Marines to Iraq in March. Twenty-two Marines and one Navy corpsman were killed in action.