World War II veteran Jack Walsh remembers being assigned to a troop ship, transporting wounded soldiers back home from Europe.

World War II veteran Jack Walsh remembers being assigned to a troop ship, transporting wounded soldiers back home from Europe.

In the North Atlantic, his ship was ordered to fire upon another vessel that was coming into range. After about 20 minutes, his ship was prepared to attack when it received a frantic message: “Cease fire! Cease fire!”

It turned out that the “enemy” Walsh’s ship was about to fire on was American.

“We didn’t have all the radars and things back in those days,” he said. “That’s an experience I’ll never forget.”

Walsh was one of many veterans representing many conflicts who attended the American Legion Post 254 open house in Johnstown on Oct. 23.

“We want to let people know we have an American Legion in town,” said Post 254 trustee Jim Conrad, who helped organize the event with his wife, Sally, Post 254 Ladies Auxiliary secretary, and Post 254 Commander Bruce Tolle.

The post was filled with veterans’ memorabilia, from photos to books to medals of honor.

Conrad displayed some of his memorabilia from the Korean War, when he was stationed overseas for more than 20 months and operated heavy equipment.

“We didn’t realize we’d have this many people bringing things in,” said Sally Conrad, who considers the event — the first of its kind for the post — a success. She hopes it will become an annual event. “We need some more members,” she said of the Legion post.

Korean War veteran Jim Jennings saw the whole country as a medic with the Division Surgeon’s Office. Today, the country looks nothing like what he remembers.

“It’s really developed now,” he said, and is no longer dusty streets lined with earthen-walled shacks. He remembers how medics and MPs would travel from town to town, visiting the clubs soldiers might frequent and making sure they were sufficiently sanitary and well maintained. If the clubs didn’t have a plaque by the door proving they’d passed inspection, they’d definitely lose a lot of business.

Vietnam War veteran Al Norman worked in the White House Communications Agency, where he helped develop photographs and other material for the news media.

One of his strongest memories was shaking hands with President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Norman said he was stationed in Fort Monmouth, N.J., when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

“You don’t forget that,” he said. “That was a sad time.”

Tolle recalls working on giant balloons that were used for scientific research and even took a man to the edge of space, from where the man free-fell for 19 and a half miles.

Being one of the lower-ranking people on his team at the time, Tolle said he was always the one sent to repair equipment poised high off the ground on narrow scaffolds. Usually, he said, the massive balloons would carry equipment to gather scientific data high into the sky.

“You can’t imagine how big those suckers are,” he said.

But sometimes the balloons’ payload was far more fragile.

“They wanted to see if anyone could live up there,” said Tolle. One of the missions took command pilot and astronaut, of sorts, Joseph Kittinger, on his historic flight to the edge of space, where he leapt from a capsule hanging from a balloon nearly 20 miles from the Earth’s surface. He succeeded at the fastest free-fall in history, nearly reaching the speed of sound with no airplane or space capsule to protect him.

“He was an astronaut before there were astronauts,” said Tolle, who was happy with the turnout for the Oct. 23 event.

“(The open house) was a great success,” he said, “especially so since we didn’t know what to expect.” Tolle said there were 78 visitors in total.

“The bulk of the people were not Legion members,” he said.

Now that Tolle and the rest of the Legion members know how successful an open house can be, predicts it will be an annual event.