Veterans reflect on military experiences

FOLLANSBEE – Instead of its usual joint Veterans Day service with the Ohio Valley Veterans Memorial Squad, the Follansbee American Legion Post opted to hold a free luncheon for area veterans.

The occasion drew veterans from various eras who were asked to reflect on their experiences in the military and the meaning of Veterans Day. Their stories revealed the dangers faced by service members in times of war and peace.

Seated at the post’s bar, George Tisik of Follansbee showed photos taken of himself at age 18 while serving in the Army in the South Pacific during World War II to fellow veteran Charles Cline.

Tisik said he was working on an assembly line for Wheeling Steel, producing shells for the war effort, when he was drafted near the war’s end. He said the situation following the war was strange, with Japanese civilians hired to work at his base but troops hearing there were enemy soldiers hiding in the jungles of Guam during one of several stops made during their 12-hour flight home to the U.S.

Tisik said his brother, Mike, was serving in the Air Force in 1950 when a plane carrying him and more than 40 other servicemen vanished while flying over the Yukon in Northwestern Canada.

Tisik’s great-nephew, Paul Vilga, is using a Facebook page, slugged Operation Mike, in an effort to petition the government to re-open a search for the aircraft.

Cline stood out among visitors to the post because it’s been a Veterans Day tradition in recent years for him to don the Army uniform he wore while serving in the Korean War.

He said one of the things he remembers most about his experience is the extreme cold.

“We went from Okinawa, where it was 100 degrees, to Korea, where it was 35 to 75 degrees below 0,” Cline said. He said soldiers would bundle up in blankets close to each other to stay warm and many suffered from frostbite.

Cline admitted he lied about his age – it was 16 – when he enlisted. Asked why he enlisted, he said he probably wanted to be like his father, a World War I veteran, and two older brothers, who had served in World War II.

Doug Lilly, commander of the Ohio Valley Veterans Memorial Squad, described training as a member of the Army’s Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Lilly said as paratroopers exit a plane, they feel strong gusts of air emanating from the plane’s propeller, a phenomena they call “prop blast.”

He compared it to a driver traveling at 55 miles per hour and throwing a cigarette out the window. The paratrooper is the cigarette, he said.

Lilly said on a particularly overcast night, one in which his military supervisors normally would cancel a jump, he and others found themselves landing into and colliding with trees. He said he was fortunate to have been unharmed.

“A lot of guys got hurt that night, but I didn’t – not a scratch,” Lilly said.

Post Commander Bill Haught, a Navy veteran, said the post has been frequented by veterans who have served in various eras. His own father, William D. Haught, was among five brothers who served in the military.

A World War II veteran, his father spoke of landing in Normandy as part of the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe.

“My dad didn’t tell me a lot about it, but he told me he was lucky. By the time he got off the LST (landing ship tank), he was walking on bodies and the water was red.”

John Cox of Weirton, an Army Vietnam War veteran, said he was attending college in 1971 when he received a letter from the U.S. president advising him he had been drafted. The war’s casualties were well known, and friends told him he shouldn’t go, he said.

“I didn’t necessarily want to go but when it came right down to it, I didn’t want to leave the country or go to jail,” Cox said.

He said he was fortunate in some ways, because the fighting had been heavier earlier.

“If I had been there right out of high school, in 1967, ’68 or ’69, I probably wouldn’t be here,” Cox said.

He said his military service gives him an appreciation for those serving now. While some question whether U.S. troops should be deployed to some areas of the world, he respects them for their service regardless, he said.

“This country has a lot of faults, but it’s still the greatest country on earth, and we have to do what we must to defend it and preserve our freedom,” Cox said.

(Scott can be contacted at