Plenty of stories still to tell

BY LAUREN FITZPATRICK

They filter their stories now, the Southland's survivors of the Second World War.

But they tell them. Fatalistically. Quietly. Proudly.

Because, this is it. As Edward Muscarella, 84, summed up: "Our days are numbered, let's face it, and I'm one of the young ones, really."

Even the guys who lied through their teeth to enlist while in high school are now in their 80s. The details of their bravery and sacrifice are getting fuzzy.

But there is still plenty to tell.

And new generations to listen.

"It was a privilege being in the Army Nurse Corps," said Joan Schechner, who takes her stories and artifacts from her time in the South Pacific to schoolchildren. She enjoys telling the stories of her adventures as a young woman far from home, serving her country.

They lost legs. They fell in love.

They caught lucky breaks.

Until a few years ago, naval engineer Norman Lasman's family didn't know he survived two kamikaze hits to his aircraft carrier off Okinawa.

"We were not like other warriors from other wars," he said. "They come back and talk about it."

They reached into icy water and fished out the bodies of their friends.

"It was so cold, you'd last only three minutes if you fell in the water," Coast Guard Gunner's Mate Joe Houloubek said. "I got some sea stories that'll curl your hair."

They plummeted in the dark, behind enemy lines, to clear a path for the infantry.

"A lot of people, they don't talk about it, but this is my history," paratrooper Louis Venditti said. "This is what I did. I want people to know what I did. And I was proud of what I did."

They slit throats, pulled triggers, yanked lanyards to launch mortars.

And they saved lives, their bronze and silver stars will tell you.

Because some of the World War II storytellers still won't tell all.

Army Staff Sgt. John Swick had plenty of experiences, "but I don't want to go into it."

"I don't have any good ones, they're all grim," Marine Raider Emmitt Hays said. "There are a couple of stories I'm not real proud of."

Army medic Owen Gillespie will go on and on about taking weapons off dead Japanese soldiers in the South Pacific. But he pauses during his tales.

"There are all kinds of things I'm not going to tell you," he said. "There are certain things you don't blab your mouth about."

War is hell. And they have seen it.