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Local News

June 6, 2014

Two local WWII vets selected for Honor Flight

Today marks 70 years since D-Day launch

Two Oneonta World War II veterans who spent their careers working on the railroad have another note in common — the opportunity this year to visit the WWII memorial in the nation’s capital.

Donald Stiefel, 88, who served in the Navy, will join other veterans on a Leatherstocking Honor Flight trip Albany to Washington, D.C., on Saturday, a day after the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

“I’m very pleased to be able to do that,” Stiefel, who worked 43 years as a carman for the Delaware and Hudson Railway, said Thursday.

Fred Lewis, 91, was part of the Twin Tiers Honor Flight tour that took veterans from Binghamton to Washington on April 12. Lewis, also a D&H retiree, said that April day was among the best in his life.

Both local men have memories about D-Day and their service to the nation.

On June 6, 1944, D-Day kicked off the Battle of Normandy, which lasted from June to August and resulted in the Allies liberating Western Europe from Nazi Germany, according to the Associated Press. The operation involved 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landing on five beaches from 7,000 ships and landing craft along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified coast of France’s Normandy region.

Stiefel served in the Navy as a gunner’s mate on convoy ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean from March 1944 to May 1946. He said he made about five trips across the North Atlantic from the East Coast to England, Belgium, France and other destinations.

“It was rough duty,” Stiefel said. “We went into Normandy a week after D-Day.”

The ship was in the bay for about a month as supplies were unloaded, said Stiefel, who was 18 when he joined the Navy.

“I think I could have stayed out — I was working on the railroad — but I didn’t want to,” he said during an interview on his porch at Peaceful Flats in the town of Oneonta.

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