They move slowly now. Knees ache. Backs are sore. But in their quick, lined smiles and bright eyes, you’ll recognize the proud young men and women who marched off to war, then came home to build families, lives and legacies in a nation made safer by their service. The stories of SJ’s World War II veterans range from funny to heartbreaking, but they all agree on one thing: if they were called again to serve their country, they would make that march once more.

Veterans_1320-1698Edward Corker, 89

447th Bomber’s Group, Army Air Corps, Europe

Ed Corker will tell you he’s a lucky bastard. He’s not kidding.

After his 26th successful bombing mission, Corker was officially inducted into the Lucky Bastards Club. There’s even a framed certificate on the wall of his Mickleton home.

Corker flew over Germany as a radio operator on a B-17 Flying Fortress, called the “Bang Bang Lulu.”

“I flew 30 missions, and a lot of things happened in between – most of which I’ve long since forgotten – but none of them were easy,” Corker says. “At 30,000 feet, it’s cold and it’s scary, but I guess when you’re 18 or 19 years old you don’t really think about it. We were just kids.”

Corker was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and five oak leaf clusters, but says he still feels lucky just to have made it home in one piece. He remembers the names of many men who didn’t.

“We were young, but we got wise real quick,” he says. “On the days we didn’t fly, we’d sit on the runway and count the planes coming in. And a lot of the time, they didn’t all come back.”

Corker enjoys speaking to young people about his service, because he hopes to impart some understanding about the importance of the war.

“When I’m down at the legion, guys who were in Vietnam or Iraq have said, ‘You know, in your war, you were in it to win it. We weren’t allowed to win our wars,’” Corker says. “It makes me think about when I was a kid and there were still Civil War veterans around. They were these ancient men who’d wear their uniforms and march in parades, and now that’s me. And when a kid looks at me, I want him to understand that my war was supposed to be the one to end wars. But it didn’t.”


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Sylvia Brugger, 93

Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class, U.S. Navy, Texas

As soon as she was old enough, Sylvia Brugger left her Midwestern hometown to join the WAVES – Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service – and was shipped off for training.

“They hadn’t built any barracks for women, so we were staying in men’s quarters,” Brugger says. “The first time I saw a urinal, I said, ‘Wouldn’t that be a great place to wash your hair?’”

The Navy made quite a few adjustments to accommodate the WAVES, who fulfilled numerous duties on the domestic front. Brugger initially thought she’d be a bookkeeper or yeoman, but she performed well on a mechanical test and ended up on a training base in Corpus Christi, Texas, helping to repair airplanes.

Brugger has fond memories of social events like dances and picnics. She remembers jazz musician Louis Armstrong performing at the base. It was during her time as a WAVE that Brugger met the Marine who would later become her husband. When he left for the Pacific in 1944, the couple devised a clever way for Brugger to keep track of his whereabouts.

“He’d change his middle initial on the envelope to the first letter of whatever island he was on,” she says. “So N.E. Brugger became N.T. Brugger, or N.I. Brugger. I’d lay the letters out on the floor of the barracks with a big map of the Pacific and try to find the island he was on when he wrote the letter.”

Brugger and her husband were married 44 years, until his death in 1991. She moved to Pitman in 1999 and now speaks at elementary schools and senior centers. She also served as the grand marshal for Glassboro’s 2014 Memorial Day parade.

Brugger is satisfied with the work she and other WAVEs did to pave the way for women to serve their country.

“We were kept home where it was safe, and treated like ladies,” she says. “And now women are flying, they’re on ships. They can do anything. Women are doing everything.”


Peggy Lloyd, 101

USO Director, Corner Brook, Newfoundland

Every surface in Peggy Lloyd’s Ocean City home is covered in memories – 101 years of them.

Veterans_1310-1697Centuries-old maps are framed and hung in the hallway. Hand-carved African necklaces are draped across an end table. In an upstairs bedroom, a whole wall is devoted to photos of Lloyd posed with familiar faces, including Presidents Truman and Johnson, Governor George Romney, Barry Goldwater and Ethel Kennedy.

Born and raised in Atlantic City, Lloyd put herself through college at Trenton State (now The College of New Jersey,) before marrying Paul O’Neill and moving to Franconia, N.H. Paul ran an advertising agency there, and Peggy taught skiing. It was the perfect life, Lloyd says, until Pearl Harbor.

“The next day everyone in the town left,” Lloyd says. “The men all went off into the mountain troops, and my husband left for the Pacific. I stayed behind – all the women did – and we had to do everything. We pulled in the potato crop.”

Within a few months, Lloyd discovered her larger role in the war. A phone call came from Newfoundland, where the USO had a base that provided rest and relaxation to American troops serving in Europe.

“They called me and said, ‘Peggy, we need a ski instructor in Newfoundland. The boys are trying to ski, and they’re breaking their legs.’ I wanted to be involved. I wanted to serve. I thought, ‘Well, my husband is somewhere in the Pacific and I can’t help him, but maybe I can help these troops.’”

As the director of the Corner Brook USO, Lloyd hosted dinners and dances, and gave ski lessons to soldiers.

“I was their big sister,” she says. “I was like 28, and they were 18-year-old kids. They worked so hard, and when they had time off we’d ski.”

Lloyd said the most rewarding part of the job was making holidays special for the troops stationed far from home.

“Sometimes a soldier’s wife would write to me and say, ‘Thank you for taking care of him,’” she says. “I loved every one of those boys. I would’ve done anything for them. If my husband hadn’t come home, I would have stayed with the USO forever.”

But Paul O’Neill did come home, and Lloyd headed back to SJ. Before long, though, she was traveling again, this time under the employ of the Miss America Pageant. Once a Miss America was selected, she was handed over to Lloyd, who was responsible for the young lady’s cultural education.

“We saw operas in Italy, museums in France. We’d go through Europe and across the United States,” she says. “Every one of those girls was smart, and we really saw the world.”

All that traveling meant a long-distance relationship, and Paul and Peggy eventually split. After 12 years with the pageant, Peggy left to marry her late husband, attorney John Lloyd, in 1967.

At 101, Lloyd is utterly effervescent, bubbling over with energy. She credits her happiness to a life well lived.

“I get asked if I have regrets,” she says. “Do I wish I’d had children, do I wish I’d done things differently? The answer is no. I feel fantastic. My life has been full of music and art and wonderful friends and beautiful places. I have done everything and I have had so, so much fun.”


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Edward Martino, 89

309th Combat Engineers, U.S. Army, Europe

As American troops moved through Europe, logistical problems arose. Many of those problems – like how to get thousands of infantrymen across a river in the dark – were solved by men like Ed Martino.

An Army Engineer, Martino traveled through Europe ahead of advancing troops. When his unit reached a river, they’d unload pontoon boats and secure them together one by one to span the river. These floating bridges provided a safe crossing for soldiers, vehicles and equipment.

“One of the worst points was the crossing of the Ruhr,” says Martino, who now lives in Cherry Hill. “We were preparing the bridgework, all under fire from Germans on the other side of the river. When time came to set up the bridge, the American infantry behind us gave us fire over our heads to keep the enemy down. The whole time you’re working, you’re watching the sky, because the shots all have tails on them that light up in the dark. You’re not looking at the enemy; you’re watching your own guys’ fire, because you want to be sure that tail keeps going.”

In 1945, Martino was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge, the bloodiest battle of the war for the United States. He was hit by shrapnel and later awarded the Purple Heart.

For a long time, Martino says, he didn’t talk much about his service, but he’s beginning to see the importance of passing down his stories to future generations.

“When I came out, I said, ‘I’m going to forget what I saw and what I did, and I’m going to go on with life,’ but now I feel I have to talk about all this history,” he says. “I don’t think young people pay enough attention. Worse, I don’t think they care. But if there’s nobody telling the story, kids won’t know what World War II meant. They won’t know how important it is to be an American. We remember, because we’re the ones who worked so hard for it.”


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Gerald Abelson, 89

232nd General Hospital, U.S. Army, Iwo Jima

Gerry Abelson never planned to go to war. President of his class at Woodbury High School and a self-professed “nerd,” Abelson was in his junior year at Carnegie Mellon University pursuing an engineering degree when he was drafted.

“Up at school, honestly, we barely knew there was a war on,” Abelson says. “We were just kids in college. My draft got deferred because I was in school, but after the Battle of the Bulge they emptied the universities, and I got my notice.”

When he reported for duty, Abelson was asked about his work experience.

“I’d donated blood a few times, so I stretched the truth a bit and said I’d worked in a laboratory. Just like that, they put me in a medical unit and sent me to basic training.”

Abelson thought his unit was headed for a Parisian hospital, but the war in Europe was winding down and instead he found himself on a Dutch cargo ship in the Pacific. Abelson and the other medics arrived at Iwo Jima a few days after U.S. Marines stormed the beach.

“The Marines were lined up on the beach,” he remembers. “We had drugs and tourniquets, but there wasn’t anything we could do for most of them. There was no god on that island in those days, and those boys knew it. They weren’t crying out for the lord; they were crying out for their mothers. You’re just trying to make them comfortable. You don’t even think about yourself, or what you’re really seeing. Later, they gave me a Bronze Star and I said, ‘For what?’ I was just doing my job.”

Abelson lives in Woodbury with his wife, whom he credits with saving him from post traumatic stress disorder brought on by his service on Iwo Jima.

“I came home in a fog. I’d seen too much disaster,” he says. “Today they would send me to a psychiatrist or something. All I did was eat, sleep and golf for three years. One Sunday morning, one of the guys my father and I played with brought his daughter. There wasn’t room for me in their game, but instead, I went and played with her. I’ve been playing with her for 65 years now. She still makes me spin.”


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Loretta Aydelotte, 93

Transportation Corps, U.S. Army, New York State

Loretta Aydelotte was living in the Fairview section of Camden when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but the event still hit close to home.

“My sister’s boyfriend went down on the USS Juneau; my brother’s ship was out in the Pacific,” she says, “and I thought, ‘I’ve got to get in this.’”

Aydelotte enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps and was sent to a port in New York.

“We were responsible for sending the troops over to Europe and bringing them home again,” Aydelotte says. “The big troop ships would come steaming up the Hudson, and thousands of troops would spill out. It was my job to get them on another ship or a train and give them money to get them home.”

Loretta married Bill Aydelotte in 1943, just nine days before he went to war.

“That’s the way it was then, because the war came so fast,” she says. “We were separated for 27 months. I got letters from Africa, then Italy, then Southern France, then Germany. When he eventually came home, he had six battle stars.”

Bill gave her one good scare, on a day when his name appeared on a troop transport list.

“He was on the manifest of the ship coming in, and we all went out to the pier in jeeps,” Loretta remembers. “I was yelling, ‘Does anybody know Bill Aydelotte?’ It was clear, eventually, that he wasn’t there. When I went back, my boss called me in and said, ‘Chicken, I have good news and bad news. The 5th Division is coming home, with one exception.’ Out of 20,000 people, my husband was the only one not on that ship.”

Bill eventually came home, and the two were married until his death in 2011. Aydelotte, 93, remains involved with her American Legion Auxiliary post and the Girl Scouts. She’s proud of her time in the Army, though some memories are bittersweet.

“I feel almost bitter, thinking of the suffering,” she says. “I have a lot of remembrances and a lot of sadness. You get that as you age, the sadness and the loss. When I’m with my family and friends, I’m happy. I wake up every morning excited for the day. My philosophy is something wonderful happens every day, and you just have to be aware of it.”

January 2015
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