Friday, July 1, 2005

A MODERN BAND OF BROTHERS

I started out this evening with an entry that was short and snarky. I took it out and put it back in. But, this is a great story and I wanted to post it separately.

I’d love someone from our security establishment to tell me how national security was helped out by this incident and I’m sure the whole story will play really well with the Dutch.

This story is by Mike Francis of the Portland Oregonian.

NEW ‘BAND OF BROTHERS’ JOINS BATTLE TO RETRIEVE LIGHTER FOR WWII VET

The Zippo lighter rests, gleaming, comfortably in the palm, no bigger than a combat medal. It is a small, silvery thing with a thumb wheel and a hinged lid, but this one has no flint or lighter fluid.

What makes it special is who it belongs to, where it’s been and what it says on the outside.

On one polished side, it has an insignia showing a bald eagle with its talons extended, landing between a pair of dice on a cream colored, fan-shaped field, surrounded by a circle of navy blue. On the other side is an engraved map, showing spots named Son, Veghel, Grave, Nijmegen, and Arnheim.

One side of the lid says “Operation Market Garden,” “60 years." the other side says “Bill Wingett.”

For about a week, the lighter was in the luggage of Wingett, a member of Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, a legendary unit known to most Americans as “The Band of Brothers.”

Wingett, who will turn 83 Sunday, lives in Salem. On June 16, he was returning from a trip to Europe as a guest of a group of Dutch people who wanted to celebrate the World War II exploits of Easy Company, from the invasion of Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge. Wingett had been back so tome of the places, but this was his first time to return to Bastogne, where Easy Company endured a brutally harsh and deadly winter in 1944.

“I didn’t enjoy the feeling that friends of mine had died there in the vicinity,” Wingett said Thursday, from the home of his daughter in Southern California.

Easy Company took part in Operation Market Garden, an effort to capture bridges in German occupied Dutch territory, That campaign became the subject of a book and movie called “A Bridge Too Far.”

While Wingett and his companions were in Europe for the reunion tour, they were presented the custom-made Zippos, which replicate the company’s 1941-style lighters. Wingett had it in his luggage when he flew home. When it showed up on thescreening machines at Washington Dulles International airport – after the flight across the Atlantic – an airport security screener told him he had a lighter in his bag, and he’d have to surrender it. Wingett balked.

It doesn’t have fuel and it doesn’t have flint, he pointed out. How can it be considered a lighter?
Sorry, the screener said. It’s forbidden.

“Maybe we’d better get one of your supervisors,” he said recounting the conversation. The supervisor came over, listened to Wingett’s appeal, and told him he’d have to give up the lighter. So Wingett said, “Look, can we ask the pilot to take it and hold it, then give it to me when we reach San Francisco?”

The group went into a little room to ask another supervisor. “She just shook her head and said no airline is going to take responsibility for it.” Wingett said.

Wingett, who had to board his flight, gave up. He took some brochures that offered instructions about how to reclaim property from the Transportation Security Administration then flew home without the lighter. “It was a comedy of errors,” he said, “and I probably didn’t help by creating a bit of a scene when they took it.”

In Salem the next day, Kevin Coady, an Oregon Army National Guardsman who is a friend and admirer of Wingett’s, heard the story. He said Wingett, who is hard of hearing had tried calling the TSA, but couldn’t hear the commands of the voice-mail system. Stuck, he gave up.

“He had this look in his eye,” said Coady, who resolved to help. “I said, ‘I’ll do my best.’ Who wouldn’t?”

So Coady wrote and rewrote a passionate e-mail to United Air Lines, the TSA and a friend he knew from his Army service in Germany. Matt Kozatek.

When Kozatek, now retired from the Army, got the e-mail, he remembered Coady’s stories about Wingett and another Easy Company veteran from Salem, Don Malarkey.

Kozatek, whose father served in World War II, started called and e-mailing. One of is messages found its way to John Williams, a claims representative for United Air Lines, who told the men his rather is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Williams sent a series of e-mails that detailed his own pursuit of the lighter and his zeal to help Wingett, whom he called a “great American.”

One message caught the eye of Jerry Golladay, a TSA aviation manager whose e-mail said he was a retired Navy veteran. “No amount of effort will be spared until we have this figured out,” Golladay wrote at one point. “It is an extreme honor to be of service to and American Armed Forces veteran, especially WWII.”

TSA employees, prodded by the veterans and determined to help, embarked on an intensive hunt that included an examination of videotapes showing the screening process at Dulles Airport and the sorting of thousands of confiscated items.

“They came up empty-handed,” said Ron Sokolov, the TSA’s executive director in the Office of Customer Service and Education. Another TSA official instructed them to try again.

That second search turned up the lighter, loose on a shelf, Sokolov said.

United's John Williams called Wingett at home to give him the news.

"He said he had it and would forward it to Kevin Coady,” Wingett said, “I said that would be very well.”

Wingett is flying home today and expects to have the lighter this afternoon. He said he’s not surprised by all the help he got from people he’d never met.

“I would say that a veteran will help a veteran whenever he can.” Said Wingett. “I try to do it to veterans new and old myself.”

mikefrancis@news.oregonian.com

I know they have to be consistent. But, I’m willing to bet that if the passengers on the plane with Mr. Wingett had been polled they probably would have been willing to risk flying with the 83 year old veteran and his empty, flintless lighter. I decided to copy the whole story because it names so many people who helped this story have a great ending.

3 comments:

mlraminiak said...

I'm absolutely certain that Al Qaeda is using 83-year-old guys who look like WW II veterans to blow up airplanes using what look like memorial zippos...  Jeez!  At least he got a lot of great help to get it back.  Lisa  :-]

fdtate714 said...

That's really a great story about everyone working to get him his lighter back, but also shows the absurdity of the TSA for taking it in the first place.

cw2smom said...

What a wonderful story!  How sad that he had to go through so much hassle to get that momento!  Lisa