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Thursday, May 1, 2014 12:01 am

Storied veterans take Honor Flight

World War II veteran and Springfield resident Maurice “Morrie” Pell greets Julie Wedding upon his return from the April 29 Land of Lincoln Honor Flight as his wife, Carolyn, right, and flight guardian, Larry Wedding, left, look on.


Springfield resident Morrie Pell was only 17 years old when on March 1, 1945, his 19-year-old brother, Arnold “Buddy” Pell, was killed in World War II. The war ended in Europe that May.

He remembers vividly when a man knocked on his parents’ front door.

“Someone came, knocked on the door … and said he wanted to talk to my mom and dad. All hell broke loose.”

The younger Pell enlisted in the U.S. Army in August, the month he turned 18, only five months after his brother’s death. Even though the war was over, he was determined to go overseas out of anger over what had happened to Buddy. He was inducted at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and then went to Wisconsin for military police training before he was discharged. While his outfit was preparing to go overseas, Pell was pulled out because he was a remaining son.

“When they got my troop ready to go overseas, I insisted I wanted to go, because I was angry with what they did to my brother, but they wouldn’t let me go,” he said. “I was quite angry about everything that happened.”

Because the Army recommended Pell take a discharge, his war story doesn’t contain details of active duty or world travels. Rather, his story shows the scars of a man who’s seen the tragedies of war firsthand.

Pell’s younger brother, Frank Pell, died after serving in Korea. He became ill overseas, returned to Illinois, and Pell said was “never the same.” He was in the care of Quincy’s Soldiers and Sailors Home, where Frank Pell underwent amputations on his legs before he died.

Pell is proud of both of his brothers. The three boys, who grew up in Springfield with their three sisters and parents, were all close.

Morrie Pell’s older brother, Arnold “Buddy” Pell, was a member of George Patton’s 2nd Armored Division. His tank was called “Hell on Wheels.” The Battle of the Bulge had ended and his division was taking shelter in a barn in Germany. Someone informed the Nazis where the American troops were hiding, and Germany’s Luftwaffe, or Nazi air force, bombed and killed them. That was two weeks before the Germans retreated from the region.

Morrie Pell, now 86, keeps his brother’s Purple Heart hanging on the wall in his home. Buddy Pell was first buried in Belgium. He was later moved to Arlington Cemetery before Pell’s parents brought his body back to Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, where it lays today.

Pell was one of 86 veterans who took a trip to Washington, D.C., April 29 on a Land of Lincoln Honor Flight. The organization takes veterans to war memorials in Washington, D.C., for one day, free of charge, thanks to donations and fundraisers throughout the year. 

Burnell “Bernie” Heinecke returns home from a day in Washington, D.C., along with his nephew, David Mudd, in green.

Twenty Springfield veterans boarded April’s flight. Springfield resident Burnell Heinecke, 86, was another World War II veteran who took the trip.

Heinecke, like Pell, turned 18 only in time to catch the end of the war. Heinecke, who was an avid newspaper reader as a boy, remembers observing the war progress throughout his teens.

At 12 years old in 1939, he was at a picnic in the village of Millstadt, which neighbors his hometown, Freeburg, when someone announced that Hitler had invaded Germany. Later on, Heinecke – who would go on to have a long career as a newsman following the war – sent monthly newsletters on home front news to those in the service.

Heinecke, along with two of his friends, enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve in June, 1945, immediately after graduating high school.

That September he boarded the USS Sabik AK-121, a cargo ship, bound for Guam. He spent the next year traveling to regions including Hawaii, Guam, Saipan and Okinawa on ships including the USS Sabik, the USS Kula Gulf CVE-108 and the USS Ticonderoga CV-14.

A lot of Heinecke’s experience abroad involved helping veterans who had served in the war to return home. Throughout those travels, Heinecke experienced two typhoons. He recalls an experience while on the USS Kula Gulf, which was carrying Marines home to San Francisco.

“These guys had been through probably some of the worst battles in the Pacific in the late war,” he said. “These guys were sleeping on cots on the hangar deck … when they went through the typhoon, the water came sloshing in, the ship is tossed right and left … their pots are going askew … and you think they were complaining? No. It was like a circus, a zoo.”

Heinecke said he’s known about the Honor Flight for years but only decided to take the trip this year after he learned there weren’t many World War II veterans who had signed up. The organization places priority on veterans of earlier wars. Of the 86 veterans who took the flight, only eight were World War II veterans.

Each of the veterans traveled with a guardian. Pell’s guardian was longtime friend Larry Wedding, who was in the Marines for seven years. Heinecke brought along his nephew, David Mudd.

April’s flight was the 26th Land of Lincoln Honor Flight. Seats are still open for flights later this year. Applications can be found at www.landoflincolnhonorflight.org.

Contact Lauren P. Duncan at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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