It was a beautiful morning on May 7, 2016 and the beginning of another regular day at the Bread Pan Bakery in Langdon.
Posted on 5/28/16
By Melissa Anderson
What many did not know was that the three gentlemen seated at a booth near the door were some of the last remaining from a storied period in American and world history.
The three men were Jack Banasik, 95, who served in the Navy Air Forc; Richie Lorenz,95, who served in the Army 2nd Armored Division; and Phil Tveten, 95, who served in the regular Navy.
These men gathered for what might be the last time to experience the comradery only servicemen understand. Banasik and Lorenz currently reside in Langdon while Tveten lives in Tuscon, Ariz. with his daughter.
The reunions for these veterans are becoming a thing of the past as their military buddies pass away and old age limits the ability to travel. Tveten attended many reunions but this particular meeting was the first one in several years.
Lorenz served three years overseas as a tank crewman traveling through Africa to Sicily, before finishing his tour in England. Tveten served six years as an electrician aboard three different destroyers, one of which was the U.S.S. West Virginia which sank at Pearl Harbor. Banasik served three and a half years as a airman crew member.
Tveten shared his experiences of the “day which will live in infamy”.
“It was a complete surprise. It was on a Sunday morning and we had no idea it was coming,” Tveten remembered.
Tveten was attending the church services provided by the chaplain when the first bombs hit.
“Just before 8 o’clock the first bombs hit and that ended the church service for the day,” Tveten said, “From then on, it was chaos.”
The U.S.S. West Virgina took seven torpedo hits before sinking to the bottom of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The ship would later be raised, repaired, and would go on to serve during the latter stages of World War II before being decommissioned in January of 1947.
“We were lucky to get out. There were two ports. Most of the guys forward got kille., Most of the torpedo damage was forward,” Tveten shared.
Lorenz also saw action during one of the most famous confrontations of WWII. Lorenz was on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day on June 6, 1944. Lorenz reached a section of the Normandy coast code named “Omaha Beach” six hours after the initial landing but still saw plenty of action.
Banasik spent his years in service as part of the Navy Air Force squadron doing anti-submarine patrols. As part of this, the main duties were protecting ships from German submarines along the Panama Canal and the United States coast.
“We covered convoys and anti-submarine patrols,” Banasik explained.
Banasik saw action in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans over the course of his service just as Tveten did.
“We did our job and made it home safe,” Banasik shared.
The three veterans shared their most memorable experiences during their time of service, much of which related to food, friends, and good times.
“I went over on an English ship and had mutton for breakfast, mutton for lunch, and mutton for dinner,” Lorenz recalled,”On the way back, we were in a hell of a storm and almost drowned in a way. I thought I went through three years of hell, and now I’m going to drown?”
Tveten was on three ships, two of which sunk. The U.S.S. West Virginia at Pearl Harbor and U.S.S. Henley which was sunk by torpedos off the coast of New Guinea in September, 1943.
One memory that Lorenz shared was when he was stationed near Paris, his army buddies passed around a hat so that he and another soldier could go and see the famous city of lights.
“We spent $400 in one night,” Lorenz said, “but what a night!”
The three veterans reminisced on how much times have changed, especially the cost of things.
“In 1950, a new Chevrolet sold for $2,000,” Banasik shared.
“I bought my house for $10,000 in 1959,” Banasik continued.
Tveten recalled that when he purchased a car he put down $25 to hold the car.
“I suppose it was until I got my next paycheck. In those days, we lived paycheck to paycheck,” Tveten said.
For the old friends, there was some discussion about which branch was the best to serve in. Each branch has comradery unlike any other relationship that can be formed, and the conditions and experiences that the three went through formed bonds of friendship that stand out as being lifelong. But, if the three friends were to compare the branches based on living conditions, however, they all agreed being in the Navy provided the best lifestyle while in service.
“Let me speak first, knowing the experiences that my three brothers went through in the Army in Europe. For God’s sake, join the Navy!”Tveten said.
Tveten explained that those in the Navy could always expect a dry bunk and hot food unlike the other branches. His three brothers spent many nights in damp fox holes eating cold meals.
“Their experiences were so much tougher than what I went through,” Tveten said.
Lorenz agreed that life in the Army was tough. The foxholes were often covered with bombed out rubble. If it snowed, it was nearly impossible to find fellow soldiers.
Banasik stated that he spent much of his service stationed on bases or on the plane.
“We went out on 24 hour missions,” Banasik said, “ There was a galley on the plane.”
The three veterans shared their stories of what it was like to train prior to leaving the states for the war and the amount of leave they received just before leaving, which was about two weeks.
They reminisced about friends who didn’t make it home. They talked about the injuries and experiences of being in action and the war.
The comradery of serving was what has stood the test of time. Everybody looked after everybody else, and the comradery is closer than any relationship they have ever experienced. Relationships to service connected friends remains, and those are the friends they will never forget.
“It was a million dollar experience but I wouldn’t take a million dollars to do it again,” Lorenz said to the chuckles of his fellow WWII vets.