Honor Flight

WWII vets battled German subs just miles from East Coast

CREATED Nov 5, 2012

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - 220 World War II veterans got to see their memorial this weekend during the 16th Honor Flight. 

When most veterans asked which theater they served in, they can answer Atlantic or Pacific.  For a few, the answer was neither.

Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Jodi Becker pushed a wheelchair up an airport ramp when she saw stopped to talk to a hero sitting in that chair.

"The top bunk came down and knocked me out of bed," said Howard Popp, who was on a naval submarine in 1943.

"Two torpedoes, we took.  The ship went down for maybe a half an hour.  I got into a lifeboat with four men, had a big hole in it.  I had to bail from 12:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. the next day."

He said there were sharks in the water, and he had to shoot at them with guns.  A naval boat finally arrived 12 hours later to save them. 

"You won't believe this...80 miles off the coast of Georgia.  The Germans sunk 200 ships during the war, from South Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico."

He ended up in the hospital with pneumonia, and got a medical discharge after protecting the homeland.

Another vet, Bob Romanowski of Oconomowoc, told a similar tale from the air.

"I was an 18-year-old kid," said Romanowski, who was patrolling the Atlantic and attempting to sink German subs during his duty - something he did a lot of on the east coast.

"I forgot all about it until I saw this history detective thing."

He saw a TV show that showed an anchor of a German sub off the coast of Long Island Sound.

"When they mentioned the date, my wife was sitting there and I said 'Jean, that's the same day we sunk a submarine on Long Island Sound!' "

When you try to ask these men what could have happened if they hadn't heard the call of duty, you get a hero's answer.

"It was all part of living...we felt it was our duty."