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McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • McPherson WWII vet visits D.C. for first time

  • Sixty-eight years after World War II ended, McPherson resident Leo Mantz, an army veteran of the war's Pacific theater, visited the war's memorial in Washington, D.C., for the first time.
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  • Sixty-eight years after World War II ended, McPherson resident Leo Mantz, an army veteran of the war's Pacific theater, visited the war's memorial in Washington, D.C., for the first time.
    "The trip was too short, but it was exciting. I was really impressed."
    Mantz, who will turn 87 in November, traveled to D.C. from Sept. 4 to Sept. 6 with Kansas Honor Flight, and organization that gives Kansas veterans the opportunity to visit the nation's capital. Visits on the tour include war memorials, the Smithsonian, and the Lincoln Memorial.
    The tour left at 5:15 a.m. Once they arrived on the east coast, the group visited Fort McHenry. A battle there during the War of 1812 inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner."
    "There were 8,000 British troops out there in ships, and they were trying to take Baltimore," Mantz said. "It went on for about 24 hours, and then the British gave up."
    Key was on one of the British ships during the battle. When he saw the United States flag still flying over the fort in the morning, he wrote what would later become the United States' national anthem.
    "They have a 35-foot by 45-foot flag flying over the base," Mantz said. "It's not the original, but it looks just like it. When they took it down, we got to help fold it. That was quite an honor."
    On Sept. 5, the group visited the war memorials.
    "It was very exciting," Mantz said. "I could not believe what we saw and what these fellas went through."
    Mantz said he didn't find the names of people he knew on the WWII memorial, though he had two brothers in the war.
    "It's heartbreaking," Mantz said. "I don't know how to put it. I was really touched."
    However, Mantz does have a connection to the Marine Corps War Memorial, which depicts four U.S. soldiers raising a flag on Iwo Jima. His sister-in-law's brother fought there.
    The group also visited Arlington National Cemetery.
    "They have 15 funerals a day there," Mantz said. "When we got there, they were having one, and then there was an honor guard waiting for another one."
    Mantz also got to visit the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Tomb of the Unknowns. He said he was very impressed by the changing of the guard.
    "Of all the people that try out for that, only 1 percent make it," Mantz said. "Every 30 minutes, the sergeant brings another guy out, and you oughta see the way he handles that nine-pound M1. He slaps that thing around like a baton."
    Mantz flew home Sept. 6, but he still had some surprises waiting for him.
    "When we got back to Wichita, we had seven or eight hundred people waiting for us there," Mantz said. "We arrived in Chicago and got off the plane, and everybody was clapping for us. We got into Baltimore, and they had a swing band going playing '40s music for us."
    Page 2 of 2 - Mantz said he really appreciated the reception and said other veterans should take the opportunity to visit D.C.
    "Anybody that can go on this trip should go," Mantz said.
    Contact Josh Arnett by email at jarnett@mcphersonsentinel.com and follow him on Twitter @ArnettSentinel.
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