World War II veterans look back on the war

WW II vet John Neggia, 91 of Witherbee, NY Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY–Philip Funk has been through a lot. He’s been shipwrecked, he fought in World War II and he survived  a train crash. But even with all that experience, he didn’t fully retire until December 2016, at the age of 96.

Funk was one of three men who recounted tales of wartime struggles  at the American Military Heritage Museum in Stephens City Friday in advance of a living history event on June 10 and 11.

Over the course of his time fighting in the Pacific theater, Funk said he met Gen. Douglas MacArthur four times.

“He always seemed like a nice guy,” Funk said. “I told him one time he can’t walk on the front lines. He said, ‘Who said so?’ I didn’t answer and he went on.”

He also endured a shipwreck, bombings and frequent fear.

WW II veteran Philip Funk Sr. of Middletown, 97, of Middletown, shares his experiences of WWII at the American Military Heritage Museum in Stephens City on Friday. Rich Cooley/Daily

“You didn’t have time to think about much back home or anything,” Funk said. “You get a weekend and you get sitting around, that’s when you think about it. You wonder when it’s ever going to end.”

Funk went to New Guinea, then left for the Philippines.

“That’s when everything broke loose,” he said.

He said he was about to leave for Japan when the nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He didn’t know whether the United States was going to win the war or even how the war was going.

Nor did the others who spoke. John Neggia fought in the front lines in Europe.

WW II veteran Fred Hepner, 91, of Woodstock, shares his memories of WW II at the American Heritage Museum in Stephens City on Friday. Rich Cooley/Daily

“We were first, the tanks were behind us,” Neggia said.

But although he moved forward from Le Havre, France, near the English Channel, to the Rhineland, he had no idea how the war was progressing.

All he knew was that he was fighting in a cold and unfamiliar land, without any of the comforts of home. It wasn’t until 40 days after he was deployed that he had his first shower.

“That was the only shower we got until the war was over,” he said.

Fred Hepner fought in Normandy without knowing its strategic significance in the war effort.

WW II veterans John Neggia, US Army, left, Philip E. Funk, Sr., US Army, center, and Fred Hepner, US Navy, right, gather inside the American Military Heritage Museum in Stephens City on Friday. The group shared their stories of WWII and will be part of the Relive History "The WW II G.I. Soldier to be held on June 10-11 at 811 Fairfax Pike. Rich Cooley/Daily

“We weren’t aware of what was taking place, really,” he said.

They just knew the impact the war was having on their lives and that they were fighting for their country.

All three men continued to grapple with what they had seen after the war. Hepner lost his hearing during the war and had flashbacks until his 40s or 50s. He fought between the ages of 18 and 22.

“I had a lot of things to forget,” Hepner said. “Things that I had seen.”

Hepner said that he landed on the beach of Normandy after D-Day. He was not required to, but he was curious what the scene looked like.

WW II vet Philip Funk, Jr. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I wish that I’d never taken that trip out to the beach, because I had to get my mind off it later on,” he said.

Neggia still can’t get a lot of the memories of the war out of his mind.

“You can’t get that out of your mind,” Neggia said. “You never will get that out of your mind.”

The former soldiers kept those memories repressed in their minds until they had grandchildren who started asking about them.

“[The soldiers] did not talk about the war,” Neggia said. “They kept it to themselves.”

WW II vet Fred Hepner, 91, of Woodstock Rich Cooley/Daily

Their stories, however, came out Friday and will also be heard  at a living history event at the American Military History Museum, 811 Fairfax Pike,  from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. on June 10 and 11. There will be World War II re-enactors at the event on June 10, according to Phil Fravel, who has collected war memorabilia since he was in high school and who created the museum.

Fravel said that he  has invited about 50 other World War II veterans to the event. He said he expects about half of those to do so.

John Neggia, at far right, poses for a photograph in June 1945.

John Neggia, at far right, poses for a photograph in June 1945.