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April 4, 2014

Indiana WWII veterans join comrades for DC event

COLUMBUS (AP) — Seventy World War II veterans from Indiana will fly to Washington on Saturday to visit the memorial that pays tribute to their service to the nation 70 years ago.

For two of them from Bartholomew County, it will be the trip of a lifetime.

"I never dreamed that I would get to go to the capital of the United States," Chester Caffee, 88, of Newbern, told The Republic. "I've never had nothing this good happen to me, and I want it to happen before I go."

Time ran out for millions of his fellow servicemen. In just the past four years, the number of surviving World War II veterans dropped from about 5.7 million to about 1 million today, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates.

Peter Ster, 89, of Columbus, will join Caffee on Saturday's Honor Flight. Memories of fallen comrades have been on his mind since the war.

Ster, an officer, was a motor machinist and Navy engineer for Landing Craft Infantry ships in both Europe and Asia.

The retired Cummins mechanical engineer said he hasn't had a chance to experience anything like this since his return from the war in the spring of 1945 — just in time to be in a Memorial Day parade.

That celebration, which took place a month after Nazi Germany surrendered, provided a homecoming that Ster recalls with great fondness.

"There was an appreciation expressed for what we accomplished that made me proud to be part of the war effort," Ster said. "For me, this weekend will do the same thing."

He can't help but dwell, however, on the hundreds of thousands who never made it home.

"There were a lot of people who sacrificed their lives to do what was accomplished in that war," Ster said. "They never had the opportunity to participate in such joyous celebrations."

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