TOWANDA — Carl Rehfeldt of Towanda had enlisted in the Marines in October 1941, not long before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
At that time, people who enlisted had to be at least 5’9’’, a high school graduate, and unmarried, said Rehfeldt who, along with two other Towanda-area veterans, sat at a table on Monday at the Weigh Station Café in Towanda, talking about their experiences in World War II.
Rehfeldt said he was initially deployed to the Panama Canal, and, when returning from Panama, his ship was nearly hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat. The captain saw the torpedo coming and was able to turn the ship just in time to avoid the hit, Rehfeldt said. They then dropped depth charges to protect themselves.
Rehfeldt’s good luck did not last.
Rehfeldt was seriously wounded in July 1944 during the U.S. invasion of Guam and was transported to a U.S. military ship offshore, where he was treated in the ship’s mess hall, due to the lack of space for treating the wounded on the boat. He was treated at several U.S. hospitals before finally being discharged on Jan. 7, 1947.
Newman Benson of Wysox Township, who served in the Army during World War II, talked about two people he had gone to high school with, George Snell and Tom Fairchild Sr., who had become prisoners of war in World War II.
“I don’t think he was treated too well,” Benson said of Snell’s experience as a POW. Snell later became the Towanda Borough manager, and Fairchild later served as the Bradford County sheriff and the county treasurer.
The third veteran, Bert Williams of Towanda, talked about how he had been involved in the transportation in England of bombs manufactured in the United States, which were used by British planes to destroy targets in Europe.
Listening to the veterans’ stories at the Weigh Station Cafe and asking them questions about their service were three members of the Bradford County Veterans Memorial Park Association, including Ridgebury Township resident Joe Doherty. Doherty, who had founded the association, was taping the veterans’ accounts.
“We want to preserve their history and take down their stories,” Doherty said in an interview. “We’re doing interviews of older veterans because hundreds and hundreds of them are dying every day.”
The association was formed several years ago to create the Bradford County Veterans Memorial Park, which is currently being developed in downtown Towanda and will honor veterans from the Bradford County. “We are very serious about preserving the history of veterans. This (recording of veterans’ stories) is just an extension of that,” Doherty said.
The interviews of Benson, Rehfeldt, and Williams are among the first interviews the association has conducted of veterans. The association is interested in writing articles about local veterans’ histories and submitting them to local newspapers to be published, Doherty said.
 
The development of the park, which is the association’s main focus, is well under way.
 
The construction of “Phase 2” of the park has started and is expected to be completed before the end of this year, Doherty said. Phase 2 includes the construction of a parking lot, a ramp and stairway leading from the parking lot to the main section of the park, a retaining wall, and a sidewalk that leads from Sen. Roger A. Madigan Gateway Park to the Bradford County Veterans Memorial Park.
 
Phase 3 will get under way in 2014, Doherty said. Phase 3 includes the construction of walkways in the park, the installation of 4,000 granite pavers in the walkways, and the construction of the base for a rotunda, which will house a statue that the association calls “The Quintessential Soldier,” Doherty said.
 
The association has raised the funds to pay for Phase 2 and has raised 75 percent of the funds needed for Phase 3, said Timothy Hoffman, chief executive officer of the association.
 
So far, the public has purchased approximately 1,000 of the granite pavers, which honor veterans or people currently serving in the military, regardless of whether they are from Bradford County, according to the association.
 
During Phase 3, all of the pavers will be installed, regardless of whether they have been engraved yet, Doherty said. Currently, the pavers cost $75 apiece, as it is more cost-effective to have them engraved at this time, he said.
 
After the pavers are installed, the cost of purchasing a paver will go up, because pavers will need to be removed from the walkway, engraved, and then re-set in the walkway, Doherty said.
 
While the association is still raising money for Phase 3, the “big money” that will need to be raised will be for Phase 4, which is when stone monuments will be installed, he said.
 
For more information about the park and the association, go to www.bcvmpa.org.
 
 
 
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com