The estimated survival rate of a "tail gunner" - the man operating a machine gun in the tight rear compartment of a B17 airplane in WWII - was seven missions. But Army Staff Sergeant John Cockriel lasted through 50 of them and came back home again.
Vince Cockriel has the uniform of his Uncle John on display at his recently opened Cannon Falls Military History Museum a few miles southwest of Cannon Falls at 33504 Warsaw Trail.
The display shows Vince's dedication to honor the men and women who valiantly served their country.
Vince explained that John, "hit all the big ones." He bombed in front of the invasion of Normandy and at Anqio and on and on. "He was typical of the WWII era ... sacrificing, unselfish - they didn't expect a lot.
"Not only the men but the women sacrificed equally as much... either as nurses or correspondents or on the homefront."
Vince explained his family's role in the military. His two grandfathers were in WWI. Then his father, five uncles and one aunt were in WWII. Later, six cousins and Vince himself were in Vietnam. And three nephews were in the Gulf Wars.
Recently at his museum, WWII reenactors explained the importance of recognizing the valor of these military heroes. They help you step back in time - to the 1940s - to get the feel of those tense and tragic times.
Alissa and Paul Wirth from Hastings, MN portray a war correspondent and a member of the 117th Infantry Regiment. Alissa explained how only about 259 women were correspondents compared to a thousand or so men. But they wrote about the fighting men they met and folks back home read their stories and in that way would know their loved ones were still alive... at least at that time.
Women also had to deal with the male attitude prevalent in some units. For example, women became pilots but they were mainly based in the U.S.
Paul Wirth explained that his reenactment character would have enlisted soon after the Pearl Harbor attack and then landed in Normandy on D Day. Paul describes some of the dangers they encountered like the wire stretched out when landing at Normandy that cut off body parts. And although a "Command Car" was supposed to be used for officers, it was soon noticed that the Germans had discovered this and would target them. It was safer not to ride in them.
Paul continued that even though they knew that "every step could be your last... we always thought we would come home."
Another reenactor, First Sergeant Steve Landgraf, wanted to clarify what war is really like. He explained, watching war on TV is all "shoot-em up. But it's not glamourous... it's horrible.
"It's a shame we ever have to have a war." Steve concluded: "As the saying goes: You train for war but you pray for peace."
At least today patriotism is back in America... so please...when you see a someone who has served... "just say thank you."
And we also say "Thank you" to Vince for reminding us of all who served so valiantly.
(For more pictures of the museum go to www.paulrosie.com)