From the hedgerows of Normandy to the beaches of Okinawa, Grand Junction's World War II veterans contributed to the war effort around the globe.

While it has been nearly 80 years since America entered the war, there are still veterans who served in the Armed Services alive to tell their stories today. In Grand Junction a few of those veterans met and shared stories from their time in the service earlier this year.

"I spent about six weeks in the hedgerows in Normandy," Jerry Nisbet, a WWII veteran from Palisade, said. "It wasn't much fun."

Nisbet served in the Army with the combat engineers, he said. Combat engineers perform construction and demolition tasks, like building roads and bridges, and also perform other tasks like clearing minefields, according to the U.S. Army website.

"They (the German forces) were shooting at us with cannons in the hedgerows," Nisbet said. "They (the U.S. Army) told us we had to keep moving or they'd have their sights on us, so we had no trouble keeping moving all the time."

Nisbet went on to earn a degree at Mesa College — now Colorado Mesa University — and eventually earned a PhD in biology from Purdue University. He taught at Ball State University for more than 30 years.

James W. Corsen was 18 when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred and said he was eager to join the war effort. He was originally drafted into the Army where he recalled all the illness that spread among the soldiers at his New Jersey barracks, but after three months he moved to the Air Force.

"I left for California and never even had a sniffle for a year," Corsen said. "First time in my life I didn't have a sniffle. So California became kind of a magic land. I was in the Air Force now and that was magic too." It didn't stay magic once Corsen got to Europe. The Germans shot Corsen's plane down on his second mission. He survived, but Corsen was now a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany.

"It was near Hannover in Germany," Corsen said. "We were bombing an oil refinery. My interrogator said 'What was your target,' and I said, 'What's missing?' I don't really know that we'd hit it, but I assumed that we had."

Corsen said the six months he spent as a prisoner was difficult, but it was better than being shot at. "They could be mean to us," Corsen said. "I lost 30 pounds, but that wasn't being mean to us. The Germans were very poor by that time. They were losing the war."

Corsen still remembers the date he was liberated — April 29, 1945.

He and the other prisoners rushed outside to see the American forces arrive.

When he returned, he used the GI Bill to get a degree and fathered five children — the two oldest are now on Medicare, he said. Last year his wife die. They were married for 70 years.

Owen Barnes of Grand Junction joined the Navy in 1941 in Texas. His work as an aircraft mechanic translated into a post war career, he said.

"I mechanicked for a few years," Barnes said. "I was an aircraft mechanic in the Navy. Worked in electronics for 30 some years after."

Bob Strong, a Navy veteran now living in Montrose, served in the Pacific on a Higgins Boat — the amphibious landing craft famous from the D-Day invasion.

Strong said he was at the battle of Okinawa witnessing the Japanese air force attack.

"We landed the 22nd infantry on Okinawa," Strong said. "We were on Okinawa when the kamikazes (attacked). There was one time we had 700 planes come in to hit the fleet there. I remember at one point they were like flies. There were planes coming at you from all directions."

After surviving that battle, Strong remembered waiting to invade mainland Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped.

He credited those attacks with saving his life and he had a special memory from the day Japan surrendered.

"On September 2, VJ Day, we were anchored not too far from the Missouri where they accepted the Japanese surrender," Strong said.

These men are part of a shrinking group of World War II veterans alive in 2019. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, fewer than 500,000 WWII veterans are left from the 16 million who served.

Corsen said his life after he served was a good one, but seeing his fellow veterans die has been difficult.

"I like to say if I had to do it all over again I'd be tickled pink, but that's not entirely true," Corsen said. "These commemorative events where there are fewer and fewer people are kind of a test of your enthusiasm."

Christopher Tomlinson photographed the men in this story.

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