Saluting His Service

Forrest Bemis is a treasure trove of stories and he shared them in rapid fire succession with members of the NorthBay Hospice & Bereavement Veteran Men's Support Group Feb. 22 during a special pinning ceremony organized to honor his military service.

Bereavement counselor Lynn Gallagher got the ball rolling for the event after spending the past year getting to know the retired Army Air Corps sergeant who lost his wife, Shirley, a NorthBay Hospice patient.

"He is living American history," Lynn said following the ceremony in which Chaplain George Dix presented Forrest with a We Honor Veterans 4-star pin. Terrell Van Aken, M.D., presented Forrest with a certificate to honor his service and added that it has been "an honor to get to know" him and his wife before her death.

Lynn also had a special presentation for the veteran: a pack of Wrigley's spearmint gum.

It was in reference to one of the World War II stories that Forrest shared with the crowd. He explained that he was a waist gunner on a B-17 bomber during the war and how during one mission he discovered his intercom connection, which would allow him to radio information to the crew about impending plane attacks, had broken. In sub-zero conditions, he pulled out a pack of Wrigley's chewing gum, chewed a piece and attempted to use it to reconnect the wires.

"But it froze before I could wrap it around," he explained. "So I took out a second piece, chewed it up and then brought the (wires) to my mouth and wrapped it around before it froze. Saved the day!"

It literally did. Three German fighters attacked his plane, but thanks to the gum fix, Forrest was able to warn the crew.

Presenting him the pack of gum, Lynne smiled and called his actions "American ingenuity at its finest!"