A room full of community members honored four veterans — including the dinner’s first female honoree — Thursday during the 67th annual Belle-Scott Enlisted Dinner at the St. Clair Country Club.
In addition to honoring enlisted military men and women, this year the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce is celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Scott Air Force Base. Retired congressman Jerry Costello also received a special award for his longtime support of the base.
A first-time attendee, Technical Sgt. Ben Weavers said he’s served for 12 years and remembers when he drove the bus of service men and women to the dinner four years ago.
“It’s amazing; I never expected all of this,” he said. “... They just want to thank us for doing what we do every day, so it’s cool to see the local leadership we work with regularly here.”
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Staff Sgt. Brittany Smith, who has served for 10 years, said as a service member you don’t always feel this supported by the community you’re stationed in.
“It’s beautiful; this is my first dinner,” she said. “I’d say it’s humbling and welcoming that the community accepts the base so openly here. It’s a real eye-opener. ... Sometimes, being in the military, you move around a lot and don’t get a chance to get to know the community you’re serving in.”
This year’s Enlisted Dinner marked the first time the Belle-Scott Committee chose to honor a woman veteran.
Lt. Lou Eisenbrandt served as an emergency-room nurse in the Vietnam War. Her book, “Vietnam Nurse,” details her year in service.
She said she’s honored to be acknowledged and notes that as a woman veteran, she experiences varied reactions to her service.
“When I go into classrooms students don’t often expect me to be a woman,” she said. “As teachers say, I impress the students by making a different kind of impression.”
She’s been back to Vietnam four times since the war and notes she’s usually the only woman in the group of veterans on the trip.
“We must never forget that women served — it’s important,” she said. “... I never thought when I joined the army this would be such a big deal in my life.”
Sgt. Bill DeMestri, a World War II veteran, was honored Thursday. He worked for the News-Democrat as a photographer for approximately 60 years — before and after he was drafted.
He worked in a photo-processing unit that produced three-dimensional images for troops to use on the ground.
“I covered this dinner for the News-Democrat, but never expected I would be a recipient,” he said. “It’s a great honor. If I was one of 100, I would be happy about it.”
But, DeMestri is adamant he is not a hero. Instead, he considers the men he created the maps for are the real heroes of the war.
The veterans honored Thursday were DeMestri, Eisenbrandt, Leroy Getz and Claude Cable.
Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Getz A veteran of the Korean War, Getz’s unit was fighting with the Republic of Korea as its troops were being pushed back by North Korean opposition. His unit was eventually pushed back to Seoul, Korea, at half its regular strength and was almost continuously surrounded by the enemy. In Seoul, Getz was wounded for a second time. With severe injuries to his left leg and right arm, he was sent back to the Unites States, where he spent 18 months in Percy Jones Hospital in Battle Creek, Mich.
During his service, Getz received the Purple Heart, two Bronze Stars, a Korean Service Medal with three bronze service stars, a United Nations Service Medal for Korea and a Good Conduct Medal.
Sgt. Claude Cable Also a Korean War veteran, Cable enlisted in 1948. He served as a crew member in an armored amphibian tractor — machinery used by the marines to conduct amphibious attacks on enemy territory. Cable’s battalion served in operations such as the Battle of Inchon and in Seoul, Korea.
He received Bronze Stars for valor after saving his crew member on two separate occasions. Cable was wounded a day after accepting a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant. He ended his service after being permanently disabled as a result of those wounds.
Sgt. Bill DeMestri A World War II veteran, DeMestri was working as a News-Democrat photographer when he was drafted in 1943. Ending up in the Army Air Corp, he was trained in the army’s photo school and became one of five people to train and work in a highly secret photo-processing unit. He was sent to England, where he worked under Elliot Roosevelt, son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
DeMestri’s laboratory provided photographs of enemy fortification as well as troop dispositions. He, trained by Polaroid personnel, was able to create three-dimensional images called vectographs of enemy territory used by intelligence units as well as tactical units. He eventually trained others in the technique, allowing almost 39,000 vectographs to be produced. He also served in France and Germany.
Lt. Lou Eisenbrandt As an Army nurse in the Vietnam War, Eisenbrandt joined the Army to “see the world.” She served for a year in the 91st Evacuation Hospital in Chu Lai, Vietnam. While serving, she cared for U.S. soldiers, South Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, Viet Cong soldiers and North Vietnamese Army soldiers. She treated patients with malaria, hepatitis, double amputees, massive head traumas and bullet wounds.
Her book, “Vietnam Nurse,” details her year in service and sharing her experience as a war veteran. She has been back to Vietnam four times, most recently in 2014.