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“I think about how, here it is 75 years later, and I have had a good life, raised a family, and now, I even have great grandchildren, but they never got the chance to start their own family. They never got to do any of that,” Gombos said. “I think about them every day.”
Gombos, who celebrated his 98th birthday Tuesday, was a soldier in the Army during World War II, battling the Japanese in the Pacific in the final days of the war. He is one of only an estimated 167,284 American World War II veterans still alive today out of the original 16 million who served.
On Wednesday, the Woodbury resident, along with about two dozen other current and former service men and women, were honored at a special early Veterans Day ceremony at Nonnewaug High School because the school will be closed Friday. The annual event, put on by the school’s Rho Kappa Society, was held beneath the American flag on a courtyard in front of the school. The entire student body attended in a show of respect.
Music was provided by the NHS concert choir and orchestra, and students read poems in honor of those who have served. Principal Pam Saudi and Region 14 Superintendent Brian Murphy both spoke in tribute.
Following the ceremony, veterans were treated to a breakfast inside the school put on by the NHS culinary program. There, they mingled with fellow veterans, students and staff members, sharing stories of their military service.
Gombos entered the service in June 1943, starting in Hawaii and then going to the island of Okinawa, where he and thousands of other troops prepared for the possible invasion of Japan. Historians estimate as many as 1 million American soldiers could have died.
“They were preparing to go into Japan at that time, and then they decided to drop the atomic bombs and that ended the war,” Gombos said.
He noted after returning from the war, nine out of 10 men he met had been in the service.
“You didn’t even talk about it back then because everyone was pretty much in the same boat,” Gombos said. “Now, as time goes on and the numbers (of living veterans) go down, people want to know the stories. And they should know why they have the freedom they have. It’s good they do things like this today and remind them why they have the freedom to go fishing in Massachusetts if they want, for example. Soldiers didn’t serve for the glory. They did it because it was their duty.”