World War II veterans George Quebbeman, left, and John DeBoer place a wreath during a D-Day remembrance ceremony Friday in Orland Park. | Mike Nolan/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 9, 2014 6:20AM
Standing before fellow veterans of World War II during a D-Day remembrance ceremony Friday in Orland Park, Bernie Nash spoke of a “guilt” he had felt about his war service.
Joking that he sometimes considered himself a “fraud” for not seeing combat, Nash said he later realized that his guilty feelings were unfounded because he understood the importance of the role he had played — training pilots for the Navy and later working as a test pilot.
Nash, 91, a retired two-star rear admiral with the Navy, never was involved in combat except for a failed attempt as part of a squadron of dive bombers to spot and sink a German submarine off the Florida coast.
At Friday’s event meant to recognize the contributions of all military veterans, Nash talked of the ranks of support personnel, like himself, many of whom “don’t see the front lines” but that “doesn’t diminish” their contributions.
“Those men who went ashore (at Normandy) were backed up by supply crews and medics,” he told veterans and their families at Smith Crossing retirement community.
Veterans from Smith Village in Chicago’s Beverly community also attended the ceremony, which included the laying of a wreath and comments from area elected officials.
“We can never thank you enough for the many sacrifices you made,” Will County Executive Larry Walsh told the veterans, noting that the D-Day invasion “marked the beginning of the end of World War II.”
Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin said the personnel involved in Operation Overlord, the official name for the D-Day invasion, were “part of the biggest logistics operation ever attempted.”
Don Morrison, an Army medic who was at the Battle of the Bulge, was ready to start school at Drake University in Des Moines when a telegram arrived at his parents’ home in Harvey, notifying him that he had been drafted.
The “hospitals” where Morrison, now 91 and living at Smith Crossing, worked out of might be a tent or an empty building, whatever was handy. His job was to assist doctors, but at one point was pressed into performing an emergency tracheotomy on a young German soldier who was having trouble breathing.
“The doctor hands me a trachea kit and tells me I have to cut a slit in his (the soldier’s) throat,” Morrison recalled. “He (the soldier) was just a young fellow like myself.”
Although he was “shaking like a leaf” while holding a scalpel to the man’s throat, the procedure was a success, he said.
He was 24 when he was discharged and considered going to school to become a doctor, but Morrison and his brother had to run the family’s furniture store after his father suffered a heart attack.
“I found I liked it (furniture business) better than I thought,” he said.
Morrison would open an Ethan Allen furniture store in Olympia Fields in the 1980s and then a second store in Orland Park. He retired from the business four years ago.
Nash grew up in Minneapolis and enlisted in November 1942. The Navy trained him to be an aviator, and he in turn trained pilots at bases in Florida and Texas.
Nash later was nudged into the role of test pilot, putting new aircraft through their paces before their deployment in battle. Among the now-iconic military planes he flew were the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber, Grumman F8F Bearcat fighter and the Vought Corsair fighter.
After active duty, Nash joined the Naval Reserve and later helped establish a department of aging in Minnesota. In 1965, he was named deputy commissioner of the newly established U.S. Administration on Aging.
Four years later, the Nixon administration took over, and he was out of a job. Nash went to work for AARP and was its director for six years, serving as a consultant to AARP for more than 30 years.
Nash and his wife, Shirley, have lived at Smith Crossing for seven years.