93-year-old WWII vet from Roxborough reflects on service, salutes others at Gorgas Park

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, residents and local veterans gathered at Gorgas Park for the 21st Ward Veterans Association’s annual Veterans Day ceremony.

“Today, we’re here to pay tribute to our veterans and thank everyone for their service,” said Bruce Hoffman, president of the 21st Ward Veterans Association, to the dozens of people in the crowd.

Bruce Driscoll, judge advocate for the Henry H. Houston Second Post of the American Legion, George Evans and State Rep. Pamela DeLissio also addressed the crowd.

“I thank you for your service,” DeLissio said. “It’s a pleasure to be here today on such an absolutely glorious day and I look forward to being here for many years to come.”

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One of those in attendance on Sunday morning was World War II veteran Paul Franzen, 93, who attended to commemorate his service and those of others who continue to serve.

“I spent four years and four months in the service and was very fortunate,” Franzen said. “I was in the 51st Medical Battalion. Our first real experience was in Tunisia and we had a surgical team attached to us.”

Franzen, who was born and raised in Roxborough, was inducted in March 1941.

“I knew I would not be getting out in a year’s time. The world’s situation had deteriorated so badly,” Franzen said. “When [Pearl Harbor] came along, we knew we were on for a long battle because we were just getting organized [and] equipped.”

The annual ceremony in Gorgas Park marks a very special time in Franzen’s life.

“It’s a joyful occasion,” Franzen said. “I was here in this spot when I was a child. I was here in high school as a member of the band.”

Franzen’s daughter Liz joined him during the ceremony.

“When I think of my father, I think of Tom Brokaw’s book ‘The Greatest Generation,’ Franzen said. “We’re nothing compared to them. The way they live their life is an inspiration to all of us. They’ve seen it all.”

Despite seeing the horrors of war, Franzen said she believes her father’s experiences give her nothing but hope for the future.

“My father’s favorite phrase is ‘this too shall pass’ and I know, in what he’s experienced in his life, that’s where that came from,” Franzen said, “and he gives hope for generations like us who think the world is falling all around us with the economy and international discord. He gives me hope because I think sometimes we don’t have that hope in our generation.”

For Liz Franzen, remembering what veterans have done for our country, allows us to be appreciative for what we have today.

“The further we get away from experiences like he had,” she said, “the less we appreciate, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. We constantly have to be reminded of the sacrifices.”

The ceremony, which took place in front of the park’s 1920s War Memorial, included the pledge of allegiance, invocation, wreath placement honoring all veterans, a rifle salute, taps, a benediction and closing remarks.

“This holiday season, remember to give thanks during this Thanksgiving for your freedom,” Hoffman said, “and the price that our veterans have paid to keep us free.”

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