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WWII Vets Gather for Reunion in Chapel Hill

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CHAPEL HILL — Their friendship was forged in time of war. Peace pulled them apart. Decades after helping the Allies win an important World War II battle, some veterans renewed a 56-year-old friendship Tuesday in Chapel Hill.

Their paths first crossed when they bunked together in the tight quarters of a Navy ship -- the LST-1033. That ship was headed for one of the most dangerous and critical missions of World War II.

The sailors were on the way to participate in the Allied assault on Iwo Jima in February 1945. The ship was designed to hit beaches, deliver marines and collect casualties.

"It was very intriguing to try and save lives in the midst of all this chaos. That's something you don't forget," says Byron Donges, the first officer assigned to the ship.

Crewman Luther Mountjoy says there was little need for protocol and salutes.

"Because we had to be close as a family," he says. "Because we had to support one another and work together in order to survive and to do the job we had to do."

The Allied force won a strategic island base that was critical for refueling aircraft headed for Japan.

After the war, peace and prosperity at home almost took away their special bond.

"Now to see them all 56 years later for the first time, it's a good experience," says Doenges.

Forty members of the LST-1033 were able to make the reunion. They plan to make it an annual event.


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