by Jessica Langdon
OLATHE — The Fourth of July gives Americans a day to celebrate their nation’s history and independence.
For Catholic Community Hospice, honoring the people who fought to preserve Americans’ freedom is a year-round mission.
Catholic Community Hospice, a service of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, honors its veterans at the end of their lives, ensuring that each receives a “hero’s welcome.”
Warren H. Berg, who served in Europe during World War II and was a prisoner of war for several months, was among the veterans the program has honored.
Berg died on June 18 at the age of 92.
In late May, he and Genevieve, his wife of 66 years, sat side by side near their home at Santa Marta Retirement Community in Olathe, and Berg was the guest of honor at a small ceremony thanking him for his service to his country.
Although nearly seven decades had passed since he returned from serving in Europe, he still remembered the times he shared with his comrades in the service.
Berg, who held a bachelor’s in education and had completed a year of graduate work toward his goal of becoming a professor, entered the U.S. Army Air Corps as a second lieutenant in 1942.
His tour took him to England. He and the rest of his crew flew 30 bombing missions over Europe — and when the first tour was over, he volunteered to go back and do it again.
“We were unbeatable when it came to getting shot,” he said, recalling the holes the plane endured. There were “big ones, little ones, medium ones,” he said.
Each time, the crew “came out unscathed,” Berg said.
That worked every time, he said, until one fateful mission in January of 1945, when their plane was shot down over Bischofsheim, Germany.
The six members of the crew who survived the bailout were taken prisoner, until Gen. George Patton’s Third Army liberated the POW camp on April 29, 1945.
Berg returned home a captain at the end of the war, after five years of service.
He and Genevieve married in 1946 after he returned to the United States, and they have two daughters and four grandchildren.
Berg, a navigator, went on to be hired by TWA, where he worked for 38 years.
In retirement, he remained active, and especially treasured a visit to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
He and Genevieve were grateful for the Catholic Community Hospice ceremony in May. The ceremonies give veterans a chance to share their stories with hospice staff and even local veterans.
Maj. Sean C. McCaffery — a highly decorated U.S. Army veteran and a graduate of Kansas State University — joined hospice staff for the ceremony honoring Berg.
McCaffery, who is a candidate to receive his master’s in business administration from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, heard about the ceremony and wanted to take part.
“Any time you can honor veterans, I think you should,” he said.
That holds true, he said, for any veteran from any branch of the military during any time period.
Berg asked McCaffery about the uniform and decorations he wore, and McCaffery told him about his time in the service. McCaffery received three Bronze Stars for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently, he served as a Special Forces detachment commander and Special Forces headquarters support company commander.
He was moved by seeing Berg’s smile and hearing his stories.
McCaffery told Berg how much of an impact his generation’s service has made on the country.
The friends made and the times shared in the service are experiences unlike any other, McCaffery said.
When people thank him for his service, he thinks of others — like Berg — who paved the way.