Veteran reflects on time at war during trip to Washington, D.C.

May 16, 2018

John M. Silva was only 18-years-old when he arrived in Normandy, France to a sight he would never forget.

Thousands of bodies lay dead for miles. It was his job to help bury them all. He rolled them up in a white bed sheet with no idea as to whether their families knew they would not be coming home. It was all part of war.

On April 21 he visited the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. with other veterans through Honor Flight New England. The nonprofit organization brings World War II and Vietnam veterans to the nation’s capital to see the war monuments dedicated to their service.

It was at the World War II monument Silva, now 92, teared up. Seeing the vast wall filled with 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 American soldiers who died while fighting, was a chilling reminder of the 3.5 years he had spent at war.

“When we got there and I see all them soldiers laying around there dead, that hurt me,” Silva said. “That’s why I said when I see that or I talk about it that hurts me that those were all my comrades, my friends and all of a sudden there they are-- a gold star.”

Silva was part of a group of soldiers called the Red Ball Convoy, which drove trucks at night with blacked out headlights, except for a tiny hole to see the truck in front of them. The group was charged with keeping the front lines supplied without fighter jets above noticing.

While on the trip, Silva visited other war memorials, spoke to fellow veterans, enjoyed the waterfalls, danced with a street performer and took a photo with his favorite statue: Abraham Lincoln. However, the best part of the trip was when a group of kids met them at the airport to thank them for their service. It was a day he’d always remember.

“We never expected that,” Silva said. “It was such a shock to see them kids there that we didn’t know what they were there for, but they were all lined up and when we came into the airport they were right there waiting for us.”

Silva also took time to thank Vietnam veterans and said it’s something he continues to do whenever he meets one. He noted they never got the thank you they deserved after returning from battle.

Dartmouth Veteran Agent Roy Oliveira, who is also served in the Iraq War, was Silva’s guardian for the day, having visited the sites several times over the years.

“I’ve had my experience too, but I look at some of these older veterans, you know WWII veterans and for me it’s a great honor to be with them knowing a little bit about what they went through,” Oliveira said.