Bottle of Whiskey Presented to Last WWII Veteran from Portsmouth Legion
PORTSMOUTH -- The bottle of Seagram’s 7 whiskey has been on display at the Portsmouth American Legion for decades, saved for the last remaining World War II veteran from the post.
That veteran so happens to be Alvin Heller, who couldn’t have been more surprised when Legion members from Post #547 brought the encased bottle to him at Elm Crest Retirement Community recently.
Although they couldn’t present it in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Legion members wanted him to have it all the same and asked staff to get it to him. Heller gathered his friends Bob Kuster and Leo Hawn, both Korean War veterans, to talk about the display after it was presented.
“It makes me sad to think of all my Legion buddies who are all gone,” said Heller. “It’s hard to believe I’m the only one left.”
The case presents the names of all World War II veterans from Portsmouth, all who have now passed, including Leo Beiker, Mike Bruck, Nick Bruck, Bob Grote, James Grote, Fred Grote, Alvin Heller, Phil Herkenrath, L D LA Sourd, Harold Leinen, Louis Leinen, Ernest Ohlinger, Alvin Reinig, Bob Reinig, Gerald Schiltz, James Slaven, John Slaven, Gene Smith, Ted Sondag, and Herm Stinn.
It’s not exactly known how long the case has been there or how exactly it was put together – not even Heller remembers exactly – but it’s been a staple and centerpiece of discussion for years.
Once the reminiscing was over, Heller said he decided to give the bottle back to the Legion post in Portsmouth.
“I want future generations to be able to see it and remember those men who served during WWII,” Heller said. “They are listed inside the box on either side of the bottle.”
Heller enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944 at 17 years old while he was still in high school, and actually thought the war may be over before he had the chance to enlist.
He left Omaha’s Union Station on the railroad headed to Idaho for basic training. “I didn’t know anyone,” he said. “After six weeks home for a short leave, I went to Portland, OR and was stationed on the USS Ozark, a new ship.”
Deployed in the Pacific, his service travels took him from Australia and New Guinea to the Panama Canal. Heller served as a captain, orderly, and then in the ship’s office. His ship was in Tokyo Bay two days before the peace treaty was signed.
He and Al Larsen of Elk Horn met on a training ship when Heller saw a newspaper from Elk Horn and asked whose paper it was. They were together on the ship until discharge.
Other memories include the many letters he received from his parents while in the service, and the loneliness of traveling by himself to basic training.
“I did write home – threw a postcard out the train window when on the train from Idaho at Victoria Station, and someone picked it up and got it to my parents,” he recalls.
His mother sent him an Angel Food cake for his birthday. “It was hard, but I ate it anyway,” he said.
After discharge, Heller married Ethel Stessman of Panama in 1948, and the two were blessed with four children – Patricia, Karen, Ron, and John. He went to work at his father’s Heller Gas & Oil Company.
He’s been a proud member of the American Legion for 75 years.
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