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97-year old Vet Frank Zupan can't wait for September Honor Flight

"Being at the front never did scare me," 97 year-old Frank Zupan says matter-of-factly about his time as a World War II machine gunner.

Frank, one of the oldest WWII vets in Kentucky, volunteered for the Army as the U.S. war machine revved up in 1942. He was trained to fire a M1919 Browning machine gun. It was quite a leap for a young man who never handled guns while growing up in Michigan's Hazel Park, a Detroit suburb where most household incomes were dependent on the giant Ford plant in neighboring Highland Park.

Four days shy of his 21st birthday, Frank made his first beachhead landing with the Army's 7th Infantry Division in April 1943. He stepped ashore in the midst of the Battle of the Aleutian Islands as U.S. troops fought to reclaim U.S.-owned islands west of Alaska. It was the first of the island-hopping battles he'd engage in as the war raged across the Pacific Ocean.

That first battle was almost his last. "At one point, I had this feeling that there was somebody behind me," Frank recalled. A split-second later his intuition was confirmed as an infantryman's shot took down the enemy fighter poised to kill Frank.

For his heroism, Frank was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star. He also received a Purple Heart after being injured in battle.

The veteran clearly remembers the incident that earned him the Silver Star, the U.S. Armed Force's third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat. It happened at Leyte, Philippines Islands, when the rifle company he was supporting became pinned down.

"My captain came and asked me if I could fire that thing [machine gun] from my hip," he said about the heavy weapon normally mounted on a tripod. After crawling on his belly for 100 yards to get closer to enemy lines, Frank stood and shot nearly 1,000 rounds with enemy rifle and machine gun fire whizzing around him. The strategy worked; the enemy group was "destroyed," his medal commendation noted.

It is this memory and others that Frank is likely to recall on Sept. 22 when he gets his first glimpse of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. He is participating in this year's Honor Flight sponsored by Kentucky's Touchstone Energy Cooperatives. During the one-day tour, he will join other Kentucky war veterans in touring memorials erected in their honor.

This will be Frank's second visit to Washington. He was there in 1995 — before the World War II memorial opened – when his son, also named Frank, was honored as the 1995 Sailor of the Year.

"I'm honored to get to return with my dad," said Frank's son, who is his father's guardian for the trip. "Just to get to go with my dad will be an incredible experience."