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A Profile in Courage: Phoenix WWII veteran gets due as parade grand marshal

World War II veteran Chester Dorr is shown while serving in Europe (left) and at present day. He will be one of the grand marshals in Phoenix's Veterans Day Parade. (KTAR Photos/Bob McClay)
LISTEN: Profile in Courage: Phoenix WWII veteran gets due as parade grand marshal

All this week, KTAR will be bringing you the lives and stories of the 2015 Phoenix Veterans Day Parade grand marshals in a series entitled A Profile in Courage.

Chester Dorr, now 95 years old, grew up with his family in Chicago. He was quite the athlete at Wright Junior.

“I was the third-best hurdler in the city of Chicago at one time,” Dorr said with a laugh.

After college, Dorr went to work for AT&T. But things changed after Dec. 7, 1941 and the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. That fateful morning plunged America — and Chester Dorr — into World War II.

“A postcard came to the door that said ‘You are 1-A in the draft,’” he said. “Since I worked at AT&T in communications, I decided I would help the Army more in communications, so I enlisted in the Signal Corps.”

He was sent by ship to England, dodging German submarines in the Atlantic on the way. He recalled hearing depth charges being dropped as ships tried to destroy Nazi unterseebooten, or U-boats. Once in England, Dorr was stationed away from London, but could still hear bombs being dropped during German air raids.

Eventually, on June 6, 1944 — also known as D-Day — he found himself on a ship crossing the English Channel as part of a massive mission to take control of a portion of the Normandy coastline in France.

“I guess I live a charmed life, because we didn’t make it on D-Day,” Dorr said. “I was in a Canadian landing craft, and we couldn’t find a spot on the beach to land. Landing craft were lined up side by side, unloading soldiers, guns, tanks and whatever. He couldn’t land, so we went back out into the Channel.”

Eventually, the sailor driving the boat was able to squeeze on to the beach and deposit Dorr and the rest of the men.

“The tide there was like somebody sucking on a straw,” he said of the beach. “All of a sudden, we were on dry land.”

After landing at Normandy, the war took Dorr through France, into Belgium and finally into Germany. He remembers those who paid the ultimate price. He recalled a narrow miss on what seemed a routine task.

“They sent a jeep down to get one of us to come back with the mail, and I said ‘I’ll go,’” Dorr said. “There was a sergeant, he was higher than I was, and he said ‘No, I’ll go.’”

Dorr then began crying uncontrollably.

“He went and got his head cut off,” Dorr said, through tears. He hit a table and pushed the microphone away after telling us that.

Dorr doesn’t talk much about the incident. His adult granddaughter, standing nearby during our interview, had never heard the story.

He was in Germany when World War II ended. He said he was in Fauftenhoven, though it may now be known by another name. We were unable to find the town in a Google search.

Dorr said the Allied soldiers broke into a big celebration when the German surrender was announced.

“We raided the nearest tavern!” Dorr laughed. He said the celebration was so crazy that soldiers were “wearing the wine as well as drinking it.”

After the war, Dorr returned to Chicago and his job at AT&T. He and his wife brought their family to Phoenix and were married for 67 years until she passed away a few years ago.

Dorr’s son, Jim, heard about the chance to have his dad be a grand marshal in the Veterans Day Parade. He decided to nominate him because of something his dad once told him.

“He told me ‘When (I) die, I don’t want them coming to my funeral (and paying tribute to me). There’s no point, because I’m not here. You don’t get the tribute (when you’re alive) that you get when you die and people come to your funeral,’” Jim said. “So I decided to nominate him for a grand marshal for the veterans parade, and he’ll have that honor.”

Jim said he was overwhelmed when he was told his dad was chosen.

“I broke into tears,” he said. “You don’t know what this has done for myself and my dad. It’s the greatest thing I could ever imagine.”

Dorr thinks every veteran should be honored for his or her service, not just those selected to lead events.

“It feels so good when you’re walking out of a grocery store or anywhere and someone says to you, ‘Thank you for your service,'” he said. “That means a lot.”

He hopes you’ll remember that the next time you see a veteran.

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