Volunteering with Honor Flight is highlight for DB student


Bishop DuBourg High School has an authority on an important era in U.S. history — World War II — although Wil Heimberger isn't a teacher or a visitor from that era.

Heimberger is a student who's taken his interest beyond a hobby to volunteer at Cardinal Ritter Senior Services' Mother of Perpetual Help assisted living and the Greater St. Louis Honor Flight.

Last month, Heimberger accompanied five World War II and 15 Korean War veterans on one-day flights to and from Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II, Korean and other memorials on the Mall, Arlington National Cemetery and other sites.

The high school junior's interest in World War II dates to the second grade when he saw the movie, "Saving Private Ryan." Later, he started studying the war and the 1930s and '40s. As a freshman service project, he went to the nursing home to interview World War II veterans, meeting about a dozen.

He met an Honor Flight representative there, and agreed to bring a display and wear a vintage military uniform to Honor Flight homecomings — when the vets return to St. Louis from their trip to Washington, D.C. When asked to take part as a volunteer on the flight, he jumped at the chance.

"It was a great day," Heimberger said. "I got to talk to quite a few of the veterans. Great stories, fun guys. A lot of them are characters. It definitely was an experience I won't soon forget."

It's a full day, starting at about 3 a.m. Highlights included a police escort and applause from the other passengers on the flight after they learned that Honor Flight members were aboard.

At Mother of Perpetual Help, Heimberger was impressed by the veterans, including Tom Brooks, a first lieutenant who was with the 741st tank battalion. That battalion participated in D-Day and went through France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. He tells of running into German Panther divisions and celebrations when areas were liberated from German control. He showed Heimberger items he had such as German helmets and uniforms. At the end of the war, Brooks took in a German Shepherd that was at a dog pound in Germany. They got separated when Brooks became ill but were reunited when he arrived back home.

Heimberger has more than 260 records from the 1930s and '40s. He enjoys the fashion, cars, architecture and other styles from the era and often dresses in that style. And he's a member of a World War II re-enactment group, which goes along with his desire to teach people the history of the times.

But he especially enjoys being with the older generation that lived through the era.

"It's priceless to me," Heimberger said. "Once they're gone, their stories go with them. It's important to get the stories out there and known."

His sophomore year, he was part of the Swing Dance Club at DuBourg, participating in 15-20 performances. Teacher and coach Don Burrus has led the club for more than 30 years. Highlights of the dance style include aerials, tosses, spins and lifts — 40 moves and stunts the DB swing dancers must learn.

Heimberger said DuBourg has been good for him, from the many friends he's made to the academics and diverse club offerings. "If you have an interest, there's a club for it here," he said.

In college, he's looking to major in history. Perhaps the teacher would step aside and let Heimberger teach the lessons about World War II. 

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