In Boca, three generations of veterans recount their experiences

By Anne Geggis, Sun Sentinel 11/12/14

Kathy Champion, Mel Pollack and Irwin Stovroff

Across three generations from three different conflicts, the human toll paid when countries send their young men and women to fight was described in blood-drenched detail.

For Veteran's Day, a pilot from World War II, another from Vietnam and a civilian affairs officer who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq came together at St. Andrews Country Club to bear witness to the suffering that killed and crippled some of their comrades.

Irwin Stovroff, 92, of Boca Raton, was a second lieutenant piloting his 35th bombing run of World War II when he was shot down over France and taken prisoner by Nazis. He spent 13 months in captivity.

Melvin Pollack, 72, of Delray Beach, was a U.S. Air Force lieutanant colonel on his 79th bombing run in the Vietnam conflict when he was shot down in 1967 and held prisoner in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" for five years and eight months.

Kathy Champion, 50, who lives north of Tampa, was a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who served tours in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, working as a medical adviser in 2007 when she found she had contracted a virus called optic neuritis. She lost her sight from it.

The talk was part of an appeal to raise money for the Boca Raton-based charity, Vets Helping Heroes, which trains guide dogs for returning veterans. The audience was in awe after their stories.

"They are amazing; these people are heroes," said Luis Perez, 57, of Boca Raton, who did his military service in the 1980s. "What they and their friends did ... they sacrificed."

All described moments of powerlessness.

For Stovroff, it was in the waning days of World War II, when he realized that all the names his Nazi captors were reading off to be sent from camp were all Jewish — including his.

Pollack recalled parachuting out of his plane and falling so hard to the earth, near the Chinese border with North Korea, that his helmet cracked. He looked up at the Vietnamese villagers who surrounded him and was shocked at the sight.

"Every one of them had a gun or a rifle, young and old," he said.

(back)Mel Pollack, Don Werner
(middle)Kathy Champion, Irwin Stovroff
(front)Guide Dog George, Service Dog Cash
Angel (named in the article) was Kathy's first guide dog

Champion described being in a Humvee in Baghdad, just five minutes out of the "safe" Green Zone, when the vehicle hit an improvised explosive device.

"That was my introduction to Baghdad," she said.

She was OK, but suffered four more attacks while deployed.

In the final attack, also from an improvised explosive device, her driver and the gunner who accompanied her were killed. She suffered facial injuries that took the sight in her left eye as well as severe injuries to her hip and shoulder.

Then while back in the U.S. the virus hit, taking the sight in her right eye.

But that wasn't the worst of it, she said.

"I was a big, 'Go get-em kind of girl,'" she said. "But I was crumbling. There were times I didn't know why I was alive."

Help, she said, arrived in the form of a black Labrador named Angel.

"I got something to be responsible for," she said. "Something to help me.", 561-243-6624 or Twitter @Anne Boca

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