They are in their 80s and 90s now. Some walk with canes, and a few are in wheelchairs.
But their Army Ranger spirit is as strong today as it was more than 60 years ago when they were firing rifles and submachine guns and lobbing hand grenades on battlefields in Europe and the Pacific.
"There are some real heroes sitting out there," said Jerry Styles, president of the Sons & Daughters of World War II Army Rangers, as he nodded toward the lobby of the Lawrence Holidome, 200 McDonald Drive.
More than 50 former Rangers are attending a three-day reunion that began Thursday with some old-fashioned camaraderie and a bus tour of Lawrence and its historic sites.
Most of the Rangers wore baseball caps bearing their unit designations. A few wore the tan berets of today's Rangers as they sat on sofas and chairs or at tables in the Holidome lobby and traded stories.
"We come here to see each other and hear the same damned old stories," 91-year-old LeRoy Button said with a chuckle.
Button, of Buchanan Lake, Texas, sat in a wheelchair and breathed through his nose with an oxygen tube. He said he considered himself lucky to have lived as long as he has. Exactly 62 years earlier on June 8, 1944, Button was shot and wounded in France, two days after surviving the invasion of Normandy. Wounded with him was Styles' father, Clarence Styles, who also survived.
Button, who was with a Ranger headquarters unit, also had a close call on D-Day when he went ashore at Omaha Beach aboard a landing craft driven by a British crew. It almost struck a booby-trapped obstacle that had been placed on the beach, he said.
Lewis Haight, 82, recalled a friend getting shot and killed by a German soldier just as his squad was getting ready to move across a road into a wooded area.
Haight shot and killed the German.
"I still remember the look on his face," Haight, of Swannanoa, N.C., said of the German. "He knew what was going to happen next."
Haight also earned the Silver Star for helping rescue a soldier.
Not all of the stories being told at the Holidome were about battles. Red Gilbert, of Milton, N.H., was at a replacement depot in North Africa when someone arrived asking for volunteers to join the Rangers. Gilbert and a friend immediately signed up.
"I think we were getting tired of hanging around the depot waiting," the 85-year-old said. "Once you get in you've always got that Ranger spirit."
Rangers trained hard and played hard, Gilbert said.
"We'd run 15 miles into a town, Tomcat around, drink all night and then run back the next morning," Gilbert said, smiling.
Little red book
Jerry Styles carries a small, red address book in his pocket. His father brought it back with him after the war. It lists dozens of names and addresses for his Ranger comrades. Clarence "Lucky" Styles died in a car wreck after the war. Jerry, who was only 1 year old at the time, was in the car with him.
"Three Purple Hearts and four Bronze Stars, and then he gets killed in a car wreck," Jerry Styles said.
About five years ago, Jerry Styles began tracking down his father's former Ranger buddies. He found many of them. He received letters from family members of those who had died. It also was about then that he became involved with the Sons & Daughters group and began helping organize the reunions.
"I just wanted to find out about my past," he said. "I never knew my dad."
Thursday night, following a buffet dinner, the Rangers met Lawrence sculptor Jim Brothers, who talked to them about making sculptures for the D-Day Memorial. Today they will attend a private memorial service at the Dole Institute of Politics on the Kansas University campus, followed by a catered outdoor dinner and World War II memorial carillon of the era's songs.
At 9 a.m. today a Ranger Store will open to the public near the pool area inside the Holidome lobby. Books, T-shirts, hats and other memorabilia will be available for sale. The store will close at 1 p.m. and reopen Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.