Veteran reflects on WWII through lens of camera

RAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Sid Lenger's movements are slower, more intentional than they used to be. He uses a walker through the halls of his home and grabs the side of the car as he gets in through the garage.

But ask this 100-year-old World War II veteran a question about the battle of Okinawa, and it's like he's 25 again — latched to a ship gun, firing at Japanese Kamikazes trying to sink the LST 651. His eyes and heart take him there as vividly as the lens he's used to capture his life.

"There were some rough days," Lenger's said as he held back tears. "I hope nobody has to do it, go through it again."

The Grand Rapids man didn't choose to fight and he'll be the first to say Uncle Sam picked him. When he got his draft letter in the mail, Lenger co-owned a meat market with his dad in the Godfrey Avenue area.

"We sold the meat market," Lenger said about how he and his wife would manage while he was at war. "We had money and we put that in the bank. So, she had some money to buy food and everything with. Otherwise, she had about a penny a day to live on."

Lenger joined the Navy. He asked his skipper if he could take pictures while on the boat, and just never specified what kind.

"I got a few pictures that nobody's got, because who's allowed to carry a camera," Lenger said. "I asked the skipper if I could carry a camera and he said ‘yeah, as long as I can see your pictures.’ But I didn't tell him I took a movie camera. And so, I got quite a few of them."

As he leaves his walker in the hallway, he flips on the light to a back closet in his basement. There's a wall of videos, dubbed and labeled trips that document the life and adventure of the soft-spoken, sharp-minded veteran.

His first images hang from the wall in his makeshift office; it's where he paints and dubs his DVC Pro videos to DVD. He used his camera when his gun wasn't in his hand — the images of his fighting don't need film or frames to be remembered.

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"That's when we were in the battle of Okinawa," Lenger says about what he remembers about serving on the LST 651. "The first two days we had lost 30 ships, we had damage to 130 ships that were badly damaged and then we had 1,050 of our men were killed in the first two days.

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