Two Winter Garden veterans who share a birthday will share the limelight Sunday, Dec. 6, when they take their front-row seats as guests of honor at a drive-by birthday celebration.
Henry Goehres, a World War II veteran, turns 104, and his buddy, Vietnam War veteran Dennis Turner, will celebrate his 70th birthday. The two are neighbors in Trails of Winter Garden and celebrate their birthdays together every year.
Both are survivors — Goehres has lived through the Spanish Flu, World Wars I and II and COVID-19, and Turner has survived the Vietnam War, Agent Orange and the coronavirus.
SPEC 4 DENNIS TURNER
Dennis Turner lived in Orlando most of his life, graduating from Edgewater High School in 1969. Growing up in Central Florida at that time meant freedom, adventure and independence at a young age.
It also helped him transition to responsibility as a young adult.
He joined the U.S. Army at age 19 and served as a Specialist 4 from 1970 to 1973. He trained as an air-traffic controller before being sent to Vietnam, and he worked at the same airfields used for loading Agent Orange, an herbicide and defoliant mixture used during the war.
Dennis Turner said the airfields suffered numerous mortar attacks and he and his fellow soldiers could hear the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
As an air traffic controller, Turner was responsible for directing civilian and military aircraft at various airfields. During a regular shift, he directed commercial passenger jets and military aircraft, including fixed-wing and helicopters of all types.
Although he was close enough to hear mortar fire and was in danger of sniper fire wherever he went, Dennis Turner considers himself a “combat-support veteran” because he wasn’t “a soldier in the trenches.”
“He said it changes your life to know that you’re so close to death and you don’t take anything for granted,” Sue Riley Turner said of her husband. “Henry is unbelievable at 104, but Dennis is amazed that he is turning 70. He considers himself lucky to have made it to 30.”
Today, Dennis Turner lives with Type II diabetes, considered a presumptive illness caused by Agent Orange. Now retired, he worked 25 years in the construction industry and 20 years for the city of Winter Garden as a building code administrator.
He was married to his first wife, Elaine, for 28 years before she died. He has a son and a daughter living in Central Florida, four grown granddaughters and a stepson. He met his second wife, Sue Riley Turner, at their 30-year high school reunion, and they have been together for 21 years.
His first four years of retirement provided opportunities for adventure once again. The Turners have ridden elephants in Thailand, tracked wild animals in Africa, ziplined in Costa Rica and snorkeled with hammerhead sharks and penguins in the Galapagos Islands.
Dennis Turner said he would like to make a return visit to Vietnam.
PRIVATE 1ST CLASS HENRY GOEHRES
Goehres was a steel-mill welder in Pennsylvania when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. He was a World War II sharpshooter and private first class who was sent to the island of Luzon in the northern Philippines. During a stopover in New Guinea, he recognized his brother George's troop ship in the harbor — and he found himself face to face with his brother, 9,000 miles from home in the middle of a world war.
When he was discharged in February 1946, he resumed his welding position at the steel mill, building railroad cars. His career there lasted 43 years.
In that time, he met and married his wife of more than 54 years, Mildred, and they had a son and a daughter.
Fourteen years ago, he moved from Pennsylvania to Florida to live with his daughter, Ruth Oyler. They have lived in Winter Garden for 10 years.
Goehres remained active until he was 90, keeping up with his yard and vegetable garden. Now, he spends his days reading magazines, keeping up with the Pittsburgh Steelers and watching game shows such “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” — and he’s proud of the fact that he still gets many of the answers correct.
Because of the coronavirus, Goehres has stayed at home for much of 2020. He watches his church’s Sunday services online and is hoping he can soon don his fedora and attend in person and interact with his friends.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.