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A week to remember honoring WWII vets

Feb 24 2020
Jim Zbick | Times News

According to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, as of last year there were 389,292 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II still alive.

At that time it was estimated that we were losing 294 of those veterans every day.

The mortality rate makes it imperative that we honor and respect our elderly veterans at every opportunity. President Trump did that last week during a highly energized rally in Phoenix while in Las Vegas, rival Democrats were fighting it out among themselves in a savage debate.

After 100-year-old Irvin Julian was carried into the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, President Trump introduced the World War II veteran amid chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A.”

“It’s all over TV that the folks here tonight have helped a great World War II veteran into the arena,” Trump said. “I don’t know if he knows it, but he’s, right now, the hottest celebrity in the world.”

A clip of the event quickly circulated on social media.

Jesse Kelly, a military veteran and a senior editor at the Federalist, said that even if you’re not a Trump fan, it’s simply impossible to walk out of the event without feeling better about America.

Several other World War II veterans were also in the spotlight across the nation. On Saturday, Hershel “Woody” Williams, one of the two surviving World War II soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor, was keynote speaker at The National Museum of the Marine Corps in northern Virginia to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Charles Henry Coolidge is the only other surviving WWII soldier to have received the Medal of Honor, and is the only surviving MOH recipient from the European theater of the war.

The crucial battle of Iwo Jima was key to the defeat of Japan in the Pacific War. Two days after Williams, then 21, landed on the island on Feb. 21, 1945, American tanks were stuck trying to open a lane for the infantry. With covering fire from four riflemen, Williams grabbed a 70-pound flamethrower and attacked the Japanese pillboxes.

Four hours later, Williams had taken out enough of the concrete fortifications so that the Marines could plow through. When his company was taken off the line a week and a half later, all but 17 of the 279 men who had hit the beach had been killed or wounded.

Williams was wounded on March 6 and awarded the Purple Heart. Now 96, he’s devoted his life to assisting service members, veterans and Gold Star families.

Maj. Bill White, another Marine survivor of Iwo Jima, was wounded when a grenade exploded about 6 inches from him and his fellow Marines. White recovered and went on to have a long military career, spending 30 years active duty and 54 retired.

He returned to his hometown of Red Cloud, Nebraska, but missed his Navy comrades and was allowed to reenlist in February 1944. After repeating basic training, he again went to sea, seeing action in New Guinea, the Philippines and Okinawa.

After telling his story to the local press in California, White, now 104, was inundated by cards and letters from well-wishers for Valentine’s Day.

Along with these great tributes to living veterans of the Second World War, there was some sad news last week. Donald Stratton, an anti-aircraft gunner aboard the USS Arizona when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, died at the age of 97 at his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

After the Arizona was torpedoed, a sailor aboard the nearby repair ship Vestal managed to toss a rope across to the burning ship. This was a lifeline for a handful of sailors huddled together, including Stratton, who suffered burns over two-thirds of his body.

Stratton’s passing leaves only two living survivors of the Arizona, Lou Conter and Ken Potts.

After Stratton’s death, his family posted this epitaph: “One of Donald’s final wishes was that people remember Pearl Harbor and the men aboard the USS Arizona. Share their story and never forget those who gave all for our great country.”

Truer words were never spoken.