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#039;Greatest Generation#039; honored

An estimated 800,000 people attended the dedication of the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. on Saturday. The ceremony was called the largest gathering ever of World War II veterans - and the last.

Members of the "greatest generation" are dying at a rate of 1,056 a day and "It's past time that we honor these great Americans, these great patriots," said Fred Kreps, adjunct, American Legion Post 70 in Troy.

Kreps opened the local celebration for WWII veterans hosted by Post 70 and the Colley Senior Complex at 11 a.m. Saturday. The gathering was also one of the largest for local WWII veterans.

Scott Flowers, post commander, expressed appreciation to the local veterans and read a proclamation from Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford declaring May 29, 2004, World War II Veterans Day in Troy.

Certificates were presented to each veteran in "solemn recognition" of their sacrifices and leadership in winning the war, building the peace and giving future generations the precious gift of freedom.

Flowers said the certificates were just a small token of appreciation for "all that you did for us."

"These certificates are a small gesture but they are presented with our deep, heartfelt appreciation," he said. "Our World War II veterans gave so much but have been recognized so little. They should not have had to wait five decades for a lasting memorial."

For many of the World War II veterans who attended the local ceremony, the National World War II Veterans Memorial is a fitting tribute to the "real heroes" of the war.

"It has been a long time coming and is greatly appreciated but the real heroes of the war are the 400,000, who didn't come home," said Tommy Strother, a former Navy Seabee who served with the occupation force in Japan. "I had a good friend, Charlie Connell in Brundidge,

who was killed on a PT boat. He never got to have a wife and family. I am so grateful for my wife and my children and grandchildren. I think of Charlie often. He never got to know joys of having his own family but he made it possible for me.

This memorial is for him and all the men and women who gave their lives for their country - for us. They deserve it."

Wilburn Howard, who flew B-17s with the Army Air Corps,

also turned his thoughts, not to recognition for himself, but for the "real heroes." His friend, J.C. Broadhead, was on the Arizona when it went down at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

"When I was in Hawaii some time back, I went to the memorial and found his name on a plaque," Howard said. "It was a good feeling to know that he is remembered. These men and women who lost their lives should never be forgotten. The World War II Memorial is a fitting tribute."

Hugh Mallett served in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and Germany and was in constant combat for more than a year without being "pulled back."

"I'll soon be 91 years old and this is the greatest thing," Mallett said of the national memorial.

"I never thought I would see anything like it. We appreciate it - all of us old veterans - but we wanted it most for those that didn't come back home."

Joel Witherington and Durwood Kelly said the monument was long overdue.

"I think everyone is proud of it," Witherington said. "As for me, just the thought of it gives me chill bumps."

Kelly's hopes are that one day he will have the opportunity to travel to Washington to see the memorial that honors the service and lives of so many proud Americans.

Walter Ross agreed that the memorial

honors the war's "heroes;" but it also recognizes the service and sacrifice of all the men and women who answered the call.

Ross served in the Philippines and remembers

the "hardships' of war.

"We fought hand-to-hand and it was tough," he said. "I think a memorial is a good thing for all of us."

Although Billy Gibson said World War II veterans are deserving of a memorial, he had a different point of view.

"I would rather that the money - about $200 million - had been spent on educational programs

for our children" he said. "They are our future and the money invested in them would have paid real dividends. What a tribute that would have been to World War II veterans."

But, Gibson left the WWII veterans celebration Saturday,

like all other veterans - with his "Service to America" certificate in hand and a sense of pride in his heart.

"I think we all feel good about this," said Pid Steed. "I know that I'm thankful for it."

Walking home in the hot sun just after mid-day, J.P. Jinright carried his certificate as if it were a delicate treasure.

He stopped and wiped the sweat from his brow.

"I served in New Guinea," he said. "I was in radio, but it was rough. We had a lot of enemies — mosquitoes, malaria, native tribes and the Japanese - they were everywhere,

the Japanese.

I'm proud I served and I'm proud of this certificate and that people remembered us. I'm proud of the monument for those that didn't come home, so that nobody will forget their sacrifice."

Veternans

attending the ceremony included, Clifton Day, James Terry, James W. Lott, Robert Pittman, George Waltman, J.T. Jinright, Hugh Davis, G.H. Reeves, Franklin Gorman, Lex Griffin, James A. McLean, Charles Saunders, Sam Harris, Hugh Mallett,

William F. Boutwell, Zollie Pouncey, W. B. Jinright, Wilburn Howard, Tommy Strother, Lamar Belcher, James E. Steed, Charles McMillian, W.O. Sanders, Morris J. Dicho, Scotty Sauers, Joel Witherington, Lenny Ellis, R.E. Fowee, Joe Gilchrist, Harold Watkins, Rhea Swisher, John W. Gibson, Thad Yancey, Sr.

Durwood Kelly, Rudolph Shelly, Jim Davis, Joseph Chapman, R.C. Carter, A.D. Ryals, Leonard Walker, Walter Ross, Max A. Shiver.