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Thanking Veterans And Remembering Their Sacrifices

Veterans of the Vietnam War place wreaths at "The Wall" during a Veterans Day event at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall Monday.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
Veterans of the Vietnam War place wreaths at "The Wall" during a Veterans Day event at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall Monday.

Americans are marking Veterans Day in a variety of ways Monday, from public ceremonies to proud notes on social media and quiet remembrances in homes and offices. Photos of husbands and grandfathers, mothers and sisters popped up on Facebook as a way to honor military veterans; on Twitter, the top four tags Monday afternoon revolved around veterans.

Here's a rundown of events and stories about those who served:

Honor Flights, the non-profit program dedicated to transporting veterans to memorials in Washington, is the subject of a report from Michigan Public Radio's Lindsey Smith, who accompanied World War II veterans on a recent trip.

One of the visitors was Catherine VandeBunte, 93, who enlisted in the Navy during World War II.

"Our boyfriends and our school chums were all being drafted. And we went down and saw a marvelous woman recruiter. We just couldn't resist," VandeBunte says. "So I just quit my job and went."

Another veteran, Dick Norr, 88, was guarding an outpost in Germany when the war ended. He recalls dancing with a German civilian in an abrupt celebration of peace.

When the Michigan group flew back to Kalamazoo, they were "astonished to see hundreds of people, most of them strangers, welcoming them back home," Smith says. "The wheelchairs are paraded through the cheering crowd."

"I feel so humbled. I feel overwhelmed. I've never had such a day in my life," Norr says in Smith's story, which airs in today's All Things Considered.

At Arlington National Cemetery, "President Obama praised 107-year-old Richard Overton for his service in the Pacific during World War II," NPR's Scott Horsley reports, "and for the way Overton continues to live, as Obama said, 'proud and strong in the land he helped keep free.'"

Part of Overton's secret to a long and healthy life, it seems, is a daily routine of cigars and whiskey. The Texas native says the whiskey, which he often mixes into his coffee, helps him stay limber, according to The Los Angeles Times.

In Obama's speech, he also urged Americans not to forget a new generation of veterans who are returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Scott adds. The president pledged that the U.S. will support those veterans with educational benefits and mental health care.

A StoryCorps episode that aired Saturday captured the struggles and hopes that await wounded veterans as they return to civilian life.

The story of Marine Cpl. Anthony Villarreal and his wife, Jessica, revolves around the strength and devotion they've found since he suffered severe burns in Afghanistan.

"I didn't even recognize myself," he says.

Their story also prompted a highly rated comment from a reader:

"My personal thanks to every woman dealing with the wounds of her warrior, and especially to mine for the 40 plus years of helping me deal with the world. Hang in there and all of us will make it through."

From South Carolina comes the story of Operation Tiger, a disastrous practice-run for the D-Day landings. German naval ships intercepted communications about the exercise held on England's coast in the spring of 1944.

U.S. Coast Guard veteran Joe Williams was on the attack transport USS Bayfield for that rehearsal landing; he was also deployed to Normandy and Iwo Jima. Williams says Operation Tiger, in which nine German torpedo boats unleashed a prolonged attack that resulted in more than 700 deaths, was a disaster that was quickly declared a secret.

"They told us, 'You will not write home about it, you will not talk about it, and we will escort you to prison if you do,'" he says, according to The State.

And Williams didn't — for about 50 years, his wife says.

"I was flabbergasted," Faye Williams said of the stories her husband finally told. "All the guys were like that. They didn't talk about it. It was good to get it out of his system because they had thought about it, but didn't talk about it."

The World War I diary of Lloyd Clifford Curley, who died in that conflict, lives on in the hands of his great-granddaughter in Ontario, Canada. Tesha Emarthle says the diary has inspired her to research Curley's experiences. When he died, Curley served in a unit that built communications trenches in France.

"This diary, it belonged to him and it was picked up on the battlefield and sent home to his wife, my great-grandmother Lulu Mabel Curley," Emarthle says. "I remember when I first saw it and touched it, it was an amazing feeling. Reading through it, learning more about him — it was like he was being brought back to life."

And in Illinois, farmer John Bruns has translated his father's World War II diary into a blog. The entries written by Charles F. "Chick" Bruns of Champaign make up the 70 Years Ago blog, whose posts trace Bruns' experiences as he traveled from Africa to Sicily, Italy, and into France, Germany and Austria.

A British veteran of World War II who died at age 99 was likely to be buried with few or no people in attendance — but after word of that state of affairs went around, hundreds of people showed up to bid their final respects to Harold Jellicoe Percival. As BuzzFeed reports, the RAF veteran had outlived his closest relatives.

A newspaper announcement of Percival's death had stated, "Any service personnel who can attend his funeral service would be appreciated."

As photos on Twitter show, a chilly, rainy day didn't keep hundreds of service members and civilians, young and old, from showing up.

Percival's nephew, Andrew Collier-Worsell, tells Sky News that it was "just remarkable" that so many people who never knew Percival attended his funeral.

"I think if he'd known, he'd have been sheltering around the corner, hiding from it all," Andrew Collier-Worsell says. "He wasn't a very public man. He was a private man, a solitary loner. I think it shows there is a deep feeling for the veterans and the service they put in."

New stamps were unveiled during a ceremony at the National World War II Memorial, depicting the Army and Navy versions of the nation's most prestigious military decoration.

During World War II, 464 Medals of Honor were awarded. Last year, the U.S. Postal Service asked the last living recipients of the award to have their photographs included in a booklet accompanying the new stamps.

Two of those recipients attended today's ceremony.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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