Area World War II veterans got a chance to mingle and share stories Wednesday when the Richmond Hill Exchange Club hosted a special Memorial Day program at the Richmond Hill City Center.
The program, organized by Exchange Club member Lynn Bennett, was important to club members because of the very few remaining World War II veterans today.
“There were 16 million World War II American veterans, and they are dying at the rate of 1,000 per month,” Bennett said. “There are not a lot left, and the average age of a World War II veteran is 93 and in a few years, there won’t be any left.
“This was a deciding time in American history, and it’s a time we need to remember.”
Five World War II veterans attended the ceremony, including guest speaker Paul Grassey, a 8th Air Force veteran, former B-24 pilot and a board member at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.
Grassey frequently gives lectures about his experiences in World War II and shared with the club a presentation called “Character Counts,” which discussed the six pillars of character.
The presentation included short biographies of Grassey’s former classmates and fellow veterans during World War II. He said he works with the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force to give the same presentation to area high school students in hopes of making their futures brighter.
“What young people need to understand is that plain vanilla guys can make it big if they keep a positive attitude,” he said as he explained the accomplishments of those men he served with.
Other World War II veterans in attendance included Earl Anderson, Glen Lindman, Matthew Suddath and James Baumgardner. Vietnam veteran Karen O’Dell also attended the meeting.
Baumgardner attended the meeting with his daughter, Lisa Freeman, who founded the Capt. Matthew Freeman Project in honor of her Marine son who was killed in Afghanistan.
Baumgardner said he enjoyed the program presented by Grassey. He also enjoyed visiting with other veterans.
“I thought it was a delightful program — it brings back a lot of old memories,” Baumgardner said. “I didn’t go through the fighting part of World War II, but I was working my way up to it. It’s always great to be with people that have similar experiences to mine.”
Anderson added the program was “very nice and very educational.”
Bennett said the club wanted to honor veterans of World War I in the mid-1990s, but there weren’t many left to recognize then, he said. He said he hopes the Exchange Club can host veterans annually.
“Today, we as Americans owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to those members of the Greatest Generation for their sacrifices during the 1940s and also to all former and current members of our military for their service,” Bennett said.