World War II Heroes Join in D.C. for Day of Honor

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 11.05.27 AMWorld War II veterans will be honored on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day— Dec. 7—with a daylong celebration of their service, beginning with a trip down the National Mall to their memorial and culminating in a screening of the documentary film “Honor Flight” at DAR Constitution Hall. The event is sponsored by Blue Star Families and the USO.

Several veterans featured in the documentary will be in attendance, including Joe Demler of Wisconsin, a Battle of the Bulge infantryman and prisoner of war in Germany. America remembers Demler as the “Human Skeleton” in a 1945 Life magazine photo taken the day he was freed from a prisoner-of-war camp. Also attending is retired Navy Cmdr. Verner Utke-Ramsing of Washington, D.C., who was aboard the USS Drum in May of 1942 when it sunk a Japanese seaplane carrier off the island of Hushu with one torpedo hit. Without the sinking, there may have been an additional 10 Japanese submarines at Midway. As these heroes look into the twilight of their lives, now is the time to honor them.

“The number of WWII veterans is quickly dwindling, with 800 to 1,000 dying every day,” said Honor Flight Founder Earl Morse. “Honor Flight’s mission is to give these remarkable veterans the recognition they deserve: a plane flight to visit the memorials dedicated in their honor and a hero’s welcome when they return to their communities. For many, it is the trip of a lifetime.”

Washington, D.C.-area veterans who do not qualify for an Honor Flight trip due to their proximity to the memorial will be the focus of the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day event. After attending a wreath- laying ceremony at the WWII Memorial, veterans will be honored guests at a screening of “Honor Flight” at DAR. The powerful, feature-length documentary follows a devoted team of Midwest volunteers from the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Wisconsin chapter as they strive to send every local WWII veteran to Washington to see the memorial erected in their honor.

In addition to Demler, the film depicts veterans such as 86-year-old grocery bagger Harvey Kurtz, who witnessed the iconic raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima. Many veterans kept the atrocities of war to themselves after returning home, never revealing their experiences to spouses, children, friends or even fellow veterans. The film documents their emotional reflections of war as they visit the memorial, surrounded by their brothers and sisters in arms.

“‘Honor Flight’ is a remarkable film. Grandparents, parents and children can all appreciate the stories told in this powerful and moving tribute to WWII veterans and this country,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Dole.

The documentary has been garnering attention around the country, including a showing attended by 28,000 people at Miller Park Stadium in Wisconsin.

For tickets to the Dec. 7 Washington, D.C., screening go to:

http://www.honorflight.org/lastingtribute/index.cfm

Retired Marine Running Across the U.S. to Raise Money for Veterans

This Veterans Day, in honor of the men and women who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Marine Sergeant Brendan O’Toole (Ret.) will begin a 3,600-mile run in Oceanside, Calif.

Averaging 15 miles a day, O’Toole is pounding the pavement across 21 states in the hopes of raising $2 million to support the United States armed forces veterans, combat veterans, disabled veterans and their families.

Inspired by the classic movie “Forrest Gump”, O’Toole said he has always wanted to travel across the United States. But serving in the Marines forced him to put that dream on hold.

“When I retired from the Marines this year, I knew I still wanted to run across the country, but I wanted to dedicate [my run] to a cause higher than just myself and give back to the community,” he said.

During his service, O’Toole saw many of his Marine brothers struggle to reintegrate back into society after they served. One of O’Toole’s close friends had a difficult transition from the battlefield to home life and struggled with post traumatic stress.

Ultimately, this friend took his own life. O’Toole said that The Run for Veterans is for friends like his and other troops around the nation who need a support system and guidance during their transition.

All of the money raised by the Run for Veterans will be donated to the USO, Team Red White and Blue and Give An Hour. Each organization was chosen for the physical, mental and social support it provides to our troops. The USO is proud to be a part of the Run for Veterans’ inspiring mission.

The Run for Veterans welcomes all warriors, veterans, and civilians to run alongside O’Toole throughout the route, as a show of support for our servicemen and women.

The Run for Veterans may be coming to a city near you! Here are some of the main stops along O’Toole’s route:

  • Start: Oceanside, Calif.
  • Twentynine Palms, Calif.
  • Parker, Ariz.
  • Phoenix, Ariz.
  • Socorro, N.M.
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Shreveport, La.
  • Jackson, Miss.
  • Birmingham, Ala.
  • Atlanta, Ga.
  • Columbia, G.a
  • Raleigh, N.C.
  • Richmond, Va.
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Annapolis, Md.
  • Wilmington, Del.
  • Philadelphia, Pa.
  • Princeton, N.J.
  • New York, N.Y.
  • Providence, R.I.
  • End: Portland, Maine

To learn more about The Run for Veterans and O’Toole’s route, check out their Facebook page or visit their website at http://www.therunforveterans.org/. If you would like to support The Run for Veterans, donate here.

Good luck to Sgt. O’Toole and all who join The Run for Veterans! Your dedication to supporting our nation’s veterans is truly an inspiration.

Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

D-Day Vet Recalls Wartime Experiences After Honor Flight Visit to WWII Memorial

Fred Layher, right, stands for a photograph at the WWII memorial with his son, Ron, during an Honor Flight visit to Washington D.C., sponsored by Ford Motor Company on the anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 2012. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Sixty-eight years ago, Army Private Fred Layher lived through some of the most terrifying experiences of his life.

He was an amphibious engineer during the second wave of assaults on Normandy’s Omaha Beach. He fought in the waste-deep snow during the Battle of the Bulge. But among the most intimidating of all his experiences during the war in Europe in 1944 was the moment his fellow soldiers forced him on stage with actress Donna Reed—star of It’s a Wonderful Life—during one of the first USO shows in France.

“The guys they knew I was a timid type of guy, so they threw me up there on stage with her to see what I would do,” remembered Layher with a smile. “They were chanting and heckling me, and of course they just thought it was hilarious that I stood there paralyzed.”

“I was just 18 years old,” he added. “I knew how to use a weapon. I knew how to fight the Germans. But I had no idea what to do with this beautiful woman standing next to me.”

A month had passed since the Normandy invasion when the USO launched one of its most vigorous tour schedules in history—just in time for war-weary troops like Layher, who had been fighting hard to take the land from the Germans.

“I remember we really needed the comic relief at that time,” said Layher. “It was almost surreal what was happening in the war, what we’d been through and the things we’d seen.  It was all well and good that we were beating the Germans, but it came at a heavy cost. We lost a lot of guys, and the morale boost from that USO show couldn’t have been better timed.”

Thanks to a grant from Ford Motor Company, 86-year-old Layher was among 75 WWII veterans flown free of cost to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. today, on the anniversary of D-Day–the first wave of the Normandy invasion 68 years ago.

The trip was organized by Honor Flight Network, a non-profit organization on a mission to transport America’s veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit those memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices.

“It’s a beautiful memorial,” said Layher. “Not quite as pretty as Donna Reed, but it does bring back the memories, which I’ll always be grateful for.”

- Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

It’s an Honor to Honor

Many veterans have never been to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials built in their honor, but today a group of World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans will finally get their chance.

The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization that provides free transport to our WWII and terminally ill heroes to DC to visit and reflect at their memorials. In 2010 they helped more than 22,000 veterans realize their dream of visiting their memorial!Many USO employees had the great honor of greeting them as they arrived in our nation’s capital. Along with Girl Scouts, college students and travelers, there was thunderous cheering and clapping the 99 vets entered the airport. While the Alexandria Band at NOVA played, warm smiles, handshakes and hugs were doled out. Pamela Horton of Metropolitan Washington USO said, “Many tell how surprised and moved they are by the airport welcomes.  They don’t realize that they are thought of as heroes.”

As Will Rogers said, “We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by.” It was an honor just to be there and honor those who served us!

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Vyque Elessar, USO Director of New Media