Volunteers urge the public to honor WWII veterans for the 75th Anniversary of the war’s end
By Grace Yee, Guest Contributor
Operation Canteen is a volunteer-driven program designed to pay respect for the 75th anniversary of the ending of WWII. While COVID-19 has altered the lives and celebrations of many veterans, we plan to thank as many veterans as possible.
On Aug. 15, Operation Canteen will be visiting many veterans within the San Gabriel Valley, while adhering to public health restrictions.
My personal interest in WWII came from listening to the stories of my grandfather, who was in the Army Air Corps. As a young teen, I read or watched every book and film on the subject that you could possibly think of. Because of this, I learned how to read veterans’ hats (protip: the pins mean what division they were in and the honors that they received). Because of learning how to read hats, I started meeting more and more veterans (at work, at Pavilions!) and mostly I fell in love with their stories.
I became friends with the San Diego Prisoners of War WWII veterans’ group and began documenting many of these POWs’ stories and also transporting them to various events. Through meeting and spending time with all of these phenomenal veterans, I learned more and have the most tremendous respect for this generation. When they were kids, every single one of them had a job (a paper route, etc.) Each of them endured tremendous hardship with outstanding courage. But what is even more impressive is that despite the horrific things many of them have witnessed, they aren’t totally shut down, but instead are in touch with their emotions, because that’s what it means to be human.
They are also so grateful to be alive and they give back so much. These are the men who met the plea for help from the world with bravery and courage.
During quarantine, sadly, I had to say goodbye to my last friend from the POW group, Ralph Kling, a P-47 pilot who flew with the Mighty 8th. He was the last survivor of that group. That was very hard and I cherish the times I had with all the veterans and all the life lessons they have taught me.
I also connected with a group of WWII veterans in Arcadia who met every month at Coco’s (up until the pandemic) to capture their stories and bring recognition to them. Throughout quarantine, when I simply call just to say hi, they are so overly grateful it absolutely humbles me. I am so grateful to know each and every one of them.
My dream was to honor the Veterans for the 75th Anniversary and I came up with the idea of leading a few volunteers in a caravan of cars with thank you signs and flags, to visit my friends, the WWII vets of Arcadia on Aug. 15, (with all social distancing practices in place). When I called those same veterans in Arcadia to tell them of the traveling parade plan, they humbled me with their response:
“You would do that for me?” Here they are, having saved lives and having been instrumental in freeing millions of people in Europe and the Pacific, and yet they never seem to think of themselves first.
I hope that this encourages you to take action, even in the smallest way, in your own community. These amazing WWII Heroes don’t expect it, but they deserve it.
It’s a great time to show that we have not forgotten them! I know that if communities came together and in their own way recognized their local veterans, so many of these deserving heroes would be thrilled.
If you participate in #OperationCanteen, we want to hear from you! Please contact
Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please tag your posts with #OperationCanteen #75thVJDay. Let’s give the greatest gift we can give to the greatest generation of our time!