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Veterans Day: ‘An honor to meet you’

World War II veterans thanked by youth during trip to Washington

Posted: November 11, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 10, 2012 2:00 a.m.

A crowd gathers around retired Army Capt. Emmett "Rosy" Nolan, center, Navy veteran Otto Werner, second from right, and Rolland Walline, far right, at the National World War II Memorial in D.C.

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After more than half a century of living quietly with the memory of defending the United States in the world’s largest global war, three local World War II vets went to Washington recently to see a monument in their honor.

What they found was a generation of young people for whom they fought — strangers not yet born when the war was on — who walked up to them, shook their hands and reduced them to tears.

“To watch the faces of these 90-year-old men as these young teens came up to them and thanked them for their service ... to see them standing as straight as they could, giving a proper military salute, it was an amazing, amazing thing to see,” said former U.S. Marine combat veteran Dick “Tarzan” Jeffrey, the man who led the small envoy to Washington.

Jeffrey heads up Back To The War Zone, a nonprofit group committed to helping veterans of all wars deal with post-traumatic stress of combat by enabling them to return to the scene of their combat and face their demons.

In March, he held a fundraiser at Route 66 Classic Grill in Canyon Country.

The goal was simple: to raise enough money for plane fare to take at least some vets back to their war zones.

That’s when Jeffrey learned about three local World War II vets who have waited a lifetime to see a monument built in honor of their service.

World War II

On Oct. 16, Emmett Nolan, Rolland Walline and Otto Werner went to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial built in their honor and in honor of 16 million others like them who served in the armed forces of the United States — and for the more than 400,000 who died in that global conflict.

“It brought back memories and a feeling that we did a good job,” Werner said after returning from Washington.

“I had a lot of memories of so many that were my friends who joined the service,” he said.

“It was a time when serving was necessary and yet there were so many volunteers, all with great hope and enthusiasm.”

It took 60 years for a monument to be built in honor of those millions of fighting men and women — and another eight years for local vets to get the chance to see it.

The World War II Memorial between Constitution and Independence avenues in Washington is flanked by the Washington Monument to the east and the Lincoln Memorial to the west.

That’s what the three local vets expected to see on their visit. What they didn’t expect was an outpouring of gratitude and respect from people whose parents hadn’t even been born when they fought on foreign shores.

“There were, not dozens, but hundreds of young people walking up to them and shaking their hands saying, ‘It’s an honor to meet you, sir.’” Jeffrey said. “They were more impressed by the young people they met than anything else, I think. It made them feel a new sense of appreciation.

“Finally, they were validated for what they did,” he said.

“It was amazing to watch their faces, seeing them taking it all in. It was my complete honor to be there, probably did more for me than it did for them.”

Werner called the admiration and gratitude shown by so many people “quite a thing.”

While in Washington, he and the other two vets also took in a tour of the Capitol and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

“The opportunity to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it makes you proud,” Werner said.

Before I die

Before the trip and before funds were raised to make it happen, one old soldier had approached Jeffrey and asked him if he ever took veterans back to the nation’s capital.

According to Jeffrey, the vet said: “I’ve never seen my memorial and would sure love to see it before I die.”

Jeffrey said he knew immediately that he needed to make this man’s dream a reality.

“Sadly, our WWII veterans were forced to wait nearly 60 years for their memorial to finally be completed — following the memorials for both the Korean and Vietnam wars,” Jeffrey said.

“No American warrior should ever have to wait this long for what they have so justly earned.”

Once Jeffrey was convinced of what he had to do, he met with Santa Clarita Councilman Bob Kellar one evening. They decided to “make it happen.”

That’s when Jeffrey held a fundraiser at Route 66 Classic Grill in Canyon Country.

“It’s all about honoring our local heroes and restoring their pride of service, memories, comradeship and patriotism,” Jeffrey said. “It was truly the most emotionally satisfying event of my veteran-supporting career,” he told The Signal on his return from Washington.

“They were so classy and made me so proud.”

“Every time I look at them I see my father, I see my dad,” Jeffrey said, stopping for a moment, overcome with emotion. “I would love to have had him see this as well, 60 years after it all.”

jholt@the-signal.com

661-287-5527

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