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Cadets Visit Seniors on Veterans' Day

Youth paid homage to age and the new regime tipped its hat to the old guard, Friday morning, during a Veterans' Day ceremony at the Forest Glen Senior Living facility in Sully Station.

"TODAY, WE salute the Greatest Generation," said Cadet Brian Brierworth. "We can't explain in words our gratitude for you and for your sacrifices. God bless you, and God bless America."

Performing a flag ceremony, drilling and playing "Taps," he and the Air Force ROTC students of The Chantilly Academy marked Nov. 11 by marching around Forest Glen's courtyard and strutting their stuff to those who'd been there and done it for real.

"This ceremony is just awesome," said Carrie Brown, Forest Glen's community director. "They came here last year, and the residents just loved it. They're a great group of kids."

Chizomam Ononiwu, the only female member of the AFROTC color guard, was glad she participated. "This is an enjoyable day; I'd like to do something like this again," she said. "I don't think a lot of people appreciate Veterans' Day as much as they should."

But one thing for sure, the residents of Forest Glen did, and they also appreciated the cadets caring enough to come and entertain them on this day so special to so many of them. "It was wonderful to see those cadets," said Mary Gannon. Added her son John: "It was pretty nice of them to come over here."

Some of the senior citizens leaned on walkers, some waved flags and some wore hats bearing military insignia from 40 years ago. Others, not wishing to catch a chill, watched from the windows of their apartments encircling the courtyard below. Afterward, they all went indoors for a ceremony honoring military personnel still missing in action.

THEN CAME the part that probably meant the most to these still-sharp men and women, now in their 70s and 80s. They and the cadets had juice and cookies together, and the young students joined them at their tables, listening and looking intently as the veterans shared memories and photos of their war years.

"I was in the Air Force," said John Gannon's uncle, John Swift. "I retired in 1968 after 30 years." A lieutenant colonel, he served in both WWII and Vietnam. He was in the Berlin Airlift and was also a POW for 40 days. He usually flew B-52s, but he was in a small C-47 the day he was shot down over Hungary by the Russians. The year was 1951, and the Cold War was raging.

"He was on the cover of Life magazine when he was shot down," said his nephew. "President Truman negotiated his release. He paid $120,000 for four people. Money well spent, I say." Added Swift proudly: "My family has 125 years of service with the military. And my grandson is now in the Marines."

For Dorothy Robinson, 86, Veterans' Day was sad because it reminded her of what happened to her brother in WWII. "After he was 35, he got rheumatoid arthritis and was in a veterans' hospital for 30 years until he died," she said. "He was in the Engineer Corps, in Germany, and was in cold water all the time." Then, with a burst of pride, she added, "My nephew is a retired Air Force colonel, and he now teaches ROTC in Germany."

For Sidney Blumenthal, 84, Friday was a day for re-living memories from long ago. A framed, 8x10 picture of him in uniform at age 21 — taken a week after he joined the Army in 1942 — stood on his table. And eager cadets gathered round to hear his stories and look at a stack of well-worn, black-and-white photos from his World War II days.

Ask him how long he served in the Army, and he replies, "Three years, nine months and 28 days." During the war, he was in Africa, Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Holland and Czechoslovakia.

"I was just one of 11 [soldiers] in Belgium," said Blumenthal. "We were looking for V-1 and V-2 rockets that were hitting London. We found out they were coming from parks in Rotterdam and Amsterdam."

He also participated in the invasions of Italy and France. Then, after leaving the military, he worked in a New York post office for 20 years. He's lived at Forest Glen, the past four years, and was happy to speak to the young cadets about his Army experience.

As for Friday's ceremony and visit from the cadets, said Blumenthal, "I liked the whole thing." However, he added, "I hope they never have to see what I saw."

OTHER RESIDENTS noted family members who'd served in the military. Lillian Crews, 76, said her older brother, Bliner Monroe, was in WWII, and her son Willard had been in the Army.

Calling the Veterans' Day ceremony "very moving," Beverly Miller said her husband Calvin served in WWII with the 5th Armored Division, Tanks. Eyes becoming moist, she said softly, "I wear his Purple Heart medal every year."

Alice Carroll said the cadets' performance was beautiful. "They were all dressed up," she said. "I loved watching them." Her husband served with England's Criminal Investigations Division during WWII and her son was in Vietnam.

"It was wonderful that the boys and girls came here," said Laura Gavagan. "My husband was a Top Sergeant in WWII, in the 'Fighting Irish,' and my son was in the Army in Vietnam — he volunteered."

Bob Jones, 89, was also pleased to see and chat with the cadets, and he proudly displayed the ribbons, medals and awards his son had framed for him. He served nearly 30 years in the Army, retiring as a sergeant. During WWII, he saw duty in the European Theater.

"I was in charge of a machine-gun squad that started out in Anzio, Italy," he said. "I was with the 3rd Infantry Division and received three Purple Hearts. So many got killed or lost arms or legs, I feel fortunate to still be here."