Lt. Gen. Kevin Campbell gave World War II veteran Ira Jones more than a Bronze Star Medal during a D-Day 65th Anniversary Ceremony on June 6 hosted by the Tennessee Valley Honor Flight.

He also gave Jones a once-in-a-lifetime memory.

As the three-star general presented the medal to Jones, the 84-year-old veteran said loudly "I've never been this close to a general."

The comment drew laughter from a crowd of about 150 onlookers, many of them World War II veterans, family members and Honor Flight volunteers who participated in the D-Day program at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center's education facility.

"It took you long enough. It took a long time to see a general," Jones added.

Jones was one of three WW II Army veterans who received a Bronze Star during the ceremony. The others were Dewel J. McGriff, an 83-year-old who traveled from Holly Pond with more than 20 family members to receive the award; and the now deceased Roy C. Selby, whose award was accepted by his grandson, Josh Porter.

Joe Fitzgerald, president of Honor Flight and the emcee for the June 6 ceremony, told the audience that the Bronze Star was not established until 1944, but was meant to be retroactive to any servicemember who met the qualifications while serving in the Army on or after Dec. 6, 1941. Any WW II veteran who has received a combat infantryman badge or a combat medical badge signifying their exemplary conduct in ground combat against an armed enemy qualifies to receive a Bronze Star.

In the past two years, Honor Flight, a non-profit organization that flies WW II veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit their memorial, has developed and maintained military records of the 754 veterans who have participated in its program. In the course of compiling those records, Honor Flight volunteers have discovered veterans who have not received the proper recognition, Fitzgerald said. The three privates honored during the D-Day ceremony are a result of those discoveries.

"What defines this generation is that they have never asked for anything, they don't expect anything," Fitzgerald said. "It speaks to who they are. And it's the reason it took 60 years for their memorial to be built."

Honor Flight volunteers are determined to make sure WW II veterans are honored and appreciated for their sacrifices, he said.

Also recognized at the ceremony was Purple Heart recipient Navy Seaman 2nd Class Raymond Virgil Ashburn, who died at sea when the Navy cruiser U.S.S. Quincy was attacked by a large fleet of Japanese ships during the Battle of Savo Island and sunk on Aug. 9, 1942. His brother, Bo Ashburn, accepted the award.

During his comments to the audience, Fitzgerald said "D-Day," which was once a phrase given to the first day of any military operation, has for the past 65 years referred to June 6, 1944, when more than 5,000 ships, 13,000 aircraft and 160,000 allied troops took part in the "greatest amphibious operation in history - landing along a 50-mile stretch of Northern France in Operation Overlord."

On that day, more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded. Although victory that day was unclear, by July 25 the Allies were strong enough to launch Operation Cobra, beginning the liberation of France and leading to an invasion that resulted in the defeat of Nazi Germany on May 7, 1945.

"After the 6th of June, the phrase 'D-Day' will forever symbolize the courage and sacrifice made by American men and women in uniform - the courage and sacrifice to recognize and confront evil and to defeat it, and the courage and sacrifice to fight for a better future for America, and for our friends around the world," Fitzgerald said.

"Sixty-five years ago today, the phrase 'D-Day' became an icon of liberty, symbolizing the valor and ideals of all World War II veterans and of all Americans supporting the war effort from home."
Today, Americans can only repay these WW II veterans "by protecting the freedoms that you fought to preserve," he said.

Also speaking at the D-Day ceremony was retired Col. John Reitzell, a decorated Vietnam and Korean War veteran who was responsible for more than 5,000 Special Forces missions during the Reagan administration. He is a member of the Madison County Hall of Heroes.

"Americans are genetically disposed to volunteer," he told the WW II veterans in the audience. "Why' You set a standard for all of us to do so, to volunteer, to sacrifice. You set the standard and we caught it and thank you for it."

Reitzell said the U.S. is "currently engaged in a great religious war" that didn't start on 9/11. He traced its beginnings to 632 A.D. and the death of the prophet Muhammad and the birth of fundamentalist Islam. Reitzell continued to list catastrophic history changing events associated to Jihad and leading up to WW II and to today's current conflicts.

"You were home building cars, building America, building the greatest nation on Earth when, in 1947, the 3rd Jihad begins. Israel is established. You liberated it and then we gave it back to its rightful owners," Reitzell said. "And in 1948 the first all Islamic government formed in Pakistan.

"On 25 June 1950, the Korean War begins and now we begin an era of violent peace that is with us today."

He said today's Soldiers have the courage to stand up for what WW II veterans fought for - peace and freedom.

"I hope and pray there is a generation to be that is going to be as great as yours," Reitzell told the veterans. "They better have the courage, commitment, professionalism and drive that you had. Thank you, thank you, thank you for stomping on the thousand-year Reich."

Reitzell's comments received rousing applause from the audience.

AAR Corp. sponsored the D-Day 65th Anniversary Ceremony. Organizations that assisted Honor Flight with the event included the Huntsville Chapter of the Military Order of World Wars and its youth citizenship program, the 19th Alabama Infantry Regiment, Warrant Officers Association, Patriot Guard Riders, American Legion Post 229, du Midi, Boy Scout Troop 400, Veterans Memorial Museum, Military Order of the Purple Heart and the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16