Nearly three dozen people gathered Friday afternoon at the Mission Viejo Library to honor 98-year-old Aaron Bank, the founder of the Army's Green Berets.
Organized by the Orange County Los Ninos chapter of the Children of the American Revolution, the event was held close to July Fourth by design, organizers said. But the event also was held simply to honor the "ultimate hero," said Owen Chappel, president of the chapter.
Bank and his wife, Catherine, Mission Viejo residents, sat quietly as they watched youngsters and veterans describe Bank's contribution to the American military and his legacy of heroism.
Larry Hughes, 53, of La Habra, founder of the Brothers of Vietnam group, said Bank's influence on the military touched him directly--even though they never served together.
"I was in Vietnam for two years. If not for [Bank's legacy of] training, I would not be alive today. I'm alive because of him," Hughes said.
When the U.S. Army wanted to capture Adolf Hitler in World War II, Bank organized the mission. It was aborted though when intelligence reports indicated Hitler killed himself.
Before the Allied invasion of Europe that led to the war's end, Bank fought with the Resistance in France. Years later, he ran missions into Indochina, meeting with Ho Chi Minh and saying that someday the United States might go to war with him.
In 1951, the Army decided to establish the Green Berets, an elite warfare unit. Bank was charged with organizing it and he was its first commander.
In Friday's ceremony, members of the Children of the American Revolution chapter gave Bank a plaque with the words "An American Treasure"--and a berry pie, the only gift Bank said he wanted.
"I didn't expect this [plaque], and now I have to find a place to hang it," Bank said.
He noted its message and said with a laugh: "I'm just a human being, but I'll accept it."
The plaque is one of hundreds of awards he keeps.
"He has so many," said Linda Ballantine, Bank's 50-year-old daughter, who lives in Dana Point. "We have a lot of them in storage."