Nearly three dozen people gathered Friday 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 the Fourth of July by design, organizers said. But it also was held to honor the "ultimate hero," said Owen Chappel, president of the chapter.
Bank and his wife, Catherine, sat quietly as they watched youngsters and veterans describe his contribution to the American military and his legacy of heroism.
Larry Hughes, 53, of La Habra, founder of the group called the Brothers of Vietnam, said Bank's influence on the military touched him personally 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.
Bank's legacy is rich, Hughes said. When the Army wanted to capture Adolf Hitler in World War II, Bank organized the mission. It was aborted, though, when intelligence reports indicated Hitler had killed himself.
Before the Allied invasion of Europe, Bank had fought with the Resistance in France. Later in his career, he ran missions into Indochina, meeting with Ho Chi Minh; the Vietnam War bore out his prediction that the United States would someday go to war against the North Vietnamese leader.
In 1951, the Army formed the elite Green Berets unit. Bank was in charge of organizing it and was its first commander.
At Friday's ceremony, members of the Children of the American Revolution chapter gave Bank a plaque with the words "An American Treasure," along with 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 will be added to his hundreds of medals and awards.
"He has so many, we have a lot of them in storage," said Bank's daughter, Linda Ballantine, 50, of Dana Point.