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The Brave, the Few and Fewer: WWII Veterans

Times Staff Writer

Their ranks are thinning every year, and in a few years hardly any of them will be left to participate in Fullerton’s Veterans Day parade and ceremony.

But Clyde Shreve, a 79-year-old World War II veteran, hopes people never forget that the mission he was part of in Japan changed the course of history.

“Everyone should be thankful we did what we did, because it stopped the war,” said Shreve, whose plane took photos of Hiroshima an hour after the atom bomb was dropped there. “We wouldn’t be here today if we wouldn’t have dropped that bomb.”

Hundreds of flag-waving families lined Harbor Boulevard on Thursday as a marching band and high school ROTC units led veterans north to Hillcrest Park, where a one-hour ceremony honored those who fought for their country.

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Marilyn Harris, commander of the American Legion post that helped organize the ceremonies, said Veterans Day reminds her how many World War II veterans she loses each year.

“It’s slow torture,” she said. “You know that in 10 years most of them will be gone. That part of this job is very hard.”

Shreve, who documented his World War II experience in a book, “One God, One Life, One War,” had good reason to celebrate Veterans Day. He not only survived the war, he survived cancer, heart surgery, polio and encephalitis.

“Twenty-three years ago, I was supposed to have a few months to live with pancreatic cancer,” said Shreve, a resident of Brea. “They say nobody ever survives that, but I fooled them. I guess I’m a walking miracle.”

Shreve said he is happy to have lived long enough to see a World War II memorial built in Washington, D.C., to honor the 16 million Americans who served and the 400,000 who died. “We’re the last of the so-called great generation,” he said.

Walter Witt, who served in the South Pacific during World War II, said Thursday’s ceremony -- Fullerton’s 17th -- took him back to March 1941, when he was inducted into the military.

“I almost lost it there a couple times” during Thursday’s observance, said Witt, 85, of Placentia.

“It was so long ago, but it seems like yesterday.”

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Witt said he is proud to be honored along with veterans who served in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and Iraq. But it is his hope that the fighting will someday stop.

“No one wins in wars,” he said. “When I think of what we lost in all of those wars.... Losing one human life is a tragedy.”

As the ceremony ended, Korean War veteran Arty King reminded the two dozen World War II veterans in attendance that their numbers were indeed dwindling: “Sadly, now, the mathematics of time are doing what the armies of Japan and Germany were not able to do.”


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