DANA POINT — Harry Clew, a retired 1st Lieutenant who served in the Army Air Force Corps and later in the Air Force as a bombardier during World War II, smiled as dozens came over to shake his hand thanking him for his service.
The 94-year-old resident served in the 8th Air Force and spent 15 months in a prisoner of war camp in Northern Germany after his plane was shot down over Regensburg, Germany.
Clew, of Dana Point, was given a special recognition Saturday, Nov. 11, during a Veterans Day Celebration at Stand Vista Park. He was among a handful of World War II veterans celebrated.
“It’s a real compliment to be remembered,” he said. “It’s appreciated. Often time erases history.”
The Dana Point event, which drew hundreds, was coordinated by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9934, the Ladies Auxiliary and the city. It recognized veterans in 76 years of U.S. Military conflicts from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Bosnia, Kosovo and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The ceremony, which was held at the Veterans Memorial Plaza overlooking Strands Beach, began with a Marine Corps Color Guard from Camp Pendleton’s Marine Air Group 39, an attack helicopter squadron.
The invocation was given by the VFW Chaplain Maurice Hansen, who served in the U.S. Navy in the Korean War. Master of Ceremony was Bill Manes, who also served with the Navy in Korea and was the founder of the Dana Point VFW post. Sgt. Major Mario Aguero of the MAG-39 gave the keynote address.
“Today, we gather across this great nation to show our support for all those men and women who have made the sacrifices we ask of them to defend us and the country from our enemies,” said Dana Point Mayor Debra Lewis. “Some have made the ultimate sacrifice. While all veterans have not been called upon to fight, we know all would do so if called on and we honor that.”
Lewis addressed the issue of homelessness, a topic of growing concern among residents in Dana Point.
“It is estimated that 13 percent of the adult homeless are veterans,” she said. “Another 1.4 million veterans are at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, dismal living conditions, substance abuse and post traumatic stress disorder. Here in Dana Point, we have seen our homeless population grow and we can be sure that veterans comprise some percent of those individuals. It is not enough to merely turn to them and say on this one day ‘thank you for your service.’ We truly honor their service by reaching out to help them regain their lives.”
Lewis also pointed to the veterans who come back from war but never really fit in.
“For many veterans, returning from service means reliving the shock and horror of unspeakable trauma in their nightmares or flashbacks,” she said, recounting a personal story. “Feeling constantly on edge, numb, disconnected or panicked makes their transition back to life as they knew it nearly impossible. Sadly, three years ago almost to the day, my son-in- law 1st Sgt. Jonathan Compton succumbed to his battle with PTSD after serving in the Marine Corp for 15 years.”
For Wayne Yost, commander of the VFW Post, the turnout at the ceremony confirmed his view of the country’s deep respect for the military.
Yost, who served in an infantry unit attached to South Vietnamese Special Forces from 1968-69, like many Vietnam Veterans didn’t receive the same recognition when he returned.
“For may years after coming home, and even today we didn’t and don’t know for what purpose we were sent there,” he said. “There were 58,361 lives lost and countless others injured. There are still more than 1,000 missing in action.”
Yost said he’s seen the level of respect dramatically change among the public over the years.
“The reception we get from young children to seniors now is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s very heart warming to see that the public recognizes the vital role our military plays in keeping us safe.”
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