The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 10, 2012

Honoring heroes

Across U.S., Veterans Day commemorations under way

(Continued)

— * * *

A half-dozen women of various ages knitted intently near a pile of handmade scarves while frail, silver-haired men sat waiting for a chance to tell their war stories Saturday as tourists and veterans filed into the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

The museum planned a series of events to celebrate the Veterans Day weekend.

The knitters had gathered to commemorate 1940s homefront efforts to supply World War II troops with warm socks and sweaters.

Nearby, Tom Blakey, 92, of New Orleans, sat behind a small table with two grainy, black-and-white photos of his younger self, one standing at ease in uniform in 1942, the other aboard a motorcycle in 1944.

Also on the table were pictures of a bridge on the Merderet River in Normandy – a bridge that he and fellow members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne fought to secure as the D-Day invasion unfolded in 1944.

Blakey pointed with gnarled fingers at a map of the landing site and said holding the bridge was key to keeping German forces away from Utah and Omaha beaches.

“If we’d a let them get to Utah and Omaha, the men on those beaches would have been in bad shape,” he said.

Blakey regularly takes part in oral history programs at the museum, an opportunity he relishes.

“What the hell else would I do with my life at this time?” he said.

* * *

At the National Cemetery in Bourne, Mass., on Cape Cod, about 1,000 people including Cub Scouts and Gold Star Mothers gathered on a crisp fall day for a short ceremony.

They then spread out to plant 56,000 flags amid the cemetery’s flat gravestones, transforming the green landscape into a sea of fluttering red, white and blue.

Until last year, the cemetery did not permit flags or flag holders on graves. That changed under pressure from Paul Monti of Raynham, Mass., whose son, Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti, was killed by Taliban fighters while trying to save a fellow soldier in 2006 in Afghanistan. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor and is buried at the Bourne cemetery.

Paul Monti led a brief ceremony Saturday where the pledge of allegiance was recited, Miss Massachusetts sang the national anthem and a dedication was read.

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