First the video, then a few deep breaths, then some background:
Rather than parades, appliance sales or ribbons one day a year, sailors aboard the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis are paying tribute to veterans on a more personal level — visiting veterans homes as part of the ship’s community-relations efforts.
It’s led to one-on-one history lessons and brightened the days of both generations. It also led to the three-minute video above, put together by MCSNs Eric Melone and Jose Hernandez and featuring Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Joseph Hodge during a visit to the Washington Veterans Home in Retsil, Wash.
Hodge, a third-generation service member, serves as his division’s community-relations project coordinator.
“Some of the stories … are timeless and priceless,” Hodge said. “It is really inspiring to hear the difference between the Navy during World War II and Vietnam compared with today. It really gives you perspective on your own service.”
The veteran who tells his story in the video is James Marshall, a former machinist’s mate first class who served during World War II aboard a mine-clearing ship that worked off the Australian coast, among other places. Marshall and his shipmates would clear the way for U.S. forces prior to invasions throughout the Pacific.
“We were always the first there,” he says in the video. “[The Japanese] didn’t have any idea what we were doing, or they would have sunk us every time they seen us.”
Marshall and those like him are sharing first-person accounts that won’t be around forever — the youngest of U.S. World War II vets are in their mid-80s, and while oral-history projects abound, they won’t capture every veteran, preserve every story or honor every act of valor.
“We are losing our World War II veterans, and the opportunity to hear these stories firsthand, by someone who was there, is fading,” Hodge said. “These legacies are a large part of our American history: How could someone not listen to them?”
More Navy video tributes to vets, as well as Veterans Day messages from top Navy officials, are available on the service’s official YouTube page.