YORKTOWN — Thomas Shepperd, Jr., a York County supervisor, challenged 27 local World War II veterans who were honored at a ceremony in Yorktown to tell their stories to younger generations.
"Your mission is not done," Shepperd said. "You tell us your experiences because that's the way your generation will live on."
On Thursday, 75 years after Congress declared war on Japan, local World War II veterans were recognized at a ceremony held at York Hall. The ceremony coincided with a state-wide event in Richmond called Dawn of Infamy: America Goes to War.
The Richmond event was streamed live at York Hall and occasionally paused for different presentations specifically for local veterans, including short speeches by Shepperd and Poquoson Vice Mayor Carey L. Freeman.
As Shepperd spoke to the veterans, he remembered his father, who served in the Marine Corps and fought in the Pacific front, but never spoke much about his service. Before his father died in 2010, Shepperd bought a book on the war and asked his father to write down each action he was involved in, so Shepperd could know and remember where his father served.
"You're the foundation of what we have today," Shepperd said to the veterans. "We are fools if we don't sit down with you and hear your stories."
Shepperd's message was echoed by Rick Atkinson, a historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who served as the Richmond event's keynote speaker. Atkinson spoke on the gravity and scale of the war on the U.S. and other countries. He detailed aspects of the war not often discussed, such as how health standards for military members were reduced and how the total dead overwhelmed embalmers in the U.S., sparing no detail of the process of bringing a fallen serviceman home.
"Our first duty is to remember," Atkinson said at the conclusion of his address.
Two veterans shared their memories of Dec. 8, 1941 after the ceremony. Allan Jodrey said he felt moved to action 75 years ago, when he learned of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Jodrey remembered his grandfather turning to him and saying, "You'll be in that war." At that time, Jodrey was a few years too young to join the war effort. Once he was old enough, he joined the Navy.
A. Warner Robins remembered feeling stunned to hear the United States was at war and signed up to serve once he was old enough and joined the Army Air Corps, the predecessor to the Air Force. Robins said he became a pilot and flew six missions over war-time Europe.
Each veteran at the Yorktown ceremony received several keepsakes, including a commemorative coin from the city of Hampton and a small paperweight bearing a message of gratitude. They also received a copy of resolutions passed by York County and Poquoson that declared Dec. 8, 2016 WWII Appreciation Day for each locality.
Reyes can be reached by phone at 757-560-1757.