"We knew that day we'd done our job. We were heading home."

Newport News, Va., August 15, 2015 —As the words echoed across retired U.S. Army Col. Al Newton's scratchy radio that day in August 1945, he sat on the perimeter of a compound near China and he knew "we'd done our job. We were heading home."

"The war was over," Newton said. "In those days, when you set sail, you didn't know when you'd be coming back."

Seventy years later, on Saturday, August 15, 2015, Newton sat in the community room of his current home –Warwick Forest, a Riverside Health System active retirement community. He was among more than a dozen World War II veterans and another 100 friends and loved ones gathered for a special luncheon prepared to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and to hear from Newport News Mayor McKinley L. Price, who presented them with the city's "Spirit of 45 Day" proclamation. 

Newton dressed for the day in his crisp, Class A green Army uniform, ribbons perfectly placed and pins polished to shine. He hadn't donned it for years.

He dusted it off and pulled it out because, as others noted, it was fitting for the spirit of the day.

Newport News proclaimed August 15, 2015 the "Spirit of 45 Day" in support of the national 70th anniversary celebration recognizing the end of the war.

"On August 14, 1945, the people of the U.S. received word of the end of World War II, and greeted the news of the Allies' noble victory with joyous celebration, humility and spiritual reflection," Price said, reading from the proclamation. "The victory marked the culmination of an unprecedented national effort that defeated the forces of aggression, brought freedom to subjugated nations and ended the horrors of the Holocaust."

These historic accomplishments, Price said, "were achieved through the collective service and personal sacrifice of the people of the United States, both those who served in uniform and those who supported them on the home front, and the nearly 300,000 Americans who gave their lives in service to their country."

Price spoke to the crowd. He spoke to the veterans. He spoke to the families and to the spouses of those who had died before seeing the 70th anniversary but were there in spirit.

"It is an honor to do this today," said U.S. Army Reserves Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin Green, a veteran of the war in Iraq, who emceed the event. Green is attached to a Fort Eustis Reserve unit and serves as the Warwick Forest Dining Operations Manager. He knows the World War II veterans well.

"They've shared a lot of stories with me –their war stories and about life after," Green said. "It is our hope that our children and our children's children will always remember this greatest generation."

As Price said in the proclamation, the entire World War II generation, military and civilian alike, provided a model of national unity and community that will continue to serve as a source of inspiration for current and future generations of Americans to come together.

The greatest generation was filled with courage, dedication, self-sacrifice and compassion of, Price said, "ordinary heroes."

"The word hero is frequently used in many contexts," said Ginger Knight, Executive Director, Warwick Forest, during the ceremony, gingerly noting the button she wore near her heart with her own father's picture.

Knight called her own father her hero. He was a man, she told the crowd, who survived being a prisoner of war, captured by the Nazis, and living for nine months where the "food was minimal and the work was plentiful."

Knight knew some of the story of his capture and escape, but more so, she knew the love and pride of a father who never forgot to enjoy the simple, everyday things in life, like a baked potato. Potatoes, he told Knight growing up, kept him alive those tiring, hungry days as a POW.

"And even as a 70-year-old man, he said, 'I would go and do it all again if they asked me,'" Knight said. "To my dad, and to all of you, who served, I thank you."

About Warwick Forest:

Riverside Health System's Warwick Forest Retirement Community offers an active and healthy independent lifestyle in a caring community of friends and neighbors. Since 1988, Warwick Forest has been home to retirees in a convenient location on a 10-acre campus on Denbigh Boulevard near the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport, churches, shopping centers, medical services, banks, malls and restaurants. Warwick Forest provides an entire continuum of care to include independent living, assisted living, nursing and memory care, as well as rehabilitation.

Published: August 17, 2015