National Museum Helps Oldest Living World War II Veteran Celebrate 111 Birthday

Lawrence Brooks and Victory Belles
(YouTube/The National WWII Museum)

As people who have the privilege of enjoying the freedom and safety of life in the US, we owe a huge amount of gratitude to veterans. Veterans sacrifice their own safety, time with their families, and sometimes their lives to ensure that we are able to live our own lives in relative safety.

Veterans are essential to the sense of security we have living in the US, and we do what we can to show how much we appreciate them. Actor Gary Sinise created a foundation to support veterans and their families in 2011 and continues to provide assistance nearly a decade later. Earlier this year, a 104-year-old veteran received over 70,000 Valentine’s Day cards, from people around the country who wanted to make his day a bit brighter. Now, the world’s oldest World War II veteran is getting the birthday celebration he deserves.

Lawrence Brooks, a veteran who served during World War II in the 91st Engineer Battalion, has been celebrating his birthday at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans since he turned 105. Due to the pandemic (what else is new), the museum had to put together a safe and socially-distanced celebration – and they absolutely did not disappoint.

According to a post they shared on Instagram, the museum arranged a performance by a vocal trio called The Victory Belles, a military flyover, a birthday cake, and nearly 10,000 birthday cards they collected from a national card drive.

 

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The National WWII Museum celebrated the 111th birthday of Mr. Lawrence Brooks, a New Orleans native and the oldest known U.S. veteran of World War II, at his home last Saturday. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we arranged a socially distant birthday celebration. The Victory Belles, performed a series of numbers including “Happy Birthday,” and Mr. Brooks enjoyed military plane flyovers courtesy of the @aeroshellaerobatic and @bigeasywingcaf. We additionally presented Mr. Brooks with a cake and nearly 10,000 birthday cards that were collected as a result of a national card drive. #WorldWarII #worldwar2 #WWIIVet #happybirthday #oldestlivingwwiiveteran⁠ ⁠ Click the bio link and then this image to watch the full video.

A post shared by The National WWII Museum (@wwiimuseum) on


The museum’s vice president, Peter Crean, told FOX News after last year’s celebration, “We absolutely love Mr. Brooks. We’ve told him, ‘As long as you keep having birthdays, we are going to keep having birthday parties for you here.’”

Though circumstances didn’t allow for Brooks to celebrate at the museum itself this year, Crean kept his promise by bringing the celebration to Brooks’s home. The 111-year-old smiled from his porch, surrounded by balloons, a birthday banner, and everyone who came to celebrate with him (from a safe distance). Though Brooks lost his wife Leona in 2005 to Hurricane Katrina, he is surrounded by the love of his five children, 13 grandchildren, and 22 great grandchildren.

Brooks told FOX, “I’ve started to think about not having many birthdays left. But I’m not worried about it, because God has let me live this long already. I think it’s because I’ve always liked people so much. Oh yes, I do.”

Let us throw our birthday greeting onto the ever-growing pile – happiest of birthdays Mr. Brooks, and thank you for your service.

12-Year-Old Finds Marine’s Dog Tag and Returns it to His Family

12-Year-Old Finds Marine’s Dog Tag and Returns it to His Family
(YouTube/CBS Evening News)

Finding buried treasure is every kid’s dream. Whether it’s a pile of gold coins, precious gems, an entire sunken ship – we’ve all fantasized about what we would do if we stumbled upon some valuable loot. Twelve-year-old Kolton Conrad always kept his eyes peeled when kayaking with his family in the hopes of stumbling upon some sort of treasure, and on the 4th of July, Kolton’s attentiveness paid off.

As Kolton and his family paddled down Ohio’s Hocking River, they stopped to pick up some trash. Near a sandbar, Kolton noticed something sparkling in the shallow water and immediately pulled it out. It wasn’t treasure, exactly – at least not the treasure Kolton expected. The 12-year-old held in his hand an old dog tag, and written on it was the name “Rhonemus”.

Because the name was so uncommon, Kolton’s mom figured that posting the dog tag on Facebook might be the easiest way to track its owner down. Fewer than six hours after the fateful post, Kolton’s mom got a message from a woman named Crystal Potts. Potts explained that her friend Kimberly Greenlee had a brother, a Marine veteran named Steven Rhonemus. Rhonemus unfortunately passed away at age 24 in a motorcycle accident, just months before his wife gave birth to their first daughter. The tag in Kolton’s possession was a piece of the Rhonemus family’s history, one that they had assumed was lost forever.

The two families arranged a meeting so the dog tag could be reunited with the people who so dearly missed its owner. Though Kolton was nervous before the meeting, his mom reassured him just how enormously impactful his good deed would be.

Upon meeting Greenlee and giving her back a small piece of her beloved brother, Kolton’s fears were replaced with joy. Greenlee recalled the incredible moment to CNN, “I just threw my arms around him and wanted to cry. I was just amazed that little boy knew the deep meaning of those tags and knew what it would mean to our family. I just hugged and hugged him.”

Greenlee plans on giving the dog tag to her niece Jewell, who is Steven’s daughter. Jewell never met her father, and due to a fire, she only had five pictures of him. Upon hearing the news, Jewell was moved to tears. “I’m not sure why now, 46 years later this came about,” she told CNN, “I’ve always felt like maybe he was watching over me and I felt like maybe this is a sign that he is with me still.”

A much-needed sign from her dad was life-changing for Jewell, as well as Steven Rhonemus’s entire family. Kolton Conrad may not have found the buried treasure he’d been dreaming about on that 4th of July outing, but he did find someone else’s treasure – a treasure that was absolutely priceless.

Madeline Swegle Becomes the First Ever Black Female Fighter Pilot

Madeline Swegle Fighter Pilot
(Twitter/CNATRA)

We tell our kids as they grow up that they can be anything they want to be. The reality is, someone has to make history – why not them? Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle of Burke, Virginia was one of the few who actually did it. After years of work, she graduated from the Naval Academy and proceeded to complete a Tactical Air (Strike) training program, making her the first Black female tactical fighter pilot.

She was congratulated by the Chief of Naval Air Training on Twitter with a hearty “BZ”, meaning “Bravo Zulu” – the term combines Bravo and Zulu nautical signal flags, and is regularly used in The Navy to say “well done”.

This historic milestone has been a long time coming, and surprisingly, wasn’t attainable until very recently. It wasn’t until 2016 that all military positions were even open to female applicants. It was also in 2016 that Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris became the first Black woman in the Air Force to achieve the lieutenant general rank.

Military.com stated that in 2018, Black fighter pilots made up an incredibly small 1.9% of all pilots assigned to four of the most common fighter jets (the F/A-18 Hornet, EA-18 Growler, E-2 Hawkeye and C-2 Greyhound). That same year, females only made up 7% of all pilots in the Navy.

Clearly, there is still a long way to go in terms of increasing diversity in the Navy. However, that’s part of what makes Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle’s accomplishment so worthy of celebration. She is making history and paving the way for others to do the same. She is empowering other Black females to follow their dreams, even in a field that is still very new to welcoming them with open arms.

Swegle is receiving well-deserved praise from around the world.

From her best friend,

From former naval aviators,

And even from her little sister.

And now, from us. Congratulations Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle!

“My Dad, My Hero” Campaign Helps Kids Honor Their Military Dads

“My Dad, My Hero” Campaign Helps Kids Honor Their Military Dads
(YouTube/Lincoln Military Housing)

Being an amazing dad already means that you’re a hero to your kids. When you’re a military dad though, you’re doing hero double-duty and deserve to be recognized as such. Lincoln Military Housing, a partnership between Lincoln Property Company and the Department of Defense, has helped over 36,000 military families find housing across the country. They know firsthand how much military families sacrifice, and they realize just how heroic these military parents are to their country as well as their kids.

Being the child of a military parent (or two) can be challenging, with fairly frequent moves as well as long periods of time where they may not be able to see their parent in person. Lincoln Military Housing decided that kids needed a way to honor their military dads, and they launched the “My Dad, My Hero” campaign to capture the love and admiration these kids have for their dads.

“It is important as a community that we highlight and celebrate our military children and their fathers. Whether their father is deployed or supporting a spouse in the military, they all provide a great service to our country. Our goal was to honor them through a story told by their very own children,” Ashley Gorski Poole, VP of Marketing and Communications for Lincoln Military Housing, explained on PRWeb.

The touching video features pictures of military dads with their children, handwritten notes, and heartfelt tributes to their beloved dads shared by the kids themselves. The campaign collected over 90 videos, letters, and pictures from military families seeking a way to properly honor their heroic dads. To help kids feel like they’re part of a community of kids just like them, and as a way to thank kids for their submissions, Lincoln Military Housing is sending each kid who contributed to the “My Dad, My Hero” campaign a special challenge coin.

Challenge coins are an important tradition in the military. Challenge coins are given to show membership in a certain group or to recognize a special achievement. Not only did these kids get to honor their dads in a beautiful way, but they also got to take part in a tradition that is undoubtedly meaningful to their dads as well.

Thank you military dads (and all other members of the military, of course), you’re our heroes too.

WW2 Vet Turns 100, Raises 40 Million and Debuts No. 1 Single

Captain Tom Moore
(Twitter/captaintommoore)

Few heroes of the young Corona era have captured a global audience quite like Captain Tom Moore. Captain Tom is a WWII veteran, and the former British Army officer made news for his astronomical fundraising efforts for COVID-19 relief and the National Health Service. He started out with modest goals for his fundraiser-walk; to raise $1,200. To date, he has raised nearly $40 million, making it the biggest fundraising walk in history (according to the Guinness Book of World Records).

And people from around the world, united by his message of hope, sacrifice, and togetherness have answered the call with more than dollars. Over the last few weeks, leading up to his 100th birthday, they’ve been sending Captain Tom birthday cards. A lot of them. At press time, he had received more than 125,000 from well-wishers around the globe. There were so many cards, it overwhelmed the local post office and his grandson’s school had to pitch in to help sort them all.

Captain Tom’s birthday is a big enough celebration to get even the most revered figures in the U.K. to send their thoughts.

It’s quite the life when flying fighter jets in World War II isn’t the most important thing you’ve done, but Captain Tom’s fundraising efforts have inspired people from every pocket of the globe. Of course, he’s revered nowhere like he is at home.

And you know your birthday is a big deal when not only do you get a card from the queen, a freaking flyover (!) but also your very own WWE championship belt.

Captain Tom’s birthday month has been full of magic, as he also became the oldest person to have a No. 1 hit single (those words barely make sense in that order, but these are the times we’re living in).

The more you read about Captain Tom, the harder it is to be unmoved. The way people have responded, with their own acts of fundraising, generosity, and positivity, is nothing short of breathtaking.

Happy Birthday to a true living legend and a hero for our times. Here’s to 100 more (you never know).

104-Yr-Old WW2 Veteran Becomes Oldest Person to Defeat COVID-19

Bill Lapschies Survices COVID-19
(YouTube/CBS News)

A World War II veteran in Oregon has done nothing but kick ass his entire life. The 104-year-old man has lived through the Spanish Flu of 1918, served in World War II, and now has become the oldest COVID-19 survivor on the planet. If you’re scoring at home, this makes him one of the only people who has beaten two global pandemics.

Bill Lapschies contracted the coronavirus at his nursing home in Oregon in early March. Naturally, his family was worried, as the disease has affected the elderly much more severely. But this was not his first rodeo, the man has lived through some world wars, a pandemic, and a Great Depression, so late last week, Bill was officially considered recovered.

Just a few days later, he turned 104. He told a local news station he is feeling ‘pretty good.’

Bill is officially the oldest survivor of COVID-19, eclipsing a 101-year-old woman in China and a 103-year-old woman in Iran.

His family honored him with a socially-distant birthday party. But really, this is just one more feather in his cap. The man beat the Nazis, of course he was gonna take down the coronavirus.

One of the comments on the YouTube clip of his story on CBS News sums him up the best: “Once a warrior, always a warrior. The highest respect to this man.”

Here at The Dad, we hope you, your families, and communities stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. For the latest information, please utilize online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.

Families Are Opening Their Homes to Foster Ailing Senior Veterans

Families Open Homes to Veterans
(YouTube/CBS This Morning)

Enlisting in the military is one of the truest sacrifices and one that few families fully understand. On top of that, outside of the requisite “Thank you for your service” and maybe the occasional seat-swap on a plane, support can be limited. So it’s always heartwarming when people make the extra effort.

One strong example is how some families are stepping up to help aging and ailing veterans. Tens of thousands of United States vets live in nursing homes, and thousands more are homeless, but now hundreds of families have started to open their homes to foster an elderly veteran.

The Medical Foster Home program pairs senior veterans who can’t live on their own with a family willing to take in and care for those who have served. The program is now in 44 states and foster families can take in up to three veterans to provide them a more comfortable place to receive care.

A spokesman for the program said it’s a long-term commitment and usually a permanent one for many families. They try to match veterans with homes in their hometown to keep things as familiar as possible, and currently, the program has more than 700 families involved.

One family told The Washington Post that it was an honor to have a veteran living under their roof. And the veteran said he loved his new family and wanted to ‘be with them till the day I die.’ The program is among the higher-rated ones in the VA and a spokesman told Southern Living magazine the vets and new caregivers become family and even go on vacations together.

“These people really are angels,” he said. “They’re doing such amazing things. Every vet deserves the right to live in a home and remain where they thrive.”

The slogan for the program is a fitting one: “Where our heroes meet angels.”

If you are interested in participating, you can contact your local VA.

104-Yr-Old WWII Veteran Gets More Than 70,000 Valentines

William White Gets 70k Valentine's Cards
(Fox61)

A World War Two veteran named William White is having the most memorable Valentine’s Day ever, one that’s been 104 years in the making. A fellow resident at his assisted living facility put together a social media campaign called, ‘Operation Valentine’ that quickly became a massive success. Even before the official holiday, he’d already received more than 70,000 Valentine’s Day cards.

Back in January, the 104-year-old Marine Corps veteran said he’d keep any Valentine’s Day card someone sent him. In fact, he said it would go on his keepsake shelf, alongside other markers of a life well-lived such as the Purple Heart he earned in the Battle of Iwo Jima. He’s a big scrapbooker, so he was interested in adding more things to his collection.

“I’ll save every one of them like I’ve been saving little things that have come up until right now and they’ll be a personal part of my history,” he told a local news outlet last month.

At least, that was the plan when he expected a couple of people to answer the call. Now that he has tens of thousands, he’ll have to reconsider.

White has received cards from every single U.S. state and from a number of countries around the world.

“It’s just too fantastic,” White said to Reuters, while surrounded by bricks of postal boxes filled with cards.

Many sent White cards as a way to honor their own relatives, now passed, who fought in World War Two. But overall, it’s been a cross-generational effort. White’s great-granddaughter even helped deliver a bundle, as her fourth-grade class all made Valentines for the elderly veteran.

While Operation Valentine has been a massive success, he’s going to have a pretty hard time topping it at 105.

Teen Raises Money to Buy “Daddy Dolls” for Kids of Deployed Soldiers

(ABC News)

Military kids are a resilient bunch. According to Dr. Michael Faran, psychiatrist, veteran, and chief of the Child, Adolescent and Family Behavioral Health Office, at least 30% of children with a deployed parent will face difficulties brought about by stress and anxiety.

Enter Jayden Kirkpatrick.

(ABC News)

Thirteen-year-old Jayden, the son of a Marine Corps veteran, wanted to help ease those all-too-familiar anxieties to the best of his abilities. And when he saw that Dyal Studios in Jacksonville, North Carolina was promoting something called the Daddy Doll Challenge, he knew just how to help.

(Dyal Studios)

Daddy Dolls are custom-made plush toys with photos of kids’ parents who are serving active duty in the military. Jayden has had one of his dad since he was 1.

(WCTI 12)

Jayden has taken it upon himself to raise money so more children can find comfort in a Hug-A-Hero Doll of their own. “This has given me emotional support,” Jayden says, proudly displaying his. “It helped me cope with the fact that my dad is a Marine and he was out a lot.”

(Stripes.com)

So far, Jayden has raised enough to send 95 kids their very own Daddy Doll. Along with each doll, Jayden will include a heartfelt and handwritten letter.

Tricia Dyal, the founder of Daddy Dolls, praised Jayden’s charitable efforts and has offered to match his fundraising.

Go Jayden!

Hundreds of Strangers Show up to Mourn Veteran With No Next of Kin

Hundreds attend veteran's funeral
(YouTube/WGN News)

John James Murphy often spoke of his time in the Air Force with the staff at River View Rehab in Elgin, Illinois. It was there that 71-year-old Murphy spent his final few years, recounting stories of his time in Vietnam where he was awarded several medals for his service.

Murphy mentioned a falling out with his family to one of the staff at River View, but didn’t like to discuss it at length. “I had to honor his wishes. He said he didn’t want to talk about it. I was OK with that,” recalled Pawn Thammarath, from River View. So when he passed back in December, there weren’t family members to notify, and worse, no one left to mourn a man who served his country with pride.

Thankfully, as is now typical of these situations, the internet and community members united to ensure that Murphy would have the ceremony he deserved. Local funeral home owner Dan Symonds, a veteran himself, made sure Murphy would be remembered for his service.

Symonds told the Daily Herald that ensuring veterans get the send-off they deserve often means doing whatever you can to make it happen, including searching for family and contacting Veteran affairs to ensure proper military burial. “Everybody deserves a decent burial and these guys, it doesn’t matter where they served, even if they didn’t see combat, they deserve to be honored.”

Symonds’ plea for attendees would not go unanswered. On Wednesday, almost 500 individuals were on-hand and waiting to pay their respects. From Veterans that came from miles away, to local police and firefighters who lined the streets, John James Murphy had a line that stretched around the building, all there to pay their respect to a man many had never met.

Hundreds attend vet's funeral
(Youtube/WGN News)

“The outcry of love and support have been overwhelming,” Symonds said. While he’s happy that so many showed up, it’s those who didn’t that has Symonds making one more request. “We want and hope and we pray that maybe, by some chance, his daughter or his grandchildren realize that he’s passed.” The funeral home is holding onto the flag awarded to family after the passing of a veteran with hopes to return it to them someday.

Man Turns Old Christmas Trees Into Canes for Fellow Disabled Veterans

Canes for Vets from Christmas Trees
(Facebook/Canes for Veterans)

Jamie Willis served in the US Army for nearly a decade before returning home disabled and unable to work.

Beyond his physical disability, Willis soon found he needed something to keep his mind busy. It’s an all-too-common for soldiers returning home, but thankfully, Willis found an incredible outlet.

The cane Willis was provided by Veteran Affairs lacked stability, something he soon found was a common complaint among other vets. He connected with a Florida based organization that provides handmade custom canes to veterans, but Willis wanted something else. He wanted to learn how to make the canes in order to help as many of his fellow brothers and sisters as possible.

Oscar Morris, lead of Free Canes For Veterans happily obliged. Morris initially formed the organization but says there are new 5 other branches across the country all run by vets. “One day, grab a cane and walk with it,” Morris said. “You will feel broken because others will see you as broken. We make our canes for veterans to look ‘cool’ while giving honor for their service.”

Willis did so well that he was tasked to run a Central Texas branch of the non-profit. In the last few years, Willis has crafted over 200 completely custom canes — an important gift for those who need them.

While the benefit to the recipients is obvious, Willis tells CNN it’s about much more. “I do this so I don’t sit home all day feeling sorry for myself,” he says, adding “This is all out of kindness. I do everything out of pocket and from donations.”

So working with a tight budget, the industrious new woodworker had a bright idea: Christmas trees.

He started seeking donations after Christmas, planning on turning donated fir trees into individual canes for as many people as possible. The community response was immediate with over 100 trees dropped off by families. Add to that nearly 400 trees shipped to Willis from Home Depot and it looks like the savvy soldier will be busy for some time to come.

While his labor is a major portion of the process, Willis and the organization are always seeking funds to cover the cost of shipping the canes to the vets who need them. There’s a GoFundMe page with further details.

With the enormous response, Willis now says he’s looking to provide canes for anyone locally who may need them, military or not.

Willis, Morris and the countless other veterans who continue to serve long after they’ve returned from active service are a testament to the strong bonds forged in the line of duty and the lessons they’ve learned both here at home and abroad.

We salute all veterans, their families and all those who give of themselves in order to make the lives of those around them better.

Santa Grants Boys’ Wish as Deployed Dad Jumps out of Present

Deployed Dad in Box
(Twitter/emurray1)

Few things online are as reliably heartwarming as viral videos of returning soldiers surprising their loved ones with their returns. It’s like a miniaturized “whodunit” for the internet, only you start out knowing the big twist, and relish in watching someone’s world get a lot brighter at the end.

And dang it, the genre keeps evolving. The latest to get attention was when two boys, aged 7 and 5, went to visit Santa at the mall. When he asked what they wanted, their response was to have their deployed dad home in time for Christmas. Of course, you know how this ends, or this story would never have been written. No sooner had the boys asked for their dad as their Christmas wish did Santa point them to an inconspicuously large gift near the tree. The dad was inside.

It’s a pretty epic way to return home after 8 months, especially when the crowd of onlookers applauds as he embraces his boys.

The dad called the moment ‘priceless’ and the boy told a local news station he knew Santa would deliver and called it the ‘best day ever.’

If that doesn’t fill you up on feel-good military homecomings, get 5 more here or watch the one where the returning dad dresses as the school mascot to surprise his kid.

NFL Star Gets to Take the Field With His Veteran Dad for #SaluteToService

Carlos Dunlap and Dad #SaluteToService
(Twitter/ElgazzarBLVD)

For one NFL star, the moment just before last Sunday’s game was one of the most memorable of his entire career. The Cincinnati Bengals were taking part in the NFL’s Salute to Service and each of the Bengals starters entered through the tunnel with a service member or veteran. For defensive end Carlos Dunlap, the moment was a little more personal, as the veteran he was paired with was his dad.

The two took the field before the tens of thousands (OK, it’s Cincinnati, so tens of hundreds) of roaring (present) fans, did a salute and embraced. Dunlap wrote on Instagram that the moment was one of his all-time Bengal moments.

“There is more to life than football. Today…experiencing this with my father who sacrificed, served, and did what he had to do to make the man you all know today…was surreal moment for me.”


Both of Dunlap’s parents served in the military and the star defensive end flies them to every game.

While it’s true the Cincinnati Bengals are not very good (OK, they may be the only winless team in the NFL), Dunlap is a two-time Pro Bowler and a two-time nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. And seeing the joy on the face of both Carlos Sr. and Carlos Jr. is definitely a special moment, regardless of wins and losses.