By Brittany Hanson/Garden Grove Journal
Once upon a victory day in 1945, wartime New York nurse Edith Shain was kissed by a sailor in Times Square. That moment was immortalized in a photograph that went on to become one of the most iconic images of World War II..
For Edith Shain, the spirit of that day in ’45 was something she would never forget.
Sixty-five years later, with the support of a Congressional Resolution, the “Spirit of ‘45” organization has secured a national day of recognition for not only veterans, but the whole generation that was impacted by WWII. They are called by some “The Greatest Generation” in America.
Sponsored by American Veterans, AmVets, Marching Through History and sponsored nationally by The Spirit of ’45, men and women in olive drab move around the Garden Grove Elks Lodge #1952 at 11551 Trask Ave.
Some stood by deactivated bombs that rested like massive steel paperweights on the grass. Once an icon of destruction, they serve for some as an armrest or a photo opportunity.
All across the nation on Saturday, Americans celebrated the victory spirit of Aug. 14, 1945 when the United States duel front war with Japan and in Europe against the Nazis and Fascists ended.
On Aug. 14, 2010, some people quietly sat and thought, saying little. Some traded stories. Some traded historical knowledge and enthusiasm. But still, others were rather quiet.
Army Lt. Walter Ehlers was at the Elks Lodge in Garden Grove Saturday, under a canopy structure next to the stage. Ehlers dressed in light clothing with a navy blue windbreaker jacket on over a white collared shirt. Peeking out from under his collar is a light blue ribbon with a medal hanging from it, which reads, “valor.”
“Something that people don’t always know is that the United States has always fought for freedom,” said Ehlers.
Ehlers said that for him, the Spirit of ’45 was that it was the beginning of a new era for the United States, although it was the result of fighting the enemies of the country from Japan, Italy and Germany. But, Ehlers said, the result those fights also meant that those three countries are also now free democracies.
“We’ve never fought a war for anything other than the idea of freedom,” said Ehlers, “ they [soldiers] paid the price for our freedom. Our G.I.’s are our saviors. We have them to thank for our freedom.”
Ehlers, 89, was recommended to receive the Medal of Honor in WWII, which is the highest award that can be bestowed upon any member of the military.
.According to the U.S. Army history website records of the Medal of Honor, in Goville France, 1944, Ehlers, then a staff sergeant, moved forward against heavily guarded German strong points, alone. He was already ahead of his unit when his commanding officer ordered the men to fall back. Ehlers did not. His actions included neutralizing a patrol and putting multiple machine gun nests and mortar posts out of commission.
At a later point, he drew enemy fire upon himself to secure safer passage for his men, and although wounded himself, carried another wounded rifleman to safety.
However, on Saturday, Ehlers quietly talked over the noise of a vintage fashion show. Ehlers spoke of funny stories, of once how he woke up in a hospital in France and the first thing he saw was a young nurse. She said to him it was good that he was awake because that meant she could stop holding his tongue. He replied, “Well, I think you’re the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.”
According to Ehlers, she seemed to like that very much.
He talked about his home in Buena Park, where he has lived for the last 55 years. He bought that house, the biggest one he could, with money from the G.I. bill.
Ehlers talked about how he shook President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s hand and the hand of every subsequent president since. And he talked about his grandchildren and how he is proud of them.
For Ehlers, the Spirit of ’45 was being able to look towards the future.
Under a very clear sky at the Elks Lodge, veterans and civilians mingled, ate drank and enjoyed exhibits such as historic car and items brought in from Marching Through History Participants.
Cornell Lliescu, 73, was only a little boy in Romania during the war, but he will never forget a bar of Hershey’s chocolate and an American pair of pliers. Saturday, Cornell walked around his father’s 1939 Buick. Smiling, Lliescu happily shows off the restored vehicle and talks about how proud he is to call himself American.
In 1943, B-17 bombers took off from North Africa to bomb the oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania that were used to provide the Nazis army with fuel. In the little village of Ploesti, 6-year-old Lliescu watched from a rooftop as portions of the refinery went up in flames.
Later, Lliescu’s father was driving by a field where there was a downed plane. He got out to help the airmen trapped inside. Cornell was given a set of pliers to play with and his first Hershey’s chocolate bar.
Cornell says that it was then that his love of the United States began and promised himself that he would do whatever it took to be able to call it his home. In 1970, Cornell escaped to the United States from communist Romania and later began the Noble Cause Foundation, his tribute of appreciation for the people he now proudly calls his patriots.
Jeffrey Sharp wasn’t dressed in military fatigues, didn’t have a medal on and wasn’t there to tell a story. Sharp, the executive director of the Marching Through History exposition had about three weeks to gather the forces as it were to put on the event at the Elks Lodge. The man behind the magic, or as he might call it, the mayhem.
“It’s all I could do [to say thank you],” said Sharp.