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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Veterans in Focus

Aired November 13, 2010 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ROBIN MEADE, HOST: Welcome to VETERANS IN FOCUS. I'm Robin Meade and we're at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. It honors the 16 million people who served for the United States and those who supported the war efforts at home. Did you realize that of all the population in the United States, 10 percent of them are veterans?

Well, today we're telling their stories with the help of CNN photojournalists. Of all the military decorations that our nation can give, the Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest. It was awarded to chief master sergeant Richard Etchberger 42 years after his death. The details of his final mission weren't made public for decades, not even to his family. Photojournalist Floyd Yarmouth has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CORY ETCHBERGER: We're in downtown Hamburg, Pennsylvania on Fourth Street. It is a great little town. People stop you on the street and shake your hand and say hello to you because they recognize you. Me, I'm Dick's son, Cory.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Are you? Oh, my gosh. Really good. What a wonderful person.

ETCHBERGER: Thank you.

And I am the proud son of chief master sergeant Richard Etchberger. In September or so of 1967 he went on a secret mission to Laos he was involved in a radar site that was placed in neutral Laos at the time. It was in here that my mother received a phone call from the Air Force saying he'd been killed. This is our living room right here. I believe it was a Tuesday we were having dinner and my mother had just served us strawberry shortcake and the phone rang on the wall and she got a call and literally began crying and then she told us boys what had happened. So we obviously quite distraught and for 42 years I've never had a strawberry shortcake.

The story that I was told in 1968 that I believed for 18 years was that he had been killed in a helicopter accident somewhere in Southeast Asia. So in 1986, my brother Stephen and I were visiting my mother, and she got a call from the Air Force saying they were declassifying the mission that he was on and I was stunned that, in fact, he wasn't killed in a helicopter accident. The first time I knew of anything of his heroic deeds.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE U.S: Richard Etchberger lived the airman's creed, to never leave an airman behind, to never falter, to never fail. Today we present the Medal of Honor to an American who displayed such gallantry, more than four decades ago.

ETCHBERGER: So this is where your grandfather's buried. I try and tell my daughter what kind of a person he was and I would only hope that I could try to live my life like he had lived his. I think it's important for her to understand that he was an ordinary person who found himself in an extraordinary circumstance.

MEADE: When I say "Top Gun" you probably think of a supercharged high-tech jet. Well in World War II the technology was not as high- tech and the jets not as fast perhaps but the goal was the same? Our photojournalist Effie Nidam met up with an 88-year-old World War II vet who did not let technology or time slow him down.

CLARENCE E. "BUD" ANDERSON, WWII FIGHTER PILOR: We were all young, 22 years old. We got shot at at night. Flak at night really looks bad. It looks like it's in the cockpit. I'm Clarence E. "Bud" Anderson. We got a couple of stories we can tell. I talk about whatever I think of at the moment but primarily about World War II aerial combat.

You learn what it's like to kill or be killed in aerial combat.

We're here at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It's the Mecca of all air shows in the world.

I'm sure glad to be here. That means I survived another year.

The fans here are very enthusiastic. They understand a lot about history, and they want to hear firsthand history.

TIM DUGAN, AVIATION ENTHUSIAST: He'll tell you stories that are just mind-boggling, the stuff that happened during the war.

ANDERSON: We formed up in the United States and trained as a fighter group to go fight the war somewhere in the world.

I did a lot of dog fighting.

We shot down five enemy airplanes you were considered an ace, and so I shot down 16 1/4 so I'm a triple ace with change. Both of these airplanes are painted just like I flew them in World War II. P-50 west Mustang is a fighter plane. Once it's in the air, it flies like a dream. I really take my hat off to the community for restoring these national treasures, and keeping them in the air so people can see them. It's a, you know -- that's special.

Well, I still fly. I still enjoy flying. Aviation is my passion.

MEADE: It is hard to imagine a funeral service with no mourners in attendance. Especially when the person was a veteran. But once a month the Cavetry National Cemetery on Long Island holds a special service for military members whose funeral had no one in attendance. CNN's Deborah Brunswick takes you there.

MICHAEL PICEMO, DIRECTOR, CALVETRY NATIONAL CEMETERY: Today we are here to honor the memory of over 20 veterans. We're at the Calvetry National Cemetery on the eastern end of Long Island here to perform an NOA service.

LOU DILEO, BUGLER: NOA stands for no one in attendance, in other words, these soldiers that have come here do not have any family, no mourners, no one to pay them tribute. They're just left here to be buried.

PICEMO: This ceremony started at the Calvetry Cemetery about five years ago when several of our employees realized that there were these veterans interred here without family or friends at the burial ceremony. We thought it would be fitting tribute to them to have some of our employees and some veterans from the local communities come and pay tribute to these individuals on a monthly basis.

FERDINAND A. MEGGS JR., CEMETERY REPRESENTATIVE: They're veterans that served this country and it's important we honor them, whether they have family here or not, and it's our obligation to do it, and it's an honor.

PICEMO: Private first class Phillip Milanaro (ph), U.S. Army.

To read their names individually, connecting the rank, their name, their branch of service and realizing that these are people who did take time out of their life to defend their country.

Specialist fourth class Jim Harrington, Jr., U.S. army. Private Bernard Roland, U.S. army. Senior airman Harvey Monsewer, U.S. air force.

MEGGS: I try to picture them. I try to picture who they are, and all that they did for the military.

PICEMO: Today we remember all of them.

The NOA service is sad to think that a soldier is here and there was no family, no friends. We don't know why. All that we know is that a flag covered his coffin. So we offer him the respect and the honor that he deserves for serving his country. We're now his family, and he's being buried with his comrades in arms.

Mission well done. God bless. Rest in peace.

MEADE: Welcoming home the troops. It's emotional and a full contact experience for one woman.

BETTY ROSE BOWERS, "THE HUG LADY:" I need a hug. God bless you. Thank you.

MEADE: We are going to the front line of a welcome home brigade, and then --

We are 100 percent own and operated.

MEADE: It is a business plan run with a heart. When VETERANS IN FOCUS continues. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MEADE: Thank you. Welcome home. Those words mean so much to anyone, but when you're a military member coming back home, wow that really hits the heart. But William Walker photojournalist takes us to Atlanta to meet the hug lady, who welcomes people home in the military at the airport.

BOWERS: Welcome home, soldier.

My name is Betty Rose Bowers and I'm at the Atlanta Airport.

Welcome home. God bless you. Where y'all heading?

We welcome the troops as they are coming in for their two weeks of r & r.

Where are you coming from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Afghanistan.

BOWERS: They're coming in from Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq.

Welcome home. Where's home?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Huntsville, Alabama.

BOWERS: I've been told I've been affectionately called the hug lady.

God bless you. Thank you.

I'm a sucker for a man in uniform and I hug them, because I want them all to know that they're appreciated. Seeing a service person, seeing his child, his baby for the first time, probably just a matter of weeks old, a little baby, and he got to see her for the first time. If that doesn't bring tears to your eyes, then you're pretty heartless. That's worth all the pictures in the world. Isn't it? Having that father see his baby, that was great. It's unbelievable, the feeling that it gives you, or seeing a little girl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you.

BOWERS: See their mother or daddy, and just run. I mean, just running into their arms.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I'm waiting on my son. He's coming home from Kabul.

BOWERS: Welcome home. Love you. Love you, love you.

Parents seeing their sons or daughters that they haven't seen for several months.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: OK. Here we go.

BOWERS: I can't tell you how many times I have shed tears. UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you.

BOWERS: Good tears. Happy tears.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I'm happy he's here in one piece and safe and sound.

BOWERS: I have a grandson who's in the army. I can't help but want to put my arms around these young people, and I want them to know that they're cared about, and that we're proud of them. And what they're doing, they're putting their lives out for us. You're welcoming them home. They deserve a hug.

MEADE: An 88-year-old D. Day veteran is sharing his stories with the next generation of the military. He talks to the cadets at the Virginia Military Institute about storming the beaches of Normandy. Photojournalist Jeremy Moorhead introduces you to that man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And everywhere I look out of my house I see mountains. Out in the front yard there, you see that post. That represents the 29th Division. I was in World War II, about 23 1/2 years old then. And that little piece of shrapnel right there was taken out of my back. Not bragging. But this is some of the awards that I got.

Bradley --

KEVIN KYLE: My name is Kevin Kyle. I go to Virginia Military Institute. Today the freshman come to Bedford to the D-Day Memorial.

APRIL CHEEK-MESSIER, EDUCATION DIRECTORY D-DAY MEMORIAL: I'm so honored that all of you are able to meet him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We never knew when the next bullet was going hit us.

CHEEK-MESSIER: He went on Omaha Beach on V Day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If a bullet had landed I would have been nothing.

CHEEK-MESSIER: This is a very special place. Congress decided to place this memorial here in the town of Bedford, because it sustained the highest per capita loss of any other community in our country on D-Day. This is the next generation of men and women who are going to be serving in our military, and we want them to be able to meet these veterans.

BUSTER SHAPE: Hello. My name is Buster Shape.

CHEEK-MESSIER: While they're still among us, we want them to hear their stories.

SHAPE: I was an 18-year-old kid on D-Day. We went into Omaha Beach.

CHEEK-MESSIER: We want those veterans to impart their advice of what they went through. He won't say this, but he certainly is a hero in my eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on in, folks.

SHAPE: I'm not a fighter any more. I'm a lover.

We would go in behind the Bedford boys. I just looked up in the sky. I said, good lord, if you stay clear of me, I'll be a good boy the rest of my life, and I'm so proud to be speaking here before you young people today. You've got the whole world in your hands. You've got the opportunity of a lifetime. And I believe there goes that bugle, and that's not taps. Thank god. Because I'd start crying. Thank you.

CHEEK-MESSIER: We always need to reflect on this wonderful gift that these young people and our veterans have given us, and that's the gift of just being so willing to serve this great country of ours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's my duty to make these young people realize the sacrifices that some of the dads, some of their grandfathers went through to make sure they had their freedom.

MEADE: He's a rocker and a veteran, and so much more to the people he helps. Meet the crew who's giving service member as needed hand, and -- a uniform takes on a totally different purpose as a healing process for veterans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CENTER: Back to VETERANS IN FOCUS in a moment. But here's a look at our top stories. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. Free democracy advocate Aung San Suu kai plans a major address about her future tomorrow. He marks he regime freed the noble peace this morning. She had spent the better part of the past 20 years under house arrest.

Haiti's cholera outbreak continues to spread with the United Nations now saying that more than 800 people have died from the preventable disease. Unsanitary living conditions and the lack of clean drinking water after the earthquake are both factors in the spread. Medical experts say all of Haiti's 10 million people are at risk.

And President Barack Obama is nearing the end of his trip to Asia. Today he's in Japan where he has held meetings with the Japanese and Australian prime ministers. Mr. Obama flies home, back to the U.S., tomorrow.

Now back to VETERANS IN FOCUS. I'll see you at the top of the hour.

MEADE: An Iraq war veteran with a purple heart had a plan to help other veterans. He set up purple homes and they go around renovating veterans homes to make them more easily accessible. So photo journalist Jay McMichael introducing you to the man who gets things done with music and muscle.

DALE BEATTY, STAFF SGT., IRAQ WAR VETERAN: I'm staff sergeant Dale Beatty retired from North Carolina. Playing drums in my band today Southern Fried. Hopefully we're going to rock these other bands off the stage.

A big part of getting back to living is doing therapy. I had to start playing drums again, because I had done that before.

Purple Heart Homes is a 5013c charity founded by John Glen and myself. We're 100 percent owned and operated; we are both combat wounded veterans. Today we're out here for a Vietnam veteran Kevin Smith who is looking at some decreased mobility.

KEVIN SMITH, VIETNAM WAR VETERAN: I had 14 surgeries on my right knee with three total knee replacements. I've had eight operations on my elbow with two total elbow replacements. I've had three back operations with steel plates and rods put in my back.

BEATTY: What we're doing here is building him an accessible ramp and a nice deck where he can get into his house.

Coming up from his driveway he has steps with no handrails and he's looking at probably being in a wheelchair very soon.

PAUL COCKERMAN, GULF WAR VETERAN: I heard about the project. I asked if anybody had volunteered for the landscaping. The answer was no. So I volunteered.

BEATTY: This is probably about, I'd say, 60 hours of volunteer labor to get us to this point.

This is my office right here. Most of our calls are really not veterans looking for something to be done for them, but veterans that want to say, hey, I want to contribute my time or effort, or my business specialty to what you guys are doing.

SMITH: Dale Beatty is a true hero, and to see the sacrifices that he's made for our country and then turn around and say, thank you, and to help other people that are not as fortunate as some, it's overwhelming.

MEADE: It's a special kind of therapy for military members. Get ready to get wet to see how dolphins are helping veterans heal. Also ahead --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sounds good.

MEADE: How one veteran is getting others off the streets and into a home, when VETERANS IN FOCUS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MEADE: A combat uniform is such an honor to wear, but such a heavy load to bear for some. There's a program where veterans can take their combat uniform and turn it into a work of art. Photo journalist Chris Turner takes you to Vermont.

DREW MATOTT, COMBAT PAPER PROJECT: Burlington, itself is a pretty small city, 60,000 or something. It's a pretty rinky-dinky town. There's a lot of artists who have kind of settled here because it's a simple way of life. In the south end of Burlington specifically there's this old industrial district that's kind of been transformed into art studios. I've been making papers since 1998. I set up the Green Door Studio and the People's Republic Paper Mill. I see the world, the artist, as to take your experiences and what's happening in the world around you and to process them internally and then express them externally.

DREW CAMERON, US ARMY (RET): It's a freakin' mess now.

MATOTT: Over time, Drew and I worked together and conceived the idea of working with veterans to help their uniforms, make paper art as a cathartic process. I had to tone it down to a quarter inch.

CAMERON: People, myself, are enabled to find constructive and productive ways to reconcile the things that have happened. It's a way to express honesty, to be honest and open about our responsibilities in a way that is outside the bounds of language.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not doing it -- to get mad at anybody about my uniforms. I'm doing it to hopefully create something that's more meaningful than what these uniforms are, I guess.

MATOTT: The cutting up of the uniform is one of the most significant components of the Combat Paper project and the workshops that we run.

JOHN MICHAEL TURNER, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET): I've said so many times, I don't want to deal with this. I don't want to be a veteran anymore. I don't want to - I don't want to live this life. I don't - I don't want any of this. Man, I'm done with it, you know?

But it's just like there's always something that brings me back, because it's part of who I am now. It's just like, now we're looking for ways to be able to co-exist with it.

MATOTT: The Combat Paper Project, you really are - you're taking these people who have come back, and they've suffered such experiences that they're unable to kind of, like, to know where to go or what to do with themselves, and they really struggle. We're hoping that we can get - through this process, we can give them a sense of, like, recovery.

TURNER: Making a sheet of paper's easy. You pick up on it. But when you're trying to reweave the fabrics of your soul, to where you had a better life, or you felt had you a better life, things become a little bit more difficult. You can't just reform it, like you can with a sheet of paper.

CAMERON: So many years, it's been, like, so hard for me to articulate and try and speak about and convey and write about the military experience, to write about war, to write about all these young people that I know, that I worked with, that I see that have gone through these experiences. And for a number of different layers and reasons, this medium is enabling us to express it.

TURNER: By taking the initial steps of cutting up the uniform, you're taking the initial step of wanting to heal. CAMERON: When someone says, I can't know what it was like over there, they have to. When someone says I can't, they must. Because if we - if we lose sight, if we disallow our humility, our empathy, our responsibility, then we're also eroding the foundations of our country, and that's what it's all about.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEADE: On any given night, 100,000 veterans are homeless, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. That is thought that a Vietnam vet could not stand.

So photojournalist Chris Davis shows you a story of making a place for some to call home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX GARCIA, U.S. ARMY VETERAN: Is there anyone out here? If you hear me? We're not the police.

This is a known location for a tent city when the weather was nicer out. One of the guys, one of the homeless individuals that was staying here, he was living out here in these woods. He found his way to our shelter.

"MEADOW", MIDWEST SHELTER FOR HOMELESS VETERANS: Midwest Shelter. This is Meadow. How can I help you?

MIKE MILORD, U.S. COAST GUARD VETERAN: Mike Milord. I'm from Chicago. I was in the U.S. Coast Guard. I joined in August of '79.

JOSEPH BATES, U.S. AIR FORCE VETERAN: Joseph Bates, United States Air Force. I was in four years, and I was personnel officer.

MILORD: I would probably still be out there fending for myself, and - and, to me, that's a frightening thing.

BATES: This is a place - it's just wonderful.

BOB "DOC" ADAMS, U.S. NAVY/CORPSMAN VETERAN: When people come here, they really want to talk about where they're going.

Bob Adams. I served in the United States Navy from 1966, from August of 1966 until May of 1970.

A hospital corpsman who served with the Marine Corps.

All (ph) referred to as "Doc."

When they come into this house, our men know what's expected of them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are we all on the same page here? The sample interview questions.

MILORD: Our interview sessions that we hold like that, I've never prepared for an interview in my life.

BATES: Didn't get the - those words, you know, you're hired. I didn't get those, but - but I did my best.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact that there - there's no fee to be here, except to follow the rules and work the program, means that they can save some money once they get a job and - and get back to independence a lot more quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This group of guys that we have in here right now I think are pretty - pretty close. I think we support each other quite a bit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Want to say grace? Would someone say grace?

ADAMS: What old warriors are supposed to be doing is taking care of the - the youngers, the younger ones.

GARCIA: The very last thing is to type up the case notes for the day.

My name is Alex Garcia, and I'm a second shift house manager at the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans. My tour of duty was from June of 2004 to September of 2005, and I was in Baghdad, Iraq.

It's hard when you've had traumatic experiences, traumatic injuries, and, in a sense, you're too proud to get help.

ADAMS: I did start this place with the - with an eye towards the young men and women who were coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

GARCIA: Thursday nights, we do the outreach. I mean, it's every - every resident in our shelter and - and myself. We go out and provide outreach help to homeless people, veteran or not.

This is a - a local park where some homeless have been. They do stay here sometimes because the park has a heated bathroom.

Being veterans? You get a lot of pride in it, and, you know, pride sometimes gets in your way of getting help, a lot of times. And we're just doing our part to help.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEADE (voice-over): Therapy from the sea for veterans of war. It's unconventional, and it's fun.

Also -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All ready.

MEADE: Some vets are getting back in the saddle after all these years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Back to "VETERANS IN FOCUS" in a moment. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. Here's a look at some of our top stories.

In Maryland, a top executive in Prince George's County and his wife have been arrested in connection with a kickback scheme. The FBI arrested Jack Johnson and his wife yesterday. Agents say they found nearly $80,000 stuffed in Leslie Johnson's underwear.

After searching the Johnsons' home, agents left with at least 10 boxes of evidence. The Johnsons are charged with tampering with evidence and destruction of records.

A huge loss for the U.S. Postal Service. The agency was $8.5 billion in the red for the last fiscal year. Part of the loss is blamed on the growth in e-mail and online bill paying.

And Zsa Zsa Gabor is back home. The actress was rushed to the hospital yesterday with a swollen left leg. What was believed to be a blood clot turned out to be an infection. The 93-year-old Gabor has been in frail health since a car accident eight years ago.

Now back to "VETERANS IN FOCUS."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEADE: Returning home from duty is such a happy time, but so many veterans bring back scars that you just can't see. Well, one veteran is using dolphins to help others heal.

Let's go to the Florida Keys now for photojournalist Jerry Simonson's story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MANDY RODRIGUEZ, CO-FOUNDER, DOLPHIN RESEARCH CENTER: Come on. Let's go out to the dock. Come on up. Who wants to play? There you go. Look.

Good girl.

So this is not a bad way to spend the rest of your life, of watching these wonderful animals, learning from them.

My name is Mandy Rodriguez, and I served in Vietnam.

When I joined the Marine Corps, I was a teenager, and I was - I went through my training, and was sent to Vietnam almost immediately, like - like the rest of us. I made the best friends ever in - in Vietnam, and I also saw some of the most horrific things I've ever seen in my life, which unfortunately still stick with me.

After coming back from Vietnam as a young marine, I was very confused, very angry. Rather like - just like a lot of us out of war, and these animals helped me. They actually saved my life, if you want to say.

They're - they're just a wonderful way of being - their happiness, the way they look at you, the way they treat you, and it carried through. And - and I actually use that with other humans, and, guess what? It works.

I'm Andy Rodriguez. That's (INAUDIBLE).

We figured that maybe this would be a good way to help these veterans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

RODRIGUEZ: Ready, Marine?

At a girl. Here she comes. She's sizing you up. There you go. Now, look this way. Big smile.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

RODRIGUEZ: You feel the vibration?

We developed the program to be able to help the men and women that are coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq. These are heroes, and these people deserve our accolades, deserve our applause.

For that one-half hour of time, they probably would have forgotten all of those things that they have gone through in their war.

Can you kiss Johnny good-bye, please?

To have that ability to put you in a world where you're accepted, to put you in a world where it's a good world and not - you're not thinking about those things, those traumatic things that you've experienced in the past.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) well aware of everything. His (INAUDIBLE) got going on.

MEADE: A World War II recovery mission is going on right now. A marine who's looking for those lost in the war says it's for their honor and for his family.

It was an unselfish act of bravery, a pilot who was never forgotten is officially remembered, when VETERANS IN FOCUS continues. (END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEADE: Making good on a promise has become a mission for one marine and his team members. They're searching for the remains of World War II soldiers and marines who made the ultimate sacrifice but never made it home.

We go to the South Pacific now with CNN photojournalist John Torigoe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SSGT KURTIS WITT, JOINT POW/MIA ACCOUNTING COMMAND: I'm Staff Sergeant Witt, explosive (INAUDIBLE) disposal technician.

I have a twin brother and two younger brothers. All four of us were in the service. Yes. We've all done time in Iraq. My twin brother's actually in Afghanistan at the moment.

So I'm part of JPAC. I've been attached to JPAC for a little over two years.

It's a Japanese 8 millimeter.

CAPT. TODD NORDMAN, JOINT POW/MIA ACCOUNTING COMMAND: We are supporting the promise that our military gives every single service member by saying that you are never forgotten, and we are here to bring back the remains of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to our country.

WITT: This is Japanese. It's a 122 millimeter.

NORDMAN: Staff Sergeant Witt is a critical partner of the makeup of this team. Without him, we cannot operate. At a place like Tarawa where, honestly, if it was in the Navy's arsenal in 1943, it was shot here.

WITT: And here it was no cover, swimming, running, charging through the sand, while you're getting shot at from the trees. You can't even see your target, and still just pushing forward. These guys were awesome.

DR. GREGORY FOX, JPAC: It's pretty hallowed ground for the United States Marine Corps. We have a marine heavy team, which is a little bit unusual.

WITT: You know, my previous experience with World War II ordnance in the Pacific, this appears to be a Japanese three-inch projectile.

NORDMAN: Today, while we were working on our site, the local care boss (ph) man came up and explained that he had remains that he would like to turn over to us. When we got done with the turnover -

WITT: -- their captain turned around and this guy handed him a projectile.

NORDMAN: It's a big, old shell is what this is.

I, you know, instantly said that, you know, that you don't need this in your house.

WITT: This would be like a light artillery piece.

With ordnance in this kind of condition and you can't really tell, you assume worst case scenario. It's an itchy (ph) round. It's not explosive, you - it's dangerous. But they wouldn't know that this is unarmed and that it's safe to move and that would hurt our mission. They'd have to stop.

I get asked that a lot, like why do you do what do you considering how dangerous it is? You know, you're saving lives.

FOX: Essential team member, everywhere we work. And we work in the city parks, we work in battlefields.

WITT: They've left an amazing legacy for me to pick up and try to achieve, try to fill those shoes. You know, if one of my brothers went down, I'd want them back, too.

And it's awesome that we're out here, doing this mission, because I now have the confidence, you know, when I'm out in combat or one of my brothers is, that no matter what happens, my government's got their back, got my back, and whether it take a year or 60 years, I'm going to be home. My family's going to get that closure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEADE: Keeping history alive is the goal of one businessman. He realized that many veterans don't talk about their war experiences, so CNN photojournalist Mark Biello shows you the story of how this man is using his World War II biplanes to find those stories.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just don't mess my hair.

LEE KLUGER, BIPLANEADVENTURES: But a lot of people who fly with us are from the World War II generation. A lot of them were veterans that maybe trained in this aircraft, flew in this aircraft.

We get people from all over the world. We have a group of vets from England that all they do, I think, is travel and seek out vintage and unique aircraft and had a - for a while there, we had a group of them coming over to the United States and, you know, doing rides. And they would specifically ask for this aircraft, the (INAUDIBLE), because it had some significance to them as well. LELAND KINDRED, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: My name is Leland Kindred, And I was a B-24 pilot during the World War II. When they assigned us, they were in dire need of pilots.

In England, the B-24s were suffering tragically. They'd send 150 B- 24s on a mission and maybe the - 100 of them would get back. And when you're talking about a loss of 50 planes, you're talking about 500 airmen.

KLUGER: We see a falloff already in the number of veterans that are - come fly with us, because we're losing a lot of vets each day. Their stories, their experiences that they relate to you, you know, once they're gone, unless they've really told their family a lot, those - those memories and those stories are gone. So it's nice that they're sharing a little bit.

KINDRED: Great flight. Old times.

It bounced too much on the landing.

KLUGER: It was wonderful.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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MEADE (voice-over): He saved a town, but lost his life. Now, a Massachusetts town is paying it forward.

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MEADE: What makes a hero? Well, the people in the town of Melrose, Massachusetts know. They recently honored a World War II pilot who died protecting the town below and that of his crew when his engine caught fire.

CNN's Bob Crowley takes you to the town that never forgot.

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MAYOR ROBERT NOLAN, MELROSE, MA: And we thank you for joining us this morning and honor a man and his family, Major Doak Weston.

SISTER MARY SAMSON, CRASH WITNESS: I remember that morning so vividly.

MAJ. ROBERT DRISCOLL, USAF RESERVE: Today is the 65th anniversary of the flight of Major Doak Weston, pilot.

SAMSON: I was in fifth grade. DRISCOLL: The B-25J took off from Grenier Field at approximately 10:30 A.M.

SAMSON: We heard the sound of the plane.

BOB ATTUBATO, CRASH WITNESS: It was unearthly sound coming over the school.

DRISCOLL: The pilot started to feather the left engine.

Samson: I don't know whether it was sputtering or what, but it was kind of that's not what - the way a plane is supposed to sound.

DRISCOLL: But, as he did so, the engine burst into flames.

ATTUBATO: We saw, just as we got to the window, this bomber coming over the school. It had an engine on fire.

DRISCOLL: Major Weston ordered his crew to bail out.

ATTUBATO: The engine and the wing fell off.

DRISCOLL: Soon after the crew jumped, it plunged to the earth below.

ATTUBATO: We saw a big column of smoke, and then we heard this big explosion. We were just stunned by it.

WARREN LEGER, CRASH WITNESS: It was a hole in the ground, airplane parts all over the place. There was an engine down this place, part of the wing over there, something else is over there. It looked like a junk yard.

DRISCOLL: Major Doak Weston was 27 years old when he made the ultimate sacrifice, saving his crew and an unknown number of civilians on the ground by directing his aircraft to the fairway below, leaving behind his pregnant wife and two sons.

NOLAN: It is right and just that we honor him today.

I learned about it maybe about a year ago, and I just couldn't imagine that this individual doesn't have some remembrance for what he's done.

MICHAEL WESTON, MAJ. WESTON'S SON: No question. It was my father.

Thank you.

There were lots of people who came together and made this happen. So I - I'm just very impressed. It made me very happy.

I was only 3 years old in 1945, and remember almost nothing of my father. But what I did understand was that my father sacrificed his life for the lives of others.

LEGER: He stuck his neck out to protect other people.

SAMSON: The way we define heroes now is, to me, it's a very loose definition. Major Weston is a true hero.

WESTON: There are lots of people who follow that instinct to do the right thing for their fellowman. That's what he stood for, for me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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MEADE: To all of our veterans, thank you so much for your service and your sacrifice, and thank you to your families, as well.

If you would like to see more of these veteran stories, go to cnn.com/veterans. And on behalf of all the talented photojournalists whose work you've seen here, thank you for watching.

And we leave you now by going back to Bedford, Virginia, the D-Day Memorial, which is about 200 miles from where we are right now.

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APRIL CHEEK-MESSIER, EDUCATIONAL DIRECTOR, D-DAY MEMORIAL: This memorial is located in Bedford, Virginia. We are in what many would call kind of an out of the way community to have a national monument, but it's for a very solemn reason.

Company, a had 32 Bedford soldiers who actually went in on D-Day in that company. And, unfortunately, 19 of them would die within approximately the first 15 minutes of the invasion that day.

The statue that you see behind me is a statue called "Scaling a Wall", and we're here in Estes Plaza, and Estes Plaza represents the soldiers gaining that foothold in Normandy.

We're the only institution in the world to list the names of those killed on D-Day. All total, that's 4,413 names.

Freedom is not free. It comes at a very high cost, and we should not take it for granted.

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