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70 Years Later, Veterans Reflect On The End Of World War II

70 Years Later, Veterans Reflect On The End Of World War II

San Diego was bursting at the seams in celebration at the end of World War II.

San Diego was bursting at the seams in celebration at the end of World War II. Seventy years later, the region abounds with memories and honor as those who wore America’s uniform share their stories.

Jesse Thompson was 13 years old and just feet away from the USS Arizona when it was bombed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"Boom, boom! I heard it, so I ran out in my pajamas in the backyard and that’s where the battleships were," Thompson recalled.

The son of a naval officer, Thompson was put to work over the next three days loading machine gun belts.

Seventy years later, his spacious Bonita home is filled with memorabilia from that tragic day, and the battles that followed in World War II, including historical photos, a jar of sand taken from Iwo Jima and rifles and weapons that belong to Japanese soldiers.

Photo by Susan Murphy

Jesse Thompson, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor when he was 13 years old, shares his collection of World War II memorabilia at his home in Bonita, California, August 5, 2015.

Every Wednesday for the past two decades, his home has also been filled with living history: World War II veterans who fought courageously to change the world. The group typically shares war stories, eats lunch and enjoys an old-time movie.

"I was a 19-year-old brat who grew up overnight when the attack took place on Pearl Harbor," said Stu Hedley, a Pearl Harbor survivor and regular attendee of the gatherings.

Hedley was aboard the battleship West Virginia when it was struck by torpedoes.

"Fire was three times as high as this house from the oil that was burning," Hedley described.

He recalled escaping the ship by jumping into the burning sea and swimming beneath the flames.

"When we went into the water, we went as deep as we could and we swam under water. We broke the surface twice, and that’s the hottest breath of air we ever breathed," he said.

For Hedley, the room of war mementoes and photos bring back vivid memories. The walls provide somewhat of a safe haven to those who endured some of America’s fiercest battles to share their experiences.

Hedley hasn’t always eagerly recounted the momentous fight. He said even his wife was unaware of his involvement in Pearl Harbor until their 25th wedding anniversary, when they toured the Hawaiian coast.

"The moment we came around the bend, I could hear the bombs going off, I could see the ships blowing up, it was all replayed in my mind," Hedley said. "And my wife asked me, 'Butch, what’s wrong with you?' I said, 'Honey, I never told you this before, but I was here on December 7 on one of the battleships along battleship row.'”

Now, the 93 year old takes every opportunity to share his experience. He’s one of dozens of veterans in San Diego captivating audiences this month with firsthand accounts of the end of World War II. He recently spoke at the "Keep the Spirit of 45 Alive" event at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park. He was surrounded by 200 of his friends, who hold a bond seven-decades strong. Their hats, shirts and badges showed their years of service.

Photo by Susan Murphy

Dozens of World War II veterans attend a ceremony during the "Keep the Spirit of 45 Alive" event at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park, August 9, 2015.

Bill Ridenhour served in the Army and was in the Bay of Tokyo when then President Harry Truman announced Japan’s surrender.

“The war to which we have devoted all the resources, all the energy of our country for more than three-and-a-half-years has now produced total victory over all our enemies," Truman announced in a broadcast to the military.

"It was just a victory and it was just the best day of my life," Ridenhour remembered. "It was like the last hoorah that I felt. I was so honored and wonderful to hear the good news.”

Bobbie Morris was a ship-to-shore Morse code operator in the Navy.

"Everyone was hugging and kissing," Morris said. "You know that famous picture of the kiss? I can understand that picture because actually it happened to me - same thing."

Photo by Carl E. Gettmann

Photo credit: Veterans Museum at Balboa Park

Sailors and WAVES women celebrate the end of World War II on board the USS Tripoli, which was docked in San Diego, August 14, 1945.

"Oh my goodness, oh my goodness. You were not safe on the streets," said Navy veteran Randy Tidmore, who was stationed in San Diego on Aug. 14, 1945. Her job was to unload luggage when troops returned from overseas. She said San Diego went crazy.

"And they said, 'You women in the barracks, don’t go downtown. Those Navy boys are going wild so you better stay in the barracks.' So we did," Tidmore said.

Back in Bonita, Jesse Thompson held up a large framed picture of himself celebrating the end of the war among a crowd gathered at Horton Square.

"Everyone just felt great," Thompson said. "They were hugging each other, kissing each other."

The outpouring of joy echoed through the streets of San Diego and across the world.

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