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For Memorial Day, World War II Veterans Remember Those Who Made Ultimate Sacrifice

Ed Davidson, a former POW from World War II, reflects on what Memorial Day means to him, May 26, 2016,
Susan Murphy
Ed Davidson, a former POW from World War II, reflects on what Memorial Day means to him, May 26, 2016,
World War II Veterans Remember Those Who Made The Ultimate Sacrifice

People across San Diego County this Memorial Day weekend will pay tribute to the men and women who have died defending our country. Among those pausing to reflect will be World War II veterans.

“They gave their lives so that we can have what we have today,” said Ed Davidson, 92, a former prisoner of war from World War II. Davidson and a half-dozen other ex-POWs gathered for lunch Thursday in Allied Gardens — the start of what will be a busy weekend of honoring their fallen comrades.

More than seven decades have passed since Davidson’s B-17 plane was shot down over Bordeaux, France, in World War II. Five of his crew members perished that day: Jan. 5, 1944.

“My co-pilot was killed. He took a 20 mm through the chest,” Davidson recalled. “And then the four gunners in the back were unable to contact me in the front, and because the airplane was on fire, they elected to bail out over the water — presumably drowned.”

Davidson and four others who survived the crash were captured by the Germans and held as prisoners.

Like every Memorial Day, Davidson plans to pay tribute to his crew members — and to all who have fought and died in wars, both current and past. He wants people to remember the cost of freedom.

“You don’t miss freedom until you don’t have it,” Davidson said. “And that’s one of the big things about being a prisoner of war — you’ve lost your individual freedom.”

Ralph Kling, a former POW from World War II, talks about his comrades who sacrificed their lives to defend America, May 26, 2016.
Susan Murphy
Ralph Kling, a former POW from World War II, talks about his comrades who sacrificed their lives to defend America, May 26, 2016.

Ralph Kling, 91, knows all too well about losing his freedom.

“Those of us that were unfortunate to have spent some time in a prisoner of war camp maybe appreciate it more than others,” Kling said.

Kling flew a P-47 Thunderbolt and was hit over Luxembourg on Sept. 21, 1944. He was captured by the Germans and said he nearly starved to death during a long march through snow. He’ll never forgot those who died fighting alongside him.

“Some didn’t give a lot, but a lot gave everything,” Kling said. “It doesn’t matter which end of the spectrum you happen to be on.”

At a retirement home in La Jolla, Muriel Thompson, 93, and her good friend, Tom Peek, 93, were looking forward to marking Memorial Day on Monday.

Muriel Thompson, 93, a Marine Corps veteran who served in World War II, reflects on the meaning of Memorial Day, May 26, 2016.
Susan Murphy
Muriel Thompson, 93, a Marine Corps veteran who served in World War II, reflects on the meaning of Memorial Day, May 26, 2016.

Thompson repaired fighter planes with the Marine Corps in California during the war. She said she feels respect and gratitude for all who have served.

“They had a lot to do with my future, and the future of all of us,” said Thompson, who went on to college after the war and received degrees in chemistry and microbiology. She worked for three decades at the San Diego County Department of Public Health.

Thompson plans to attend a remembrance ceremony on Monday at the National Veterans Memorial atop Mount Soledad.

Tom Peek, 93, a World War II veteran, shares his experience of fighting in the war and reflects on the meaning of Memorial Day, May 26, 2016.
Susan Murphy
Tom Peek, 93, a World War II veteran, shares his experience of fighting in the war and reflects on the meaning of Memorial Day, May 26, 2016.

“It helps us sort of remember the things that get lost in the background,” Thompson said.

For Tom Peek, who drove Patrol Torpedo boats during the war, Memorial Day is one of the most important days of the year.

They paid the price," said Peek. “I think we all have to appreciate what people do in war. Even those who serve and come back healthy, which fortunately I was one of. And more so, to those who give their lives.”

Small flags are placed at each grave site in honor of Memorial Day at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.
Wikimedia Commons
Small flags are placed at each grave site in honor of Memorial Day at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.

Memorial Day Events

Saturday at 9 a.m. — The Greatest Generation will be honored at a WWII Wreath Remembrance Ceremony aboard the USS Midway Museum. The free event will include a flyover, a Greatest Generation speaker and the presentation of a handmade quilt to every WWII veteran in attendance. The quilts are made by Quilts of Valor, a nonprofit group of San Diegans dedicated to providing quilts “of comfort and healing” for veterans and active-duty personnel.

Sunday at 1 p.m. — Miramar National Cemetery Veterans Memorial Service will feature speaker Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Martin, commanding general, Army National Training Center at Fort Irwin. The guest speaker will be Ed Berger, San Diego Veteran of the Year. Active-duty military, veterans, family members and members of the public are invited to attend the free event.

Monday 2 p.m. — Ceremony at the Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial will include a special plaque presentation honoring President Theodore Roosevelt. The keynote speaker will be Navy Capt. Craig Clapperton, commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

For more events, click here.