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First graders send Valentines to WWII veteran

Local first grade students made special Valentines to sent to a WWII veteran who is 104 years old and living in California. Bill White asked for Valentines cards to be send to him as part of ‘˜Operation Valentine’ but he had no idea what a response he would get. He has already received about 50,000 Valentine’s Day cards and it is expected he will get around 100,000 – including a classroom full from Pike – by Feb. 14. The students in Tomi Rich’s classroom created he homemade Valentines with the guidance of their teacher and paraprofessional Lindy Black. White, a retired Marine Corps major and Purple Heart recipient, first got hooked on scrapbooking in 1934, when he started boot camp and began saving everything he could get his hands on. ’I just had a desire to keep a record of the things I had done,’ White says. ‘My mother also saved papers, letters and other records, so I guess I took after her.’ A fellow resident at his assisted living home in Stockton, California, suggested it would be fun for White to receive Valentine’s Day cards from the public to put in a scrapbook. ‘So, I put the word out, thinking we might get about 100 of them. Boy did we – and more,’ he says. ’It’s indescribable,’ he says of the flood of mail. ‘I never imagined people would send me so many cards, in my wildest imagination.’ White’s daughter, Mary Huston, says her father constantly shakes his head in disbelief whenever they talk about how many cards have been delivered to him. The veteran recounts how, in 1945, he was sent to Iwo Jima, a Pacific island that was the scene of fierce fighting between U.S. and Japanese forces, and was told to relieve another Marine upon his arrival. Once he tapped his fellow service member on the shoulder to switch positions, he realized the man was his lone brother-in-law. They only had the opportunity to say hello and then goodbye. Weeks later, White led his men in the direction of the Japanese front line. Under fire, a Japanese grenade hit close to White, slamming him against a wall. He was listed as a ‘GSW,’ meaning gunshot wound, and was sent back to the U.S. despite his protests. What happened in Iwo Jima still resonates with White to this day. He says of all the Valentine’s Day cards he has received so far, his favorite is one showing the iconic image of the American flag being raised on Mount Suribachi. After returning from the war, White worked 12 years with the Huntington Beach California Police Department in California and volunteered for 30 years with the Huntington Beach Search and Rescue Explorer Post 563. These days, he says, ‘I like to make myself available for anything anyone wants me to do. I don’t like to sit and twiddle my thumbs. I like to stay busy.’ When asked what his secret to longevity is, he answered, ‘Just keep breathing.’ Story contributed to by Aaron Kassraie, AARP.

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