OCEANSIDE — A heartfelt remembrance ceremony at the Veterans Association of North County (VANC) on Monday brimmed with patriotism and shared what Memorial Day is all about.
Gold Star Wives were seated in the front row as Navy Sea Cadets posted the colors and Boy Scout Troop 708 led the pledge.
Then guest speaker Dr. Linda Dudik spoke about veterans whose service spanned from a chaplain in World War II to a new dad on his fourth tour in Iraqi.
Afterward El Camino High School Marine Corps ROTC members ceremoniously folded the American flag, veteran organizations placed wreaths by a cross and all in attendance belted out military service songs.
In her presentation Dudik also spoke about a pilot who was MIA in the Korean War and whose remains were found a half century after his plane went down, a 14-year-old who added four years to his age and signed up for the Marines and a female Army captain who served on the Cultural Support Team in Afghanistan.
Dudik said she wanted to include a range of veteran stories in her talk so each person in the room could relate to an account. The VANC has more than 30 member groups that range from National Guards, to American Legion Posts, to Veterans of Foreign War Posts and Old Bold Pilots.
Dudik said as a military historian this is her busiest month for speaking engagements. Year-round she collects and posts firsthand accounts from World War II veterans and their families on The World War II Experience website.
The website sprang from a history class she taught at Palomar College in which World War II veterans were guest speakers.
“It was not a class on the military or politics, it focused on stories of men and women of that time period,” Dudik said.
Dudik said veterans’ stories were so compelling that she retired early and devoted herself to researching, interviewing and posting on the nonprofit website full time.
“I feel in love with them and their character,” Dudik said. “Those who lived during World War II were not complainers or whiners. They were extremely responsible. There’s no way they would have not gone to work one day.”
It’s not only firsthand accounts that she collects. Often veterans and their families have letters, military records and artifacts they wish to donate. Dudik makes sure photocopies of documents are made and memorabilia is donated to the appropriate military museum.
Dudik said her passion to collect and share World War II stories comes from the selfless lessons war veterans have to teach us.
Those lessons include, “Try to be responsible, don’t take shortcuts, try not to complain, and give as a person as much as I can.”
Dudik said she plans to continue collecting firsthand accounts until the last World War II veteran passes.