They're old men now.
They were children, some as young as 17, when they roared off to serve in World War II.
Bodies were flexible and patriotism was afire. They wanted to do their part after a stunning Sunday that lives in infamy, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
They didn't seem to care that it would force them to grow up in a hurry if they got to grow up at all.
Four years later, they were much different people when a famous photograph of a sailor kissing a woman in Times Square celebrated the war's end.
They had seen a lot that they shouldn't have seen as U.S. service personnel deaths averaged 220 per day, and an estimated 60 million to 80 million people were killed worldwide. That doesn't count the physical and emotional wounds.
As the nation commemorates the 70th anniversary of the end of the war this year, and Veterans Day this week, Hilton Head Island took a couple of hours Friday afternoon to honor its veterans of World War II.
Twenty-two were cited at a luncheon at the Sea Pines Country Club presented by the Princeton Club of Hilton Head.
All but a few were able to attend. They know all about reunions and honors and know there won't be many more of them.
They know they're lucky that their creaky bodies are still above ground. And they know they're lucky to be Americans.
"We saved the world," one told me.
'I GREW UP'
Princeton sent 573 members of its class of 1942 into the war, Lisa Drakeman told the group.
That included John "Tex" Farrington of Hilton Head, who described seeing Hiroshima and Nagasaki shortly after the atomic bombs fell to end the war in the Pacific.
"It was a very sad sight to watch," he said. "There were no ashes."
He said the eerie sight immediately ended years of ingrained hatred of the Japanese.
And he said, "One of the worst things mankind created was the atom bomb."
At 95, he worries about nuclear proliferation.
He and other old soldiers worry that history forgotten will be history repeated.
Hilton Head Island High School Navy Jr. ROTC cadets sensed the moment as they presented Colors and saluted each veteran.
Gordon Grant of Hilton Head joined the Navy right out of high school in New York.
He remembers riding a train into the city to join the service. He wanted the Navy because he'd have a bunk each night and would not have to sleep on the ground.
He got home and told his mother he'd joined. He was her only child. She asked when he would leave. He said tomorrow night.
Grant became a corpsman. He said that came after spending four years in high school staring out the window.
"I grew up," Grant said.
He came home and sold ads for the New York Herald Tribune and later owned a restaurant where his secret was to hire European chefs. He retired to Hilton Head and lives near his son, who he calls his best friend.
Rabbi Arthur Segal of Hilton Head said in his invocation:
"Oh Blessed One: Rekindle within us a flame of selfless, unwavering devotion to duty, that we may never be found wanting in those qualities of spirit and mind."
'YOUTH AND STRENGTH'
One of them saw a mushroom cloud. One saw it snow in Rome.
Mary Woomansee Green read words her husband, U.S. Navy veteran Howard Green, wrote about World War II. He wrote of tracers, torpedoes, smoke and explosions. He said PT boats did as much as anything to win the war.
Peggy Daugherty came with a copy of her late husband's book, "On Hostile Shores," in case anyone questioned why she was there. Sam Daugherty landed in Normandy at 9:30 a.m. on D-Day. He wrote 200 pages for his family but did not live to see it published.
Stanley Richards from Sun City Hilton Head was a Marine at 17. He asked, "Have you ever heard of Carlson's Raiders?" He was in that forerunner to special forces, then was a turret gunner in B-25s in the Solomon Islands.
He didn't want to talk about it. His eyes welled up as he tried to make it simple for a guy too young to have fought in Vietnam. There were 12 planes in his squadron. In 18 months, they lost six planes and six crews. That's 36 people.
The veterans and other guests sang "The Star-Spangled Banner." The old men raised their hands, sometimes with the help of a wife, when the Port Royal Sound Vocals sang all the service songs.
Retired four-star U.S. Army Gen. Art Brown of Hilton Head quoted Gen. Douglas MacArthur on the American man-at-arms.
"His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen," Brown read. "In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give."
He read the names of the local World War II veterans honored:
Walter Bachman, Paul Bohn, Bill Bondanza, Ward Bryan, Tony Cocchini, Joe Eagers, John "Tex" Farrington, Dr. James Fields, Joseph Frome, Ralph Gari, John Gehrett, Gordon Grant, Howard Green, Jim Kelly, David Trent Leighton, John McKinley, Newell "Mitch" Mitchell, Bill Rathmann, Stanley Richards, Dr. Richard Stuller, Walter Szuba and Jack Young.
They each were given a memento from the National World War II Memorial.
When Art Brown called Jack Young's name, the veterans laughed when he quipped, "You're the first general to ever say my name."
And then the old men were ready to go home.
- Hilton Head WWII vet knows cost of freedom, joy of peace, July 4, 2015