HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The Veterans Affairs office estimates that we lose an average of 400 World War II veterans per day. Sadly, in the not too distant future, those heroes will only live on in history books.
Which is why it was such a treat for a large group of Westminster Christian Academy students to hear these veterans, in their own words.
"There's a few of us now, and soon there will be even fewer," one veteran said.
To have so many World War II veterans in one room, sharing stories and even songs, is a gift that exceeds understanding.
Warren Schmitt served in the Army Air Corps in the European theater running more than a dozen missions. "This was in December of 1944, which is extremely cold, some of us got frostbitten toes and fingers," he remembered. "We bombed ridges, railroad yards and such in northern Italy, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Romania."
Schmitt was eventually sent home after being hit by German artillery. "I was injured in my right side, with flack that came through the Plexiglas turret where I was in the nose of the airplane," Schmitt remembered.
After the war, Warren settled down with the love of his life and had two sons.
Teresa Schmitt is his proud granddaughter-in-law. Her dad, Elbert Phillips served in Vietnam. Teresa is an example of sacrificial soldiers, who will never wear a uniform but have given just as much, maybe even more, to their country.
At the age of eight, Teresa found herself watching her father, also a soldier, walk out the door. Little did she know, she was also on borrowed time.
"I went to hug him, embracing him, and then running to my room because I was going to sulk because I was upset that he was leaving. I didn't know that that would be my last hug, none of us did."
Phillips was flying over the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War when his co-pilot made a fateful wrong turn into an embankment. Their bodies were never recovered.
"For my family, there hasn't been closure. We've accepted the fact that, yes he's not coming home and that's been 49 years, but we've also accepted the fact, he loved what he was doing, he loved serving his country," Teresa recognized. "I wanted to live a life that was worthy of his sacrifice. The reason we have these opportunities is because of people like my father and because of gentlemen up here."
Teresa is one of many proud supporters of Forever Young Senior Veterans, willing to help veterans while they're still here. The group plans trips for soldiers like Warren to find closure years after the gunfire has stopped on the battlefield. "A lot of veterans, it's changed their lives really, to go back and see the places where they've served," said Warren.
The group is in dire need of donations because these aren't trips you can just put off on borrowed time.
"It meant so much, to have the camaraderie and fellowship that we enjoyed together."
Forever Young Senior Veterans hopes to take dozens of World War II veterans on trips to France, Hawaii and Washington D.C. next year.
If you would like to donate to their organization you can visit their website here.