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Veterans, family and friends remember

Veteran and former WWII POW Lee James speaks Saturday during the fifth annual Salute to Veterans at Veterans Park Amphitheater. James told of his experiences bombing Germany in the war and at a POW camp.

Veteran and former WWII POW Lee James speaks Saturday during the fifth annual Salute to Veterans at Veterans Park Amphitheater. James told of his experiences bombing Germany in the war and at a POW camp.

ALBANY, Ga. -- It was a day of red, white and blue to honor veterans with flags, songs and even balloons Saturday in the Veterans Park Amphitheatre.

The fifth annual Salute to Veterans featured a World War II speaker who was a POW in Germany at the end of the war. Before 88-year-old Lee James spoke, prayers and the national anthem sung by Christen Taylor put the veterans, their families and friends in a patriotic frame of mind.

Sowega Veterans Coalition Chairman Paul Murray saluted the audience and said, "When I see you all salute, and I see those guys and girls on top of the military vehicles that are serving now, that is what it is all about.

"If you can read the program, thank a teacher. If you are reading in English, thank a veteran."

Murray remarked that the last veteran of World War I had died and that the ranks of those who had served in World War II, which ended in 1945, are thinning. He then introduced James, one of that greatest generation.

"He is a local POW who got shot down over Germany," Murray said. "He is here with his wife, Palma. We don't want to forget the families that sacrifice when we serve our country."

Dressed in a red veteran's vest, blue overseas cap straight on his head, James spoke about his experiences in World War II.

He served as a co-pilot on a B-17 that sustained near fatal damages on a couple of flights over enemy territory. One of the flights had a substitute pilot who was killed by anti-aircraft fire.

James and his crew were on their ninth sortie over Germany when "the Germans hit us with just about everything and we went down," the veteran said. Running from the crash, James was captured by a pistol-wielding farmer.

When interrogated, he protected his dogtags despite having a gun shoved at his head. Turns out the German officer wanted the plastic Cracker Jacks toy he had on the tags, not the tags. James gladly handed it over.

Russians on horses -- "Cossacks with machine guns across their chests" -- liberated the POW camp where James was incarcerated. His war ended.

The end of World War I gave rise to Veterans Day to honor those who served. It originated as "Armistice Day" on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of what was called the war to end all wars. A resolution passed by Congress in 1926 made it an annual observance. It became a national holiday in 1938.

Since then, the date has changed and returned to Nov. 11. There has been no change in the respect of a grateful nation for its veterans.