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104-year-old Iwo Jima Marine rakes in 70,000 cards for Valentine’s Day
STOCKTON, Calif. (Reuters) - William White, a 104-year-old U.S. Marine veteran who earned a Purple Heart in World War Two, is celebrating Valentine's Day this year like never before, surrounded by a mountain of 70,000 love letters and well-wishes sent from all over the world.
The cards and notes to "Major Bill," a retired major who lives in an assisted living facility in Stockton, California, began pouring in after a fellow resident launched a social media campaign called "Operation Valentine," asking friends and strangers alike to send greetings to honor White.
At the outset, the goal was a modest 100 cards - about one for every one of White's birthdays - but the response has outstripped all expectations.
Major Bill White reads through Valentine's Day cards with his great granddaughters Abigail Sawyer (9 years old) and Nicole Sawyer (7 years old) at his home at an assisted living facility in Stockton, California, January 31, 2020. (REUTERS/Kate Munsch)
"It's just too fantastic," said White, surrounded by waist-high stacks of postal boxes filled with cards.
On a recent day, White's great-granddaughter Abigail Sawyer, 9, delivered a bundle of cards from her fourth grade class, many of them decorated with the American flag.
A week before Valentine's Day, which lands on Friday this year, at least 70,000 pieces of correspondence had arrived from people in every U.S. state and several foreign countries.
So much mail has been delivered that White's family has had to enlist volunteers to help open the cards and read the warm wishes to White, who retired after 35 years of active service, including time in the Pacific theater of WWII, when he was wounded at Iwo Jima.
Thousands of Valentine's Day cards sent to Major Bill White, hang at the community dining room at his assisted living facility January 31, 2020. (REUTERS/Kate Munsch)
For those sending Valentines, White represents something bigger than himself. Many of them have conveyed a deep appreciation not only to White for his service, but to all veterans who died too soon to hear their gratitude.
A woman identified only as Jane told White that her late grandfather also fought in World War Two as a U.S. Army paratrooper. Had he lived, she said, he would be turning 100 years old this year.
"I miss him so much," she wrote. "By sending you this card, I feel as though I am sending my grandfather a card."
It's all new to White, who said he never really celebrated Valentine's Day, even when his wife of 42 years was alive.
"It's something I've never heard of or seen," White said. "All of a sudden here, like a ton of bricks. I'm sort of speechless."
Though the Army has yet to actually set an official recruiting goal for this year, leaders are confident they're going to bring in more soldiers than last year.
Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, told reporters on Wednesday that the Army was currently 2,226 contracts ahead of where it was in 2019.
"I will just tell you that this time last year we were in the red, and now we're in the green which is — the momentum's there and we see it continuing throughout the end of the year," Muth said, adding that the service hit recruiting numbers in February that haven't been hit during that month since 2014.
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Some Fort Bragg paratroopers who left for the Middle East on a no-notice deployment last month came home Thursday.
About 3,500 soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team were sent to Kuwait beginning Jan. 1 as tensions were rising in the region. The first soldiers were in the air within 18 hours of being told to go.
Large cargo ships, small fishing boats and other watercraft sail safely past Naval Station Norfolk every day, but there's always a possibility that terrorists could use any one of them to attack the world's largest naval base.
While Navy security keeps a close eye on every vessel that passes, there's an inherent risk for the sailors aboard small patrol boats who are tasked with helping keep aircraft carriers, submarines and destroyers on base safe from waterborne attacks.
So the Navy experimented Wednesday to test whether an unmanned vessel could stop a small boat threatening the base from the Elizabeth River.