World War II Veterans Honored at Flag Day Celebration

Contributed By Dayle Tedrow, Church News contributor

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

With the five WWII honorees looking on, Elder William Woods, director of the Mormon Battalion Historic Site, speaks on June 12.   Photo by Scott Bennion.

Article Highlights

  • The celebration of Flag Day is a tradition at the Mormon Battalion Museum in San Diego, California.
  • This year, five surviving World War II veterans were recognized for their service.
  • Each veteran was presented with a Mormon Battalion lapel pin, signifying their induction into the site's Hall of Fame.

“If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.” —Elder William Woods, director of the Mormon Battalion Historic Site

Feelings of patriotism surrounded the celebration of Flag Day in Old Town San Diego State Park. The first Flag Day was adopted June 14, 1777, by the Second Continental Congress. Its celebration has become a tradition at the Mormon Battalion Historic Site, and on Sunday, June 12, five surviving World War II veterans were recognized for the service they rendered during that war. Hundreds gathered to pay respect to the veterans and to honor the flag of the United States of America on the grassy grounds behind the historic site.

The American flag flying at the Mormon Battalion Historic Site was retired and replaced with an American flag that flew at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where the newly inducted members of the Mormon Battalion gathered in 1846 to begin their march across the deserts of the southern territories in the Mexican-American War. Reenactors of the Mormon Battalion looked on before presenting colors on the stage.

The singing of the national anthem was accompanied by the United States Navy Band, SW, that also performed several other patriotic numbers. Following the invocation by Chaplain J. D. Luckesen, Lt. USN, the crowd was welcomed by Fred Grand, president of the Old Town Chamber of Commerce.

Elder William Woods, director of the Mormon Battalion Historic Site, welcomed the crowd and provided background on the purpose of this annual celebration. Elder Woods reminded those in attendance of the words of the late President Ronald Reagan: “Without God there is no virtue because there is no prompting of the conscience. … Without God there is a coarsening of the society; without God democracy will not and cannot long endure. … If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”

Elder Woods continued, “So we meet today to remember those that have paid the price of freedom. We meet to remember the events that have shaped our lives and our society. We meet to strengthen our moral compass. Through the history of individuals and events we connect emotionally, spiritually, and find faith and courage to continue the American dream. Their story is and can become our story.”

Col. Preston Jones, USMC, is the keynote speaker at the Flag Day celebration on June 12. Photo by Scott Bennion.

Col. Rip Harper, USMC, receiving a Mormon Battalion pin from Sister Renee Woods, assistant director of the Mormon Battalion Historic Site. Photo by Scott Bennion.

Col. Preston Jones, USMC, salutes one of the honorees, Lt. Phillip Harris, RNVR, during the awards ceremony on June 12. Photo by Scott Bennion.

Colonel Preston C. Jones, commanding officer, Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, and also a Latter-day Saint, was the keynote speaker. During his remarks, Col. Jones said that on “June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress (1775–1781) declared: ‘Resolved: that the flag of the (thirteen) United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.’ Within this short document, is defined the exceptional nature of America. Never before had a nation been founded who identified God, not man, as the source of their rights, that all men are equal, that government is to operate according to the consent of the governed and that the purpose of government is to protect the God-given rights of its citizens.“

The recognition ceremony followed Colonel Jones’s remarks as he presented each of the honorees with a medallion. Centered in the medallion is a replica of the Mormon Battalion Monument standing above the historic site in Presidio Park, the location of old Fort Stockton. The medal was designed as a memorial to the Mormon Battalion for their faith, service, and sacrifice in defending our liberties and honors the recipients for their similar defense of the nation's freedoms.

Sister Renee Woods, assistant director of the Mormon Battalion Historic Site, presented each with a Mormon Battalion lapel pin, signifying their induction into the site's Hall of Fame, where they were preceded by honorees from the past three years.

This year's World War II honorees are CS2 Lucy Josey Anderson, USN; Col. James Austin Harper, USMC; Lt. Philip Hugh Harris, RNVR; Lt. Robert C. Newton, U.S. Army; and Sgt. William Anton Winchester, U.S. Army.

U.S. Navy Band Southwest performs on June 12 at the Mormon Battalion Historic Site. Photo by Scott Bennion.

Every event has “a moment,” and certainly tops among many wonderful moments during the Flag Day celebration was the singing of “Amazing Grace” by 99-year-old Col. Harper, whose a capella voice rang clear and strong through six verses from memory.

Following the benediction by Chaplin Luckesen, cake and ice cream were served. The red, white, and blue cake was ceremonially cut by Major Donald R. Bennett, USMC (Ret.) as is the tradition on the Marine Corps birthdays, using the Mameluke sword, a reminder that “we are a band of warriors, committed to carrying the sword, so that our nation may live in peace.” The Marine Corps tradition of carrying this sword dates from Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon’s assault of Derna, Tripoli, in 1805.

Col. Rip Harper, USMC, 99-year-old honoree, sang a solo during the celebration on June 12. Photo by Scott Bennion.