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Honoring the Greatest Generation

Patriotic Festival organizer Thoke has personal ties to World War II vets

He has researched and found 31 living
World War II veterans in the area



(August 2015) – In June 13, we honored 23 World War II veterans at the third annual Patriotic Festival in New Castle, Ky. We had veterans ranging in age of 88 to 98 covering all branches of the military service.

Photo provided

Jeff Thoke (center) poses with several area World War II veterans during this year’s Patriotic Festival in New Castle.

For the first time, we had a female World War II veteran Carlette Vance, 93, who spent time in France treating wounded soldiers. This is how she met her future husband.
We had several veterans who flew numerous bombing missions over Germany, along with our first African American World War II vet who had to battle segregation within the U.S. Army. Several vets earned Bronze Stars, with one vet earning three Purple Hearts from three different wars. 
To have 23 distinguished members of the Greatest Generation in New Castle at one time was a unique experience for a small town our size. While many of us have seen World War II movies or watched the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” to meet these people in person and learn about their wartime duties is heartwarming.
I am often asked why I have such an interest in World War II veterans. I guess my main reason is these true American heroes possibly changed the world. If they had not successfully invaded the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and pushed the Germans back into Germany and win the war, the world could be different today. We will never know.
But what we do know is these World War II veterans are aging and disappearing at an alarming rate, with most being gone in the next five years. Only about 1 million of the 14 million who served during World War II are left. Time is of the essence to meet and honor these true heroes while we can.
On Aug. 15, we will once again be able to honor our World War II veterans during the “Spirit of 45” festivities in Louisville, Ky., commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. When you meet a World War II veteran, you have a rare opportunity to meet living history and thank them for what they did for us all those years ago. Once they are gone, you’ll have to read history books about them as we do now with World War I veterans.

• Jeff Thoke is a Trimble County, Ky., resident who serves as the New Castle Main Street Program Director and Economic Development Coordinator. He also organizes the annual Patriotic Festival. He wrote this column for RoundAbout.

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