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Veterans of longest day finally get day in the sun

POULSBO — Congressman Jay Inslee commented Saturday that he felt it was most appropriate to honor the sons of liberty on the shores of Liberty Bay.

Nearly 60 years after serving their country in World War II, 52 Kitsap County residents were honored Saturday with the Jubilee of Liberty Medal, six posthumously, at a ceremony at the Poulsbo Armory. The Farragut Brass Band played patriotic songs and veterans wearing American Legion badges from places like Bremerton, Silverdale and Poulsbo gathered for a long-awaited honor.

Timothy Lowenberg, Major General with the Washington National Guard said the day was not just about the brave men and women who fought during World War II, but the legacy they’ve left in the hearts and minds of the United States.

“If we are to heed the past to prepare for the future, we must listen to the voices of a generation that speaks to us of honor and sacrifice,” Lowenberg said. “These people devoted their adult lives to building America.”

The award, minted at the direction of the government of Normandy, France, was first presented to veterans of the D-Day and Normandy invasions who returned to the 50th anniversary ceremonies in June 1994.

Congressman George Nethercutt explained that after the first awards were given, it was discovered that hundreds of veterans had been overlooked.

Nethercutt said a trip to Normandy with his wife last Memorial Day strengthened his resolve to make sure the medals made it into these veterans’ hands.

“I came back from Normandy with a deep appreciation for that campaign and those who fought in it — those who survived and those who remained on foreign soil,” Nethercutt said, noting the sacrifice was made not only by service men and women, but also by their families. “I embarked on this journey to ensure that as the years go by for these veterans that we distribute these medals that have not been distributed yet... I do it out of great respect for the World War II generation.”

The effort to seek out and award the additional veterans was underwritten by Global Credit Union. The Poulsbo awards ceremony was the seventh such to take place in Washington State. The first ceremony happened in Spokane in November 2002.

Poulsbo American Legion charter member and honoree John Watte was all smiles after the ceremony as he received hugs and handshakes from his children, grandchildren and other well wishers. He said it felt wonderful to have received the medal after so many years and to see so many of his fellow veterans do the same.

“To tell you the truth, it was really a surprise because I had given it up for a long time,” Watte said, noting that it was good to see so many World War II generation veterans in one room. “I was beginning to believe that I was a member of a dying breed. I wasn’t seeing anyone my age anymore.”

When asked his feelings about the award, Poulsbo veteran Bob Sauter put a friendly arm on fellow honoree Bill O’Hara’s shoulder and pointed to his friend’s chest.

“It took 52 years to get O’Hara his purple heart but that’s what we did for him,” Sauter said.

Sauter volunteers at one of two local veteran’s assistance offices that help local military retirees and their families with claims. He said it was a great experience to be recognized for the role he played, but that for him there is still work to be done because some veterans are still waiting for other honors.

“It’s not so much for me, it’s for everybody else,” Sauter commented.

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