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Veterans Tell Their Stories at MSU Breakfast

Around 200 veterans and military personnel were honored Wednesday at Missouri State University's annual Veteran's Day breakfast. KSMU's Jennifer Moore met up with several of them and listened to their stories.

The patriotic music was in full swing Wednesday morning as the veterans were honored at the event.

One veteran there was Jim Eller, who served in Vietnam in the Infantry in 1969 and 1970. I asked him about his proudest moment in the Armed Forces.

He said it was when he acted as security for the medics who went into the small villages in Vietnam to tend to the wounded civilians there. He can still see some of the faces of the Vietnamese people in need of medical care, he says.

Another veteran at the breakfast was Tom Edgeller, who served 32 years in the Army and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.

He joined the Army when he was 15, and served during Korea.

"We all had the welfare of our country in mind," he says. "We were doing what had to be done to protect our families back home. And that kind of bond came with very strong attachments to our country, and the life we have here in America."

Sitting at a table full of retired Marines in red hats was retired Marine gunnery sergeant Ray Glenn, who lives in Rogersville. He served two tours in Vietnam and was stationed in Guantanamo Bay when the Cuban Missile Crisis went down.

He says he is so proud of his fellow veterans, and that pride reaches its peak each time he sees the American flag.

"I think I'm a tough Marine, but I'm really just a softy inside. And it brings tears to my eyes," he says.

He looked around the room and says he will always hold a unique bond with the men and women who have served in the military.

"As Marines, we pride ourselves, and we say, 'We're the best.' But we really look at our brothers and sisters in all branches of service. And when it really comes down to it, one of my battles in Vietnam, we joined forces with the 101st Airborne, and we pulled a joint operation, and we were very successful because of the banding of us both together," he said.

Only a small handful of World War Two veterans were present at the breakfast. One of them was John Richie, who served in the Coast Guard rescue service, and was assigned to the Army transport service.

Richie spent his first six months in the war in the European theatre, and the last two years in the south Pacific and the Philippines.

One incident that sticks out in his mind is the Battle of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific.

"We went in and picked up what was left of the Marines, after they went in on the first wave," Richie recalls. "Remember, we were on rescues there. And one of the things that stands out in my mind was talking to a young Marine that had his left arm blown off. And I looked at him and I said, 'You're quite a hero, fella.' And he said, 'No, sailor, the heroes aren't going home.'"

Richie was also there when the American troops rescued the prisoners of war who had survived the Bataan Death March.

The other World War Two veteran I spoke with was Bunny McClernon. She served in the Navy, and was 20 years old when she enlisted.

"Dad was in World War One. So it was something I wanted to do. Mother wasn't crazy about it, but I went anyway," she says. "I kept the records on the planes to pay the pilots...yeah, I loved it," she adds.

She was based in Chicago. It was her job to make sure that the pilots returned after going out on a flight. She recalls her two best friends and bunkmates, Orphie and Mittie.

It was during her time in the Navy that she danced with who she describes as a "handsome sailor," a flight mechanic who flagged in the planes every day. Later, she became his bride.

Her daughter, Patty McClernon, said when the attacks on 9/11 happened, her mother said she would enlist all over again if she could.

The theme of this year's breakfast was "Missouri State Salutes the Coast Guard."

For KSMU News, I'm Jennifer Moore.