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WWII veterans mark 70th anniversary of VE Day

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (May 08, 2015) -- "I think this was a wonderful event," Floyd Brantley said. "During the war there were 16 million men. Since then we are dying out fast. We got one million now, and losing about 1,500 a day. All these men here - we're all getting older and soon there will be none left. So this event was outstanding and fascinating and I was glad to attend it."

Brantley is a World War II veteran, who served in the Navy in the Pacific Theater. But that did not stop him and his son, Charles, from coming all the way from Arkansas to attend the Victory in Europe 70th Anniversary at the National World War II Memorial event in Washington, D.C., May 8.

In addition to speeches by both National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice and Katherine Korbel, who stood in for her sister, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, there was a massive laying of wreaths at the memorial's "Freedom Wall" by representatives of the Allied nations, who participated in the war. The biggest draw came at the end, when a series of military flyovers, featuring dozens WWII military aircraft, flew overhead.

At the start of the event, when the first speaker took to the lectern, only the area around the memorial was filled with visitors, with WWII veterans up front. By the time the "Arsenal of Democracy Flyover" began, just a bit after noon, the National Mall was packed with spectators from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial.

Brantley entered the Navy in 1944, and served as a medic during the war on an island near Australia. "I was in a fleet hospital on an island in the south Pacific ... after the initial push, we'd take them in the field hospital in New Caledonia."

He said that he had a brother, who had also served in the war, but was killed.

"He was killed in Guadalcanal, a few years before I went in," he said. "I was in high school when I got the notice I was being drafted. They typed at the bottom that they will defer me until the end of school if I want. But I didn't want that. I cut that message off and showed them that. I had to go in. So I went on in and I kept that little piece in my billfold that said I could still be in school. "

When news of the victory in Europe came, he said he knew it did not affect him just exactly, but he and his fellow Sailors were excited just the same at the turn of events.

"We were thrilled to death because we knew it might soon be over for us too," he said. "We celebrated when we got the news that it was over in Europe."

When his time came, and the war with Japan ended in the Pacific, he said it took a while for him to get home, off the island, because at the time there was a shortage of transportation, but no shortage of men that wanted to get back to the United States.

After the war, Brantley decided to finish his education. "I was a 20-year-old kid, who went back to high school and then went to Baylor University," he said.

But then war broke out again - this time in Korea. At Baylor, he had been in ROTC. And this time, he went into service as an Air Force officer.

At the end of WWII, Brantley had earned the rank of pharmacist mate, third class, in the Navy. At the end of the Korean War, where he served as a transportation officer, he was an Air Force captain.

And later, at 49 years old, he wanted to go back into uniform again. The military was unwilling to let him go into the Arkansas Air National Guard as a captain, but he said he was able to resign his commission and enter as an enlisted Airman, with his assignment as a cook. He finished serving in the Air National Guard as a senior master sergeant, but was allowed, after earning enough points, to retire as an Air Force captain.

Brantley's son, Charles, said his dad is still active. He said he goes to the gym and has competed in bicycling racing. He is now training for another race.

H. Kurt Weiser, who lives in Rockville, Maryland, attended the V-E Day event with his son, Greg, and granddaughter, Susie.

Weiser said at the start of WWII, he was living in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and was "working on steam engines." He entered the service in 1942.

As an Army Air Corps officer, and "ferry pilot," Weiser flew military aircraft - a lot of them. From his pocket he pulled a list of the 24 different military aircraft he has flown. Among those where the AT-6 "Texan," the P-39 Aerocobra, the P-40 Warhawk, the P-63 King Cobra, the P-51 Mustang, the B-17 Flying Fortress and the C-47 Skytrain. All of those flew overhead as part of the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover.

He said that at one time, he had been responsible for flying 30 P-39 aircraft from Niagara Falls, New York, to Great Falls, Montana. "They all had red stars pained on the side of them," he said.

From Great Falls, the aircraft were flown by other pilots to Alaska - where the Russians came to pick them up, he said.

Weiser also served outside the United States during the war - in the China, Burma and India theater.

"I was only scared once. The Air Corps training always gave you instructions on how to correct a situation. This one night I was going home - I was [in] India - and I felt something hot on my left hand and I thought what the heck is that down there? And I looked down and it was the biggest damn tiger you ever saw -- his mouth was that close to my hand," he said, gesturing with his hands. "That's the only time I was scared."

When Weiser learned of the victory in Europe, he said it was "just another day," for him and his men. But his time would soon come to go home, and it would not be just another day.

"I got on a boat with 5,000 other guys in India, and it took us 19 days to get from India to New York City ... and when we ... ," he paused, tearing up. "When we came into New York Harbor and saw the Statue of Liberty ... " and then he was overcome with emotion, unable to finish his thought.

After WWII ended, Wiser applied for a regular commission and eventually left the Army in 1948, as an Army major.

"It's great. It's the best thing that ever happened," he said of the event V-E Day event in the nation's capital - also observing, "There's a lot of old men around here."