Niles WWII veterans honored by American Legion

NILES — Under a sunny Saturday morning, a line of cars and motorcycles weaved through the streets of Niles. When the procession of vehicles stopped, more than a dozen people exited, some carrying American flags with them.

In total, the procession would stop three times, at each stop recognizing a Niles veteran.

Saturday, the Niles American Legion Post 26 honored three of its living World War II veterans by hosting a procession of cars and motorcycles to the veterans’ homes. There, the World War II veterans were presented with certificates of honor. The Western Michigan Gold Star Mothers also presented each veteran with an American Flag Quilt made by the Niles Peacemakers.

“As soon as Pearl Harbor hit, these young men left their lives behind to fight for our freedoms and our liberties,” said Odie Stewart, commander of American Legion Post 26.

Saturday was chosen as the day to honor Niles’ World War II veterans as it was the anniversary of D-Day, the turning point of the war, Stewart said. On June 6, 1944, allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, marking the largest seaborne invasion in history.

“A lot of these veterans are in their 90s,” Stewart said. “We decided we needed to do this while we are still able to, and today seemed like the right time.”

According to Stewart, American Legion Post 26 has 10 surviving World War II veterans. As some have moved or were otherwise unavailable Saturday, they will be honored at a separate time.

The first stop of Saturday’s procession was at the house of Donald Steven, 93. He served in the military from 1945 to 1946.

Steven received his certificate of honor from his front porch with a smile on his face. Initially, he expected about four or five individuals from the American Legion to visit his home, so he said he was pleasantly surprised when more than a dozen individuals showed up to share thanks.

“This is good,” he said, holding the certificate in his lap. “There aren’t many of us [World War II veterans] around anymore.”

Also present was Steven’s son, Terry. Terry said he was glad that his father was able to receive recognition from the American Legion.

“I think this means a lot,” he said. “World War II veterans gave us our freedoms.”

Following Steven, the American Legion visited World War II veterans Raymond Kurtis and George Tabbert.

Stewart said he was glad that the American Legion was able to honor and say “thank you” to its World War II veterans Saturday.

“They sacrificed for our country,” he said. “[That] will be remembered.”