Chance of a lifetime for area residents |

Chance of a lifetime for area residents

Outside of a good-conduct medal he received shortly after completing a three-year hitch in World War II, Edwin “Bud” Keith’s military career didn’t lend itself to a cache of honors.

Until today, that is, when Bud Keith, 87, and his daughter Leslie Freeman will board a private jet with 64 other veterans and their companions for a cross-country trek to Washington, D.C. The trip is a gesture of thanks brought to veterans by a Stockton developer who worries his World War II compatriots are running out of time to view a tribute to the 16 million Americans who served and the 400,000 who died during the U.S. involvement in World War II.

San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos, who was a member of the Army Air Corps during World War II, decided to charter a jet after hearing how many of Northern California’s military veterans were unable to make the trip to the National Mall to view the new memorial, which opened April 29.

With the help of Sacramento radio station KFBK-AM, a lottery was held to give veterans and their loved ones a chance to travel to the memorial on the millionaire developer’s dime.

Keith and former Grass Valley assistant postmaster Lloyd Veale, 87, a chemical-warfare expert with the U.S. Army, arrive this afternoon for a tour of the war memorial, a tribute to a generation often referred to as America’s greatest.

“All I can say is, it’s about time,” said Irma Keith, who married her husband seven months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and waited more than three years for him to return home, working as an assistant to a Jewish lawyer who helped bring Jews to America from war-torn Europe.

Bud Keith agrees. “I think we should have had a sooner shot at this, if you ask me. One thousand people a day (who served in World War II) are buying the farm,” said Keith, who served with the Army Signal Corps during the war.

Keith and his wife have lived in Grass Valley for 40 years.

Donations totaling $67,000 from the public, plus donations from Spanos and a $50,000 contribution from talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, will cover the cost of the chartered United Airlines flight to the nation’s capital.

The group returns to Sacramento Wednesday.

“All through my life, my dad told me bits and pieces of the story of his war experience,” said Freeman, who submitted her father’s name for consideration in the lottery after Freeman’s husband, Cornell, heard the announcement on the radio.

Veale, who landed on the shores of Normandy during D-Day in June 1944, said he doesn’t know who submitted his name. The magnitude of his upcoming trip just began to sink in Friday.

“It will be the climax of a lifetime,” said Veale, who will be accompanied to Washington by his grandson, Nevada Union High School student Wade Carman. “I feel damn lucky to be alive. I think it’s going to be a real good thing to see.”

Veale, a Grass Valley native who served as assistant postmaster for 40 years before retiring in 1976, said he doesn’t often reflect on his nearly three-year stint in the military, which was spent entirely in Europe.

“It brings back too many memories,” he said. “Bad ones.”

Those memories include witnessing first-hand the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, where he helped release the Jewish prisoners.

Veale’s wife, Catherine, said she’s glad her husband will be taking his grandson along, to show Wade Carman an important piece of his grandfather’s life.

“I think it’s very, very deserved and I wish it could have come earlier for them,” she said.

“We’re very grateful and excited to be able to do this.”

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