A few years back, a local American Legion orchestra held its final concert of the summer. Some in the audience were retirees.
A cynic would dismiss them as the kind of people they'd pass in the grocery aisle without a second glance. Then the leader announced the ensemble would perform the anthems of the U.S. military branches. As each was played, he said, veterans of that branch should stand and be recognized.
The music began. One by one, the men struggled to their feet.
Tomorrow is Veterans Day. America lately has been big on honoring the living veterans of our conflicts. None was bigger than World War II.
We won't have these veterans for that many more Veterans Days. Those who fought it are dying nationwide at a rate of 800 a day. Every day.
Even a man who enlisted as a teenager would be well into his 80s now.
Last weekend, Martin County-based Southeast Florida Honor Flight flew 84 World War II veterans to Washington to be honored at the World War II Memorial.
Firefighters passed the boot to pay for the charter, and more than 80 firefighters spent about $400 each, out-of-pocket, for the privilege of escorting these quiet heroes.
Before the trip, three men agreed to tell their stories. All three joined the armed forces at 17, an age when most kids are still treating their acne.
These men come from a generation that doesn't brag, so you'd never know they experienced incredible horror and showed incredible courage and, incredibly, saved the world.
But if someone asks, "What did you do in the war, Grandpa?" well, then, OK, they'll tell you.
Anthony Cicchino, 86, Boynton Beach. He grew up in northern New Jersey and enlisted in 1943. His parents wouldn't consent, so he lied about his age.
"I wound up in the paratroopers in the Pacific," he said. He made two combat jumps: July 3, 1944, on Noemfoor Island, off the western coast of New Guinea; and in February 1945 on Corregidor, in the Philippines.
"The jumps were kind of scary. One was very tough, not because of the firing, but because the terrain was all coral. We had more people hurt on the jump.
"Then Corregidor, of course, you know, it was only a mile wide. The jump was very strenuous and a lot of us went into the water. Fortunately, I made out well."
"We had 3,000 men" at Corregidor. "We were supposed to have only 500 (Japanese), but they had over 5,000 there. Very bad.
"They had a banzai (battalion). They broke through and I almost got it. But I didn't. They came right across the field with swords and machetes and firing rifles. Luckily, we could beat them back. But I came close."
After the war, he had several jobs, "and couldn't adjust," so he re-enlisted. When the Korean War broke out, he was in Europe. He moved to Florida in 1963 and owned bars and nightclubs in Miami. He retired in 1980.
"Even at our reunions, we never talked about the war. I never talked about it to any of my friends at home, or family. They know very little about what I did. I'm proud of it now. Very proud."
Dean Dungeon, 85, Lake Worth. He grew up in Dearborn, Mich., and enlisted in 1943. He had to get his parents' consent.
"I just wanted to be a soldier all my life."
On D-Day, he was part of the U.S. Rangers unit at Pointe du Hoc on the coast of Normandy, France.
He didn't scale the 300-foot cliff in enemy fire, but he was with units that used ladders to work their way up the smaller cliffs, 150 or 200 feet at a time.
"We pushed a lot of bayonets into the side of the cliff to get a foothold."
He also helped liberate Dachau concentration camp.
Dean says more with silence. Asked to elaborate on his experience, his eyes well with tears, and his throat thickens. Even after nearly seven decades, "I can't," he croaks.
He eventually joined with different divisions and ran patrols behind enemy lines. Asked if he can recall some of his battle experiences, he again shakes his head and whispers, "no."
Asked if he lost friends, he works his jaw, then finally says quietly, "yeah."
After the war, he was a salesman in Michigan for Anheuser-Busch. He moved to Florida two years ago.
Do people ask him about the war?
"Yes sir. I can't do it."
Are there good things he remembers?
"My comrades." And he's overcome again.
At times, he says, someone will thank him for his service.
Francis "Jeff" Jeffcott, 87, North Palm Beach. He grew up in Tampa and enlisted in 1942. The state gave high school diplomas early to students who enlisted.
"I signed up in January and went in in February."
After chasing U-boats through the Caribbean, his ship was sent to the Pacific as an escort.
"We got hit by a 75 millimeter shell" three days before the U.S. landing at Leyte, in the Philippines. "We were 1,200 yards from the beach."
Before that, "we took the Second Division of Marines, 125 of them, into Saipan ."
Fog rolled in, "and the kamikazes came across at water level, and hit the DEs, the destroyer escorts, in front of us, and the (ship) astern of us.
"We went up to Iwo Jima and Okinawa. We got shot at several times. "