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'Spirit of '45' Tour celebrates Greatest Generation

RALEIGH — August 14, 1945: It has been called the greatest day for the Greatest Generation, a day when the entire nation celebrated the end of World War II together. At a ceremony at The Cypress of Raleigh continuing care community on Tuesday, the men and women of that generation were honored as part of a national effort called the “Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive!”

“We need to recapture the spirit of this generation,” National Director Warren Hegg said, describing country’s unity in the war effort. “There you see the true greatness that America is really about,” he said.

In 2010, Congress declared the second Sunday in August “Spirit of ’45 Day,” and Tuesday’s event was one of dozens of stops on a tour to promote the celebration across the country.

WWII veterans were recognized and The Cypress was proclaimed the first Purple Heart Continuing Care Community in America.

“We’re just proud to be a part of the day,” said Jonathan Cook, executive director of The Cypress, while accepting the honor.

Although the Raleigh community is not exclusively a home for veterans, many live there, and there was considerable enthusiasm for the Spirit of ’45 event, according to Wellness Coordinator Bethany Stillwaggon.

Nearly 100 attendees , including residents, families, members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and Boy Scout Troop 207, attended. Also in attendance were Auston and Bonnie O’Neill, the couple behind the Spirit of ’45 Tour.

When Auston was diagnosed with cancer last year, it was a wake-up call for the O’Neills, who have many servicemen and women in their family, including a son and daughter-in-law both currently serving in Afghanistan.

“It was a reality check,” Bonnie said. “We asked ourselves the question, ‘With the time left, what do we do?’”

In February, they hit the road in a motor home, traveling the nation to raise awareness of the Spirit of ’45 movement.

Auston said he was impressed by the “together-ness” of The Cypress community. According to Hegg, it is this very quality that makes the Greatest Generation so remarkable. For many of those involved in the war efforts, however, it was only natural.

“Many people have thanked me for my service, and I don’t understand,” said veteran George Riess, who served as a platoon medic in the infantry. “If you had half a sense of being an American, there was no choice.”

The Spirit of ’45 celebration focuses on not only to honor the Greatest Generation, but also inspiring young people today to carry on its traingdition. Stillwaggon emphasized the importance of preserving their experiences.

“The goal of this is to share those stories, and I think they want to tell them,” she said.

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