Neighbors stage birthday parade for 101-year-old WWII veteran Helen Lattal
By BRAD HARPER | Montgomery Advertiser | Published: January 4, 2021
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Tribune News Service) — All Helen Lattal wanted was a chance to help, but women weren’t allowed in the Army at the time. So after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lattal worked with the draft board to sign up soldiers while pining for her own chance to serve in World War II.
That came in 1942. She served overseas commanders to help beat the Nazis and then kept serving her nation and community, from working on pretrial investigations for the Nuremberg trials to helping flood victims in Selma decades later. Lattal’s 101st birthday came and went quietly Dec. 28, part of a quiet holiday season with the COVID-19 pandemic still gripping the nation. “There’s so little we could do, really,” she said.
Her neighbors weren’t going to leave it at that.
Lattal sat under a tent and waved an American flag Monday in Montgomery as friends, family members, veterans’ groups and well-wishers drove past her, honking and dropping off birthday cards. Montgomery firefighters marched and waved to her ahead of a row of fire trucks. Members of the Buffalo Soldiers motorcycle club roared past along with four chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution, state officials and members of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Prattville.
Despite that, Lattal kept looking over her should. Several generations of her family surprised her at the parade and took seats behind her to watch the parade with her.
A few more surprises arrived after the parade. Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed proclaimed her birthday Helen Lattal Day in Montgomery, and Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Kent Davis presented a special commendation from Gov. Kay Ivey, which noted that all Alabamians owe Lattal “a great debt of gratitude.”
Central Alabama Veterans Health System Director Amir Farooq thanked her “for your contributions to the American story.”
Her time as a skilled verbatim shorthand transcriber in World War II was just the beginning of that story for Lattal. After assisting at Nuremburg, she spent her life working to help veterans and the community. That includes being named American Red Cross Volunteer of the Year decades ago.
Lattal said she was overwhelmed by Monday’s ceremony and that she never served for recognition.
“I just felt it was a patriotic duty to do. I enjoyed it,” she said. “That’s all I expected. Not this!”
It’s the second time Montgomery has honored a female WWII veteran on her 101st birthday in the past three months.
On Nov. 4, first responders and veteran groups held a parade for Romay Davis, who served in WWII as part of an all-Black, all-female Army unit.
More: Romay Davis is given a parade for her 101st birthday
American Red Cross volunteer Martha Simmons helped organize both parades.
“I want to know what these WACs were eating,” Simmons said laughing.
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