Veterans recall joy, sorrow during commemoration of WWII victory

By RYAN MURPHY | Daily Press | Published: August 16, 2015

HAMPTON, Va. (Tribune News Service) -- A crowd of about 50 gathered at Hampton National Cemetery on Saturday morning to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Thirteen veterans of the war stood as a wreath was laid for the soldiers interred at the cemetery and a 21 gun salute was fired.

Col. Bryan Denny, a division chief with Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis, told the gathering that the occasion was one for recognition, to honor those who had fought and remember those who had sacrificed.

"It's about a spirit -- the spirit of '45," Denny said. "It's an obligation to keep that alive, and not just for those who were there."

Ninety-five-year-old Anthony Grant, who retired from the Army after serving in World War II and Korea, said ceremonies like Saturday's, even those celebrating victory, remind him of the lowest moments.

"It brings back a lot of memories of the dark days of World War II and the many friends we lost, both during and after the war," he said.

For some, the fight wasn't quite over when the Japanese government announced the country's unconditional surrender on Aug. 14, 1945.

Hampton resident Ken Bernstrom spent the weeks following the surrender "mopping up" with the Army's 128th Infantry Regiment in Luzon in the Philippines. Japanese soldiers under the command of General Tomoyuki Yamashita had holed up in the mountains there.

That regiment suffered the last combat casualty of World War II, when Edward Mullins was killed in a surprise attack by Yamashita's forces on Aug. 14, the day of the Japanese surrender.

Bernstrom, 89, said he and his fellow soldiers spent weeks high up in the mountains, hiding in fox holes, taking Japanese prisoners and delivering them down to those waiting at the bottom of the mountain, until Yamashita finally surrendered to Bernstrom's division on Sept. 2, 1945.

Then, finally, Bernstrom was able to return home with his older brother Harold, who was also serving in the Philippines.

"I lived on a farm on the Canadian border. When I got home I got down on my hands and knees and kissed the ground," Bernstrom said.

Drafted at 18, Bernstrom returned to finish high school at age 20. For Bernstrom, 70 years on, the spirit of '45 and the joys of coming home persist in celebrations like the one at the cemetery Saturday.

"To get recognized like this, it's a real booster, and I'm still well enough to appreciate it," he said.

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