"On the road again!"
2015 National Spirit of '45 Day Unity Tour
"Thanks to the generosity of the people who supported us last year, we were able to achieve our goal of traveling more than 45,000 miles through 45 states and appearing in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, DC and New York's America's Parade on Veterans Day," said Bonnie. "As long we're able to raise the funds to pay for fuel and food, we're going to keep on doing what we can to help renew the Spirit of America during this historic 70th Anniversary year."
Last year, the O'Neill's left their home in Centreville, VA on the day their son, Nathan, was deployed to Afghanistan in February of last year, and were waiting for him on his return to Fort Dix, NJ, in September.
This year's Spirit of '45 Express tour will kick off with a cross country trip from the O'Neill's home to San Diego, CA where they will receive the Spirit of '45 Day during the Spirit of '45 National Leaders Conference and finalize their itinerary with the groups that are organizing events and activities commemorating the 70th Anniversary.
Auston is recruiting members of Bugles Across America to participate in an around the world Tribute that will be the climax of this year's WWII 70th Anniversary Commemorative Weekend in August.
"We want to encourage families throughout our country to honor the legacy of their loved ones who served in World War II and helped to support them on the Home Front," said Auston, whose father served as a decorated combat infantryman in WWII.
To keep the Spirit of '45 Day Express on the road, please make a tax deductible donation today!
Donations of $100 or more will receive your own personal copy of the 2016 Spirit of '45 Day Express 70th Anniversary Commemorative Calendar, signed by Auston and Bonnie.
Please indicate if your donation is in honor of member of the Greatest Generation
in your family or community.
Auston and Bonnie O'Neill announced the countdown to the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in Sarasota, FL on Thursday, August 14.
Scroll down to see the 2014 itinerary for the Tour!
Auston and Bonnie O'Neill are on a mission…and they need your help!
When Auston was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, the couple bought a second hand motor home and made plans to travel throughout America to help raise public awareness about Spirit of ’45 Day and the events and activities that will be taking place next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII.
“Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive” put up the money to wrap the O’Neill’s motor home with signage and provided them with some initial funding to help them get underway. Photos of Auston’s father and parents, and the National WWII Memorial where he performs “Taps” each year on Memorial Day and Spirit of ’45 Day, are featured on the side of the vehicle.
“My dad was a decorated combat infantryman during WWII,” said Auston. “When he died, no one played 'Taps' at his funeral. I want to take this opportunity to honor his memory, and that of my mother, and to encourage other people of my generation to do the same for their parents.”
The Spirit of ’45 Day Express began its journey on February 7, the same day that the O’Neill’s son, Auston, Jr, an Army Reservist, left home for Afghanistan, where his wife is also serving.
“We want to remind people that we need to give our current generation of men and women in uniform the same warm homecoming and support that was given the Greatest Generation on their return home from WWII," said Bonnie, who is networking with Blue Star Mothers (which was founded during WWII) and groups like Code of Support that are helping today’s veterans make the transition to civilian life.
The Spirit of '45 Day Express has been traveling throughout America since February 2014, to help publicize Spirit of '45 Day and promote interest in commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II next year. The Express has traveled more than 45,000 miles, visiting 40 states.
The Family Motor Coach Association, an international organization of families who own and enjoy the recreational use of motorhomes, is helping to support the tour through promoting awareness among its 80,000 members and corporate affiliates. The Association publishes articles in its national magazine and featured a presentation about Spirit of '45 Day and the events and activities planned for the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in 2015 during its 2014 national convention in Redmond, OR. The FMCA is helping Auston and Bonnie form a special Spirit of '45 members group and encouraging its network of campground affiliates to participate in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary next year by having Spirit of '45 programs during the weekend of August 14 - 16. Several FMCA affiliate campgrounds have hosted the Express when it travels through their area. (see below)
The Military Order of the Purple Heart used the tour to mobilize its members who are inviting hundreds of Purple Heart cities, counties and states throughout the country to participate in the 2015 around the world Tribute by having wreath laying ceremonies at appropriate locations in their communities. The MOPH is reaching out to its fellow veterans organizations and service groups, e.g. the American Legion, VFW, Disabled Veterans of America, Amvets, the Navy League, the Marine League, and others that are joining the Spirit of '45 Day "movement."
Members of Dignity Memorial, the nation's largest provider of funeral, cremation and cemetery services, donate beautiful Spirit of '45 Day wreaths at virtually every stop along the tour route, and is encouraging its 1,600 member providers to participate Spirit of '45 Day in August each year, and in the events and activities that are being planned to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII next year. More…
"We Honor Veterans" a collaborative program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and the Department of Veterans Affairs, is also helping to promote Spirit of '45 Day and the 70th Anniversary commemoration to its members.
The National Board of the Navy League voted unanimously to encourage its more than 45,000 members to join the national Spirit of '45 Day movement and begin planning for the 70th Anniversary of the end of WWII next year. The Express is visiting members of the Historical Naval Ships Association to help draw attention to these ships as symbols of the proud history and heritage of America's Seaborne Services during WWII. The Spirit of '45 Day Express has also been stopping at the statues that the Navy Memorial has placed in various communities throughout the country to honor those who served in the Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines during WWII. Click here for a list of locations of the "Lone Sailor" and "Homecoming" statues.
This grassroots initiative needs your support to continue on its mission.
Click here to make a donation today!
Military Order of the Purple Heart chapters and other groups and individuals have begun to make donations to help fuel the tour, which is entirely self funded by the O'Neill's as their personal Spirit of '45 Day/70th Anniversary project. (Right) The MOPH Iowa State Commander and his wife Dixie donated $100 and a traveling wreath. Past Georgia State Commander Jerry Walker donated a tank of diesel when the Express stopped over in Savannah, GA. Executive Director Greg Garcia presents the O'Neill's with a $200 donation during their visit to the Military Memorabilia Museum in Naples, FL.
Click here to make a donation today!
2014 Spirit of '45 Day Express
Highlights of the 2014 Spirit of '45 Day Express tour
December 4 - Louisville, KY - The O'Neill's attended the 52nd Annual Recreation Vehicle Industry Association Trade Show in Louisville, KY, as guests of the FMCA. They toured the new 2015 models and spoke to industry leaders to sound out prospective strategic partners regarding the 2015 edition of the Tour that will include several high visibility whistle stops throughout the year, including appearances at the Super Bowl, the FMCA national reunion, the Indy 500 Memorial Day Race, the Major League Baseball All Star Game, and leading the cross country convoy of WWII vintage vehicles and RV's that will travel from Fort Belvoir, VA to San Diego's Balboa Park as "the Longest Veterans Day Parade in History." The 2015 Tour will conclude again in New York City with appearances in the Veterans Day Parade and/or Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.
November 11 - New York City, NY - The 2014 Spirit of '45 Day Express National Unity Tour officially concluded with a guest appearance in the Veterans Day Parade in New York City, the nation's largest. The Express was joined by youth volunteers marching with enlarged photos of WWII veterans from New York, and one of the life-sized editions of the acclaimed artist Seward Johnson's sculpture "Embracing Peace," which are on loan to the Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive campaign. Also appearing in the Parade as a special guest was Elinor Otto, who visited a group of children the following day at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, before returning home to Long Beach, CA.
November 10 - Wood-Ridge, NJ - The Spirit of '45 Day Express took Elinor Otto - America's Longest Working Rosie the Riveter from Washington, DC to Wood-Ridge where she joined fellow Spirit of '45 Day spokesperson Jerry Yellin for a pre-Veterans Day press conference at the Rosie the Riveter Memorial that stands in front of the former Curtiss-Wright aircraft assembly plant. They were joined by Ralph , president of Somerset Development, whom commissioned the Memorial to honor America and its allies for saving his parents during the liberation of Europe.
September 16 - Hershey, PA Auston and Bonnie stopped by America's Largest RV Show to check out some of the new models on display, and begin a dialogue with makers and distributors that may wish to help support a 2015 edition of the Spirit of '45 Day Express Tour to help raise public awareness about the events and activities commemorating the 70th Anniversary, including the around the world Tribute that will take place on Sunday, August 16, 2015 with the longest, continuous wreath laying ceremony in history.
September 4 - Oklahoma City, OK The Express toured the 45th Infantry Division Museum, which preserves the legacy of the legendary "Thunderbirds," who General George S. Patton described as "one of the best - if not the best division - in the history of American arms.” The Division's 157th "Eager for Duty" Infantry Regiment , commanded by Felix Sparks, fought across Europe for 500 days, from the invasion of Italy to the the liberation of Dachau, and are the subject of the best seller "The Liberator," by Alex Kershaw. Auston performed "Taps" for Sparks and his men. (On August 10, the executive team of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, led by newly elected National Commander Pat Little, visited the Dignity Memorial Cemetery in Denver, CO, where they were joined by Sparks' wife Mary to place a wreath at her husband's grave.)
September 3 - Farmersville, TX - The Spirit of '45 Day Express has honored WWII hero Audie Murphy throughout its tour of America, and stopped of at his home town where they were hosted by VFW Post 7426 and Nadine Lokey, who last year received the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor on behalf of her brother. Murphy was the most decorated soldier of WWII, and was active in progressive causes after the war, including being a champion of veterans. Murphy earned 28 medals before he turned 21 years old, including several from France and Belgium, and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, and three Purple Hearts. Despite having a successful career as a Hollywood actor, Murphy continued to serve as a member of the Texas National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserves until his death in 1971. Auston performed "Taps" in Murphy's honor at the memorial that stands in the town square where he stepped off the bus on his return to Farmersville in 1945.
September 2 - Dallas, TX - Auston and Bonnie spent the morning visiting to the Crow Library in Highland Park with Mr. Harlan Crow, son of Trammell Crow who founded a real estate development and investment company after serving in the Navy during WWII. Harlan's mother, Margaret, has a very unique connection to WWII: she and her school mates were aboard the SS Athena when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat on September 3, 1939, and spent several days adrift in a life boat before they were rescued. The Crow's were married on August 15, 1942. Mr. Crow died in January 2009, and Margaret Crow passed on in April of this year. Auston performed "Taps" in honor to perform "Taps" and place a wreath at the statue of the "Lone Sailor." Harlan Crow's father served in the Navy in WWII and founded the Trammel Crow Company. Following its visit to the Crow Estate, the Express was hosted by Bruce Blakeley, the executive director of the "Frontiers of Flight" air museum, located at Love Field.
August 31 (Sunday) - The Woodlands, TX - Auston and Bonnie were hosted by FMCA affiliate Rayford Crossing RV Campgrounds for the Labor Day Weekend, and attended the final concert of the KISS Summer Tour as special VIP guests of co-founder Gene Simmons and lead guitarist Tommy Thayer. Tommy is the son of Spirit of '45 Day national advisor Gen. (ret) James P. Thayer, who liberated one of the Nazi death camps in May 1945 and is working with Gene and the band to raise $11 mm to renovate the Veterans Museum in Portland, OR.
August 29 - Houston, TX - The senior management team of Dignity Memorial gave Auston and Bonnie a hero's welcome when they visited Houston on the morning of Friday, August 29. Several Dignity Memorial providers around the country have been participating in Spirit of '45 Day and more than 20 of them donated wreaths to the Express tour since it began in early February of this year. Dignity Memorial HQ sent out a reminder to its network of more than 1,800 service providers to get involved in Spirit of '45 Day this year. Dignity also co-sponsors "We Honor Veterans" which lists Spirit of '45 Day as one of three community partnership opportunities for its members. After the visit to Dignity Memorial headquarters, Auston performed "Taps" and lay a wreath at the USS Houston Memorial in honor of the more than 700 sailors and Marines who died when the ship was sunk in February 1943. Read the media release.
Video and photos courtesy of Deborah Duly, Communications Director, The Heritage Society of Houston
August 27 - 28 - League City, TX - Auston and Bonnie overnighted at the American Legion Post 554 which has organized Spirit of '45 Day events for the past several years, chaired by Sara Lacey of the Legion's Ladies Auxiliary.
August 26 - Baton Rouge, LA - The Express was hosted by Alejandra "Alex" Juan, the Executive Director of the USS Kidd Museum & Memorial and performed "Taps" at the statue of the "Lone Sailor" that stands in the lobby of the Museum. The USS Kidd was among the first members of the Historic Naval Ships Association to join the Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive collaborative, and has organized Spirit of '45 Day events each year since 2010. It hosted the first Spirit of '45 Day National Leaders Conference in February 2011.
August 26 - Slidell, LA - MOPH Louisiana State Commander Alton Rock hosted the Spirit of '45 Day Express during its stop over en route to Baton Rouge.
August 25 - Gulfport, MS - MOPH Mississippi State Commander Jim Barry provided over night accommodations for the O'Neill's and took them to have lunch with WWII veterans living at the Armed Forces Retirement Center
and to tour the extensive art collection at the Center.
August 24 - Biloxi, MS - MOPH Mississipi State Commander Jim Barry and his wife met Auston and Bonnie and took them to the Purple Heart Memorial during their visit to Biloxi. Jim donated $100 to help fuel the tour and escorted the Express on to its next stop to meet WWII veterans at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport.
August 22 (Friday) - Birmingham, AL - Bonnie and Auston stopped overnight in at the Brookdale University Park retirement community to meet Dr. Fran Carter, who, with her late husband WWII veteran, John, founded the American Rosie the Riveter Association. Auston performed "Taps" at a wreath laying ceremony for John when he and Bonnie were in Eugene, OR in February where they met the current president of the Association and several surviving Rosies (see below).
August 21 - Montgomery, AL - Members of the Montgomery area Military Order of the Purple Heart, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars turned out to welcome Auston and Bonnie O'Neill on their Spirit of '45 Day Express stop at the State Capitol. Auston and Bonnie were very appreciative of the turnout and thanked the State of Alabama for supporting their effort to honor the legacy of the men and women who served in WWII. The morning ended with echo "Taps" performed by Auston and Jim Quakenbush of Bugles Across America. The event was covered by WAKA TV 8 and the Montgomery Advertiser. Special thanks to Gene Ramsay, Alabama State Director, BAA and Bob Horton, Public Information Officer, Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, who presented them with a $100 donation.
August 20 - Mobile, AL - The Spirit of '45 Day Express stopped off at the USS Alabama and "posed" for photos with members of the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, arranged by Col. (ret) John New.
August 19 - Niceville, FL The Express was hosted by Col. Teresa Ryan and her colleagues at the Northern Florida State, which was organized by newly elected Military Order of the Purple Heart National Junior Vice Commander Bill Everett, formerly the Commander of Region IV. The visit concluded a 13 day series of stopovers which included the West Palm Beach VA, Ft. Lauderdale, the Miami Marlins, the Miami VA, Naples, Sarasota, and St. Petersburg.
August 16 - 18 - Tampa, FL - The Express stayed during the weekend the Lazy Days RV Campgrounds, a FMCA affiliate, as part of their ongoing campaign to encourage FMCA affiliated RV campgrounds to host Spirit of '45 Day activities next year during the 70th Anniversary commemorative weekend of August 14 - 16, 2015.
St. Petersburg, FL - The Express visited the Florida State Holocaust Museum on Sunday, August 17. to invite them to participate in the planned events and activities commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII next year, and the liberation of the Nazi death camps by America and its allies liberating in April - May 1945.
Sarasota, FL - On Thursday, August 14, Auston and Bonnie were joined by Jan Hamel Solomon at the second Seward Johnson 26ft monumental sculpture of the "Kiss" (aka "Unconditional Surrender), that stands near the marina in Sarasota. They attended the annual gathering to mark the anniversary of the end of WWII that is organized by a local group of veterans, and presented a Spirit of '45 Day National Leaders Medal to the WWII Navy veteran who purchased the sculpture on behalf of his wife. Following the ceremony, visited the Saratoga National Cemetery and performed "Taps" at the new Patriot Plaza that was dedicated in June of this year. Later that evening, Jan treated Auston and Bonnie to an evening cruise.
Watch Auston on SNN Local News 8
Naples, FL - Auston and Bonnie were guest of Naples Spirit of '45 Day supporters and the Marine Corps League of Naples, E.T. Brisson Detachment #063 on Tuesday evening (August 12), and visited the Military Museum of Memorabilia on the following morning where Auston performed "Taps."
Miami, FL On the evening of Monday, August 11, the Express made a special guest appearance during the Miami Marlins Baseball Game with a group of WWII veterans that included George Fisher, who fought at the Battle of the Bulge, and George Issen, who survived the Holocaust. The Marlins are one of the most active supporters of Spirit of '45 Day, which is observed by virtually all MLB teams during their mid-August games. MLB Steps Up For Spirit of '45 Day. On the following morning, (Tuesday, August 12) Nancy Auster of Vitas Innovative Hospice and the local Dignity Memorial provider organized a visit to the Miami VAMC where WWII veterans were invited to come out to have their photos taken with the Express, and Auston performed "Taps."
Ft. Lauderdale, FL - Auston and Bonnie joined KayeLynne Northcutt for her annual Spirit of '45 Day wreath laying ceremony at "Lone Sailor" statue on Spirit of '45 Day. Auston performed "Echo Taps" with two other buglers at the close of the ceremony. Dignity Memorial provided the wreath again this year.
West Palm Beach FL (August 8) - MOPH Iwo Jima veteran Commander Don Mates helped set up a morning visit by the Express to the West Palm Beach VA , with the held of VA Public Affairs Director Mary Ann Gordon. Several WWII veterans came out for a photo, including some members of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Association.
Savannah, GA (August 1 - 3) - The Military Order of the Purple Heart organized a special event at the Savannah WWII Memorial which featured presentations by the United Veterans Council and the Office of the Mayor, which was attended by representatives of the WWII veterans community. Auston and Bonnie were honored with a beautiful engraved plaque in recognition of their efforts to keep the Spirit of '45 alive in America. The Express also visited the birthplace of the founder of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. and the National Museum of Mighty Eighth Air Force. Thanks again to the Dignity Memorial local providers, whose wreath was part of both the Savannah and the Hilton Head, SC events.
Hilton Head, SC (July 30) - Several hundred residents of the the third Cypress community rolled out the red carpet to give the Spirit of '45 Day Express a warm South Carolina welcome. The program featured remarks by Hilton Head's mayor, and a barbershop quarter shop quartet that sang '40's standards, two swing bands and parade of WWII veterans. Cypress of Hilton Head program description.
Patriot's Point, Mt. Pleasant, North Charleston, SC (July 29) - The Express visit the USS Yorktown where it was met by a contingent of Purple Heart veterans who participated in the traditional Spirit of '45 Day wreath laying on the flight deck with Auston performing "Taps". Pat Keaveny of the Navy League then escorted the Express over to the "Lone Sailor" and "Homecoming" statues that stand in North Charleston so Auston. Auston is rallying his colleagues of Bugles Across America to join him on Spirit of '45 Day, Sunday, August 10, at all of these statues around the country in a show of solidarity as we begin the countdown to the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII next year.
Fayetteville and Wilmington, NC (July 25) The Express was hosted by MofPH Commander Art Marcaltao and Berry and Chris Pence during their visit to the Airborne & Special Forces Museum at Ft. Bragg. They then paid a visit to the site of the new Intrepid Center that the MofPH Service Foundation helped fund with a major grant, and which will be completed in January 2015. Later that afternoon, the Express visited to the USS North Carolina, with MOPH Commander Bill Eberbach and representatives of the Navy League.
Charlotte, NC The Express enjoyed an exciting "Spirit of '45 Day in July" event with the residents and guests of The Cypress of Charlotte, which was honored as a Purple Heart Continuing Care Retirement Community. Steven Kerley and his staff put together a fun filled program with great food, swing dancers, big band music, WWII rte-enactors, a stirring guest speaker, and a flyover as Auston performed "Taps." Dignity Memorial's provider McEwen Funeral Service at Sharon Memorial Park.
The wreath supplied by Brown-Wynne Funeral Home for The Cypress event was taken to the North Carolina WWII Memorial in front of the State Capitol building by Glenn Schoening and George Aux of MOPH Post 637. Later that afternoon, the Spirit of '45 Express drove down to Kernersville, NC to visit the new North Carolina Field of Honor memorial. where they were met by State Department Commander Clary and past North Carolina State Department Commander Joe Idol.
Branson, MO MofPH Missouri State Commander Everett Kelly and his wife Tina hosted the Express during its visit to Branson during the Fourth of July weekend to meet with representatives of the Office of Tourism and the Branson Veterans Task Force. Ralph and Kim Newell, owners of the Branson KOA & Convention Center, to host the Express during its visit, which resulted in the City of Branson beginning to plan a "Spirit of '45 RV Rendezvous" in August 2015, as part of the nationwide commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII.
Memphis, TN. A wreath laying and performance of "Taps" was held at the Tennessee WWII Memorial in Overton Park, organized by Robert Hunt, Tennessee MOPH State Commander, which was attended by several community members who shared stories about their service and their families. Dignity Memorial's Rachel Gwin, who brought a beautiful wreath for the occasion donated by Memphis Memory Gardens, shared a fascinating handmade book of writings and drawings that her father created when he was a POW in a German concentration camp during WWII.
Louisville, KY - July 27 -28 The Express was hosted at the national 39th Annual Convention of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association byTerry Sheswell and his team that are organizing the MVPA cross country convoy in 2015. The Express was showcased at the main entrance to the Kentucky Exposition Center for the full three days of the convention, and met with dozens of MVPA members who were interested in displaying their WWII vehicles at Spirit of '45 Day events and as part of a Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive entry in Veterans Day parades.MVPA chapters along the tour route are being alerted to the dates when the Express will be in their communities, in case any of them would like to drive out to meet it, or participate in any events planned for the next leg of the trip. (See below). Before leaving, the O'Neill's were joined by the MOPH Vice Commander for Kentucky, as Auston performed "Taps" after which the more than 2,000 attendees observed a moment of silence.
Charleston, WV - June 25 - Clint Adkins joined the Express for a wreath laying and performance of "Taps" at West Virginia Veterans Memorial on the state capitol grounds. This was the be the first visit by the Express to West Virginia. The wreath was donated by Dignity Memorial provider Wilson Funeral Home of Charleston.
Auston performed "Taps" on the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion at the D-Day at the National D-Day Memorial and joined Garrison Commander Col. Gregory Gadden for the ceremonies at Ft. Belvoir, VA to celebrate the 239th birthday of the United States Army on June 13.
Thank you for helping to keep the Spirit of '45 alive in America by making a donation to help purchase fuel and meals for the O'Neill's as they travel throughout the country on behalf of the men and women who were the "ordinary heroes" of our Greatest Generation.
Washington, DC (May 26 - Memorial Day) Auston and Bonnie O'Neil and the the Spirit of '45 Day Express traveled more than 20,000 miles to appear in this year's National Memorial Day Parade in DC. It will continue its journey throughout the Southern states during the months of July and August, and will appear in the New York City Veterans Day Parade on November 11. More...
The Spirit of '45 Day National Unity tour began with a 3,000 mile "sprint" across the country to San Diego, where Auston and Bonnie attended the 2014 Spirit of Day National Leaders Conference that was held in San Diego, February 14-16. The Express made several whistle stops en route to California:
Students at Rocky Run Middle School gave the O’Neill’s a royal send off, presenting them with a signed group photo of their award winning oral history project to take with them on their trip. “We're proud to have been chosen as the Spirit of ’45 Day Express’ first stop,” said Jamie Sawatsky, who helps organize the youth volunteers who participate in the annual Spirit of ’45 Memorial Day of Service and Spirit of ’45 Day program at the National WWII Memorial. “We’re looking forward to welcoming the O’Neill’s home when they return in May, and joining them in the Memorial Day Parade.” More...
Also on hand to bid the O’Neill’s “Bon voyage!” was Bryan Allison, manager of Murphy Funeral Homes in Arlington, VA, a member of Dignity Memorial which provides wreaths for Spirit of ’45 ceremonies in Washington, D.C. one of which is featured in the photo on the side of the Express. (Bryan’s son was born on Spirit of ’45 Day last year.)
As part of its ongoing commitment to veterans and their families, Dignity Memorial'snational network of funeral homes have been providing wreaths for Spirit of ’45 ceremonies along the tour route.(Dignity Memorial co-sponsors "We Honor Veterans,” a joint program of the VA and the National Organization of Palliative Care and Hospice Organizations
The National D-Day Memorial, in Bedford, VA, opened its gates after dark so Auston could perform "Taps" in honor of those who gave their lives to liberate Europe.He and Bonnie will return this June to take part in the parade the 3-days of activities that are planned on June 6 - 8, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day that are expected to be attended by several thousand people.
The O'Neill's met Gloria Bullard, the "other Times Square Nurse," an enthusiastic Spirit of '45 Day supporter who was featured in last year's annual Times Square event, during a stopover to meet Lamar McCarren and his colleagues at Travelers Rest, SC, who are helping to spread the word about Spirit of '45 Day throughout the state of South Carolina, and won a national award from the American Association of State and Local Museums for their outstanding annual Spirit of '45 Day events.
Long time Spirit of '45 Day ambassador, Nell Calloway, hosted the Express at the Chennault Aviation Museum in Monroe, LA, and took the O'Neill's to meet WWII veterans living at the Louisiana state veterans home. Nell co-chairs the WWII Airpower Legacy Project that is mobilizing hundreds of WWII vintage aircraft to take to the skies over their communities on the weekend of August 15-16, 2015, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. More...
Mary Virginia Pittman Waller arranged for the Spirit of '45 Day Express to visit The Alamo in San Antonio, TX , where Auston performed "Taps" for the local news media, and then visited communities ceremonies to honor local WWII veterans and their families. Mary Virginia (aka MVP) honored her father, Dr. James McCormick Pittman-Waller, who served as an Army physician during the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge.
The Express saluted U-Haul International on its way through Phoenix en route to California. U-Haul has been a long time supporter of the "Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive!" initiative, including donating the use of its trucks for parades and special events. U-Haul was founded in 1945 by WWII Navy veteran L.S. "Sam" Shoen and his wife, Anna Mary Carty Shoen.
Auston was invited to give the invocation and perform Taps during the closing ceremonies in front of the famous Seward Johnson sculpture depicting the iconic image of the “Times Square Kiss,” that is the symbol of Spirit of ’45 Day.
At the conclusion of the conference on Sunday, April 16, the Express visited Long Beach, CA, where the O’Neill’s were hosted by the Queen Mary, which transported more than 750,000 troops during WWII and brought home more than 12,000 war brides and children after the war.
The idea of a national Spirit of ’45 Day honoring the men and women of America’s ‘greatest generation” originated during a symposium of WWII museums and interest groups held on the Queen on August 14, 2008, hosted by Stories of Service, a project of the nonprofit Digital Clubhouse Network.
On President’s Day, the Express visited the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, CA, to meet Harry Grier who was among the first to suggest the idea of a nationwide series of flyovers of WWII vintage aircraft as part of next year’s 70th anniversary commemoration.
The Planes of Fame will be hosting a special Spirit of ’45 Day event this year in August, which is being organized by Mary and Mike Rohrer. The Rohrer’s hosted the O’Neill’s for a week of R&R while Mike raised donations of diesel fuel to help them on their way. (Thank you, Mike – and all those who chipped in with fuel cards and cash donations to help the Express on its way!)
The Express left Chino on February 28, and traveled 400 miles north to help kick off National Women’s History Month on Saturday, March 1, with a visit to the National Parks Service’s Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front Historical Park in Richmond, CA. Joining them were Mary Rohrer and Elinor Otto, who began working as a “Rosie” in 1942 and is still driving rivets at Boeing’s Long Beach factory at age 94. (Read the media release.)
Elinor has been getting quite a bit of media attention since becoming a Spirit of ’45 Day national spokesperson last August, appearing on the front page of the Los Angeles Times and appearing as a guest on NBC Nightly News, ABC’s “Good Morning, America,” and "Ellen."
More than 500 people came out to meet her including several of her fellow Rosie’s who traveled to Washington, DC later in the month to meet with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. They gave them hugs and the official Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive "Rosie Medal" (see pictured below with NPS Ranger Elizabeth Tucker).
During her visit, Elinor layed a wreath in San Francisco Bay in honor of all the women who served in uniform and on the Home Front during WWII, as Auston performed “Taps.” (Special thanks to San Leandro Funeral Home who provided the beautiful wreath on very short notice!)
The following Sunday (March 2), the O’Neill’s made a surprise visit to California’s oldest and largest (more than 1,000 beds) veterans home in Yountville in beautiful Napa Valley.
On to Oregon!
The Express then drove up the coast of California into Oregon where it received a warm – if rainy! – welcome from young and old.
Students at Marshfield High School came out en masse to greet them when they arrived in Coos Bay. The school has a long tradition of honoring and documenting the lives of WWII veterans from its community.
In Eugene, OR, Yvonne Fasold, president of the American Rosie the Riveter Association, invited them to attend a meeting of “Rosie’s, " after which a brief service honoring Dr. John Carter, co-founder of the ARRA with his wife Dr. Fran Carter, was held on summit overlooking Eugene. (Photos were sent to the memorial service that was held the next day in Birmingham, AL.)
The Express briefly stopped at the Oregon State Capitol to thank Governor John Kitzhaber and members of the legislature for signing a bill into law last year making Spirit of ’45 Day an official date in Oregon's state calendar and to express support for the campaign to fund Oregon's new WWII Veterans Memorial.
The Express traveled on to Portland to join Spirit of '45 Day representative Barbara Jensen as she presented Brig. Gen (Ret.) SDF James B.Thayer with a Spirit of ’45 Day National Leaders Medal on behalf of the members of the "Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive" coalition in acknowledgment of his enthusiastic support and valuable advice to the national campaign to help assure that Spirit of '45 Day continues to gain traction throughout the United States.
Gen. Thayer served in WWII as a 2nd Lt. in the Army, and led a combat unit that liberated the Nazi death camp at Gunskirchen in northern Austria in May 1945, saving the lives of 14,000 Jews. He retired from the US Army Reserves as full Colonel in 1982, and served as Oregon's Civilian Aid to the US Secretary of the Army in 1989, receiving the Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service in 1994.
One of Gen. Thayer's sons, Tommy, is the lead guitarist for the rock band KISS which is helping raise the $11.5 mm to upgrade the Oregon Military Museum in time for its re-opening on August 14, 2015 as part of the nationwide commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the end of WWII. Gene Simmons, one of the original co-founders of KISS, is a big fan of Gen. Thayer.
The visit concluded with a performance of "Taps" and a group photo with the Express. A Spirit of '45 wreath was donated by Kristina Taylor of the Bateman Carroll Funeral Home, a Dignity Memorial provider. Steve Brown, board member of the Military Vehicles Preservation Association that is conducting a cross country convoy of WWII vehicles next year, attended the ceremony.
The following day (March 7), the Express visited the Oregon State Veterans home, where Auston made a presentation to the residents, met a 104 year old WWII Navy vet, and performed Taps (the local Dignity Memorial provider donated another beautiful wreath!)
Rolling on to Redding, CA!
The Express then drove south to stop over at California’s newest veterans home in Redding where they were welcomed by Jim Berg, California State Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, which is mobilizing its members to help organize stops in their communities across the country. (Thanks to Alex Farnstrom of Dignity Memorial Redding for donating another beautiful Spirit of '45 wreath!
The MOPH is mobilizing its chapters throughout the country to help support the tour and will be participating in one of the largest “signature events” planned for next year’s 70th anniversary commemoration: a round the world wreath laying ceremony on Sunday, August 16, 2015.
The Express traveled to Sacramento on March 10, to see Elinor Otto receive her California Woman of the Year Award, and to take some photos in front of the State Capitol Building.
Karen has been helping to get her colleagues in the Dignity Memorial network involved with the tour and the Spirit of '45 Day and 70th Anniversary events and activities that are being planned for next year.
Viva Las Vegas, NV!
The Express traveled more than 800 miles during the next 3 days to help Dan Roberts and his team at the Vegas Voice promote their Spirit of ’45 events in Las Vegas by appearing at media events with elected officials and local supporters at the Henderson Pavilion, the Clark County Board of Supervisors, and the Red Rock Casino.
The Vegas Voice
is organizing several events throughout the year, with the sponsorship support of CareMore, and is mobilizing elected officials and other community leaders to enlist their support for the Spirit of '45 Day campaign.
MOPH Western Regional Commander Richard Small hosted the Spirit of ’45 Express at the Nevada State Veterans Homewhere Auston once again performed “Taps” in honor of his father and his generation. Richard is helping coordinate MOPH Spirit of ’45 activities and will be rejoining the Express this Memorial Day in Washington, DC. (The 2015 MOPH National Convention will be held in Las Vegas on August just before the 70th Anniversary commemorative weekend.)
After leaving Las Vegas, the O’Neill’s took some time renew their Spirit by experiencing the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley before heading north to Denver, CO, which will host this year’s MOPH national convention.
The intrepid Express braved the mountains and snows of Utah and Colorado to pay a visit to the Colorado State Veterans Home with MOPH Department Commander Joe Storey. A Spirit of '45 wreath was donated for this visit by Dignity Memorial provider Aurora Funeral Home.
Braving strong winds and rain, the Spirit of ’45 Day Express visited North Platte, NE, home to the fabled “Prairie Canteen,” that welcomed soldiers who passed through by train during WWII, and was immortalized in the best selling book by Bob Greene.
“The Canteen volunteers were some remarkable people. We will do our part to share their story,” Bonnie said. “North Platte is a prime example of the spirit of unity of the people of that time and an inspiration to us today.”
Despite the inclement weather, the Express took the time to stop at the Norfolk State Veterans Home, Norfolk, NE, and to spend time with WWII veterans living there.
On Thursday, March 27, MOPH State Commander Everett Kelly and his wife welcomed the Express to Missouri and escorted them to the state veterans home in Cameron, MO where they spent the afternoon with WWII veterans.
"These visits are a real honor for us," said Bonnie. "The vets appreciate so much having folks come by just to spend a little time with them, and it's really a pleasure and a privilege to be able to tell them that Congress has designated a national day in their honor that is beginning to be observed all around America on the second Sunday in August. Most of them are unaware of this, and are very happy to know that their service will always be remembered by future generations of Americans."
On Friday, the Express stopped at the Kansas City Union Station for a media event. Approximately one of every two GI's passed through the Station during WWII, which was restored some years ago and is in pristine condition. (In September 2011, a special event was held in the main concourse of the Station to kick off the 2012 Spirit of ’45 Day campaign, complete with a life sized version of the famous Times Square Kiss. More...
The O'Neill's met a couple who had come to the Station that day to reminisce about their wartime experiences there, and a group of children who were visiting the historic landmark.
Later that afternoon, the Spirit of ’45 Day Express visited the Harry S.Truman Presidential Library in Independence, MO, where a group of students stood silently as Auston performed "Taps" at President Truman’s gravesite. Once again, Dignity Memorial’s funeral home in Kansas City provided the magnificent Spirit of ’45 Day wreath for the occasion.
On Tuesday, April 1, the Spirit of '45 Day Express was welcomed to Iowa by Governor Terry Branstad during a media event on the steps of the state capitol in Des Moines, which featured the presentation of the Spirit of ’45 Day National Leaders Medal by Auston and national spokesman Jerry Yellin, (the pilot who flew the final combat mission of WWII on August 14, 1945).
On Wednesday, April, the O’Neill’s visited the residents of the Iowa State Veterans Home, in Marshaltown, IA, and then traveled to Waterloo, IA to lay a wreath in honor of the Five Sullivan Brothers at the Lone Sailor Memorial, one of 14 statues that the Navy Memorial has placed in locations around the country. Auston announced his personal goal that all of these statues have a wreath laying ceremony each year on Spirit of '45 Day.
Ron and Linda Bykowski and friends hosted the O’Neill’s for dinner at the local VFW Post on Tuesday evening, April 8, in McHenry, IL. Mayor Sue Lowe was on hand to greet the Express on its arrival and to accept her official 70th Anniversary Spirit of ’45 Day BBQ Apron in recognition of the great event her city holds on the second Sunday in August each year.
On Wednesday, April 9, Auston and Bonnie drove to Chicago to meet Tom Day, founder of Bugles Across America. Tom has been a mentor to Auston since he joined the BAA, and sent him a new bugle to play on the Express tour.
Tom's organization has a database of more than 7,000 buglers who are on call to perform Taps for veterans funeral and memorial services. Several hundred BAA buglers have participated in Spirit of '45 Day events since 2010. Tom has committed his organization's membership to support the round the world wreath laying Tribute that is planned for Sunday, August 16, 2015 to commemorate the end of WWII.
They were joined on the steps of the Elks National Veterans Memorial in Chicago by MOPH Region II Commander Daneil Cannode and his wife Barbara, President of the MOPH Ladies Auxiliary, who drove 5 hours from Ohio to be present as Tom received the Spirit of '45 Day National Leaders Medal.
From Chicago, the Express drove to Indiana to tour the manufacturing facilities of two of the largest makers of motor homes, and a visited the RV/HM Hall of Honor in Elkhart, IN, which expressed an interest in having the Express on view at its Museum after its 2-year national tour ends in 2015.
Grant Thompson, founder of Indy Honor Flight rolled out the welcome mat when the Express pulled into Indianapolis for the weekend of April 13 -14. Grant and his wife, Tammy, hosted the visit by the Times Square Kiss when it toured the country in 2012 and have been among the most creative leaders in the Spirit of ’45 Day movement.
Grant was joined by MOPH Indiana State Commander Larry Shaw and Ed Dennings of Dignity Memorial who spoke at a brief Palm Sunday ceremony at the Indiana WWII Memorial, which concluded with a performance of “Echo Taps” by Auston and fellow BAA member Bruce McKee who has organized Spirit of ’45 Day events in Martinville, IN every year since 2010.
Following the wreath laying ceremony at the Memorial, the Express was hosted at the Indy 500 Speedway Museum by former NASCAR racer Johnny Parsons, Jr. and Tom Suder, head of PR, for a photo op and a discussion of how the Indy 500 can participate in the 70th Anniversary next year.
Museum founder Dennis Norton invited several original Rosie’s to come over for the morning, which featured a wreath laying ceremony followed by a tour and discussions with former ARRA President Donnalee Lanktree.
MOPH Midwest Region Commander Daniel Cannode and his wife Barbara came up for the occasion and spoke during the ceremony, as did Kevin Bullock, Manager of the Harry J. Will Funeral Homes who brought several of his staff (and, of course, another magnificent Spirit of '45 wreath!).
The Yankee Air Museum will be having its annual “Thunder Over Michigan” Air Show on Spirit of ’45 Day weekend this year, and will be helping to rally its fellow owners of flyable WWII aircraft to participate in the flyovers that are planned for next year on the weekend of August 15-16, 2016 to pay tribute to the legacy of WWII airpower.
Despite short notice, Teresa McDonald and her staff arranged for a quick pre-Memorial Day ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, OH on Thursday, April 17, where they were joined by the management and staff local Dignity Memorial provider to pay tribute to Crew 6 of the legendary Doolittle Raiders.
The Spirit of '45 Day Express left Ohio on Tuesday, April 22, headed to Pennsylvania to begin the final leg of its pre-Memorial Day journey.
To help raise awareness about the cross country convoy of WWII military vehicles that is planned for next year by the Military Vehicles Preservation Association, the Express stop over in Butler, PA - "Home of the Jeep."
The Express visited the US Army Heritage & Education Center in Carlisle, PA on April 23. The date marked the 109 anniversary of the establishing of the US Army Reserves. The O'Neill's son and daughter-in-law are currently in the Reserves, serving in Iraq.
The Express stopped over in Burlington, VT on Sunday, April 27, to lay place a wreath at the Lone Sailor statue, one of 14 statues the US Navy Memorial has placed throughout the country. Auston has performed "Taps" at several of them, and will be participating in the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the statue in front of the Memorial in Washington, DC on Memorial Day.
MOPH Vermont State Commander Zachariah Fike graciously hosted the Spirit of '45 Day Express during its stop over in Burlington, and will act as the main point of contact for all Spirit of '45 Day/70th Anniversary planning activities in the state of Vermont.
The O'Neill's traveled all the way to Caribou, ME to pay their respects to Sen. Susan Collins father, Doug Collins, who served at the Battle of the Bulge. They were joined by several community members who helped them placed a wreath at at the Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery. Sen. Collins led the campaign in the Congress that resulted in Spirit of '45 Day being passed unanimously in 2010, and has continued to support the observance of this new annual day honoring the men and women who were the "ordinary heroes" of her father's generation.
The Express planned to visit the Case Land Transportation Museum
in Bangor, ME whose founder, Galen Case
, a WWII veteran, received the 2002 Military Order of the Purple Heart National Americanism Award. Cole erected a WWII Memorial Wall
at the Museum he founded, engraved with the names of the men from Maine who were KIA in the war.
Thanks to MOPH Jack Monroe who escorted the O'Neill's during their 2-day visit to the "Pine Tree State."
On the morning of Thursday, May 1, the Express visited the Wright WWII Museum, in Wolfesboro, NH on its opening day . The Museum has several excellent exhibits and a strong educational program for young visitors, several of whom were on hand to greet the O'Neills and stand quietly at attention as Auston performed Taps. The Museum is an ideal state hub for Spirit of '45 Day and planning for the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII next year in New Hampshire.
Despite experiencing some problems with the brakes on their RV, Bonnie and Auston continued on their way to visit a group of more than 100 WWII veterans at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton, NH, scheduled for 2:30 pm, where they received a hero's welcome and garnered some excellent covering in the local press.
Special thanks to MOPH representative Patti Fowler who arranged the New Hampshire visits with Linda Laurie, Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive national events coordinator.
On the morning of Saturday, May 3, veterans and their families turned out for a wreath laying ceremony at Cushing Chapel, in Framingham, MA
On Sunday, May 4, MOPH Massachusetts State Commander Leo David Agnew accompanied Auston and Bonnie to the Harvard University Memorial Church, Cambridge MA
, to place a wreath and perform "Taps" in front of the WWII Wall of Honor that includes the names of Harvard men who were killed in WWII whose names are etched in stone.
On Tuesday, May 6, the Spirit of '45 Day Express visited Brad King and his colleagues at Battleship Cove in Fall River, MA, and placed a wreath in the water as Auston performed his customary excellent rendition of "Taps."
Leo and his colleagues of the Massachusetts Department of the Military Order of the Purple Heart presented Bonnie and Auston with a check for $300 to help them continue on their way to Rhode Island.
On Thursday, May 8, Michelle August of Beacon Hospice (an Amedysis Group company) and the Rhode Island Hospice Partnership hosted the Express at the State Veterans Home in Bristol. Michelle and her colleagues are members of "We Honor Veterans," the joint venture between the VA and the National Palliative Care and Hospice Organization that encourages its members to use Spirit of '45 Day as a means for achieving their awards levels.
Click here to see a video of the Bristol, RI event
At a ceremony held at the Rhode Island WWII Memorial, Providence, RI later that afternoon, Dignity Memorial's Mark Marino presented Michelle with a Spirit of '45 Day National Leaders Medal in recognition of her having organized more than 15 public events last August, the most by any individual organization. MOPH Connecticut State Commander Leon Brown gave Michelle a commemorative cup, apron, tote bag and cap to help her and her team begin preparing for the 70th Anniversary of the end of WWII next year.
On the afternoon of Thursday, May 8, Auston performed "Taps" at a wreath laying at National Submarine Memorial (East), Groton, CT with a group of retired Navy submarine veterans who were delighted that their memorial would be included from now on in the national Tribute that takes place every second Sunday in August on Spirit of '45 Day.
Richard Giff, the WWII veteran who helped organize the ceremony, donated $200 to help support the tour. Thank you, Richard!
On Saturday morning, May 10, the Express was escorted by the Leathernecks motor cycle club to a special
wreath laying ceremony hosted by Marianne Mihayo and Gary Roy at Iowa Jima Memorial
, New Britain, CT
Following the ceremony at the Memorial, Auston visited Ernest Borgnine Park in Hamden, CT, to pay tribute to Ernie who was a national spokesman for Stories of Service and instrumental in making Spirit of '45 Day a reality. His will always be remembered on the second Sunday in August.
On Mother's Day (Sunday, May 11), the O'Neill's drove through New York City and stopped in Battery Park so Auston could perform a pre-Memorial Day "Taps" at the World War II Memorial that stands on the southernmost tip of Manhattan facing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The 8 massive 19-ft tall gray granite pylons that stand in the Memorial are inscribed with the names, rank, service branch, and state of the 4,601 servicemen who lost their lives in combat in the Atlantic Ocean during WWII
On Tuesday, May 13, the Express stopped off to meet acclaimed artist Seward Johnson at the Grounds For Sculpture Park in Trenton, NJ. The Park hosted a 50-year retrospective of Seward's artistic creations, which include the iconic sculpture that depicts the famous "Times Square Kiss." the symbol of Spirit of '45 Day.
Twenty-five foot versions of the "Kiss" are located in San Diego, CA in front of the USS Midway as part of San Diego's "Greatest Generation Walk," and in Sarasota, FL. A third is being placed at Normandy this year to help begin the countdown to the 70th Anniversary of the end of WWII next year. Another 25-ft version will be moved into Times Square for the 70th Anniversary kick off media event on August 14, 2015.
The Sculpture Foundation has made life sized versions of the sculpture available to the "Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive!" coalition, one of which stands in front of the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor, HI, and the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, CA. A third has been on loan to the City of McHenry since 2013.
Later in the day, the Spirit of '45 Day Express visited the Battleship New Jersey in Camden, NJ, where marketing director Jack Willard organized a wreath laying from the deck of the ship. Attending were BNJ Board member Patricia Egan Jones, Joe Vitti of Vitas Innovative Hospice, William Moen, Jr. of Sen. Cory Booker's office and more than 20 students from the Guardian Angels Catholic School, who helped place the wreath over the side as Auston performed "Taps."
The Battleship New Jersey has a swing dance event each year on Spirit of '45 Day weekend, and will be helping rally the other WWII vintage ships of the Historical Naval Ships Association for a joint celebration commemorating the end of WWII next year.
Auston drove over to the 30th Street Station
, in Philadelphia, PA to perform "Taps" with fellow BAA member Ed Bigler at the iconic "Angel of the Resurrection" memorial that stands in the Main Concourse and has been the venue for annual Spirit of '45 Day commemorative events every August since 2011.
As the Express headed for home to prepare for the Memorial Day, it stopped off in Delaware to meet with MOPH National Vice Commander Pat Little who is making Spirit of '45 Day and the 70th Anniversary a signature project of his tenure which will officially begin on August 10, 2014 at the annual MOPH convention in Denver, CO, and continue up to the commemorative events and activities planned for the weekend of August 14 - 15 - 16, 2015.
The first leg of the 2-year Spirit of '45 Day National Unity Tour officially concluded with a special guest appearance in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, DC that brought cheers from the more than 250,000 who lined Constitution Avenue to welcome the O'Neill's home after traveling more than 22,000 miles since leaving Virginia on February 7. They were joined by 300 youth volunteers who carried poster photos of posthumous recipients of the Medal of Honor and others who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom and democracy during World War II.
Doing a Memorial Day double header, the Express traveled to the Wilmington, DE to attend the Friday, May 30, Special guest appearance at Delaware Memorial Day Ceremony at Bridge War Memorial, Dover, DE. MOPH State Commander Gary Moore spoke about Spirit of '45 Day during the ceremonies, after which WWII veterans and their families were invited to have their photos taken with the Spirit of '45 Day Express.
Cont Gary Moore, MOPH (302)
Bonnie and Auston are raising their own funding to continue their efforts to inspire a renewal of the Spirit of our country. Please help them by making a tax deductible donation today!