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Homefront: Pandemic couldn't stop local WWII veteran's 96th birthday celebration

American Legion puts on quarantine-friendly tribute
Posted at 8:42 PM, Apr 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 14:43:40-04

ALEXANDRIA, Ky. — When you've survived a world war and turn 96, you deserve a celebration – despite the quarantine.

Veteran Dale Reid, originally of Dayton, Ohio, served as a gunner on the USS Essex aircraft carrier during World War II.

The Essex, like many ships during the war, became a target for Japanese "kamikaze" attacks, which involved pilots flying war planes into ships in an attempt to disable or sink them.

Reid recalled the day a kamikaze plane hit the Essex, crashing into the side of the carrier on Nov. 25, 1944.

"You could feel it," Reid said.

He remembers the call coming over the squawk box.

"He says, 'Get off the gun get over here on the wall,'" he said.

Several sailors were lost that day, and the ship that Reid called home was battered.

"This was home. Once I went aboard it, that was home," said Reid, who enlisted in the Navy instead of waiting to be drafted into the Army during the war.

The Essex was repaired in time to see World War II through to the end, and Reid with his family of sailors survived to see Japan surrender to the U.S. on Sept. 2, 1945.

"Our captain came on and said, 'This is the captain speaking, and I just want to let you know that the war is over,'" Reid said.

This year, Reid planned to spend his 96th birthday with his wife as the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted large gatherings. That didn't sit right with Beth Skulas.

"Dale was unfortunately not going to be able to have his family with him on his 96th birthday because of the quarantine," she said.

Skulas and her husband, a member of Reid's American Legion Post 219 in Alexandria, Kentucky, came up with a plan.

"We all just kind of did this mini flash mob, and we socially distanced and sang happy birthday a couple times," she said.

Because when you're a war hero turning 96, you deserve to have your cake and celebrations.

"He deserved more than a phone call I thought," Skulas said. "People were willing to come out and support him, and that's what our American Legion Auxillary does, and so we all showed up and brought some smiles to his face."

A side note: Craig sat down with Dale prior to any social distancing requirements or stay home orders.

If you have a veteran story to tell in your community, email homefront@wcpo.com. You also can join the Homefront Facebook group, follow Craig McKee on Facebook and find more Homefront stories here.

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