SAN JOSE -- In hindsight, Archie Moore concedes that his American Legion post probably should have held an event honoring World War II veterans long ago.
"But if not now, then when?" Moore added.
As the ranks of the so-called Greatest Generation gradually have thinned, time increasingly is running short to pay tribute to those servicemen and women. That's the reason why "A Salute to World War II Veterans" will take place Saturday at the Emmanuel Family Life Center, where an estimated two dozen vets will be celebrated.
"We don't have many left," said Moore, 68, who served in Vietnam and now is the commander of American Legion Northside Post 858. "They deserve this. They need to be recognized. With so much of that generation fading away, this is the right time."
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there are about 1.25 million surviving World War II veterans and that an average of 367 of them will pass away each day in the coming year. They were among the 16 million Americans in uniform during a global conflict that stretched from Europe to the South Pacific.
One of those men was Otis Burke, who found himself on the USS Blair destroyer-escort ship protecting convoys in the Atlantic Ocean after being drafted out of an Alabama high school at age 18.
"It's an honor just to be honored," said Burke, 87, of San Jose.
That sort of modesty has been the hallmark of a generation known for not drawing attention to its accomplishments. Perhaps it's fitting that Saturday's dinner is a low-key affair with Moore expecting about 125 people to attend. Among them will be U.S. Rep Zoe Lofgren, the keynote speaker.
"When they asked me, I thought, 'What a wonderful thing to be a part of,' " said Lofgren, D-San Jose. "This is a group of people that is so self-effacing. They don't want glory. In fact an event like this is probably more for us than it is for them."
She plans on bringing a photograph of her parents taken near the start of the war, with her father in uniform. He had tried to enlist in the Marines the day after Pearl Harbor but was rejected due to a football injury. Instead he was later drafted by the Army and spent much of the war in a hospital after being in a stateside vehicle accident.
Lofgren's mother worked in an airplane factory. Her father-in-law fought in the Pacific and mother-in-law was active in volunteer efforts.
"That was the attitude of the whole country right there," Lofgren added. "It was led by the people brave enough to go off and fight. But the entire United States was behind them. ... That generation really did save the world from totalitarianism and created the modern era."
Burke, who served 22 years in the Navy and Army during a military career that stretched into the Vietnam conflict, remembers moments of terror when his ship was hunting enemy submarines. During one tense search, sailors talked among themselves about how to contact one another's parents if they died.
"But it turned
Felix Devera, 88, fought for the Philippines alongside U.S. servicemen.
"It was much different from war nowadays," Devera said. "We fought face to face and hand to hand. It was very scary."
Devera, 88, became an American citizen 21 years ago and settled in San Jose, where he is a Legion Post 858 member, which primarily consists of Filipino veterans.
Moore said invitations were extended to vets around the South Bay, including a 93-year-old woman who was a nurse during the war.
"All of these veterans have stories that need to be told, and we need to listen to them," Moore said.
"A Salute to World War II Veterans" will be held at the Emmanuel Family Life Center at 467 N. White Road in San Jose from 5 to 8 p.m. For more information, contact American Legion Northside Post 858 at 408-645-5745.