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World War II vets in San Clemente spend Veterans Day distributing handmade Buddy Poppies to symbolize their solidarity, brotherhood and sacrifice while recalling experiences of their service.

By DAVID BRO / SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER

SAN CLEMENTE -(CA)- Army veteran Sam Thorndyke, 85, of San Clemente is on a mission. He’s pretty sure that if he lives to be 105 he’ll be the oldest living veteran of World War II’s Pacific theater.

On Friday, Thorndyke, a member of San Clemente’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7142, sat with fellow Army WWII veteran George Key, great-great-grandson of “Star-Spangled Banner” author Francis Scott Key, in front of the Ralphs supermarket off Camino de los Mares in San Clemente to hand out Buddy Poppies in honor of Veterans Day.  Buddy Poppies are lapel decorations made by vets as a symbol of solidarity and brotherhood and a remembrance of their sacrifice.

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Judy Brown of San Clemente accepts a Buddy Poppy from World War II veterans George Key, right, and Sam Thorndyke on Veterans Day. “We are so proud of our veterans,” Brown said.
DAVID BRO, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

WHERE TO GET A BUDDY POPPY

VFW Post 7142 is handing out Buddy Poppies on Friday and Saturday outside San Clemente’s two Albertsons supermarkets on Avenida Pico and the Ralphs and Stater Bros. stores on Camino de los Mares.

Donations will be accepted to support five veterans-related charities.

For more information, call George Key at 949-498-2489.

“The best part about this is the stories we get to share with people. We hear some great stories,” said Key, who served as an engineer and participated in five campaigns across Europe after landing at Omaha Beach in France.

Capistrano Beach resident Katherine Sgambellone said her grandfather fought as a German soldier in the muddy trenches of Europe during World War I.  She held her hands to her face and covered her mouth, illustrating how her grandfather told her is the best way to light a cigarette on a battlefield without getting shot. Opposing snipers would see the lighted end and shoot for its glow, she said.

The veterans around her nodded in agreement.

Thorndyke was an infantryman from 1944 to 1946 and was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions during the campaign to liberate the Philippines  from Japanese control.

Thorndyke recalled being on the Philippine island of Luzon when his captain asked for volunteers as scouts to lead a patrol through the jungle.  A buddy of his put his hand up.

His buddy was shot in the neck during the patrol, though the bullet went through without causing major damage and left just two little scars.

“Don’t ever volunteer,” Thorndyke told the soldier upon his return.

Telling the story Friday, he shared a laugh with Key when someone suggested Thorndyke should have given the advice before his friend volunteered.

Thorndyke held up his hands and smiled. “You just have to accept your fate and hope for the best,” he said.

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