OGDEN — Fred Roberts, a U.S. Navy radioman in the Pacific Theater during World War II, isn't asking for special recognition and isn't seeking a place in the spotlight stemming from his military stint.
"There are people who probably went through more than I did," he said. "I'm not the only one that was out there."
With the ranks of World War II veterans shrinking as the youngest survivors of the war enter their 90s, though, Weber County Commissioner Scott Jenkins figured now was probably the time. If they were to be honored, there was no time to waste, and he helped organize a ceremony Tuesday to offer thanks to as many survivors of the war in Weber County that could be tracked down.
"They're dying fast. We figured if we didn't do something quick, it would just be over," he said.
So there they were, Roberts, now 92, and 18 others, assembled Tuesday in commission chambers with friends and family and others, receiving a belated Veterans Day tribute.
"So I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart," said Commissioner James Ebert. "We don't take care of you enough. We don't recognize you enough. We don't love you enough."
As part of the ceremony, the veterans — some in wheelchairs, others using canes and walkers — received a commemorative coin from commissioners and a buffet lunch.
It was plenty for Loren Kay of Roy, 94, who served in the U.S. Army in the Pacific during the war. And he tried to keep gloom out of the conversation, even if he is approaching the century mark.
"Thank you, we appreciate what you're doing today," he told the commissioners. "We still have a few years left."
In all, Weber County staffers and others aiding in the effort tracked down 24 surviving World War II veterans in the county. A handful didn't come, some because of frail health, and Jenkins suspects there may be more out there. Whatever the case, he wanted the message to get out.
"I thank you for saving our way of life, saving our world," Jenkins said, warning of the alternative, if the Axis powers had come out on top.
Though the war was many years ago, Roberts choked up as he remembered a U.S. pilot intercepting a Japanese kamikaze, smashing midair into the other craft before it could crash into the U.S. Navy destroyer he was traveling on. "There are things that you can't forget," he said.
The U.S. airman's action saved his destroyer from sinking, Roberts said, thus allowing its crew members to later aid survivors of another U.S vessel that had been attacked.
Kay remembered entering Japan as part of the U.S. occupation of the country after the end of the war. At first, relations with kids were tense.
"Kids found out we had candy after the third morning," he said. "That broke the ice."
He entered service out of a sense of obligation and, like Roberts, said the memories stick. "You can't forget it. You have to think about it once in a while," he said.
Terry Schow, retired director of the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs, said the youngest World War II veterans are around 90 and that for some, a ceremony like Tuesday's would be a rare treat. He helped track down the veterans who took part in Tuesday's ceremony. "Some of the guys here have never been recognized for their service," he said.
Roberts, though, said the state, in general, treats its veterans well. "If you're a veteran in Utah, you're treated royally. Utah is one of the best states to be a veteran," he said.