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World War II vet honored at annual Veterans Day ceremony at American Legion Post in Halethorpe

More than 75 years have passed since Bill Taebling returned home after spending nearly four years overseas in the Navy during World War II.

On Nov. 11, the 95-year-old veteran is being honored for his service at the annual Veterans Day Tribute at American Legion Dewey Lowman Post 109 in Halethorpe.

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Founded in 1933, the post sponsors an annual Armistice (Veterans) Day Parade and holds memorial exercises at 11 a.m. Nov. 11 to commemorate the exact date and time of the end of World War in 1918.

Chartered by Congress in 1919, the American Legion was created as a patriotic veterans organization focusing on service to communities, service members and veterans after World War I, according to its website. Today, membership at American Legion Post 109 stands at approximately 750.

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Taebling, of Baltimore Highlands, joined the Navy after hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Taking a leave of absence from his job working on the railroad, he joined the Navy to protect his country.

“I wanted to get into the action,” he said.

While in the Navy, he traveled to Cambridge, London, Normandy, Paris and Shanghai and recalled dodging bombs, sleeping on stretchers and witnessing bodies floating in the water.

He remembered one time in particular when a bomb was dropped near his ship and skipped along the water, but did not detonate.

“God was with us that day,” he said.

During the epic D-Day invasion, Taebling piloted a landing craft that carried a tank and crew and brought back the dead.

Besides enduring the horrors of war, he said it was tough being away from home and he felt lucky if he received one or two letters.

“I missed my family,” he said. “It [got] lonesome.”

Three and a half years later, he was discharged from the Navy and returned home, where he continued to work on the railroad until retiring in 1987.

Many years later, after attending his next-door neighbor’s wedding reception at American Legion Post 109, he and his wife, Clare, decided to join the post.

Although she died five years ago, he still frequents the place to socialize with other veterans.

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Clyde Thomas, commander of American Legion Post 109, has known Taebling for a number of years.

He described him as a proud veteran who wears a ball cap that highlights his service in World War II nearly every day.

“[Taebling] is very comfortable sitting by himself and at the same time, he is also very social,” Thomas said. “He is kind of a strange mix that way.”

Before Taebling’s wife died, he recalled seeing the couple at the post regularly.

“It always struck me as super sweet the way he treated his wife,” he said. “He treated his wife the way all men should treat their wives; he just took really good care of her.”

Thomas, who will be speaking at the ceremony, said 50-year veteran certificates will be presented to a few members of the post, including Taebling.

“We picked [Taebling] because he is almost like an ambassador to the post,” he said. “He is the guy we all hope we are when we are [95] years old.”

The ceremony, which is typically held in Arbutus, will be at the post, located at 1610 Sulphur Spring Road, this year due to the pandemic. It will include a color guard presentation of flags featuring the post and Young Marine flag bearers, a pledge, the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and a speech by former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

Ehrlich, who grew up in Arbutus and is the son of a veteran, said it is a privilege to honor veterans.

“It is more important than ever given the cultural shift we see away from learning U.S. history," Ehrlich said. "It is important for young people to understand that they do not get to do the things they do without veterans' [sacrifices].”

Taebling said it means a lot to him to be recognized by the community in this way.

“It makes me feel special,” he said. “I [was] just out there doing my job.”

In addition to the ceremony at American Legion Post 109, other posts across the county will be holding events in honor of Veterans Day.

American Legion Towson Post No. 22 will hold a “pared down” Veterans Day ceremony at 11 a.m. at the Wayside Cross in downtown Towson, laying a wreath at the World War I veterans memorial, as is tradition, said Post No. 22 Commander Anita Stewart-Hammerer. Like in previous years, the ceremony will be held with the Towson Elks No. 469.

In more typical times, the ceremony would draw around 70 observers, said Stewart-Hammerer, a U.S. Army veteran. While the public is encouraged to attend — masked and socially distanced — Stewart-Hammerer said the ceremony will be much shorter.

But to Stewart-Hammerer, perhaps the best way to honor veterans is by making sure they aren’t forgotten, and not just on Veterans Day.

Nearly 17 veterans died by suicide every day in the U.S. in 2017, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

The number of veteran suicides in the U.S. has increased, with only slight fluctuations, every year since 2005, according to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report. From 2008 to 2017, those deaths exceeded 6,000 annually, and in 2017, the suicide rate for veterans was 1.5 times the rate for non-veterans, according to the data.

“It’s a staggering number,” Stewart-Hammerer said.

Connecting with veterans may be more critical than ever this year due the coronavirus pandemic. Health experts warn of the mental health impact on older adults of social isolation.

That’s why Post #22 has established a “buddy system" for its more than 500 members, Stewart-Hammerer said.

It’s just about “making sure that they are OK. Even if it’s just picking up the phone ... if you know your next door neighbor is a veteran, just reach out to them,” she said.

“A lot of times we forget about people. It’s pretty powerful, just to say ‘hi.’"

Baltimore Sun Media reporter Taylor DeVille contributed to this article.

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