An 104-year-old World War II veteran is gearing up for a very special Valentine’s Day after a call for holiday cards yielded thousands.
“Operation Valentine” was launched earlier this month in honor of Bill White, a retired major in the U.S. Marine Corps now living at The Oaks at Inglewood in Stockton, California.
A fellow resident at the retirement and assisted living facility made the initial request on social media, calling on people to send White cards in the hopes of reaching 100 – about one for each birthday, according to Reuters.
But in the weeks since, at least 70,000 people have sent their Valentine’s greetings, inundating White with cards, letters and gifts, which required volunteers to help open as the deluge kept pouring in, Reuters reports.
“I don’t know what to say or think or do when this subject is brought up. It hits me like a ton of bricks,” he told NBC affiliate KCRA several weeks ago. “I’m surprised to say the least. I hadn’t expected any of this until all of a sudden it happened.”
White’s daughter Mary Huston told the Stockton-based Record that much of the mail comes from people with fathers, sons or brothers in the military.
“It’s kind of a way to thank maybe those that have passed already,” she said. “They can’t thank them personally, so they’re doing it through him.”
The cards will soon join White’s lifelong collection of mementos he’s amassed over the years, which includes various objects and scrapbooks that he keeps on a bookshelf organized by year, he told Fox affiliate KTXL.
“It’s kept me busy just trying to locate or keep track of what’s happened to me, where, when,” he said. “I’ll save every one of them like I’ve been saving little things that have come up until right now and they’ll be a personal part of my history.”
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Among those mementos is a Purple Heart White was awarded after he was injured during the Battle of Iwo Jima in Japan in 1945.
“When I was wounded, I didn’t have any choice in the matter,” he told KTXL. “I had a grenade blow up about six inches from me… The fact that I even survived is something. There weren’t too many of us.”
After his time in the military, Huston told the Record her dad was an officer for the Huntington Beach Police Department, and later worked as a jailer.
Diane Wright, executive director at The Oaks, told KCRA that Operation Valentine was launched in part to pay tribute to White’s fondness for his military background.
“It’s a sign of showing love, appreciation,” she said. “We have them from New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee.”