RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) — Despite a 100-mile and three-hour trip to reach his destination, Stewart Boone didn't think twice about turning down the invitation.
The veteran is dressing up for an occasion at the Virginia War Memorial. It is an event nearly 80 years in the making.
At this gathering, Mr. Boone is something of a celebrity. Signatures and snapshots with the featured guest are a must.
The 98-year-old is a member of a fraternity whose ranks are thinning. The Kansas native survived the Battle of the Bulge.
Boone’s unit of the 99th Division was overrun by Germans during the surprise attack in December of 1944.
“They just demolished our battalion,” said Boone.
Dozens of his fellow soldiers were captured. Many were killed.
“They kept firing as we took a few steps we’d hit the ground,” recalled Boone. “Finally we got. We got out of there.”
Boone and 10 others ran through knee-high snow and bone-chilling temperatures.
“It was 12 inches of snow and 12 degrees above zero,” said Boone.
Their miraculous escape earned them the nickname "The Lucky 11." Boone is the sole survivor.
“Well, I think the Good Lord was taking care of me,” said Boone.
Members of the Battle of the Bulge Association hang on to every one of Boone’s words.
Alan Cunningham, whose father survived the bulge, said opportunities to meet veterans in person are growing more rare.
“We find that the numbers of the veterans are dropping very quickly,” said chairman of the board Alan Cunningham. “Oh, I really appreciate his being here. It really adds something when we have meetings and to be at the Virginia War Memorial of all places.”
As Boone soaks up the attention, he reminds everyone to remember the soldiers who never returned.
“No one left behind. That is a good motto,” said Boone.
When she was two, Mary Ann Coates Smith’s father James was killed in the battle. She said meeting Boone is a living link to what she lost.
“Oh, it’s wonderful. It’s like here he is. We all got excited. It’s wonderful. It is a good feeling knowing that we can still communicate with him,” said Mary Ann.
As the day draws to a close, a gift of patriotic music plays for the aging veteran. It's a score to remember as the talented Mr. Boone leaves on a high note.
“It is good. It is good to be recognized," he said.
This story was originally reported by Greg McQuade on wtvr.com.