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Iwo Jima World War II veteran celebrates 95th birthday

Don Brown was just 17 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

BOISE, Idaho — World War II veterans are passing at a rate of 234 per day. According to the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs, of the 16 million Americans who served in the war, only 240,000 are still with us, and they are all at least 95 years old.

With so many passing each year, it makes it that much more important to celebrate those who haven't yet.

Don Brown is one of the veterans still with us. He celebrated his 95th birthday Wednesday. Although he's been celebrating his birthday for weeks now, thanks to his daughter, who lives in Montana, and dozens of others from around the country.

"He's just amazing so I wanted to make it super special, and just said, 'Hey my dad's going to be 95. It'd be really cool if he could get some cards', you know, something extra in the mail besides bills and advertisements." said Julie, Don's daughter. "You know, maybe 10-15 cards."

But Don received a lot more than just 15 cards.

"We're up to 124 cards from 33 states, and Washington D.C., two from England, one from Japan, and a handful of handmade cards from students in junior high classes," Julie said.

In 1944, Don joined the Marines out of Sioux City, Iowa, at the age of 17.

"They took 17-year-olds if your mother signed for ya." Don said.

He was anxious to serve his country and was worried the war would be over before he even got in. Just days after turning 18, however, Don was a member of the Fifth Marine division, fighting in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

"They let us crowd the beach and then they opened up on us, and they couldn't miss," Don said. "Yeah, it was hell."

It took four days for the Marines to take Mt. Suribachi, but that wasn't the end of the battle. Don would end up staying in the Marine Corps for another two years.

All these years later, Don has received letters from dozens of people he's never met.

His daughter Julie posted on a Facebook page for Iwo Jima survivors, talking about her legally blind father who lives alone. That post garnered lots of responses from all over the world.

His neighbor Abby has read him every single letter, which is now up to 180.

"It's so heartwarming and so powerful... because it is such a testimony to how much good is left. I think it means more than he's even really able to say," Abby said.

"He's such a proud Marine, so to know that other people care about his service, it's been an outpouring of love, just absolute love," Julie said. "I think it means more than he's even really able to say." 

"Well, I -- I think somebody's thinking of me anyway," Don said.

To send a letter to Don Brown, mail them to KTVB.

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