Veteran who was shot 13 times in Iraq walks across stage, graduates from Middle Tennessee State University

An Army veteran who survived being shot 13 times while serving in Iraq was able to walk across the stage at Middle Tennessee State University on Saturday, thanks to the help from an on-campus organization. Jay Strobino was injured in 2006, getting shot at close range and leaving the entire right side of his body riddled … Continue reading “Veteran who was shot 13 times in Iraq walks across stage, graduates from Middle Tennessee State University”

An Army veteran who survived being shot 13 times while serving in Iraq was able to walk across the stage at Middle Tennessee State University on Saturday, thanks to the help from an on-campus organization.

Jay Strobino was injured in 2006, getting shot at close range and leaving the entire right side of his body riddled with bullets.

His company with the 101st Airborne Division was on a mission to grab a high-profile target when they were ambushed by enemy fighters. One militant fired at Strobino.

“He came back around and he shot me again, and right before he shot me again I was like, ‘this is it.’ That was it, all I could do was roll over and take the brunt of it again," Strobino told FOX17.

Jay Strobino walked across the stage on Saturday after graduating from Middle Tennessee State University. (FOX17)

Strobino underwent over a year of rehabilitation and later enrolled at MTSU.

After getting in touch with the Daniels Veterans Center, which helps student-veterans with their academic needs, Strobino said he was finally able to graduate and walk across the stage with his degree in Exercise Science. Strobino also minored in Biology.

LOVE LETTER WRITTEN BY VETERAN IN 1954 DISCOVERED IN GEORGIA WALMART, REUNITED WITH FAMILY

“It's like a dream; I mean, it's not real. It doesn't feel real, it doesn't seem real in my body, in my mind,” he told FOX17.

Strobino, who currently works at a pharmacy, is considering continuing his education and going for his masters. He told WSMV he would like to get a job at the Department of Veterans Affairs to help fellow veterans one-on-one.

"The sky isn't even the limit. You can push past that, like there is no limit," he said.

Travis Fedschun is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @travfed

‘Wreaths Across America’ honors fallen vets at hundreds of locations in the US

At hundreds of ceremonies this weekend, Americans quietly paid their respects to those who served and lost their lives in the country's wars.

"Wreaths Across America" is an annual December event that pays tribute to U.S. servicemembers.

"We're here to honor the veterans. My father was a veteran, my grandfather and my great grandfather and we’re here to place the wreaths to honor them," one participant said, reports Fox 2.

Last year, more than 75,000 volunteers placed wreaths at 245,000 gravesites in Arlington National Cemetery.

This year, the organization sent 1.75 million wreaths to 1,640 locations that were set to hold ceremonies, according to the Pentagon.

This is the event’s 27th year at Arlington, honoring the men and women who've served in the U.S. armed forces.

President Trump on Saturday visited Arlington to shake hands with volunteers who had just taken part in a wreath-laying ceremony there.

According to the official Wreaths Across America Facebook page, the effort began in 1992 and was focused only on Arlington cemetery. It has since expanded to locations nationwide with a goal to remember those lost, honor their sacrifice and teach the next generation about freedom.

Fox News’ Robert Gearty contributed to this report.

Christopher Carbone covers technology and science for Fox News Digital. Tips or story leads: christopher.carbone@foxnews.com. Follow @christocarbone.

Trump joins Wreaths Across America in laying wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery

President Trump paid a Saturday visit to Arlington National Cemetery, where thousands of volunteers had just taken part in the rain in the annual holiday wreath-laying tribute to those who served—and died– in America’s wars.

Trump made the unscheduled stop to the famous military ceremony about 2:15 p.m. ET, hours after the event began.

"They do a great job, a really great job. Thank you," Trump said during the visit.

Every December, Wreaths Across America places wreaths on the graves at Arlington and other veterans cemeteries.

“Spending a rainy Saturday morning helping with Wreaths Across America at Arlington!!” Jessica Moyer told her followers on Facebook. “Such a humbling experience.”

Last year more than 75,000 volunteers placed wreaths at 245,000 Arlington gravesites.

This year, the organization shipped a staggering 1.75 million wreaths to 1,640 locations that will hold ceremonies across the U.S., according to the Pentagon.

WREATHS ACROSS AMERICA FACES SHORTAGE OF WREATHS FOR ARLINGTON CEMETERY

A few dozen locations overseas are participating. Wreaths Across America says 2018 is the first year permission was granted to place wreaths at Normandy to honor those who died during World War II’s D-Day invasion.

The Wreaths Across America caravan departed Columbia Falls, Maine, where the wreaths were made on Dec. 8 for the journey to Arlington.

"We know that for a Gold Star Family member, every day is Memorial Day for them and we understand that at the holidays, it's an especially difficult time with an empty seat at the table all year round,” Bre Kingsbury of Wreaths Across America said, according to Fox 5 DC.

TRUMP, PENCE MISS VETERANS DAY OBSERVANCE AT ARLINGTON CEMETERY

“The holidays, it can be especially tough. So that wreath really is a symbol that shows them that they are not forgotten and that their loved one is not forgotten," she said.

This is the event’s 27th year at Arlington, honoring the men and women who've served in the U.S. armed forces.

Wreaths Across America holds holiday wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery

Thousands of volunteers gathered at Arlington National Cemetery Saturday for the annual holiday wreath-laying event that pays tribute to those who served—and died– in America’s wars.

Every December, Wreaths Across America places wreaths on the graves at Arlington and other veterans cemeteries.

“Spending a rainy Saturday morning helping with Wreaths Across America at Arlington!!” Jessica Moyer told her followers on Facebook. “Such a humbling experience.”

Last year more than 75,000 volunteers placed wreaths at 245,000 Arlington gravesites.

This year, the organization shipped a staggering 1.75 million wreaths to 1,640 locations that will hold ceremonies across the U.S., according to the Pentagon.

WREATHS ACROSS AMERICA FACES SHORTAGE OF WREATHS FOR ARLINGTON CEMETERY

A few dozen locations overseas are participating. Wreaths Across America says 2018 is the first year permission was granted to place wreaths at Normandy to honor those who died during World War II’s D-Day invasion.

The Wreaths Across America caravan departed Columbia Falls, Maine, where the wreaths were made on Dec. 8 for the journey to Arlington.

"We know that for a Gold Star Family member, every day is Memorial Day for them and we understand that at the holidays, it's an especially difficult time with an empty seat at the table all year round,” Bre Kingsbury of Wreaths Across America said, according to Fox 5 DC.

TRUMP, PENCE MISS VETERANS DAY OBSERVANCE AT ARLINGTON CEMETERY

“The holidays, it can be especially tough. So that wreath really is a symbol that shows them that they are not forgotten and that their loved one is not forgotten," she said.

This is the event’s 27th year at Arlington, honoring the men and women who've served in the U.S. armed forces.

Balangiga bells returned to Philippines by US more than a century later

Three war-trophy church bells seized by U.S. troops more than a century ago were returned to the Philippines Tuesday morning, according to reports, following the controversial decision to repatriate them as an important gesture of friendship between the two countries.

“This morning, a US Air Force plane bearing three historic bells from San Lorenzo de Martir Church in Balangiga will land at Villamor Air Force Base. These bells were taken 117 years ago; later today it will be my honor to return them. Their safe return is thanks to the efforts of US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, supported by President Trump, and is driven by respect for the Philippines, our friend, partner, and ally,” the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, wrote in The Philippine Star.

U.S. Army soldiers took the bells after an attack killed 48 American troops in 1901, during the U.S. occupation of the Philippines. Two of the Bells of Balangiga were at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo., and the third was with the U.S. Army in South Korea.

Citizens of the Philippines revere the bells as symbols of national pride. President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly had called for their return.

“Good hearted individuals and groups labored for decades to bring the bells home. Former presidents, Cabinet secretaries, Philippine and US ambassadors, historians, philanthropists and many others worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the history of the bells and to advocate for their dignified return,” Kim added.

The Trump administration agreed that bolstering the U.S. relationship with a key international ally outweighed concerns at home, even among Republican political allies.

FLIERS STOP TO SING NATIONAL ANTHEM AT BUSY AIRPORT

“History reminds us that all wars end. In returning the Bells of Balangiga to our ally and our friend, the Philippines, we pick up our generation’s responsibility to deepen the respect between our peoples,” Mattis said in a bon-voyage ceremony at the F.E. Warren base last month.

Soldiers from the Philippines fought alongside U.S. troops in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and in the recent struggle against international terrorism, Mattis pointed out.

“To those who fear that we lose something by returning the bells, please hear me when I say that the bells mark time, but courage is timeless,” Mattis said last month.

DOZENS OF CHINESE CHRISTIANS DETAINED IN RAID ON UNDERGROUND CHURCH, GROUP SAYS

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, said at the time he sided with U.S. veterans who worried that returning the bells could lead to the repatriation of any number of items serving as memorials to American war dead.

Wyoming’s all-Republican congressional delegation also opposed the bells’ return, saying repatriation would set a dangerous precedent for other veterans’ memorials in the U.S.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Frank Miles is a reporter and editor covering geopolitics, military, crime, technology and sports for FoxNews.com. His email is Frank.Miles@foxnews.com.

Wilfred DeFour, Tuskegee Airman during World War II, dies at 100

One of the first African-American military aviators, who served with the Tuskegee Airmen, in World War II died Saturday from apparent natural causes in his New York City apartment. He was 100.

Wilfred DeFour was discovered unconscious and unresponsive inside his Harlem apartment at approximately 9:00 a.m., police said.

Emergency Medical Service workers pronounced him dead on the scene. Officials say his cause of death appeared to be natural causes but they will perform an official autopsy report.

DeFour, who served as an aircraft technician with the Tuskegee Airmen, joined the Air Corps in 1942 and was assigned to the 366th Air Service Squadron, serving in Italy, after basic training in Tuskegee, Alabama.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces, which were racially segregated until after the war.

DeFour, who worked as a Post Office employee from more than 30 years following his military service, was honored just last month at a ceremony to rename a Manhattan post office after the Tuskegee Airmen.

At the event, Defour said he and his fellow airmen didn’t realize they “were making history at the time.”

“We were just doing our job.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Paulina Dedaj is a writer/ reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @PaulinaDedaj.

Santa Claus takes a knee to thank World War II veteran in heartwarming viral photo

If there had been any question about it before, it was clear Saturday that 93-year-old World War II veteran Bob Smiley had been good, for goodness sake.

Even Santa Claus confirmed it.

Smiley and Santa were captured in a picture-perfect moment at the Concord Mall in Wilmington, Delaware, as St. Nick got down on one knee and thanked Smiley for his service.

“I hear Santa telling the gentleman, in a soft voice, of others he knew who served. He shakes his hand with genuine gratefulness thanking him for his service,” Gina Wilbur, who took the picture, wrote in a Facebook post that has since gone viral.

Members of Smiley’s family spotted the viral photo as it made the rounds on Facebook and reached out to Wilbur because they were so moved by the image.

Santa and Smiley reunited Thursday.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to men like this that have made such a life-changing decision to give of themselves, be willing to lay down their life even, for other people,” Santa told FOX29 Philadelphia.

Smiley said that, for his generation, service was more about “duty” than sacrifice.

“We all went, we all served,” he said. “Every boy in my high school graduating class all served. Out of 35 boys, five were killed and they were my friends for 13 years of my life.”

Smiley said he truly appreciates when people thank him for his service.

“I try to show my appreciation when they do thank me,” he said. “I thank them for thinking about us.”

Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang

World War II veteran with terminal cancer to receive Purple Heart 74 years after he was injured in Belgium

You can't say U.S. Army Cpl. Francis Byrne isn't a patient man.

After all, he waited 74 years for recognition since that day in Belgium in 1944 when he was hit by shrapnel from an exploding Nazi landmine. But the 94-year-old World War II veteran is now locked in a life-or-death battle with a new foe — cancer — and Byrne told the New Hampshire Union Leader he was worried time was finally running out.

Then he got a phone call this week from Washington, D.C. — Byrne would get his elusive Purple Heart.

The Manchester, N.H. resident is finally set to receive the military honor awarded to members of the armed forces wounded or killed while serving, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., revealed Thursday.

“Francis Byrne is an American hero and I’m so thrilled that he will finally receive his Purple Heart for his incredible sacrifice and service,” Shaheen said. “This Purple Heart is invaluable to Mr. Byrne and his family, and I so look forward to seeing him presented with it in the near future.”

Byrne, who was given four months to live after being diagnosed with terminal kidney and bladder cancer two months ago, said it was a dream come true to finally receive the Purple Heart.

“I started shaking,” he told the New Hampshire Union Leader about his reaction when Shaheen called to give him the good news. “I was so emotional. I didn’t think I would live to see the day.”

Byrne enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943 at the age of 18. He saw his first combat a year later on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day and was injured in the line of duty in Belgium.

“A kid about 30 feet away from me stepped on one, and a piece of shrapnel hit me right there. Still there in the bone,” he told WMUR, while pointing to his leg.

He told the Union Leader he didn’t see any visible wounds in the immediate aftermath of the explosion and told a medic to work on the soldier who had triggered the mine. When he realized he'd been hit by shrapnel, his lieutenant promised to fill out the paperwork that would get Byrne the Purple Heart.

But the lieutenant was killed the next day in battle.

Byrne was discharged in 1945 and worked as a construction supervisor in Massachusetts.

An X-ray on his leg taken in 2006 showed a 6-millimeter metallic object in his ankle, a piece of the Nazi shrapnel which doctors believe slowly migrated south from his shin over the years, the Union Leader reported.

In his house, Byrne has a display case on the wall that holds the medals he received, including ones for fighting on D-Day and at the Battle of the Bulge.

In the middle is an empty spot where he plans to place the Purple Heart.

“I can’t wait to see it there,” he told the Union Leader.

Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang

President Trump – and our veterans – are winning against an entrenched VA bureaucracy

The Trump administration is winning against an entrenched Department of Veterans Affairs bureaucracy that has habitually failed to properly serve its customers – our veterans.

Recent tussling between Congress and VA bureaucrats squeezed out some positive news for an agency that has been slow to respond to its constituents and stakeholders. Aloof and unresponsive, the VA headquarters finally found a way to make good on legislation that promises to pay post 9/11 veterans increased rates for their education and housing costs.

In short, the VA previously denied payments or underpaid recipients of the Forever GI Bill. VA Undersecretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence last week said, “Each and every veteran on the post-9/11 GI Bill will be made 100 percent whole – retroactively if need be – for their housing benefits for this academic year based on the current uncapped (Department of Defense) rates, and beginning in spring 2020, we will be in a position to provide veterans with the new rates where applicable to meet the law known as the Forever GI Bill.”

It will take public servants willing to work 24/7 to beat down the barricades and fix the system. It is time to make that assault.

What should not have been an issue became one, but now through the joint pressure of the White House and Republican Congress, veterans may catch a break from the organization entrusted with their care. The VA’s sleight of hand is expert, though, and we should not count these chickens until they’ve hatched, survived, and lived full and productive lives.

Point in hand, Secretary Lawrence later told Congress in the same hearing that he couldn’t confirm that all veterans would be appropriately reimbursed. Say what? The VA double speak will make your head spin, because they are experts at it, honed by years of practice and technique refinement. Lawrence should know better, having served in the army as a captain and later going on to be a successful businessman. Perhaps we should dock Lawrence’s pay (not that it would matter to him) until he can follow the law and serve our veterans.

Unfortunately, our veterans are all too familiar with VA incompetence. There is no greater symbol of the VA’s ineptitude than the massive failure in 2014 during President Obama’s indifferent reign as Commander in Chief. Unfamiliar with the scale and scope of large operations, Obama returned over 100,000 veterans from combat in Iraq in 2011, yet failed to properly prepare or scale the VA to handle the surge of physically and mentally wounded veterans.

As a result, the indifference reached a crescendo in 2014 when a reported 40 service members died waiting for care at one facility in Phoenix, Arizona. The VA was unable to meet its own service level agreement of an appointment within 14 days. Veterans often had to wait months for an appointment. Many gave up. Several died. And the FBI opened an investigation of the malfeasance.

Fixing the VA is one of President Trump’s campaign promises. We still have work to do, because the resistance is manifest in the VA – where veterans have little recourse when it comes to a historically unresponsive agency. The president already fired one VA Secretary, Obama holdover David Shulkin, for sitting on his hands.

Current Secretary Robert Wilkie shows promise. When the under-secretary Lawrence waffled before Congress, Wilkie was quick to shore up the double talk with some straight talk.

He said, “Each and every beneficiary will receive retroactively the exact benefits to which they are entitled under that law.”

That sounds okay, but we need to get to a point where nothing is retroactive. Most veterans don’t have the means to float from month to month, awaiting some distant retroactive payment that they earned through their service.

We need constant energy and focus in the VA to fix an institution entrenched against reform and innovation. It will take public servants willing to work 24/7 to beat down the barricades and fix the system.

It is time to make that assault.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony J. Tata is the former deputy commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the national best-selling author of “Dark Winter.”

VA vows to fix GI benefits after 50-year-old computer system caused payment glitch

Vets who are getting smaller GI Bill benefit payments than they are due because of the Department of Veterans Affairs' 50-year-old computer system will be made whole, VA officials said.

The announcement represents a sudden reversal by the government agency.

At a hearing Thursday on Capitol Hill, VA undersecretary Paul Lawrence said the agency has no plans to retroactively pay shortchanged GI Bill recipients, according to Stars & Stripes.

He acknowledged that only after the question had been asked repeatedly by multiple House lawmakers, the paper reported.

MEDITATION HELPS VETS WITH POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

Later in the afternoon however, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie issued a statement reversing course.

“To clear up any confusion, I want to make clear that each and every post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiary will be made 100 percent whole – retroactively if need be – for their housing benefits for this academic year based on Forever GI Bill rates, not on post-9/11 GI Bill rates, Wilkie said.

A House Veterans Affairs Committee spokeswoman said the lawmakers were pleased with Wilkie’s announced, NBC News reported.

“The Secretary’s new statement is unambiguous and we believe that VA has every intention to ensure that all student veterans are paid in full what they deserve in accordance with the law," she said.

Fox News reported two weeks ago that the VA's antiquated computer system had resulted in 895 GI Bill recipients waiting longer than two months for their payments and that 60,000 claims remaining to be processed.

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VA officials said it hasn't upgraded its computer system due to funds, but a House VA committee spokeswoman said the VA had been allocated $30 million to improve the systemr, The Washington Post reported Nov. 15.

Last year, President Trump signed off on the biggest boost in GI benefits in a decade, but the legislation did not fully take into account the additional time needed to upgrade VA's aging IT systems in order to process claims, according to the Associated Press. The expanded benefits took effect this fall.

VETERANS DAY: RESPECT, GRATITUDE AND SUPPORT — HOW EVERY AMERICAN CAN HONOR VETERANS

Among the GI Bill changes was a provision that offered monthly housing stipends to veterans based on the ZIP codes of the campus where they attend the most classes, rather than defaulting to the main campuses. That meant a change to the IT systems for hundreds of thousands of GI Bill recipients.

Student vets at Wichita State University just want to know what’s going on, KAKE-TV reported.

"Saying that those that….may have been overpaid were not getting any reduction, I can kind of understand," said one student vet Michael Bearth, who served in the Marines. "But to not afford the same respect to those who are underpaid is kind of off-putting to me."

Retired Army Lt. Col. Larry Burks, Sr, head of Wichita State's Military and Veterans Services Office, told the station that the GI Bill payments are something that is owed to veterans by the government for their service.

“And it is not our student veterans' fault that the system is not working, it is the government's fault that the system is not working,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.