WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – Sixteen million American men and women served in World War II.

A dozen of the survivors placed wreaths at the war’s memorial on the National Mall to remember their nearly half a million comrades who lost their lives for our freedom.

World War II veterans stood tall and proud of their service to our country, wiping away tears as hundreds gathered at the war’s national memorial to thank them.

“Just wish I could have done more,” said Elizabeth Lewis.

Lewis served on a hospital ship as a surgical nurse in the Army. Dr. Jack Goldstein was a B-17 waist gunner.

“It got pretty scary a couple of times,” said Dr. Goldstein.

Lewis and Goldstein, along with a dozen other WWII veterans, laid wreaths at the memorial’s Freedom Wall to honor the 400,000 men and women who didn’t make it home.

They call themselves lucky to be alive after close calls in the skies over Germany and at sea with the Japanese.

“I couldn’t get my gun fast enough to take a shot at it,” said Goldstein.

“We didn’t have any arms on board. That was the worst part,” said Lewis.

These veterans are inspiring younger generations to follow the example of service to the country and protect our nation’s freedom.

“Yeah, I think I’ll go in the Army.”

Eleven-year-old Matthew Tingstrom has delivered letters of thanks to veterans for the past ten years.

“They deserve thanks. These people helped make our freedom. They kept us safe. I just think that history is important,” said Tingstrom.

Tingstrom’s family is part of that history. One of his grandpas served in WWII, the other in Vietnam.

His dad, uncles, and sister have also served, and his brother is currently deployed in Afghanistan.

“I’m proud to be his brother. I think he’s doing what he’s trained to do,” said Tingstrom.

And these veterans were proud to hand off their legacy to future servicemen and women like Tingstrom, with a little advice.

“Stick with it.”