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War veterans from the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel gathered on Thursday to inaugurate a new veteran information center housed at the exhibition hall at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. The center, which opened its doors for the first time at the event, includes a computer database, created by the UK-based Association of Jewish ex-Servicemen and women (AJEX), that helps individuals find information about Jewish men and women who served in the British armed forces over the decades.
The gathering drew mainly World War II veterans but also some veterans who served in other major wars of the 20th century; some landed at Normandy and others fought at Ammunition Hill itself.
The "greatest testimony we can make is that the equipment is used here often. It brings great joy to see grandchildren say 'Oh Zeyda [grandfather]! I didn't know you did such and such.' It is a wonderful experience to see people receive joy from this system," said Harold Newman, national chairman of AJEX and a British war veteran,
The IDF was also represented at the event by Shimon "Katcher" Cahaner. Cahaner served as a soldier in the nation's early years alongside Ariel Sharon in Unit 101 and was a commander in the field in the wars of '67, '73 and '82.
"Seeing these veterans come here, we are able to thank and salute them. We do not know them but we know the stories about them. Even my grandfather fought with the British army during the Second World War."
Cahaner further explained that the Jewish veterans of World War II inspired Israelis in 1948. "When we fought in '48, we knew that they gave us the direction."
Jacques Weisser, general-secretary of AJEX, explained that the project is still growing. "For the moment we have 65,000 names but we still need to know more. We ask that people get in touch with us about information regarding Jewish war veterans."
The information center, which currently hold information on British war veterans only, will soon expand to include servicemen of other nationalities as well - Americans in particular. American veterans, Steve Rosemarin and Sam Greenberg, also attended the inauguration.
Greenberg and Rosemarin visit Israel whenever they have the opportunity. They bring along with them non-Jewish war veterans to show them the land of Israel and what it means for there to be a Jewish nation.
"I think it is the most important thing to know that Jews in the world fought for democracy and freedom," said Greenberg. "The saddest thing is that we get letters that say Jews never fought in these wars and we want to show the proof that we did."
At the end of the ceremony, the veterans looked on during an IDF paratrooper parade practice at Ammunition Hill.
Nesley Suttton, a British veteran who joined the Royal Air Force in 1942 and landed with the US forces at Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy, was moved upon meeting Israeli soldiers and exclaimed "that Israel is in good and safe hands. I and my group wish Israel success, but most of all, peace for the future."