8-year-old Union Co. boy to speak at funeral for 97-year-old World War II veteran

Updated: Feb. 27, 2020 at 11:21 PM EST
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UNION COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Elementary school student Landon Knestrick is about to get on plane to fly to Colorado to speak at the funeral of 97-year-old World War II veteran Donald Stratton. A friendship between the two began in 2016.

Landon - who lives in Stallings in Union County - watched a TV documentary on the USS Arizona and became mesmerized with Donald, a survivor of that battle. It was Landon’s Christmas wish that year to meet the veteran.

His family found Donald through social media, and they FaceTimed while Donald was in Hawaii for the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. From then on, their friendship kept going.

The following summer, the Stratton family was traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with Congress and try to get the man who rescued Donald and five others on the USS Arizona an award posthumously.

The Strattons invited Landon and his family to Washington so they could meet face-to-face.

PBS was there to film their meeting for a commercial. It’s still shown nationwide, and was even nominated for an Emmy.

After that meeting, the Strattons invited the Knestricks to be their guests in Hawaii for the 76th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and for Landon to experience the USS Arizona in person with his hero.

The elementary school-aged child and this World War II veteran continued to have an incredible connection.

In June 2018, Landon and his family traveled to Colorado Springs where Donald lived to witness a bridge dedication ceremony of the “Donald Stratton Bridge” in Colorado Springs.

In Jan. 2019, a Quilt of Valor was awarded to Donald, thanks to a nomination Landon wrote on his behalf.

In Nov. 2019, thanks to help from the Strattons, Landon was able to unveil a piece of the USS Arizona now on permanent display at Landon’s school, Charlotte Prep.

Donald passed away last week at age 97. The war hero was able to live a long life.

This Saturday, Landon will say his final goodbye to his friend in Colorado Springs, as the 8-year-old was asked to be a speaker at Donald’s memorial.

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