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Nation marks Armed Forces Day

Dignitaries are taking time Saturday to mark Armed Forces Day.

The nationally-recognized day was created under the Truman administration, and is marked every May 20 as a way to honor all branches of the military, according to the Department of Defense. People are encouraged to pay respects to those serving in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. 

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President Trump, who is on his first trip overseas, tweeted a thank you message to the armed forces. Other dignitaries are also marking the day on social media.

300 veterans celebrate birthday of Hamilton boy whose dad died in Iraq

When Katie Luff asked her son, Aiden Luff, what kind of birthday party her son wanted, he said a party with a military theme. All veterans. Army. Navy. Air Force. Marines. If you served, Aiden wanted you to be invited.

“Veterans are much cooler,” Aiden, 7, said.

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On Nov. 21, 2010, when Aiden was only 5 months old, his father, Sgt. David James Luff Jr., 29, died in Tikrit, Iraq, after insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire, the Department of Defense said.

David Luff joined the Army in July 2004 as a tanker and attended training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Upon completion of training, he was assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, where he served as a gunner.

MORE: Organizers hope to grow Hamilton’s Memorial Day Parade

In 2006, he was deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom for 15 months. In April 2009, he was reassigned to Able Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds,” where he served as a driver. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant in January of 2010. Seven months later, he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn as a gunner.

“He’s very proud of veterans and his father,” Luff, 32, said.

Aiden was 6 weeks old when his father was deployed to Iraq. That was the last time they saw each other.

MORE: Memorial in honor of Middletown Judge Mark Wall to benefit elementary

When Luff’s family and friends started planning the party last week, Luff had no idea how many veterans would accept and invitation to a birthday party for a 7-year-old. She figured about 30 people might show up.

Instead it was 300.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news

Aiden rode on the back of the motorcycle of  Perry Davis, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Associates. As they approached the airport, Davis was amazed by the turnout of well-wishers, many of them saluting the young boy.

“You can’t describe it,” Davis said.

Then he came up with the perfect word: “Awesome.”

WATCH: America’s veterans hailed in grand way at Lakota East High School

Those in attendance showered Aiden with birthday presents, including several challenge coins, a leather motorcycle vest stitched with his nickname, “Boo Boo,” and patches, a military shadow box and dog tags, and he was invited to meet several members of Team Fastrax, a based skydiving team based out of Middletown, Ohio, that performed.

“He was treated very special,” his mother said. “It was emotional. It was amazing. All these men, all these men who didn’t know my son, showed such kindness and respect like he was family. The number of people, well, it was overwhelming.”

Her son, she said, typically very shy, interacted with those at his party.

“He had the biggest smile all day,” she said. “He thinks he’s famous now.”

MORE: Butler County veterans spending to see double digit increases

She said veterans are special because they appreciate the sacrifices of those in the military and their families.

“They understand and care and let you know not to forget the people who didn’t come home,” she said.

The Luffs were married on Dec. 31, 2008. Less than two years later, he was killed serving his country during his second tour of duty.

When Luff heard the knock at her front door seven years ago and saw a chaplain standing there, she knew the numbing news: The love of her life, her high school sweetheart, was gone.

“Every life plan was just taken away,” she said. “We had so many things planned. It was so soon. My world collapsed right there.”

Now, she said, her job as a mother is to protect her “best little buddy,” that energetic 7-year-old boy.

“He gave me a purpose to keep my head up and keep marching,” she said.

Every so often, Aiden flashes a facial expression that reminds his mother of his father. Those are good days in the Luff house.

“I still have that piece of Dave,” Luff said.

United to Texas national guardsman returning from Afghanistan: Pay up for bag

A national guardsman on his way home to Kyle, Texas, after a 21-month deployment in Afghanistan said United Airlines made him pay $200 to check a bag because it was too heavy to qualify for the airline’s free military baggage policy.

“I was told point blank that I’d have to pay $200 for the overage or find another bag to siphon stuff off with,” First Lieutenant John Rader, who was preparing to board a flight in El Paso Monday night when the incident happened, told FOX 7 Austin. “Well, I didn’t have another bag, so I was caught in a bind.”

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United’s policy states that U.S. military and their dependents traveling on official business receive waived service charges for up to five checked bags at 70 pounds each. Because Rader’s bag, which contained items including a Kevlar vest, helmets and boots, was over 70 pounds, he said he was given no choice but to pay the fee.

“In the past, airlines have been very flexible to soldiers, whether its upgrading us in our seating arrangements, helping us with numerous bags we travel with often. This is the first time and an isolated case in my history where it’s actually occurred. It became upsetting when all you want to do is get home and you have a $200 charge thrown on top,” Rader told FOX 7.

Military baggage policies differ depending on the airline. Southwest offers active duty military an exemption from its two-bag limit and free baggage up to 100 pounds, while Delta allows two free bags up to 50 pounds for active duty military traveling on personal business.

A United representative said the airline has reached out to Rader in hopes of remedying the situation.

It hasn’t been a great year for the airline. In March, United received widespread criticism for barring two teens from their flight because they were wearing leggings. And in April, video footage of a man being forcibly removed from a flight made national headlines.

Read more about Rader’s experience here.

Funeral home under fire for displaying veteran's body without casket

People on social media are outraged after a funeral home put a Ringgold, Georgia, veteran’s body on display for visitation without a casket over what his son claims was a dispute over money.

According to WTVC in Chattanooga, Tennessee, photos of the body of 71-year-old George Taylor, a Vietnam veteran, draped in a flag while lying on a gurney during his visitation are circulating on social media as controversy swirls over Heritage Funeral Home’s handling of the situation.

James Taylor, the veteran's son, told WTVC that there was an issue with a life insurance payment.

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"At first, we were OK with it, but like I told the guy, I said this was very disrespectful to my dad," James Taylor told WTVC.

He added: "They came to me and told me that unless $9,000 was paid, they couldn't put him into the ground; he would have to sit in the freezer until we paid it or (until) the insurance came through."

As a result, Facebook user Ella Moss and others spoke out on social media.

"This is how his friends (and) family had to see him," Moss wrote under a photo of Taylor's body, which we are not showing or linking to here because of its graphic nature. "I am in total disbelief."

>> On Rare.us: A veteran almost took matters into his own hands after he was denied financial assistance from the VA hospital

Moss' post has been shared more than 3,000 times.

But the funeral home and another relative are telling a different story.

“We were trying to honor the request and let them have some closure by viewing their loved one,” David Cummings of the funeral home told WTVC. “We serve this community. We love the community."

Beverly Roe, who said she was the sister-in-law of the deceased veteran, told WTVC that the family “shook on” the arrangement.

“His son was (OK with it), too. We shook on it. The three of us shook on it, and then all of a sudden, somebody comes in and wants to stir up trouble,” she said. “These guys (at the funeral home) haven’t done anything. They were so nice.”

>> On Rare.us: Vietnam vet is looking for prayers after thieves broke into his home and took his most treasured items

Whatever the case, the director of the Chattanooga National Cemetery saw the Facebook posts and called Heritage Funeral Home to guarantee that Taylor would be properly buried in a casket, WTVC reported.

Director Charles Arnold told WTVC that he contacted the funeral home and was told Taylor would be placed in a proper casket for the burial.

“We wanted to make sure that this burial would meet our standards, as we would do with every veteran,” Arnold told WTVC.

When Taylor’s body was transferred to a funeral home vehicle for a procession, a woman identified as Tiffany Lambert reportedly stood outside with her hand over her heart as she played “God Bless the USA.”

She commented on WTVC’s Facebook page by saying it was the right thing to do.

“I had to. Someone has to show this man the respect he deserves I only played the song as they loaded this American Soldier up – Thank you sir for your service and God Bless The U.S.A.!” she wrote.

Read more here.

Sonic boom rocks Central Florida

A sonic boom shocked Central Floridians early Sunday morning after the Air Force landed a secret military aircraft at Kennedy Space Center.

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The U.S. Air Force tweeted Sunday “The Air Force #X37B #OTV4 has returned from obit and landed safely at @NASAKennedy.”

The X37B is an unmanned secret military shuttle, which has been orbiting the Earth for more than 700 days, the Air Force reported.

The landing marks the first time the X-37B has landed at KSC using the same Shuttle Landing Facility runway as NASA’s manned orbiters.

The U.S. Air Force said, "X-37B program is the newest and most advanced re-entry spacecraft that performs risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.”

Israeli missile launch: What is the Patriot Missile Defense System?

The Israeli military deployed its missile defense system Thursday to intercept a drone fired from Syria, officials said.

According to The Associated Press, the incident came after Syria accused Israel of attacking a military installation near Damascus International Airport early Thursday.

While Israel has several defense systems, military officials used the country’s aging Patriot Missile Defense System in Thursday’s incident.

What does the latest Patriot Missile Defense System do?

Here’s a quick look.

What was it designed for?According to the U.S. Army, the latest version of the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System is designed to detect, track and destroy unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), cruise missiles and short-range or tactical ballistic missiles.

What weapon is used in the system?The U.S. Army's Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) missile, the newest weapon in the Patriot arsenal, is used in the system. 

How does it work?The system, guided by computers, launches Patriot missiles that seek out and destroy targets by slamming into them and exploding.

What does the missile contain?The PAC-3 Missile has a solid propellant rocket motor, 180 small-attitude control motors, a radar seeker, aerodynamic controls and an inertial guidance system, according to Aeroweb.com.

What makes them “mobile?”The missiles are transported by and launched from the M901 launching station, which is mounted on a semitrailer and towed by a tractor. The tractor can carry up to 16 PAC-3 missiles. 

Who operates it?A crew of three operators analyzes incoming threats and responds by launching missiles if necessary.

How does the missile find its target?The PAC-3 missile is directed by a computer to an intercept point. Motors guide the missile directly into the incoming target.

Which countries have the systems?The Patriot Missile Defense System is in service (or on order) in the Republic of China (Taiwan), Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Spain. Poland will soon be getting the system. South Korea purchased a secondhand system from Germany.

Is it the main weapons system in Israel?The county has come to rely on its “Iron Dome” system, which is designed to shoot down short-range rockets, and its “Arrow” system, which was built to intercept ballistic missiles outside the Earth’s atmosphere. The new “David’s Sling” missile defense system was introduced earlier this month. It is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and medium- to long-range rockets.

Has Israel used the Patriot system before?Yes, it has. Israel’s system is an older version of the Patriot missile defense system. The last time the country used it was in July 2016, when missiles were fired at a drone believed to have been launched from Syria. Both missiles missed the drone.

What does it cost?Each MIM-104F Patriot PAC-3 missile costs around $3.4 million. The launcher costs $3.8 million.

(Sources: U.S. Army; Aeroweb.com; The Associated Press)

Veteran, soldier boyfriend accused of shooting, killing therapy dog on video

A North Carolina Army veteran and her soldier boyfriend are facing animal cruelty charges after they allegedly tied her PTSD therapy dog to a tree and filmed themselves shooting and killing the animal.

According to the Fayetteville Observer, Marinna Rollins, 23, and Jarren Heng, 25, laughed on video as they shot Rollins' dog, Cam, with a rifle, said Cumberland County District Attorney Clark Reaves.

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Rollins shot Cam, previously named Huey, in the head before firing at him multiple times, the arrest warrant said. Heng also shot the dog on video, the Observer reported.

Rollins, who retired from the Army earlier this year for medical reasons, implied in an April 17 Facebook post that she had found a new home for Cam, the Observer reported.

"Sad he has to go, but he will be much happier where he is heading off to," she wrote, to which Heng replied, "He's gonna have such a great new life," according to the Observer.

Bail was set for $25,000 each for the pair.

Read more here.

Starbucks opens 5 'Military Family Stores' for vets and military spouses

Starbucks is working to increase employment opportunities for service members and their families through its “Military Family Stores” initiative.

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On Tuesday, the coffee chain’s Clarksville, Tennessee, location became the 37th store designated as a Military Family Store, meaning that it’s now staffed primarily by veterans and military spouses.

“Seventy-five percent of my business is the military,” store manager and military spouse Shannon Feltz, 47, told Fox News. “We are so excited about this announcement. I’ve never felt so supported by a company in my life.”

>> Related: Black Rifle Coffee pledges to hire 10,000 veterans

In addition to the Clarksville location, Starbucks unveiled four other Military Family Stores on Tuesday, including two in Texas serving Camp Mabry in Austin and Ft. Bliss in El Paso, one serving Naval War College in Rhode Island and one in Massachusetts near Joint Base Hanscom. The stores are part of the coffee chain’s efforts to provide jobs to veterans and military spouses while also serving as a place for service members to come together, connect and share stories. The company has pledged to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2025 and currently employs more than 10,000.

>>  Related: Starbucks responds to criticism over its refugee hiring plan

“Service members and military spouses are the best example of engaged citizens.” Starbucks senior vice president John Kelly said in a statement. “Long after leaving active duty, they continue to vote, volunteer and serve their communities at a high rate, serving as the best examples of citizenship. We are honored to serve as a place where these American heroes can continue to impact their community in a positive way.”

Matt Kress, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and now manages the veterans and military affairs program for Starbucks, remembered the “frightening period” when he transitioned from active duty life to civilian life.

“Some of our veterans are only with us for a year, while others are here longer,” Kress told Fox News. “This is their landing spot to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their life.”

Read more at Starbucks Newsroom.

>> Related: Move over, Unicorn Frappuccino; here’s Starbucks’ Dragon Frappe

>> Related: Starbucks barista rants about unicorn Frappuccino drink

Report: N. Korea conducts large-scale artillery drills on anniversary

North Korea conducted large-scale artillery exercises on Tuesday to coincide with the 85th anniversary of its army’s foundation, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported.

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Citing an unidentified South Korean government source, Yonhap reported that there were signs North Korea's military was carrying out large-scale, live-fire drills in areas around the east coast city of Wonsan.

South Korea's defense ministry could not immediately confirm the report, according to Reuters.

North Korea warned that the United States will have to choose between political and military surrender, according to the Yonhap report.

"If the U.S. and warmongers run amok with a reckless preemptive strike, we will stage the most brutal punishment of a preemptive attack in the sky and land as well as at sea and from underwater without any warning or prior notice," according to Rodong Sinmun, spokesman of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

Military dad shows softer side, has tea party with daughter

A military dad is getting a lot of attention after showing his softer side in a touching photo shoot with his daughter.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news

Keven Porter is a U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor. His wife, Lizette Porter of Oceanside, California, told ABC News that the shoot was a total surprise to her husband, who at first was a bit hesitant to participate.

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“My husband had no idea what was going to happen until we showed up to the shoot,” said Lizette. “He was hesitant at first but after a little talking I was able to convince him. He would do anything for Ashley.”

Click here to read more from ABC News.

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