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Navy crew sings 'Anchors Aweigh' outside veteran's house in surprise tribute

by Rheana Murray / / Source: TODAY

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A group of Navy officers surprised a 98-year-old World War II veteran when they showed up at his home and sang "Anchors Aweigh," while the former sailor stood in salute on his doorstep.

It was the ultimate honor for Ernest Thompson, who served on the USS Tennessee and the USS Missouri.

"He told me it was one of the best days of his life," the veteran's grandson, Jonathan Williams, told TODAY.

Williams runs the Battleship Iowa Museum in Los Angeles, where Thompson, who lives in nearby Gardena, California, would often visit and speak to museum guests about his service. But recently he's been unable to make the trip because of health problems, and so a group of Chief Selects from the Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center in San Diego decided to bring the Navy to him on August 13.

After singing, they lined up to shake his hand, one by one, and presented him with a plaque.

"I love all of you dearly," Thompson told the group, after congratulating them on their new rank. "Thank you for this day."

Tribute to WWII Veteran Goes Viral When Group Sings 'Anchors Aweigh' at His Doorstep
The officers presented a plaque to Thompson, thanking him for his service.Battleship IOWA Museum

Williams, who has never served in the Navy, called his grandfather his "best friend" and said he inspired him to turn the USS Iowa into a museum. He wanted to create a place to honor veterans, and invite people like his grandfather back to relive their days at sea and educate the public.

He was encouraged after visiting the USS Missouri with Thompson in 2000, and seeing how returning to his old ship invigorated his grandfather.

RELATED: Meet veteran Joe Worley, whose life changed when he met this dog

"When you see an old man become 18 again, it just hits you right in the gut, right in the heart," Williams said. "So I volunteered to save the Iowa, frankly, and devoted a lot of energy. I did it for the veterans of Iowa, to be able to have that same experience my grandfather had on the Missouri."

Tribute to WWII Veteran Goes Viral When Group Sings 'Anchors Aweigh' at His Doorstep
Thompson during his Navy daysBattleship IOWA Museum

While Williams wasn't there for the tribute — he was at his mother's 70th birthday party — a video he posted of the surprise ceremony has gone viral, gaining millions of views on Facebook.

RELATED: For veterans who can't travel, virtual reality offers a way to see the WWII memorial

Thompson, who wasn't available to comment to TODAY, loves the attention, his grandson said. "He's laughing, he thinks it's great," Williams said.

"I talked to my mother and family, and we think this might have extended his life further," he added. "And he's already on his way to 100 years!"

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