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There’s one person who comes to Kathie Lee Gifford’s mind on Veterans Day.

Her father, Aaron Epstein, reported for duty the day after Pearl Harbor. He went on to serve 20 years in the Navy. His stepfather, as well as his oldest brother, were both killed in combat in Europe. His other sibling came home wounded. The patriarch was the only one from his family who came home unscathed physically.

Epstein passed away in 2002 at age 78 from Lewy body dementia.

“I grew up in a Navy home,” the former co-host of “Today” told Fox News Digital. “My daddy is one of those people, like so many, when Pearl Harbor happened, he was just 17 years old and lied about his age. That’s the only bad thing he ever did.… He lied about his age and wanted to be a pilot, but I think his eyesight wasn’t that great, and he had flat feet or something like that. And so he went into the Navy … [he] ended up actually in Paris, France, early on in his naval career on General Eisenhower’s staff after World War II at Shape Headquarters. And that’s why I was born in Paris, France.”

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Kathie Lee Gifford is remembering her father, Aaron Epstein, on Veterans Day.

Kathie Lee Gifford is remembering her father, Aaron Epstein, on Veterans Day.
(Courtesy of Kathie Lee Gifford)

The family eventually laid down roots in Maryland, where Epstein resided.”

The star, 69, said that Epstein served his country “with great pride,” because her grandfather had escaped the “pogroms,” or violence by Russian authorities against Jewish people.

“My father knew antisemitism, and he knew struggle, he knew pain and all kinds of things,” she explained. “He lost relatives during the Holocaust, but he was so grateful to live in a country like America, where freedom lives. And I pray to God we continue to have freedom.… Veterans Day, of course, is for the ones who served and serve faithfully. 

“My father’s stepfather also died during World War II, along with his brother Paul, and then his other older brother, Carl, was wounded. And so, we just don’t understand in our world today the kind of sacrifice that was made … war is ugly, but the sacrifices and the bravery and the devotion to a cause – there are beautiful things to find, even in the ugly struggle of it.”

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Kathie Lee Gifford's father passed away in 2002 at age 78. He served 20 years in the Navy.

Kathie Lee Gifford’s father passed away in 2002 at age 78. He served 20 years in the Navy.
(Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

“And everything I learned truly valuable in this life, I learned from my father, who had struggled,” she added.

Despite witnessing the ugliness of war, Gifford said her father was “the kindest, best man I’ve ever known.” And he continues to inspire her to honor our troops.

“I have such respect,” she said. “And no matter where I am, if I see somebody in uniform, I go and I thank them. I [say], ‘Thank you for your service.’ I don’t take my great gifts and privileges and rights for granted at all. I know how fragile life is.”

“I want to wish everybody out there who is serving or has served in the past, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart,” the mother of two shared. “As my daddy would say, ‘Thank you kindly.’”

KATHIE LEE GIFFORD REFLECTS ON HOW FAITH HAS LED TO AN ‘INCREDIBLY ADVENTUROUS JOURNEY’: ‘I JUST TRUST IN GOD’

Kathie Lee Gifford's mother, Joan Epstein, passed away in 2017.

Kathie Lee Gifford’s mother, Joan Epstein, passed away in 2017.
(Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC Newswire/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

In 2017, Gifford lost her mother, Joan Epstein. She was 87. Her death came two years after the passing of her husband, football player and sports commentator Frank Gifford, in 2015 at age 84.

“My precious mother, JOANNIE went home to JESUS & my DADDY this morning,” Gifford tweeted at the time. “We praise God for His promise of eternal life & we thank God for her.”


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