This coming Monday, Nov. 11th, is Veteran’s Day. It is a federal holiday. So the post office, banks, county offices and many other businesses will be closed.
Veteran’s Day is designated as a day to honor our military veterans. It was originally called Armistice Day.
I live next door to a World War II veteran. He’s well into his nineties. The war part of those war years doesn’t come up too much in conversation.
Across the street and up a door from me is the 94-year-old widow of a World War II guy. Her husband was part of the D-Day invasion of France in June of 1944. He passed away in 1993.
A few years ago, I read Tom Brokaw’s popular book, “The Greatest Generation.” Brokaw’s premise is that the American World War II generation is the “greatest generation.” The American military mobilized and stood up to enemies, which threatened the entire world. Those soldiers willingly and bravely fought the good fight around the world for the right reasons.
Others were needed on the home front and did a miraculous job of supplying the troops and sustaining the war effort. It was a phenomenal time.
Learning the history of that era is a fulfilling hobby for many. What America’s “greatest generation” accomplished is deservedly a source of national pride.
The stories are endless from that generation. Individual lives, families, neighborhoods, and communities were changed forever.
My dad was a civilian worker at Fort Richardson in Alaska during the war. His brother served in the Philippines. My mother’s brother experienced the terrors of the war in the Aleutian Islands.
My father-in-law got married and a few days later was on a transport ship for a tour of duty in Burma and India. He used to brag that he and my mother-in-law never had an argument during their first year of marriage. (He then usually clued people in that he and his wife were on opposite sides of the world during that wartime year.)
Of those family members I just mentioned, all have passed away. My dad-in-law was the last to go. He died nine years ago at the age of 87.
Our “greatest generation” is fading away. It’s simply the passage of time and simple arithmetic. How many people do you know who are in their nineties?
The source I looked at (National WWII Museum) estimates that World War II veterans are dying at the rate of about 294 per day at this time. It is reported that there are about 389,292 WWII veterans left from the original 16 million plus. The list I saw showed 3,083 left living in Utah. California topped the list with 39,897, with Florida not far behind with 38,955. (Alaska had the lowest number at 218)
An interesting, possible twist on the WWII veteran story is related to one of my older brothers. He served in the army during the late 60s and early 70s and spent the bulk of his time in Berlin as part of the multi-national, post-World War II occupation forces. I suppose that it could be said, maybe even in a technically correct way, that he’s a World War II veteran at the current age of 72.
Learning the stories of World War II is an important aspect of understanding what it is to be an American. That war had few, if any, question marks as to why we were fighting and what the stakes were.
There are literally hundreds and hundreds of films and books on the subject of the war. I have read the book “Flags of Our Fathers” and have also seen the movie of the same name. It recounts the stories of the flag raisers on Iwo Jima.
Several years ago, I visited the Marine Memorial in Washington D.C. which depicts that flag raising. Knowing more about the story gave some deeper understanding which made my “tourist moment” much more significant.
The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is another significant chapter in the pages of the “greatest generation.” African-American pilots and support staff were trained in Tuskegee, Alabama before racial segregation was ended. Moton Field in Tuskegee was established as a National Historic Site in 1998.
The Tuskegee Airmen battled not only the enemy during World War II, but they battled prejudice and doubt by many of their own countrymen. In the final analysis, they were awarded many honors for their heroism and high performance. Movies have been made about them.
In Sanpete, back in 2008, we learned about The Tuskegee Airmen first hand. Three of the airmen came to Mt. Pleasant and spoke to a big crowd as part of the Sanpete Fly-In.
Back at that time, in 2008, there were about 2.5 million WWII veterans still living. The daily average of WWII veteran deaths back then was more than 1,000 per day.
Opportunities to hear stories from the “greatest generation” first hand are disappearing fast. If you have some of this generation, including spouses of veterans, still among your family and friends, it’s time to seek them out to hear and record their experiences.