For the past year I have been following my Dad's 10th Armored Division in the last year of World War II. I have done research and learned things that I never knew. In this next to last post in the series, I decided to think about this whole process from the viewpoint of being a son of a World War II veteran.
By the time I was old enough to think about these and ask the questions both he and my mother were gone. It was the mid-60s and the times were changing. It is only in recent years, with the advent of the Internet that I have been able to trace the stories I never heard directly. In so doing I opened a book I didn't know existed. I found a way to be an observer from a distant place and see pictures of my Dad in new ways. I have posted some of them here over the past year.
In the health care of the 50s and 60s, my Dad was also cared for by the VA. He spent the last 16 or so months of his life in the chronic, nursing-type ward at the VA hospital in Wilkes-Barre. His brain tumor prevented him from taking care of himself. The VA did that for him and for us- his family. We received veterans' benefits and college support. The whole atmosphere, the ambiance of World War II was a unique and caring response. At least that is how I saw it as a recipient of the care and support.
His generation is passing away. According to the National World War II Museum "there are approximately only 855,070 veterans remaining of the 16 million who served our nation in World War II." That means there are only about 5% of the Vets still around. Nearly 500 of them die each day.
My Dad was among the older vets of his era, almost 39 when he arrived in Europe in 1944. He died 51 years ago, not yet even 60. But the youngest vets are now at least in their mid-80s. My generation is older than most of them were when I was a teenager. We are losing that intimate contact with an important piece of our American heritage and democracy. They fought a war in which there was to us a clear example of evil spreading across the world. Hitler and the Axis powers were terrifying, even to many sitting in the relatively safe borders of North America. In what may have been one of the more selfless acts in world history, 16 million Americans went to fight for the world's safety and security. They believed, a with a great degree of certainty that if they didn't, the world would not be safe for any of us in this country or for freedom and democracy. But they went and through grit and courage, fear and sheer force of will were victorious.
And then they helped rebuild their former enemies.
Perhaps when history is written in another 75 to 100 years this will stand out as the greatest moment in American history.
I have always known this at some level. One cannot grow up on the World War II movies and documentaries, books and stories without being aware of that. It is real today whenever I hear the marches of the different military branches. "When the Caissons Go Rolling Along (U.S. Army Field Artillery March)" still moves me.
This must be an open book for generations to come. These WW II vets set a standard that is not easy to match but their willingness to serve remains the archetype.
On this Veterans' Day, 70 years after the end of World War II, I will pause and give thanks for my Dad's service and for his generation that gave us an incredible model to follow in serving. There are many things to remember, but this is one we forget at our own peril.
(Below is my video for Veterans' Day 2015 in Memory and Honor of my Dad and the Vets of our American history.)