So much has happened to our veterans since this post in 2009 when vets were waiting eagerly to visit the Washington memorials. Many have died..or continued to linger in hospitals. Others perished, not on the battle field, but while waiting to see a doctor stateside. Nevertheless, this is the day that we remember them…their courage, their fortitude and much more. They are the young and the old among us who should never be forgotten.
(from a previous post) Probably He had a twinkle in his eye as he waited outside the restroom in our plane. As I opened the door, he said “I’ve cleared the decks for you!” Laughing, I said “Well, I want to thank you for your service to our country.” He responded that his job had been to bury thousands and thousands of men who died on foreign shores. “This was my job.” I looked into those bright, blue eyes of a man in his eighties and knew he had seen the horrors of war. He had been the last to look on the torn and battered bodies of those young men who had never made it home.
These veterans on our plane were being sent free of charge by Southwest Airlines to Washington, D.C to see the memorial for these brave men. Honor Flight Network ( www.honorflight.org ) was their sponsor. They raise funds to transport and house veterans to the D.C. area to view the WWII memorial. Many of them had never seen the memorial and knew their chances were getting shorter and some could not afford to go on their own. Their decision was to go to D.C. and to share with other WWII veterans their stories and their lives. The media was there to talk with them, as we waited for our flight. We had a short service in the terminal where American flags were given out and a young man sang the National Anthem. I noticed several things about the reactions of the people, which I hoped these veterans did not observe. A young man sitting across the aisle laughed at the singing of the anthem. Many, however, gave an applause as the veterans entered in wheelchairs and with canes. Most regretful of all was once we were on our plane, one woman, perhaps in her 50’s, was complaining to everyone that she had to sit behind the group. She made a statement “We have paid for our flight.” My statement to her is that these men paid much more in suffering, years away from home, and the sadness they had endured in war. I liked what one of the volunteers had on the back of her t-shirt. “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read it in English, thank a veteran.”
While I was teaching 5th graders in Florida schools, one of my projects was to have veterans and Holocaust survivors come to the classroom and talk one on one with my students. They heard their stories and then shared them with the rest of the class. One of my fifth graders was wise enough to say, “My generation may be the last to speak in person to these men and women.”
We must not forget the women who contributed so much during the war, either on the front or at home in the plants making munitions and other necessities for the war. My mother, who is now 92, worked in one of these plants. A newspaper clipping is special to us, showing her listening to the radio and hearing that “Japan Surrenders”.
There used to be 16 million U.S. veterans of World War II . Now they are dying at a rate of more than 1,000 a day and number about 2.5 million according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. My husband, Bill, is a retired Navy Chaplain who is called on to speak at many of these burials. Recently, he presided at a funeral for a WWII veteran who was a POW (Prisoner of War) and had never received his Purple Heart. Unfortunately, he died two days before receiving it officially.
Yes, we are grateful for all they did. We are glad they could see a memorial meant for them and those who died in World War II. We will honor them always. They are the ones called the “Greatest Generation“. We must not forget them. We also must not forget that there are very young men and women who have given so much of their lives on recent war fronts.
Yes, this WWII vet had a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his face, as we talked on the plane. May he always keep this wonderful joy for living. He is a special person.
Our brave men and women are still on the fighting front…even though we are told they are not taking a “combat” position. We know the truth is that once you are facing danger from a foe, the enemy does not stop to ask “Are you in combat or just advising?”. The American people are smart enough to see through the semantics. These active duty young people are in harms way and deserve our respect and prayers…as do all veterans.