Statistics vary, but the Veterans Administration indicates that of the 16 million who served in World War II, fewer than a million survive and those are dying at the rate of 492 per day.
Every day, I scan my newspapers for evidence that we as a nation are recognizing the service of this Greatest Generation even as I also pay attention to the myriad problems our veterans are experiencing with getting the medical services they have earned.
When a veteran dies, his history is likely to die with him/her, and it seems to be increasingly difficult for even persons of middle age to understand World War II: Why we entered, where we fought, and the sacrifices we made as a country to defeat enemies whose acts of atrocity are now being mirrored by our enemies in the Middle East.
As we reflect on the 70th anniversary of the tragedy of the bombing of Japan, we become even more aware that nuclear warfare exacts a terrible price even as we acknowledge that for some those strikes on Japan to bring that country to its knees were essential as argued by Paul Fussell in “Thank God for the Atom Bomb.”
But what about the Battle of the Bulge, the Beaches of Normandy, Dachau, Stalag VII-A, WASPs, POWs, war in the Philippines? What of the stories, the accounts of the men and women who were there?
The Library of Congress Veterans History Project has sought to encourage Americans to record the stories of these men and women so that the LOC can make them available in their archives in order that today’s and future generations will have records that say, “We were there. We were cold; we were hungry; we were being fired upon; we lost comrades-in-arms to sudden death; we remember.”
Oct. 15, 2015, is a day that I await with eager anticipation when seven World War II veterans will come together, some for the first time and some as old friends, to share their lives in war with a grateful audience at Edison Community College in Piqua, Ohio.
• Robert Tweed and Harry Christy were at the Battle of the Bulge (The U.S. suffered the highest casualties of any event in the war in this battle in which Christy’s unit fared well, Tweed’s not so much. This is still a source of great pain for Tweed;
• The day after its liberation, Tweed was sent to the concentration camp Dachau to bear witness to the atrocities committed there, “bodies stacked up like cordwood,” and Christy was sent to the POW camp (built to accommodate 10,000 with over 80,00 prisoners by war’s end) Stalag VII-A in Moosburg, Germany, to facilitate getting the soldiers home;
• POW Les Edsall marched in subzero weather and rode in cattle cars on a starvation diet from Poland to Germany as the Nazis retreated, finally escaping when Russians took over the POW camp where he was last located;
• Marion Adams was a radio operator aboard an LST when Allied forces stormed the Beaches of Normandy;
• Harry Ashburn transported Marines through enemy lines in the Philippines;
• Bill Brower and his men destroyed equipment in the Philippines at war’s end;
• Nadine Nagel became a WASP pilot after her husband, a military pilot, was killed during the war.
All of these World War II veterans were delighted to be asked to share their stories. Beginning at 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 15, Thein Snipps will present live music from the World War II era.
So why am I telling you this? You have a part to play. Email me a letter to be presented to these veterans to email@example.com or send it by U.S. mail: Dr. Vivian Blevins, Edison Community College, Piqua, OH 45356.
Let’s thank them for their service NOW and the freedoms we enjoy because they put their lives on the line for us. And if you are in the area on Oct. 15, come to the college. Admission is free, and we have a seat waiting for you. Edison is handicap accessible, and we will have special seating for wheelchair-bound guests at the front of the theatre.
P.S. After his escape from a POW camp, Les Edsall writes in his war memoir I Was No Hero, But…So the feeling of anxiety remained until the trucks returned back across a pontoon bridge on the Elbe, and we were once again under Allied control. The cheers must have echoed up and down the river as we released our tensions and feelings. Tears of joy streamed down our faces as we realized the feeling of liberation and freedom. Never again would any of us be complacent about the wonderful word “freedom.”
Let’s not be complacent in writing these veterans a note to let them know that they are respected and appreciated. It’s so little to ask of these who gave so much.
Send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.