Paul E. Anna: High Points
November 15, 2012
This is a column that should have been written last week. But I, like many if not most Americans, am oblivious to holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day. They kind of sneak up on us and really seem more like Mondays off rather than days that we need to stop and contemplate the sacrifices others have made on our behalf.
But this past week I came to be in the presence of a pair of World War II vets and it made me feel a little guilty about not taking the time to consider their service more on Veterans Day. The first meeting came on Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago, an appropriate venue if there ever was one. The man was a former Navy aviator who was wearing a leather jacket from his years in the military. He was in his 80s and his memories are still as clear as they were in his youth. This was a guy who, like 16 million other Americans, did what they had to do protect our country from tyranny.
The second meeting only served to confirm the respect and gratitude that I had felt at the first. This veteran, also in his 80s walked a little slower and is surely much closer to the end of his story than the beginning, but I could tell that as a younger man he was hale and hearty and had gone to war with a sense of purpose, to keep the world from falling into the hands of despots.
There are not many left of those veterans who served in the Second World War and it is important that we honor them before they are all gone. They were the ones who not only preserved our way of life but came back to the States and created the America that we know today.
If you have never been to the World War II museum in New Orleans, it is a great place to gain some perspective on not just what it was like to serve in the military during the war, but what it was like to live in America during that period. War is different now, equally horrific of course, but since 1945 we have not had the entire world in battle like we did then. The museum gives us an incredible snapshot of what that felt like.
There were 291,000 American’s killed in battle during that conflict and another 131,000 who lost their lives in service-related events. Today just over 1.4 million World War II veterans are still alive and we are losing them at a rate of approximately 850 per day as the effects of time takes it toll. Given the pace, in another five to seven years there will not be many left. You don’t have to wait for Veterans Day to roll around again to honor these heroes. If you see one, give a tip of the cap.
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They served so that you and I may be free.