Spending time with WWII vets

This isn’t about a current crisis. On the other hand it is, because we are losing our WWII vets by the thousands–last I heard it was 2000 every day. My wife and I were incredibly honored to be able to participate in a reunion of the 474th Fighter Group. Of the 1500 men who once made up this proud 9th Air Force unit, about 30 were able to attend the reunion in Thousand Oaks, California. We spent three days with these men–all in their late 80s or early 90s–and their families. It was, to say the least, a remarkable experience.

We who have not shared their lives during the war can only imagine their thoughts recalling those days. There can be no doubt however of the bond that is created when men share such deep, life-changing experiences. The tears come quickly and easily to such men. Some still wave away the questions with an off-hand “I was just doing my job.” It seems few if any understand how desperately those like me want to enter into their lives and memories, to try to draw from them the meaning of those harrowing days, what it was like to lose friends and comrades day after day, then climb into those frozen or overheated cockpits and do all over again what they had to know would eventually take them down.The 474th lost 80 pilots killed during the war–that’s an awful lot considering there were about 150 pilots in the unit at any one time.

Hang around these guys for a few days and you understand more than ever before what this country means to them and, I think, what it should mean to all of us. I sit out looking at my beautiful garden, in peace and security, with freedom to choose almost anything I wish, freedom to think any thought, take almost any action, say what I want, worship my God openly and without restriction. It could have been so different. It still may be so different. But what I and we have now is directly a result of what these brave, humble, irrepressible men did.

I encourage you, as the days slip by, do all you can to talk to a vet, get them to tell their stories (as difficult as it may be) and pass on what you know to be the truth of the high cost of freedom to your children and grandchildren.


4 thoughts on “Spending time with WWII vets”

  1. This is a great suggestion–I’d add another. An affiliated and often-overlooked population is WWII civilian POWs. My mother was one; she and her parents spent the war in Santo Tomas, the Manila university that the Japanese army turned into a prison camp. Even those who were children there are now at least in their 70s, and they have a story that almost no one has heard.

  2. You are so right. I just read an account of a mother and her three children in one of Japan’s nightmare concentration camps. Amazing story of courage and resilience. It’s called “The Flamboya Tree” by Clara Olink Kelley. An outstanding book.

  3. Here is another perspective: My mother survived life in Germany and was a war refuge. She speaks of the terrible time of the advancing Russian army, of being shot at by British spitfires as she and my grandmother fled the onslaught. She speaks of seeing Dresden ablaze when 250,000 civilians were incinerated. My grandfather was a captain in the German Army on the Eastern front and was imprisoned by the Gestapo for being on leave too long when he took my mom and grandmother out ahead of the Russians. How he was thrown into a prison camp and tortured by his own people, only to be liberated by the American army. My dad was a Pacific theatre sailor and tells of the times when the US went into Japan as a full scale invasion like Normandy. Only no shooting. Great stuff.

    1. Mike, I previously ghost wrote an autobiography for a German soldier–4 years on the Russian front. The foot soldiers had as much to fear from their Nazi officers as the advancing Russians. Also, at the reunion I commented about, there was a German Air Force Colonel (Reserves) who made an impassioned speech in which he thanked America for liberating Germany from the criminals. His father was a General in WWII. It is time we consider a full perspective.

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