I read Tom Warhover's recent column, and I felt very sad about the general attitude concerning "another article" on the World War II Honor Flights. Maybe the Missourian should rethink the attitude that "it is the same story every year."
I am the daughter of World War II Navy veteran, Harold A. Carr. In 2004, my husband and I met my parents in Washington, D.C. for the dedication of the World War II Memorial. It was one of the best days of our lives. The weather was perfect, and Washington, D.C. had rolled out the red carpet like never before. The streets were full of veterans and their families. There were no strangers. Cameras were working overtime. Tears flowed from faces, and no one was ashamed. Celebrities mingled with the crowd. The veterans were bombarded with young people wanting to have their pictures taken with them. Rank did not matter on this day: People were trying hard to thank "The Greatest Generation" who sacrificed and served our country. The veterans were thrilled, yet still acted humble.
The ceremony that afternoon was so emotional that I can barely talk or type about it without crying. "The Star Spangled Banner" brought people to their knees. I watched my dad; The emotion was deep and a long time coming. He talked to fellow veterans about experiences I had never heard before. With video camera in tow, I simply mingled and asked a few veterans to give me their names, branches of service and locations of where they served. No one turned me down.
Some veterans wore their original military uniforms. The family we were sitting with during the ceremonies was from Arizona. Ralph, a member of the family, never talked much about his war experiences. I asked him if he would say a few words to me as I recorded him. Ralph fought in the Pacific, and one of the battles was the island of Peleliu. World War II historians know he was sent into the depths of hell. He talked to me for a long time. Ralph died of Parkinson's disease a few weeks ago. He was, and is, a hero.
So you see, an article can't be the same every year because all of these men and women have different war (and home-front) experiences that someone could and should keep writing about. Our World War II veterans are leaving us at an all-too-rapid rate. When an Honor Flight leaves with these aging, heroic veterans, the stories are endless and should not be wasted.
The memorial was overdue, and the clock is ticking for the opportunity to gather the incredible stories from these men and women. They are still very humble and do not seem to know what all of the fuss is about. Most of them will say they are happy about the memorial because of their buddies who were left behind or lay at rest in Arlington. They are grateful and now seem willing to talk about the war.
I have been an avid reader of World War II history all my life. I still do not understand how veterans survived what they saw during their tours of duty. I listen to my dad talk more about his experiences. He was on one of the first ships into Nagasaki for "the clean up." There are pictures of him and his shipmates walking in the sand — no gloves, no special clothing or knowledge of to what they were exposing themselves. He has been one of the lucky ones: The cancer rate is very high among his shipmates.
Tom Brokaw did all generations a great service by writing his wonderful books about a few of our heroes. Steven Spielberg has given us "Saving Private Ryan" and "Schindler's List." These are gifts to future generations, reminding them not to forget. Still, all the remarkable books and movies are about only a few. We will never run out of stories until the last one dies, but we are running out of time. We want to be able to say we did our best to serve and honor them. We do not want to say we missed such a great opportunity.
Maybe it would help if staff members went to the memorial. What went into making it? Why are certain parts of the memorial located where they are? The wall of gold stars represents every fallen soldier of the war. There are photos left behind by grown children who never knew their fathers. There are flowers from sweethearts, wives, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, even total strangers wanting to say, "thank you." Rub your hand over the smooth granite with the names of battlefronts such as Normandy, Guadalcanal, Battle of the Bulge, the Philippinesor Midway. Most of all, stand there and let it sink into your very soul that you may not be there if it weren't for the sacrifices of an entire generation that believed in our country and knew what freedom truly means.
Each veteran on the Honor Flights would have made an excellent story worthy of the Missourian to print. There is so much to learn from them and too little time. The History Channel estimates that only 10 percent of World War II veterans are still living. According to the National World War II Museum, in 2009, just under 2 million veterans were still alive. Journalists could glean their stories and those of their families each year and never have a repeat.
Sandra Carr Neely is a Columbia resident.