I would like to submit the following to This I Believe …
Stephen Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” and Stephen Ambrose’s “Citizen Soldiers” are well-deserved recognition of the GIs who landed on Omaha Beach and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Let us also remember all the others who served. World War II was truly that – a world war – fought in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In the air, on the ground, on and below the sea. Army, Air Corp, Navy, Marines, Merchant Marine and Coast Guard. Anzio, Bataan, Colmar Pocket, Guadalcanal, Hurtgen Forest, Iwo Jima, Midway, Okinawa, Rome, Vosges Mountains … Naming all the battles would exceed the limits of this page.
Over the past several years I have had the opportunity of meeting and interviewing scores of World War II combat veterans. I consider each a hero. None agrees with me. “I’m no hero. I just did my job. The heroes are over there under little white crosses.” These men are now in their 80s. Most are grandfathers. Some are great-grandfathers. Virtually all are married fifty-plus years.
They are a unique and remarkable generation in American history. As children, their character and shared sense of family sacrifice was wrought in the blast furnace of the Great Depression. On December 7th, 1941 they were eighteen and nineteen year-olds, fully committed to sacrificing their lives and bodies for their family, buddies and country. And they did. By the thousands … tens of thousands … hundreds of thousands. We may never see their type of patriotism again.
The Congressional Medal of Honor is our ultimate symbol of heroism. During World War II, 432 brave and gallant men were awarded the Medal. If those men had not been born, or had not served, we would have still been victorious. But without the twelve million men and women in uniform, we would not have won. To me, every GI in harms way or in the line of enemy fire was a hero. They saved the world.
Their service, sacrifice and bravery bought and paid for the freedom we enjoy every day of our lives. For this we should be eternally grateful and profoundly indebted. These veterans are in each and every community across this nation. Most are easy to spot. They wear caps with their branch or unit names and designations. Their license plates indicate: Pearl Harbor Survivor – Purple Heart – POW – Combat Infantryman Badge – Air Force Bomber Group and other references to their service.
Those that came home went on with their lives. Some carried the physical and emotional scars of war. Their numbers are dwindling all too quickly. More than a thousand leave us each day. Let us show them our respect and gratitude in their twilight years. When you spot a veteran, shake his hand and thank him for his service. It will be an experience neither of you will ever forget. Let us go a little bit out of our way and do them a favor, give them a lift, shovel their walkway.
Remember this – when it counted the most, they went to Hell and back for us.
This I truly believe.
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