I couldn’t help but be moved by the various Veterans Day services this past week. It boggles my mind that over 16 million American men and women were inducted into service and deployed during the official World War II years of 1939 to 1946. That is almost the current population of the entire state of Florida. It is roughly the population today of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi combined!
The Marines, Army, Navy, etc didn’t have to go advertising for most of these folks. Volunteers by the thousands raced to the nearest recruiting station after the unprovoked and dastardly sneak attack on Pear Harbor in December of 1941. Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg and Ted Williams come quickly to mind because, as rising stars in professional baseball, they had so much to lose. Of course, come to think of it, the steel mill worker in Pennsylvania, the banker in Omaha or the school teacher in Portland, Oregon, stood to lose just as much.
Young men lied about their age to get in. Some begged their parents to sign “for them” so they could enlist early. Many quit high school to join up. You ponder on that for a second. Our nation was under attack and 16 million of “us” rallied to the cause. To say they didn’t understand the possible consequences would be naïve. To even hint that many of them acted before they thought it through would be selling them way short.
Here’s the way I figure it. Our beloved America was under attack. Our democratic way of life was threatened. Long before Pearl Harbor, Adolf Hitler had been getting up and spouting off about socialism, German pride and superior races. Of course, he wanted to be the head socialist, the absolute German supreme honcho and he wanted to select the superior race. Most all of that goes against the grain of a freedom loving, independent nation.
After fooling British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain into a “peace in our time” statement, Hitler quickly moved to dispel that hope by invading Poland, “submarine-ing” neutral ships in the North Atlantic and reneging on a peace agreement with Russia. Pearl Harbor was just the wake up call that there was to be no more subterfuge. It was open and outright war to the finish!
The gauntlet had been thrown down. The Axis powers of Germany, Japan and Italy stood ready to challenge the world for ultimate supremacy. These fanatics were lining up their empires. They had the power, the might, the cunning; they figured it was going to be a slam dunk…... Poor Adolf, Tojo and Mussolini obviously hadn’t gotten the word on The Greatest Generation.
In December of 1941, my Father was driving a truck for the Domestic Egg Company in McKenzie, Tennessee. By December of the following year he was practicing amphibious landings on the shores of Lake Michigan. Ten months later he was on the USS Monticello steaming toward New Guinea and a war that was not of his making. Not to his liking. And quite possibly would cost him his life. It was more than we should ask of any man.
I don’t know where or how he received the Bronze Arrowheads. I don’t know about the Presidential Unit Citation or the other ribbons. He never said much about the war to me. He never one time complained about having to go, or the fighting, or the lost years away from his wife and baby son. He didn’t brag or dwell on the war. The job finished, he came home and went back to work. It was over. Heroes to him were always the ones that didn’t make it back.
Here’s the part you’ve got to grasp this morning. Dad’s story was only one of 16 million! Don’t say it so fast or let the numbers be so vast that you just pass it off. Or fail to catch the sacrifice, the daring, the glint of steel in the eyes, the fortitude, the immeasurable courage, the love of country and the heroism in each and every single one of them!
General Custer divided his forces and the Indians got him. Hitler had to fight the Americans to the West and the Russians on the Eastern Front. He couldn’t stand the heat. We sent American troops in World War II into North Africa, Italy, France, the Solomon Islands, Midway, New Guinea, Iwo Jima, the Philippines ……well, you get the idea. It was said that during that war we had troops fighting in every time zone in the world……except for four very precious ones at home!
It has been sixty-seven years since the war ended. There are only two million World War II veterans left. The average age for them is approaching ninety. We are losing those courageous soldiers now at a rate of about 750 a day. I hope and pray we are earnestly seeking them out today, shaking their hands and thanking them once again for the tremendous debt we owe them. We wait another five or ten years and our opportunity may be lost forever.