Several recent measures indicate that the majority of American students don’t know who America opposed during World War II.
The same measures show that about 40 percent of American students did not know that World War II even happened. It could be argued that World War II was one of the biggest events in history and shaped the course of history and the lives of millions of people.
In all, 16,112,566 Americans served in World War II, 291,557 Americans lost their lives in combat, and another 670,846 suffered mortal woundings. Now, the median age of American World War II veterans is 87.5. Sadly, just over 1,100 World War II veterans die every day. At the dawn of World War II the draft was instituted and American men between 18 and 38 were drafted and the draft age was later extended up to 45 years of age. The average age of an American soldier was 26 years old.
In the course of my work, I often encounter veterans of World War II and I consider it a privilege to speak with them and for those that are willing to share, I am riveted by what they share. As I entered his room, I noticed a portrait picture, she is elegant and beautiful, she was his wife that has preceded him. His hands are bent, scared and aching. Still when I shake his hand his grip is powerful and resolute. I see from his exotic tattoo that he is a Navy man.
After a few conversations I asked him about his military service and he shared that he had been a witness to the aircraft carrier, USS Franklin being hit. It was March 19, 1945, and The Franklin was sailing toward Honshu and Kobe Harbor. While under way, the Franklin was attacked by Japanese fighter planes and was critically struck by two bombs. In an instant, 755 American sailors lost their lives and another 365 sailors were injured.
“As we watched the smoke and fire boiling out of the Franklin we were both angry and helpless,” he said. “I saw battle hardened men, men who had been through many terrible fights, crying like little children. I was one of them. I was 19 years old and scared senseless, but we did our jobs in spite of our fears.”
Another gentleman shared that he had contracted malaria in the pacific theater. He explained that he was at the Solomon Islands and that many American soldiers died not from combat but from malaria. In reality, eight times as many Americans died from malaria and other tropical diseases than from combat. Contracting malaria had made this fine old gentleman so ill that he asked me if he could somehow contract it again.
I told him that the frigid North Country winters protect us from the parasite infected mosquito’s that cause malaria.
“The Japanese were ferocious; they made numerous frontal assaults into our machine guns and mortars,” he said. “To us, they were committing suicide.”
In the end, the Solomons were taken at cost of 3,000 American soldiers and another 10,364 wounded.
“We came home and went back to work and put the war behind us,” he said. “I lost a number of good friends in the war in Europe and in the Pacific. They were, like me, young and wanting to do their duty.”
I have great reverence for these important Americans; we owe them so much for their sacrifices. As American soldiers stood against brutal regimes in Japan and Germany they helped to save the citizens of Europe and the pacific but they were also protecting America. If America had stayed on the sidelines of World war II the outcome of the War might have been different. We must never forget what American soldiers did for us and the world. Returning GIs went to college on the GI Bill, started businesses and helped to create the middle class in America. The list of remarkable Americans that served in World War II is like a “Who’s Who” in America.
With Veterans Day just past, remember all our veterans and if you can visit the local nursing home or hospital if only to honor their service and to say thank you for the many freedoms that we enjoy and too often take for granted.
Remember. All kids count.
Reach the writer at Hurlburt@wildblue.net