May 29, 2013 — Men who shouldered a rifle now carry a cane. Men who drove trucks, landing craft and tanks now steer a two-wheeled walker.
Men who flew in airplanes and sailed in ships now ride in wheelchairs.
Men who stood ramrod straight now struggle to stand fully upright. Men who could see like an eagle now are lucky to see at all.
Women who nursed the wounds of war now receive nursing care. Women who fed the warriors now struggle to feed themselves.
Today their bodies show the ravages of the passage of 70 or more years since 16 million American men and women first answered their country’s call to arms.
They are the Greatest Generation, the veterans of World War II, a vanishing breed described by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the “pride of our nation”.
We are losing hundreds of World War II vets each day. Most have reached or are very close to their 90’s.
By any standard, each of these men and women is a treasure, not only to their families and communities but to this entire nation.
They literally saved the world from Hitler and Hirohito. They fought for their lives and our sacred freedoms and many saw things they can never forget.
They went away as boys and girls and came home as men and women, having seen the best and worst of the human experience.
Many never saw combat but had to fight loneliness, even boredom, in support roles far from home in places they had never heard of.
Some trained for weeks and months for dangerous and important jobs they luckily never had to perform during wartime.
Today, many are reluctant to talk about, to remember the horrors of combat, to recount the loss of dear friends on far-flung battlefields and oceans.
Still others are not anxious to tell about what they did behind the lines to support those fighting on the ground, in the air and on the sea.
Those who fought say the real heroes are the GIs left behind in American military cemeteries around the world and those who later died of their wounds or illnesses.
Each time we listen to an old soldier, sailor or airman from World War II, it is clear that their sense of duty has not diminished.
Love of country still glows in their hearts and their pride as defenders of this land is stronger than ever.
Thank you, one and all. You may be at ease.