This morning I had the opportunity to hear a World War II veteran tell his story. A Navy medical corpsman, he was on a landing craft that supported the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. The vessel ferried the injured and the dead from the beaches to England and returned for more. On the fourth trip, June 16, the landing craft hit a mine and was broken in two. Of the 150 men aboard, only some thirty survived including my friend. After floating in a life raft for less than an hour, he and some other survivors ended up on a Liberty ship and finally returned to port.
Men like my friend knew that their lives were on the line when they entered military service in WWII. For young men like him, life had been simple up to that point, but they had never had it easy. After all, they grew up in the aftermath of the Depression when times were hard and opportunities were limited.
My friend completed his service in the States and was mustered out when he was 21 years of age. He shared with me the personal and spiritual impact of being one of the few to survive on his ship. At a very young age, his life was changed forever. He returned home to be a good citizen, a loving husband and father, and a committed churchman. Only recently has he started to talk candidly about his experiences in the war.
As we talked, I thought about my own father who served in the Pacific in the war. My mother was at home, gave birth to me, and then went to work in the war effort. Although some paid the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives, most of the Americans of that generation made major sacrifices for the war effort.
Tom Brokaw has called this group “the greatest generation.” They won the war and came home to have children, build industries, and reenergize a nation. They met the challenge that was set before them. There are so few of them who are still with us and they deserve all the love and respect we can give them.