Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The curtain slowly comes down for the veterans of World War II

Old NFO mentioned recently that the U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II has just held its last annual convention, after which it disbanded itself.

At their national convention this month, 62 veterans attended where thousands used to go.

The U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II disbanded at the end of its convention Sept. 7 in Norfolk, Va. Local chapters now must decide whether to continue operating under another name or to dissolve as well.

This month in Groton, J. "Deen" Brown announced to his fellow WWII submarine veterans that the Thames River Chapter has a new name.

"Eastern USA Chapter U.S. Submarine Veterans of WWII," he told members before their monthly luncheon at the U.S. Submarine Veterans clubhouse.

"We simply have to face the fact that we're all getting older and, as we do so, eventually we simply cannot remain a viable national organization," said Brown, 90, of Oakdale.

Walter "Gus" Kraus, the last national president, said the veterans who wanted to keep the national group going "until the last man is gone" prevailed in a vote three years ago. Two years ago, the vote was split.

By this year's convention, some of the stalwarts had died, or their friends had. Of the 1,100 members, the youngest is 86. The oldest is 102.

There's more at the link.

The news comes in the same week that we learned of what may be the last reunion for World War II survivors of the U.S. 63rd Infantry Division.  CNN reports:

Fifteen-thousand American soldiers in that division had crossed the ocean to Europe; the men I spoke with said that some 1,100 had been killed in combat, with many thousands more injured, some grievously.

The ones who were lucky enough to make it home after the war began having reunions in 1947. They were large events during the 1950s and into the 1960s; 500 or 600 veterans of the 63rd Infantry would convene for regional gatherings, and would bring their families. Sometimes, the men told me, there would be thousands of people at the get-togethers.

Ten soldiers were well enough to come to the national reunion this year.

"They would love to hold onto it," said Mary Fran Collier, the daughter of former infantry sergeant Bill Byrnes, whom she had accompanied to the reunion. "But this will almost certainly be the final time. With so few of the men who are still alive and able to attend, we don't even have a large enough group to get a good rate at hotels."

. . .

They were riflemen and artillerymen and mortarmen during the European campaign; they slept out in the open when the temperatures were below zero and when the temperatures were 80 degrees, they sometimes had to go weeks without bathing, they dug foxholes for shelter and ate cold rations and dreamed of home. They encountered, and helped to liberate, Nazi concentration camps and, the indelible horror fresh in their eyes and in their minds, they fought on. Young men then, they often feared that they would never have the chance to see their families again.

At the dinnertime banquets at the three-day reunion this year, even with family members and an honor guard present, there were only around 35 people in the room.

Again, more at the link.

I remember, as a child, how my father would reminisce with other survivors of World War II on the infrequent occasions they spoke about it.  It was usually when my mother and the other survivors' wives weren't present - it was too difficult for them to share it with their families.  I was tolerated until I reached my teens, then was excluded for a while . . . until I put on a uniform myself.  Then I was 'one of them', and welcome to participate as an adult.

My father died some years ago.  I think he was the last of his group of friends who survived World War II.  I still think of them from time to time.  We truly owe them, and their comrades in arms from every nation that fought for liberty, more than words can ever express.  It's sad to know that soon, there will be none of them alive to remind us, by their presence, of the cost of freedom.

From this more recent veteran to those of my father's generation, a heartfelt salute.



Greybeard said...

Thanks for this.
I think those of us who sat at the dinner table with our WWII Vet Dads were given a foundation kids today can't imagine.
My situation was similar to yours...
My Dad never talked about his experiences until I returned from Viet Nam. (And even then he only shared when something I had experienced tweaked a memory.)
But they KNEW there WAS evil in the world, and that it might take the shedding of blood in order to make the world safe.
Today? We appease.
Can't we just be friends?

Stuart Garfath said...

WW11 was unique. Simplistically, it was evil versus good. Had the Axis succeeded, the slaughter and destruction would have not stopped. That the Allies prevailed stopped all of the above, simple as that.
The impact, and future repercussions of the Allied Victory have probably eliminated any possibility of a future global tyranny.
That is the fundamental difference.

Our freedom.
This is the unutterable debt ever owed them, our future, our freedom, was writ blood red by their courage, duty, and sacrifice.
These now old Men and Women, these 'Soldiers', GrandMothers, these comrades, were unique, still are, unique.
They are of a singularly unique time in the written history of civilisation.
We must ever remember, that, had they not prevailed, civilisation, as we now know it, with all its livable problems, would be vastly different, dreadfully different, as Winston Churchill said, ".....a new dark age"...
Sit quietly by their side, gaze into their eyes, see them sparkle, they know what we, hopefully, will never know, we enjoy what they, unfortunately, never could.
Thank You.
Stuart Garfath.

Stretch said...

Great Uncle Lawrence would tell of WWI. Uncles, God-father, and father-in-law talked of WWII. Dad and assorted Army 'uncles' retold stories of Korea, Viet-Nam and other "lies and war stories."
History as never written and often in direct conflict with what WAS written.
Dad turned 82 yesterday.
"Blessed are the Peacemakers."