Veterans Day, 2014: Bombardier Herman "Whitey" Lykins approaching 100

Veterans Day 2014: WW2 Bombardier Herman “Whitey” Lykins going strong at nearly 100

Longtime readers will recognize the two pieces below. The first is from 2011 and the follow-up is from 2012. I was a little surprised the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War in Europe did not get more coverage than it did. I guess people were so focused on the Great War 100th. The passing of the WW2 generation is something I am quite conscious of, in part because I was a little too young to remember the passing of the Great War generation in a deep way. Still, they were there. I remember seeing them on television sitting together in the stands at Wimbledon during the Borg, McEnroe, Connors years. They were not yet totally anachronistic but their numbers were dwindling fast. The world became a little smaller when Frank Buckles died in February 2011. And now we are getting there with the Second World War. Anyways, from 2012 and 2011….

I wrote the piece below for the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack and am posting it again. As I said last year, I will always remember  anniversaries such as December 7, June 6, and May 8 though they no longer resonate in the way they once did. I have been watching Eric Sevareid’s magnificent Between the Wars over the past several days.The sixteen part documentary, produced in 1978, provides a remarkable overview of the 1918-1941 period. What I find most striking is how recent the war, even the lead-up to the war, was as late as the 1970s. (One gets the same impression watching Lawrence Olivier narrate A World at Arms as well.) The Second World War was almost still current events in a way it obviously is not today. The highest leadership had died off by this time, but the majority of the people who fought in the war were now in full blown middle age and in the prime of their careers. Now those people have pretty much died off, or have aged considerably. I couldn’t help but think about this when I learned about the death of Congressman Jack Brooks earlier in the week. Maybe it is my own sense of aging, but I am not sure how I feel about this. Anyways, from Pearl Harbor Day 2011 . . .

Pearl Harbor 2011

Pearl Harbor 2011: the final gathering of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association

A few years ago the father of a good friend of mine happened to be in the food court of a shopping mall on Memorial Day. This is a man, now in his eighties, who served in the Air Force and later played semi-professional football. He still has his leather cleats. Lou is the essence of Old School. Like shopping mall food courts throughout the country, this one was full of teenagers. Striking up a conversation with the 4-5 at the neighboring table he asked them if they knew what Memorial Day was. After the blank stares, one offered that it was a day off from school. My friend’s dad was not impressed.

When I was in school in the seventies and eighties a visit from a World War 2 vet was a HUGE deal, even in the most cynical of times just after Vietnam. (I graduated high school just a decade after the Fall of Saigon.) One vet recounted today that during a recent school visit a girl asked who Pearl Harbor was and why he was there to talk about her.

I offer these stories not to blame our country’s historical amnesia on young people, but to emphasize the educational crisis we face.

I have written about the significance to me of D-Day and aging veterans before. Personally, Pearl Harbor Day 2011 is the end of something tangible, akin to the 75th anniversary of Gettysburg in July 1938 when aged veterans turned out for one final gathering. President Roosevelt was in attendance; three years after dedicating the Eternal Peace Light Memorial in front of the 1,800 veterans and 150,000 citizens that summer day he would tell the country that December 7 would forever live in infamy. Today in Hawaii the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association held its final gathering. There are just too few Pearl Harbor survivors left seventy years later to justify a seventy-first. There will be more World War 2 anniversaries between today and the commemoration of V-J Day in 2015, but for me they will no longer seem the same. By 2015 there will be fewer WW2 veterans, and those remaining will likely be too infirm to participate in any meaningful fashion. Time moves on. It was ever thus.

(bottom image/U.S. Navy)