Today, seventy years ago, Japan surrendered. There followed a cosmic sigh in the universe and peace enveloped world for the first time in many years. Photographers around the world shot photographs, which would later become iconic; my favorite is of the sailor kissing the girl in Times Square. For me, that image represented everything about love and war, strife and harmony. There was the sailor, the girl, and the location.
The photo tells the story of a new beginning. If you study the images from the war, you can see soldiers, airmen, and sailors displaying looks of determination, anger, fear, and in some cases, hopelessness. Only the warriors who engaged the enemy know those emotions. Writers can write about it, Hollywood can depict it on the big screen, professors can lecture students about the times, but unless you were there, unless you were one of those who pointed a weapon downrange at the enemy, unless you feared for your life, you really don’t know the real story.
Even family and friends who were in the war have difficulty relating what really happened. This is as true today of the young warriors coming home from Afghanistan as it was of our great forces coming home from Europe and the Far East after World War II.
What we today sometimes fail to keep in mind, is that those who fought World War II essentially saved the world. Literally. During the course of the war, 60 million people died. World War II was the deadliest event in the history of time. For the Americans, the Army lost 318,274 soldiers and airmen; the Navy, 62,614 sailors; 24,511 Marines fell in battle; and the Coast Guard lost 1,917.
Those men and women totaled 407,316 personnel who gave their lives so that we, today, may be free.
That is a lot of people. Those are too many lives cut short for something more important than what many considered their own personal happiness. There were too many sons, husbands, grandsons, uncles, brothers, and yes, wives, mothers, aunts, granddaughters, who were lost in that war.
Too many dreams were suddenly cut short.
So that we could have our dreams.
It is now up to us to preserve the wonderful gift they have given. We must be very careful not to lose the freedoms for which they gave their lives so that we may carry on in the freedoms they wished for us to enjoy. And we must take care to preserve it for those who follow – our children and grandchildren, other young Americans we will never know.
It is hard to believe it has been 70 years. During that time, some of those babies born because of the happiness of the war’s end have themselves, already passed. For some of those who died, their parents, the World War II vets, still live.
According to the latest information available from the Veterans Affairs in May 2015, the United States military had 16,112,566 members serving worldwide during the war. Today, only 1,711,000 of those veterans survive.
The VA estimates the number of survivors will dwindle to 500,000 by September 30, 2017. Between today and that date, there are 777 days. Which means an average of 1559 World War II veterans will pass each day until then. A little over four years ago when I wrote about one Eighth Air Force member, the WWII vets were passing at a rate of 1059 per day. Time seems to be increasing the rate, and taking a greater toll.
It is hard to believe it has been 70 years. For young soldiers who just made the latter part of the war at the age of 18, that makes their year group 88 years-old today. The average age is probably three or four more years greater.
Seventy years! Yes, a lifetime.
©2015 J. Clark
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