WILKES-BARRE — Right before our eyes, “the Greatest Generation” is dwindling away.
On this, the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the importance of remembering our World War II veterans grows more and more significant.
And they are dying quickly — according to U.S.Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, we are losing 372 veterans per day and only 558,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II remain with us.
There are ceremonies being held throughout the country, several here in Luzerne County, to commemorate the anniversary of Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor and six other military bases on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The attack precipitated America’s entry into World War II.
To this day, Pearl Harbor endures as a symbol of American resilience and resolve, and the annual commemoration of the attack on Pearl Harbor fosters reflection, remembrance, and understanding.
The ceremonies remember the 2,403 service members and civilians who were killed — 1,178 more were injured in the attack, which permanently sank two U.S. Navy battleships: the USS Arizona and the USS Utah.
On Aug. 23, 1994, the United States Congress designated Dec. 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
Jim Spagnola, Luzerne County’s director of veterans affairs, has noticed a sharp decline in World War II veterans. Spagnola said 10 years ago he would talk to one or two every day. Today, Spagnola said he’s lucky if he gets to talk to one in a month.
Spagnola noted that NBC News a few years ago recorded as many stories that it could find on World War II veterans. Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw wrote a book — “The Greatest Generation” — that detailed many of these heroes and what they did to preserve our freedom and keep our country strong.
“The reality is that at this point, there’s not a whole lot of them left,” Spagnola said.
Spagnola will always remember the conversations he’s had with World War II veterans — how humble they all are, how proud to have served, how reluctant to be called “hero.”
These men and women have set an example that must be followed if we are to remain strong. There are so many stories about bravery and courage and country-before-self that the least we can do is stop and pause to remember what each has done for us.
I still challenge each and every one of us to try to put yourself in their boots — imagine if you can what is was like to stare down the enemy, to wait to hit that beach under heavy fire, to endure horrific conditions to bring victory home.
Remember those who died. Remember their families. Remember that they were young men and women who were called to duty and who served without questioning why. They took up arms and went to battle. They never returned to their parents, their siblings, their families. They never came back to marry, have children, grandchildren. They never bought that dream house, or that new car. They never worked to earn a living to put bread on the table. They never got to cheer, cheer for the home team, or hang out with their pals.
And for many who did return after the war, they were faced with rebuilding their lives. They had to put the scars of war behind them. Some had to cope with life in a different form — perhaps with one less arm or leg, or with scars deep inside. They had to deal with what they had seen and done and they knew that making their lives better would make for a better community and a better country.
We really can never thank our veterans enough. On this Pearl Harbor Day, we must remember those who served in all wars. Thank every veteran you encounter for all they have done for you and for all Americans. And please attend those ceremonies.
And never, never, never forget.