Over 16.1 million people served in America’s armed forces during WWII. Today, 2.25 million serve (including reserves), a significant difference. More significant is the percentage of the population serving. During WWII over 12% of the population wore a uniform, today it is less than 1%. A tremendously greater level of national commitment that would require a mind-boggling 37.8 million Americans under arms today.
WWII Veterans suffered 400,000 killed, 671,000 wounded and 35,000 missing in action and there are approximately 2.7 million still alive. We lose between 800-1,200 every day. Every single day. Soon they will be gone, all of them, and we will be without a live source of that part of American history.
Over the past few months I have received calls and letters reminding me of the harsh, personal reality of those numbers, as the Nashville crew continues to pass on. We lost Harrison LeRoy Frost, Jr., John T. “Jack” Baldwin, Jr., Lester Lindsay Morton, Jr., Vincent “Jim” Spiering and just today, "Papa" Joe Venaglia. Each of these men served with great valor and honor. Lester Morton for instance, with total disregard for his own life, entered a burning turret, repeatedly, to pull out 18 severely wounded Marines and cared for them hours afterwards. Such heroism was not uncommon aboard the Nashville. There were hundreds of similar stories, hundreds of acts of bravery and self-sacrifice among the crew. Many of the men even refused medals including the Purple Heart for fear the government letter home would worry and frighten their loved ones. As my uncle Charlie, himself a veteran, once said to me not long before he passed away, “Where do we get such men?!”. Well, I don’t think I can answer that, but I do know we have them, many of them, then and now.
If you know a veteran, or meet one, thank them. Tell them they are not forgotten, that they are respected and appreciated. And ask them to tell you a story you should never forget.