August 14, 2009

Have we forgotten V-J Day?

V-J Day came and went this year with little fanfare. Perhaps our expectation of finding a story about it tucked below the fold in the world news section of the newspaper – or included as a feature on the evening news – was unrealistic. Time has a way of blurring our memories, and media preoccupation with celebrities and reliving Woodstock only contributes to our collective amnesia about things that really matter.

Too, most people simply don’t remember anything about Victory over Japan Day. Either they were not yet born or too young to recall that historic day, August 14, 1945. It marked the end to one of the bloodiest wars the world has ever known. More than 405,000 Americans were killed and another 671,000 were wounded.

The country rejoiced at the ending of the war. Famed photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured a spontaneous eruption of joy when a sailor kissed a young nurse in Times Square. That famous full-page photograph, which appeared in Life magazine the following week, was the inspiration for a huge sculpture (shown here) near the USS Midway Museum in San Diego.

It’s appropriate that we pay homage to those who served in World War II.

We were particularly pleased earlier this year to learn about Honor Flight, a non-profit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. They transport veterans to Washington, D.C. to “visit and reflect at their memorials.” We’re proud of these war veterans, and proud, too, of those who’ve led the charge to honor the veterans.

Friend and former colleague Larry Rohrer at South Dakota Public Broadcasting in Vermillion is among the South Dakotans leading this effort. We thank them all for what they do.

Started in Ohio in 2005, Honor Flight has transported more than 17,000 veterans from all over the country to Washington, D.C. to see their memorials; for 2009, Honor Flight has a lofty goal of transporting some 25,000 men and women on that pilgrimage. With more than one thousand World War II veterans dying each day, it is a priority to fly survivors of that war to the District of Columbia so they can visit the WW II Memorial. It is a fitting tribute for veterans who served their country during a very dangerous and difficult time for our country.

The World War Two Memorial was dedicated in May of 2004. We were living in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, on the outskirts of Harrisburg. It was just three months later -- in August of 2004 -- that we had the great honor of escorting one of our heroes, Guy Davidson, and his wife Marion, down to D.C. to visit the newly-opened memorial.

Good friends Bill and Joan Smith accompanied us on the day trip, and it was a truly moving experience. How fortunate that we have a few photo memories of that special outing!

We first came to know Guy and Marion through workshops at our church in Hummelstown. A retired Pennsylvania rural mail carrier, Guy Davidson is like so many WWII veterans: he seldom ever talks about his wartime experiences as a gunner on a half-track that landed in France after D-Day. His 2nd Armored “Hell on Wheels” division eventually ended up in Berlin via the Battle of Bulge. Guy would sometimes talk about it – but only if asked. He has never considered himself a hero, just a soldier doing his job. Such was the demeanor of so many veterans who were fortunate enough to come home from World War Two.

Now well along in years and afflicted with several health issues, Guy and Marion continue to live quietly and humbly in their small neighborhood on the south edge of Hummelstown. Clearly, they are no longer able to travel, so it gives us pleasure to know that we had a small part in helping Guy visit the memorial that paid tribute to him and other of the “Greatest Generation.”

Thank you, Guy Davidson, and all your fellow veterans for your sacrifices for the United States of America.

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