In his 1998 book, “The Greatest Generation,” TV journalist Tom Brokaw profiled those who grew up during the Great Depression and then went to fight in World War II, or kept the war effort going from the home front.
In the book, Brokaw wrote: “It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.” He maintained those men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the “right thing to do.”
Altogether there were 16 million Americans who fought during WWII, and today most who survive are in their late 80s or 90s. The ranks are rapidly falling. Every day about 350 WWII-era vets die.
This area lost one such soldier last week in E. Tom Child, of Findlay. Child, 99, a member of the U.S. Naval Reserves, survived the Dec. 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor which killed more than 2,400 U.S. servicemen and prompted the United States to enter WWII.
Child was an ensign aboard the dry-docked destroyer USS Cassin DD372 and was in his bunk asleep when the attack began. He awoke, hurried to the main deck, and saw bombs falling. The bombs caused fires, and the order to abandon the ship was given.
Child would remain in the Navy until the war ended, serving on two other ships, the USS Caldwell and the USS Patterson.
Fortunately for posterity, Child’s military observations and experiences are well documented. Besides keeping a journal, Child leaves behind 20-30 years of his own research on the war.
At his funeral Monday, Child was remembered as a “living historian” of WWII who had a lifelong love for his country and bled red, white and blue.
Every surviving WWII vet has a story to tell. But those stories, unless shared, are often lost when they die.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, WWII survivors numbered 500,000 in 2017, and will fall below 400,000 this year. By 2024, there will be less than 100,000.
In Ohio, it’s estimated there are just 19,000 still alive today.
Our oldest service members, the survivors of WWII, need to be reminded that our gratitude continues more than 70 years after they went off to war.
Findlay’s Tom Daley, 93, one of the surviving area vets from WWII, has written letters to Viewpoint citing the urgent need to get vets talking before it’s too late.
“We’re disappearing fast,” he said Monday. “There really aren’t that many around anymore who can tell you about that period of time. We need to ask them what they did, where they were, and listen to hear the sacrifices they made. You know once they’re gone, all those memories are gone, too.”
Daley is right, of course. Time is of the essence.