You may have seen it in the news this past week: WWII veteran Jack Schlegal, renowned for having shared a beer with Patton after having his purple heart pinned on, passed away just days after returning from France for the 70th anniversary of DDay. But there have been many others as well: 93 year-old Roy Rowbotham of the Royal Artillery, one of York’s “Magnificent Seven”, 89 year-old Harry Chappell of Barnsley England, and 89 year-old Charlie St. Germain of Canada whose older brother was killed in Italy in 1944. Each of these men died within days of coming home; Charlie didn't even make it home. He died in a hospital in France.
After reading the articles about these losses, I am more firmly convinced than ever of the shortness of the time we have left with these men. It is estimated that between 400 to 500 veterans die every day. Those are not numbers. Those are four hundred individuals who fought for you and for me, shed blood for us and have now passed away into eternity. Four hundred different stories of sacrifice made which will never again be able to be repeated. Four hundred men to whom it is too late to say, “Thank you.” And all this is happening every single day.
I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but this is so important to me. I did some rough calculating based off of the last World War I veterans, and I estimated that in the next 10 years, almost all of the World War II veterans will have passed away. In 15 years, there will be just a few dozen at most still alive, and in approximately 20 years, we will be able to count the remaining veterans on one hand. This may sound like plenty of time to some, but for me it isn't. I am 17 years old now. When I am 30, I will have to search very hard to find any World War II veterans that are still with us. Only 30 years old and after that -gone for ever. There will be no direct link left to those known as the “Greatest Generation."
If I sound a bit on the depressing side, it’s only to plead with you to take every opportunity you have of connecting with this last link. We don’t have anyone left from the “War to End All Wars,” World War I. There is no one left who can give a first hand account of what really happened.
My children are going to grow up in a world where they will never have the chance to thank the men who shed blood for them on the beaches of Normandy.
So here is my plea, in honor of all the men who fought for us: some who died many years ago, and some who are still here to tell their stories, please find the veterans near you and talk to them. Ask them questions. Record their voices. Write down their stories. Because soon, too soon, it will only be a memory.
“Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations. Ask thy fathers and they will tell you, the Elders and they will show you.” Deuteronomy 32:7