Honoring veterans at the World War II Memorial
By Bill Ward
For The Salisbury Post
“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid.
They have earned our undying gratitude.
America will never forget their sacrifices.”
President Harry S. Truman
It’s khaki utilities, haversacks, dog tags, M1 rifles, machine guns, combat boots, tanks, planes, warships, Marine green and Navy blue translated into carved granite and cast bronze.
It is the World War II Memorial at Washington, D.C., symbolizing the enormous effort and sacrifices our parents, grandfathers, and grandmothers made during the tumultuous years from 1941 to 1945.
It symbolizes men like the late Lloyd Surratt, a Navy warrant officer and destroyer sailor who died recently at age 90. In the 1940s he participated in eight major sea battles and was awarded a Bronze Star for each.
It symbolizes men like former Senator and 1st Lieutenant Bob Dole, an Army platoon leader severely wounded in Italy with the resulting permanent loss of use of his right arm.
It symbolizes men like the late Loyd Lawing, former Captain in the Army Air Corps, B-17 pilot and original participant in the covert Operation Aphrodite.
It symbolizes men like the late Dr. Steve Thurston, former Major in the Army Air Corps who flew C-47 cargo planes off New Guinea.
It symbolizes men like my wife’s late father, James William Wilkinson, a retired Army officer who served in World War II, Korea, and two tours in Vietnam.
It symbolizes men like my late friend, Don Carter, who served with the 11th Army Airborne Division, making 16 parachute jumps in the Asian-Pacific Theater. Among his many medals is the World War II Victory medal, a four-foot reproduction of which is embedded in the granite bases of each of the memorial pavilions. In 2009, Don was fortunate to have participated in the John Hanford Flight of Honor to the WWII Memorial.
It also symbolizes other men I have communicated with, such as Thomas Kozar who enlisted in 1940, went to England in 1944, took part in the maneuvers of Operation Tiger and landed at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, later going into Okinawa in 1945. He proudly states, “I have military records to prove it all.”
Or Paul Bury, drafted into the Army at 18 in 1943 and “winding up” as a radio operator-gunner with the Army Air Corps in the 8th Air Force, 401st Bomb Group in England in 1945.
“Our nine-man crew was comprised of several 18, 19 and 20 year olds, and an ‘old man’ pilot, age 24,” Bury said. “We got in 10 missions, which gave us enough to tell our grandchildren about. Our second mission on Good Friday, over Bremen [Germany], provided us with 93 flack holes and a seriously wounded lower ball gunner, who was just 18. Five of our nine crew members have passed away [in recent years].”
The World War II Memorial symbolizes not only these men, it honors the entire 16 million who served in the armed forces of the United States during WWII, including the more than 400,000 who died. It also honors the memory of the women — wives, mothers and factory workers — who supported the war effort from home. The entire memorial is designed to illustrate the unity and spirit that guided the U.S. to victory on many fronts, even in battles that weren’t thought winnable. In a word, it’s awesome.
As you proceed around the memorial and read the inscriptions, you get just a tiny inkling of the magnitude of the great war that was fought between 1941 and 1945. And you get some idea of the strength and perseverance of the men who fought. An example was the Battle of Midway (Island). That was one we weren’t supposed to win, but win we did and at a great loss to the Japanese carrier fleet.
There are 16 million stories from WWII, many of them similar and all of them telling of determination, and frequently of hardship and privation, particularly among the prisoners of war. The Freedom Wall contains a field of 4,000 sculpted gold stars commemorating the more than 400,000 Americans whose stories had to be told through a buddy or family. They’re the ones who didn’t make it.
On this Memorial Day, we need to pause to remember the men and women of the “Greatest Generation,” who fought to preserve the inviolability of our shores and our very freedom. Also remember all others who served and who are now serving all over the globe.