Take the Time to Remember our Veterans this Veterans Day and Every Day - VHA SimLEARN
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Take the Time to Remember our Veterans this Veterans Day and Every Day

By Gerald Sonnenberg
EES Marketing and Communication

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – On Veterans Day, we celebrate and recognize all Veterans of the United States. Today, there are more than 20 million living Veterans, and the older I get, the deeper my appreciation for the lives Veterans have lived grows.

Over the years, I have met many Veterans from every conflict in the 20th century; mostly through my own 31 years of service in the Air Force; 27 of those years as a public affairs specialist and Air Force historian. I remember escorting and interviewing several World War II Veterans during the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in 1995. Two of them survived the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

For one feature story alone, I interviewed four women Veterans and civilians of that conflict. Two provided the military aspect of service as Army nurses with General George Patton’s Third Army in Europe, and two provided the civilian perspective as wives waiting for their husbands serving overseas. One of them was the spouse of the American commander of the Eagle Squadron flying Spitfires and Hurricanes for the Royal Air Force against the Germans.

Sadly, to my knowledge, all those individuals are now gone. Roughly, only 600,000 World War II Veterans remain of the more than 16 million Americans who served. That number dwindles more each day. We have about 1.4 million Veterans of the Korean War in which my father served, and about 6.6 million Veterans left from the Vietnam era.

The last World War I Veteran passed away in February 2011. Frank Buckles was born in Missouri and served in the war at the age of 16 driving ambulances and motorcycles near the front lines in Europe. He achieved the rank of corporal. In later years, Buckles was working in the shipping business when he was in the Philippines at the start of the U.S. involvement in World War II. The 40-year-old was captured in February 1941 by the Japanese. He spent three years in Japanese prison camps before he was rescued by a combined U.S. and Filipino force in February 1945 during the raid on Los Baños. He went on to live a long life becoming an advocate for Veterans and telling his story many times. He was still farming in West Virginia at the age of 105, and he died at the age of 110.

During my own ancestry research, I learned I have a great grandfather who served for three years in a Union Ohio volunteer infantry regiment during the Civil War in the 1860s. My fourth great grandfather was a major in the Colonial Army during the Revolution in the 1770s, and his father was a colonel of the New York Militia during the 1750s. What I wouldn’t give to sit with any of them for an hour to hear their stories.

My point is that not all Veterans live as long as a Frank Buckles. World War II Veterans are in their 90s, and the average age of a Korean War Veteran is 84. The 20 million living Veterans have experienced nearly a century of history. Veterans are a unique and limited population in our country. Twenty million sounds like a large number. Yet, they represent only 6 percent of the current U.S. population.

This Veterans Day, please take the time to attend a Veterans Day parade near you. Your attendance is appreciated. More importantly, if you have a family member who is a Veteran, ask them to share their stories and then write those experiences down. In general, when you meet a Veteran, thank them for their service and take the time to talk with them. Ask them about their service, and if they are willing to share it, remember it and remember them now. These stories are their enduring legacy.