My late grandfather served in WWII. My wife's late grandfather was a navy pilot during WWII and Korea flying planes off aircraft carriers in the Pacific. My wife's father is an Air Force veteran.
I attended a Memorial Day event earlier this year at the Veteran's cemetary here in town. Since then I've thought a lot about how quickly we are losing the "WWII Generation." If you went into the military at 18 years old in 1945 (the last year of WWII) you would be 78 this year. And if you went in in 1945, it's reasonably less likely you would have seen combat. It's not unreasonable to think that within the next 10 years the vast majority of that geneneration will have passed - along with so much of the history and connection to those times. That seems quite surreal to me.
I thought about this a lot during August and the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. It's interesting to look at public perception/opinion of that event over time. In the period just after the bomb was dropped, public opinion was overwhelmingly positive and relieved. 85% supported the attack, and there was a general sense of relief that it ended the Pacific War. Polls during the 1960s showed that African- and Asian-Americans tended to oppose the strikes more than whites; and women were more uneasy with it than men. Older folks, who had more instant memories of the War, and living through the War, were still strongly supportive, but those under 30 were much more critical and uneasy with the results of the bombing. As this younger generation - the baby boom - became the leaders ... critically including the historians ... the trend increasingly became more critical and unsupportive.
I think that a lot of that shift in public perception is due to the passing of the World War II generation. Our society is losing a lot of history as this generation fades...just as the Civil War generation passed away before that, and the Founding generation before that. (And off the top of my head, I think it's safe to divide America's history into those big categories - the Founding Generation; the Civil War Generation; and the WWII Generation...which leaves me wondering what this time is we are experiencing now - the PostModern Generation???...) In this same vein, CNN is carrying an article today related to WWI vets: Time Overtaking World War I Vets It included this graphic:
Estimated number of war-era veterans, including those outside of war zones, in civilian life as of September 30, 2005:
World War I: fewer than 50.
World War II: 3.526 million.
Korean War: 3.257 million.
Vietnam War: 8.055 million.
Desert Shield/Storm (theater only): 615,000.
Iraq/Afghanistan (theater only): 433,000.
Source: AP/Veterans Affairs Department
I'm not sure that since the WWII generation, veteran's are looked at in the same way any more. I think there are a lot of reasons for that - we haven't had a nation galvanizing (in a positive way... or maybe more descriptive- in a threatening way) war since; the advent of modern warfare techniques have served to desanitize war to much of the public; and modern information portals mean that there is much less "mystery" about the wars as they play out. Maybe there are other factors, and better factors as well. Regardless, it doesn't seem as if the nation as a whole is as cognizant of veteran's these days.
Anyway, the point is to remember our veteran's today - the one's who sacrificed themselves to make our nation great, the one's who served to protect us and made it home, and the one's who are still "over there" fighting for us even today.
As as a part of remembering that, I want to remember the men and women whom have lost their lives during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. There have been 2,063 American casualties in the war in Iraq as of November 11, 2005. Hopefully those still there will be safely home soon.