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Honoring a great generation

They are the heroes of the greatest generation, the men and women who battled Hitler and Japan during World War II.

And as time passes, so do more and more of the old soldiers.

According to a recent Associated Press report, there's only about a quarter of the 16.1 million Americans who served during the war still living. And most those survivors are creeping toward 80 and dying at an average of about 1,000 a day.

In my former newspaper life, one of the projects I'm still most proud of was The Augusta Chronicle's efforts to tell the stories of some area survivors of the war.

I jumped at the chance to work on the series, taking time to sit and listen to hours of wonderful - and horrible - memories.

I came away from it all with a deep love for my country and the people - like my grandfather - who passionately took up freedom's call.

It's soldiers like Lou Brissie, a professional baseball player who carried a broken watch to remind him of the mortar that almost took his life.

It's nurses like Frances Plenert, who battled nightmares from her time as a battlefield nurse at Anzio - an area that saw 43,000 British and American and 40,000 German troops die in four months.

It's pilots like George C. Kuhl, who flew 35 bombing missions in Flying Fortresses during the war.

And it's stories of fathers like Elias 'Al'' Felberg, who left behind a son he'd seen only one time when he fell on the battlefield at D-Day Invasion.

These men and women are our connection to a world less convoluted and immoral and a time much more chivalrous. They have life lessons to teach, and we should be obliged to give them the time to listen.

Take, for example, our lone local Pearl Harbor survivor Roger Reid. He wears his service as a silent badge of honor - never bragging about his exploits, but never afraid to remind anyone what the war meant.

It's been 60 years since World War II ended and the six decades have certainly taken their toll on memories - of both soldiers and Joe Public. Just in my lifetime, I've watched Victory in Japan Day become just another notch on the calendar. It's a disgraceful tribute to those veterans that celebration of the holiday is essentially relegated to simple newspaper headlines or 30-second news snippets.

America's World War II veterans are a dwindling precious resource that we should not continue to neglect. There's an old adage that everyone has a story. That's certainly true: It's just that some stories need to be told more than others.

Take the time to lend an ear to an old soldier. And when they are done sharing their experiences, thank them for their service and shake their hand.

Then remember that their legacy is our freedom - and that's something that will outlive every generation.

Web posted on Monday, August 22, 2005


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