As we come up upon VE day (May 8) we should reflect that even the youngest WWII veterans are in their mid-eighties by now, a fact I’m well aware of, since my dad died in 2010.*
I was reminded of the “Greatest Generation” a couple of times last week. An Honor Flight was landing at the Quad Cities airport when I picked up my son the other night, and a few days before that I squeezed into my old tuxedo and attended a black tie event for my wife’s department.
Since I knew almost no one there and we were seated at a table with a wealthy donor and assorted VIPs, I feared a long evening. Wrong. The VIPs were all interesting and the donor – an attorney who sponsors an ethics essay award my wife administers – was a very lively 87-year-old who loves to fish and often travels to Brazil for peacock bass. He doesn’t hunt, though, having had enough of guns as an infantryman in Europe during WWII.
Besides being wounded in the war, he suffered from PTSD (“They didn’t have a name for it back then but I had nightmares for 50 years,” he said) until a few years ago. He cured himself by talking to schools, veteran’s groups and anyone else about PTSD and experiences he had kept inside for years.
Like many who fought in WWII he had grown up with very little. He was the son of a Greek immigrant who never had much to begin with and lost all he did have during the Depression.
He told me: “I once asked my father what were the best years of his life. He said it was the Depression, because then we had nothing but time for each other.”
*He drove an ambulance with the American Field Service attached to the British army in North Africa and Italy, then was drafted into the Army and was training for the invasion of Japan when the war ended. I always figured if it wasn’t for the atom bomb I might never have been born.