Of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II, only about 400,000 are still alive to provide a living narrative to the war that was supposed to end all wars.
For some, even as their health fails, the memories are crystal clear – volunteering at age 17, spending months on a battleship covering the troops with gunfire as they went ashore, and dodging enemy ammunition in a land far from home.
For others, memories of the details are fading, but the impact remains. “It’s so hard to remember,” said Army veteran George Thomas, who is 98 years old. “It was such a horrible experience.”
On Tuesday, about 50 local WWII veterans, who are known as “The Greatest Generation,” attended a ceremony at Fort Sam Houston intended to coincide with the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy to remember their sacrifices and honor their service.
Knowing many veterans were unable to attend the June commemoration in France, the Survivor Outreach Services Support and Gold Star Families chose to host a ceremony at Joint Base San Antonio’s largest base.
“I just want to honor them for what they’ve been through, what they’ve done, and what they stand for,” said Donna Kiernan, a Gold Star spouse whose husband Chris was killed in action in 2007.
Kiernan and other Gold Star family members escorted the veterans, five of whom are centenarians, to reserved seats at the front of the room where they greeted one another with arms outstretched. Spouses, sons, daughters, and caregivers watched proudly as the ceremony began, and the veterans stood as they were able, or waved proudly when their names were called out one by one.
The event also featured performances by the Chordsmen Chorus and 323rd Army Band “Fort Sam’s Own,” speeches by the mayors of Boerne and Schertz, and a keynote address by Brig. Gen. Walter Duzzny, the deputy commanding general of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army).
“The battlefields have shifted to different parts of the world and different domains, but the courage and valor of service members who took part in WWII established a standard and everlasting inspiration for every soldier, sailor, Marine, airman, active or reserve national guard who serve in today’s military,” Duzzny said.
“All the preparation, the training, the leadership, the determination, the perseverance that we needed 75 years ago for us to achieve victory and success are still important today.”