As of this year’s National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on Dec. 7, the United States entered World War II 71 years ago. The number of men and women still around to tell their tales of that time is dwindling.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that about 1.46 million American service members are still alive, and 850 of them pass on each day.
When that last light blinks out, humanity will lose something vital to its understanding of that era.
That’s why recent initiatives to gather their stories are so pressing and important.
Pickerington teenager Kyle Miller has been archiving interviews with veterans of World War II and the Korean War at his website, www.voicesfromthefront.org, and, in an unrelated effort, the Ohio departments of Aging and Veterans Services began collecting stories this past summer from people from various backgrounds during World War II for the War Era Story Project.
In mid-November, the departments published online the first batch of accounts. They will release more every month: http://www.aging. ohio.gov/news/storyprojects/.
One man recounted how he was shipped to France and suddenly was made a gunner in a tank battalion, fighting at the end of the Battle of the Bulge.
He and the others in the tank couldn’t leave the machine for days, except to refi ll their canteens.
A woman talks about how she went from preparing to be a homemaker to training as a Navy nurse, and how her fiancé in the Army Air Corp was in a plane shot down in the North Sea. He survived.
A Columbus woman who attended Ohio State University during the war years told how the campus emptied of young men, and of working at a shoe store during the rationing of shoes and other necessities.
The survivors resumed their lives after the war, taking up careers and marrying and having children.
One wonders: Was it a relief, or did it seem anticlimactic after years of deprivation and mortal danger? Were they ever again able to take calm, everyday life for granted?
How did such a total commitment to the war effort, unlike anything seen in modern history, change them?
The answers are as varied and complex as the individuals. Those details can live on because of these projects.
People can visit the websites to add their own stories or to find out how to support those worthwhile efforts.– Columbus Dispatch