Sue's Views -- Vets hold the important stories we all need to hear
One of my high school social studies teachers was a World War II veteran. The students who sat in his class knew this because he told each and every one of us. So, it's safe to say about a thousand kids heard a first-hand soldier's account of World War II.
Now ask any of us what we remember of those tales. Of course, since none of Mr. Schearer's anecdotes were on any test, we basically ignored them. Let me rephrase that: We were smart enough to encourage him to retell the stories during classtime, but forget them as soon as we were in the lunchroom catching up on the ever-so-important high school news. You know, important information like the fact that Jay was going to the drive-in on Saturday and Jayne had a crush on him, so we'd better go, too.
I think of this as the Morris AmVets, Legion and VFW have planned a tribute to local WW II veterans. Organizers of the event stress that the goal is to honor the vets and to get them to share their experiences with the youth. The event starts at 1:30 p.m. this Saturday, April 5 at the Old #1 Southside in Morris.
Bill Rickmeyer called me in early February to tell me that these plans were in the works and was clearly concerned that too many stories were being lost as WWII vets were passing away. He hopes that every WW II vet participates in Saturday's event.
More than 326,000 Minnesotans served in the Armed Forces during World War II. Less than 45,000 are living in the state now.
There has been increasing attention given to World War II over the past few years. The World War II Memorial opened in 2004 in Washington D.C. Not too long after that, Tom Brokaw published a book about these folks, titled, "The Greatest Generation." Several states have held Honor Flights to take their veterans to see their Memorial. Just this past year, Minnesota dedicated a World War II Memorial in St. Paul. And then there's the PBS documentary, "The War," by Ken Burns.
All of these pay tribute collectively to the 16 million people who served the United States military during the war. And while there are many good stories that have already been told, it's the individual stories from our neighbors that are the most interesting in my opinion.
I've shared in the past that my Dad is a World War II veteran. There's a black and white photograph of him in his Army uniform that used to hang next to my mom's closet. There was a wooden foot locker in the basement storage closet that had my grandmother's address painted on it and my dad's name and Manila, Philippines, as a return address. Once, when my parents considered me capable of being left alone for the weekend, I dug through that foot locker. I found many treasures, including the jacket from my Dad's dress uniform, which fit me perfectly.
It was then that I wanted to know more about this war. Suddenly, I could imagine being 18 and as fresh-faced as the photo in the bedroom, but I wondered what it would feel like to be 19 years old, a thousand miles away from the family farm in Kerkhoven, armed and ready to kill the enemy.
As it turned out, Dad wasn't ready to tell any of his stories at that point. And I was not left alone for the weekend again. Ever.
Once or twice since then, minor details have been shared -- basic training in the summer in South Carolina, the long boat ride to and from the Philippines, the officers' club. Just enough to make me wonder more about what happened.
I have to think that I'm not the only one waiting to hear these stories. So, I encourage WW II veterans to attend Saturday's event if they are able. More importantly, I hope they will share their stories with their families while they still can. Trust me, every one of the stories is important and we're ready to listen now.