Honored, at last

Dear Family, Today we are reminded that when we were younger, 16 million Americans served in the armed forces, and that there are still 4 million WWII veterans alive now.

The crowds are almost beyond belief, making one wonder if all 4 million aren’t here for this grand occasion.

Families include three or more generations, youngsters proudly walking hand-in-hand with grandfathers or great-grandfathers.

Families who journeyed together to what may be the individual’s last get-together with comrades.

Men in their 80s whose uniforms still fit. Naval lieutenants reminiscing with former seamen. A great mixture of people of individual ranks that meant nothing here today because we are all veterans.

One of my company officers who noticed my cap in the crowd cried out, “Hey 33rd Division!”

This morning, we mustered troops of my old infantry division – the 33rd “Prairie Division” from Illinois. We held up our division flag, a gold cross within a black circle. It was the rallying point for our group photo. Some tearful reunions, as some of the guys hadn’t seen one another in nearly 60 years.

Even us old guys, you all think we’re so tough, but it just takes a simple gesture like the nice couple we met on the elevator in our hotel who thanked me for my service that made me tear up.

Besides the ones we were expecting at the wall, others showed up as well, having seen the message on the division’s Web site, www.33rdinfantrydivision.org .

It’s surprising how many are still quite spry, walking all around the place. Others, not so fortunate, are being wheeled by a family member to say they were here at the last great commemorative event of their lifetime.

The war seems so long ago – the relentless sun and humidity of the Philippines, the rice paddies and water up to one’s neck, and holding a rifle over your head to keep it dry.

E-mail vs. V-mail (The “V” was for victory). We had V-mail in those days, where one would write a letter home on a thin sheet of paper that could be folded into an envelope. Today, many of us were brought crying and screaming into the computer age by our grandchildren insisting that their way is the better way to communicate.

The World War II Memorial itself is awesome! Standing before the wall with the 4,000 gold stars makes one choke up realizing it represents 400,000 of our age who gave their all in the war.

You stand there and you look and you remember the individual you knew who is no longer with us.

One man who had the same last name as me, Ronald Endicott, died at Pearl Harbor. I knew him at Aberdeen High School. His sister was in my class. On the street in Aberdeen, one block had three guys who didn’t come home.

When I wasn’t remembering those we lost, I looked around at the events taking place for veterans at virtually every imaginable site. President Bush, former Sen. Bob Dole and actor Tom Hanks were present for the dedication Saturday afternoon. Saturday evening, there was a “Salute to Veterans” at the MCI Center. There are displays of military equipment relating to our time in the service. Two large performance pavilions are featuring the sights and sounds of music from WWII -the big band sounds of swing, boogie-woogie and military music

The veterans’ History Project Pavilion is a reminder for those who haven’t chronicled their personal experiences during the war to hop to it. There are experts present to advise veterans and their families on how best to preserve documents from WWII, such as letters, scrapbooks, diaries (although in some areas we were forbidden to do so), photographs, medals, memorabilia, uniforms, etc.

On Monday, there will be a parade for veterans of many wartime units. Earl Horn, my fellow veteran from VFW Post 1040 in Lynnwood, will be marching with his former comrades of the 42nd Infantry “Rainbow Division.” I have to return home early, so will watch the Memorial Day events on the networks with the rest of you.

It has been a grand, memorable time. For many, it will be their last muster, as about 1,100 WWII veterans answer the final roll call every day.

If the WWII Memorial had been built when first discussed 20 years ago, an estimated 3 million or more veterans would have been alive to witness what the nation is seeing today.

I will write more later. If you don’t hear from me for a while, it is because of the slowness of the mail. Hug all the family for me. And God bless everyone.

Bill

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