Last vestiges of the World War II generation are fading away before our eyes

THE MIL & AERO COMMENTARY, 7 Dec. 2016. We're seeing the World War II generation -- the so-called Greatest Generation -- fade into history before our eyes. Today is Pearl Harbor Day, the 75th anniversary of the 7 Dec. 1941 Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet's base in Hawaii that for the U.S. began the Second World War. That 75th anniversary is pivotal because typically it marks the last time that Pearl Harbor survivors will gather in more than just a handful.

Dec 7th, 2016
Last vestiges of the World War II generation are fading away before our eyes
Last vestiges of the World War II generation are fading away before our eyes
THE MIL & AERO COMMENTARY, 7 Dec. 2016. We're seeing the World War II generation -- the so-called Greatest Generation -- fade into history before our eyes.

Today is Pearl Harbor Day, the 75th anniversary of the 7 Dec. 1941 Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet's base in Hawaii that for the U.S. began the Second World War. That 75th anniversary is pivotal because typically it marks the last time that Pearl Harbor survivors will gather in more than just a handful.

Photo by Kent Nishimura for the Los Angeles Times

World War II veterans typically are in their 90s now; those still here won't be with us much longer. We know that from history.

I'm 57 years old, and when I was a kid, it seemed, there were World War II veterans living on every block. Those men and women were living, breathing monuments to the Allied victory over tyranny, and were icons of the United States as a world power. As kids we thought they would be with us forever, and would keep being reminders of the importance of the United States in the history of the 20th Century.

Throughout my life I can't tell you how many guys I've talked to who fought in that war -- survivors of Pearl Harbor and of the Bataan Death March, of the 8th Air Force who were shot down over occupied Europe who spent time in Nazi prisoner-of-war camps, of the first waves at Guadalcanal and Normandy, of those early members of the 101st Airborne Division who parachuted behind the lines on D-Day.

Related: A Naval Academy class ring gives mute testimony to disaster at Pearl Harbor 70 years ago today

Their stories inspired me from a very young age, and still do. Most of them are gone now, and with them goes an important strand of the fabric of American history. I fear we may never see their like again.

There's a touching story today in the Los Angeles Times headlined A Pearl Harbor survivor spent decades trying to forget it. Then one man got him talking. It's about Lauren Bruner, who was aboard the battleship USS Arizona 75 years ago today. He's 96 now. He made it back to Pearl Harbor for survivors reunion this year. Most likely it will be his last.

For his generation, reunions at Pearl Harbor, Normandy, and many other battlefields have been important milestones in their lives. Many have been attending for decades. That era is coming to a close.

I've read accounts of the 75th reunion of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, which was in Pennsylvania in 1938. President Franklin Roosevelt spoke at the event. During the actual battle in 1863 nearly 165,000 soldiers from both sides were on the field. Yet 75 years later only 25 of those veterans were able to com to what was to be the last reunion encampment of Gettysburg veterans. There weren't enough survivors ever to have another.

So it likely will be as the last of America's World War II veterans gather at Pearl Harbor and other notable sites of that war. All those veterans will be gone before we know it. So few are still with us today, and with their passing will disappear a central pillar of the American experience.

It's such a sad thing to see them go.

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