Because life goes the way it goes, we are fast running out of World War II veterans.
Fitting is it then that the 70th anniversary of D-Day lands near Father’s Day this year. For those of us who came of age after 1945, WWII was our father’s or grandfather’s war, and D-Day was the penultimate battle of that war, fought over and again in the years since by celluloid heroes like John Wayne and Steve McQueen.
Not too long ago it was an article of faith that more than 1,000 WWII veterans were dying every day, but that number sounds suspiciously nice and neat for something like this. Whatever the number, in another decade or two they will almost assuredly all be gone and then there will be none.
The world in which we grew up was the world largely created by our father’s victory. The world we live in now is still shaped by the consequences of that struggle. They were indeed, as famed newsman Tom Brokaw proclaimed them, The Greatest Generation.
They won the greatest war ever fought. They pioneered the Space Age, the Nuclear Age, the Information Age and generally broke ground in every field of human endeavor in which there was ground to break.
There is no part of our world our father’s generation did not transform, for better or for worse.
The Greatest Generation has had their share of glory and derision heaped on them, both well-deserved in parts.
The men who stormed the beaches at Normandy were young men at the time, mostly. They may live now in black and white newsreel footage, but it was a color war at the time.
It is important now as this generation takes leave, that we take a moment to feel what this signifies. It means the torch is truly passed to us, the living, to carry on.
When the last veteran of a conflict dies, in a very real way it ends an era.
The longest living Union Army veteran to see combat during the Civil War, James Hard, died in 1953. Before he passed away at the age of 90, he could give you a firsthand account of the Battles of First Bull Run, Chancellorsville, and Antietam, and of meeting Abraham Lincoln.
If you are lucky enough to still have your father among the living, don’t wait to pay your respects. Because once it is too late, it will always be too late.