Danny Tyree: The last hurrah for WWII veterans?
My first knowledge of the War in the Pacific probably came from then-new episodes of “McHale’s Navy” and the 20-year-old “Made in Occupied Japan” dishware that my mother collected.
Seemingly overnight, I find myself struggling to do justice to the topic of the 75th (!) anniversary of V-J (Victory over Japan) Day.
(Japan declared total surrender to the Allies on Aug. 15, 1945. Many nations do use the 15th for V-J Day remembrances, but President Truman delayed the official U.S. commemoration until September 2, when the formal surrender document was signed aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. I guess, like the coroner of “Oz,” Truman wanted to ensure that imperial Japan was “not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.”)
World War II veterans (from both the European Theater and Pacific Theater) were all around me when I was growing up. They were neighbors, churchgoers, shopkeepers, government officials, coaches and more. I never thought they were a dime a dozen, but I did take it for granted they were… immortal.
Again, seemingly overnight, most of those veterans are now deceased or in failing mental/physical health. Ditto their spouses, their older children (who aided the war effort by planting Victory Gardens and collecting scrap metal) and an alarming number of their younger children (my generation – the postwar Baby Boomers).
This 75th anniversary is a sobering milestone. 76th or 80th or 90th anniversaries just aren’t as catchy, and by the time the 100th anniversary of V-J Day arrives, only a handful of centenarians with adult memories of World War II will be around for interviews. (Undoubtedly, they will credit a diet of lard-dipped Marlboros.)
As time marches on, “Today In History” articles will mention 75th anniversaries of Churchill’s “iron curtain” speech, the rise of Red China, the beginning of the Korean conflict, etc.; but details of World War II will be even more “irrelevant” than they are now. (This will delight some people. I just read of a young man in Great Britain who demands that schools skip teaching about the war because the Holocaust and warfare are too “intense” for modern sensibilities.)
So, regrettably, this is sort of a “last hurrah” for the Greatest Generation.
That’s why we should all make the most of the occasion. Fly your flag proudly. Dig out a dusty family scrapbook. Ponder how Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s magnanimous treatment of postwar Japan led to friendly ties today. Pray that world leaders may go another 75 years without using an atomic bomb in combat. Do something thoughtful for a veteran, whether they served as sniper or mail clerk.
Contemplate how V-E Day and V-J Day impact your everyday life. We tend to focus on the totalitarian nightmare we would face in 2020 if the Axis Powers had won; but even if the Allies had eventually triumphed, every additional day of combat would have increased casualties. One of my college professors confided that – until Japan’s surrender — he was scheduled to be in the first wave of Marines to serve as cannon fodder on the beaches.
Many of us would never have been born if not for the efforts that brought the war to a close in summer 1945. Did I just feel someone walking on my grave?
Finally, mark your calendars to make every Veterans Day and Memorial Day more special than the last.
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at email@example.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”