Talk to a veteran

The veterans who fought World War II are passing away and will not be with us very much longer. Those old men at the VFW hall or who sit at the back in church or who shuffle along in walkers at the nursing homes–many of them have experiences in battle and have performed heroic deeds that would be staggering to the rest of us if we only knew. Never dismiss them. Respect them. Honor them.

See if you can get them to tell you what they did during the war. Some can’t talk about it to this very day. But some will. My father-in-law was one of the only survivors of his unit at Iwo Jima. One of the elders at our church when I was growing up was a B-17 gunner. I knew an elderly gentleman who was an intelligence officer and worked behind enemy lines.

Have any of you heard stories like this?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Snafu

    It’s not the memorial day in Finland, but when talking about veterans…

    Both my grandfathers were in the wars against the Soviet Union (so technically, that made us your enemies in the end). The other one was killed by a grenade shrapnel, the other one survived. My grandma was in the “Lotta svärd” – organisation that took care of the wounded near the enemy lines and did practically all the men’s work among the civilians (ALL the men here aged ca. 18-50 were fighting, some exceptions existed of course). I heard just a couple of weeks ago that some women were actually trained to handle anti-aircraft equipment in Helsinki. They did not have to do it, though. We had enough men left still.

    While writing this, I realised that USA probably didn’t have to send all its men to war. But how much did fight in the WW2? Does anyone know any percentage?

  • Snafu

    It’s not the memorial day in Finland, but when talking about veterans…

    Both my grandfathers were in the wars against the Soviet Union (so technically, that made us your enemies in the end). The other one was killed by a grenade shrapnel, the other one survived. My grandma was in the “Lotta svärd” – organisation that took care of the wounded near the enemy lines and did practically all the men’s work among the civilians (ALL the men here aged ca. 18-50 were fighting, some exceptions existed of course). I heard just a couple of weeks ago that some women were actually trained to handle anti-aircraft equipment in Helsinki. They did not have to do it, though. We had enough men left still.

    While writing this, I realised that USA probably didn’t have to send all its men to war. But how much did fight in the WW2? Does anyone know any percentage?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    I’m not sure of that, Snafu. Maybe someone here will know. What Finland with your grandparents did was amazing and inspiring. That small country defeated the Soviet Union! That was perhaps the only case when a bordering nation at the time of Soviet expansion successfully resisted being taken over by the Communist juggernaut.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    I’m not sure of that, Snafu. Maybe someone here will know. What Finland with your grandparents did was amazing and inspiring. That small country defeated the Soviet Union! That was perhaps the only case when a bordering nation at the time of Soviet expansion successfully resisted being taken over by the Communist juggernaut.

  • trotk

    One of my grandfathers flew solo over the Pacific at night to photograph sites for bombing runs. He navigated without a computer, doing calculations with a pencil and paper to make certain that he ended up in the right place.

    My other grandfather was a part of the second wave invasion at Normandy. Much less dangerous than the first, but real nonetheless.

    Neither of them talk about it unless asked, and even then, they don’t say much.

  • trotk

    One of my grandfathers flew solo over the Pacific at night to photograph sites for bombing runs. He navigated without a computer, doing calculations with a pencil and paper to make certain that he ended up in the right place.

    My other grandfather was a part of the second wave invasion at Normandy. Much less dangerous than the first, but real nonetheless.

    Neither of them talk about it unless asked, and even then, they don’t say much.

  • http://cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    I grew up in Pensacola, Florida, the birthplace and home of Naval Aviation. As a child growing in in the sixties and seventies we had a lot of WW II veterans. I developed a keen interest in WW II and spoke to many vets.

    Some of the more memorable conversations I had was talking to a crewman aboard a Coast Guard PBY and how they sank a German U-Boat out in the ocean close to Pensacola, Bay. He told the story in excruciating detail, down to finally seeing a massive oil slick and bodies floating in the water. He was in tears by the end of the story.

    Then, another vet was a Marine pilot who told me about strafing Japanese troops in his F-4u Corsair during the closing days of the war as the US was island hopping across the Pacific.

  • http://cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    I grew up in Pensacola, Florida, the birthplace and home of Naval Aviation. As a child growing in in the sixties and seventies we had a lot of WW II veterans. I developed a keen interest in WW II and spoke to many vets.

    Some of the more memorable conversations I had was talking to a crewman aboard a Coast Guard PBY and how they sank a German U-Boat out in the ocean close to Pensacola, Bay. He told the story in excruciating detail, down to finally seeing a massive oil slick and bodies floating in the water. He was in tears by the end of the story.

    Then, another vet was a Marine pilot who told me about strafing Japanese troops in his F-4u Corsair during the closing days of the war as the US was island hopping across the Pacific.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Of course there have been a few wars since WWII all giving us heroes that deserve to be honored. Many of whom were not honored at all, and given spit parades in place of ticker tape when they returned.
    That said I gave the last rites to a man a month ago who was a WWII vet. He had some pretty hellacious flash backs as he was losing consciousness.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Of course there have been a few wars since WWII all giving us heroes that deserve to be honored. Many of whom were not honored at all, and given spit parades in place of ticker tape when they returned.
    That said I gave the last rites to a man a month ago who was a WWII vet. He had some pretty hellacious flash backs as he was losing consciousness.

  • Carl Vehse

    From the 1940 census approximately 21 million men were between the ages of 15 and 35. At that time another 5 million males were between the ages of 10-14.

    During WWII approximately 16.3 million Americans served in the various U.S. armed services; about 500,000 of these were women.

  • Carl Vehse

    From the 1940 census approximately 21 million men were between the ages of 15 and 35. At that time another 5 million males were between the ages of 10-14.

    During WWII approximately 16.3 million Americans served in the various U.S. armed services; about 500,000 of these were women.

  • Snafu

    Thanks Veith, you did pretty well too when beating the nazis.

    That’s a huge army you had then, Carl. Only the number of women was the size of our whole troops! If I remember right.

  • Snafu

    Thanks Veith, you did pretty well too when beating the nazis.

    That’s a huge army you had then, Carl. Only the number of women was the size of our whole troops! If I remember right.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Although not the statistic requested, the number of WW II dead expressed as a population percentage is another way of looking at it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Although not the statistic requested, the number of WW II dead expressed as a population percentage is another way of looking at it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties.

  • Laura

    My Mom had a friend who joined the RCAF, and eventually became part of the Eagle Squadron. He was shot down by the German’s over North Africa and spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp. He kept a diary as a series of unposted letters to my Mom. I have the original transcript of that diary my Mom made when he finally made his way home and gave her the originals. She returned the original, as per his request, back in the mid ’90s.

    I also have some photos of him as well as another letter from a Dr friend of hers who was with Patton’s army in Europe…with photos of the death camps they found as they marched across Europe. Horrific stuff, both his descriptions of what they were finding at that time as well as his photos.

    At this time, I wonder if these things should be published? if folk are interested? My Mom and Dad are gone now…as well as the writers of both the diary and the letter. I will have to pray about this. It may mean something to future generations.

  • Laura

    My Mom had a friend who joined the RCAF, and eventually became part of the Eagle Squadron. He was shot down by the German’s over North Africa and spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp. He kept a diary as a series of unposted letters to my Mom. I have the original transcript of that diary my Mom made when he finally made his way home and gave her the originals. She returned the original, as per his request, back in the mid ’90s.

    I also have some photos of him as well as another letter from a Dr friend of hers who was with Patton’s army in Europe…with photos of the death camps they found as they marched across Europe. Horrific stuff, both his descriptions of what they were finding at that time as well as his photos.

    At this time, I wonder if these things should be published? if folk are interested? My Mom and Dad are gone now…as well as the writers of both the diary and the letter. I will have to pray about this. It may mean something to future generations.

  • Bruce

    A different take, from the perspective of a Jewish woman whose parents fled Warsaw just before War II: http://pagantolutheran.blogspot.com/2009/02/jew-from-warsaw.html

    When I think of the great wars, I try to remember not just those men and women who fought in them, but the millions of civilians in whose fields the wars were fought.

  • Bruce

    A different take, from the perspective of a Jewish woman whose parents fled Warsaw just before War II: http://pagantolutheran.blogspot.com/2009/02/jew-from-warsaw.html

    When I think of the great wars, I try to remember not just those men and women who fought in them, but the millions of civilians in whose fields the wars were fought.


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