By Eric Cramer , Army News Service, 5/9/05
AMERICA HONORS WWII VETS ON V E DAY
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 9, 2005) – America recognized the military men and women who won the Second World War in a ceremony May 8 commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe.
Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey welcomed former senator and World War II veteran Bob Dole and retired Gen. Frederick Kroesen, also a veteran of the conflict, and R. James Nicholson, secretary of veterans’ affairs, as speakers at the VE Day event held near the National World War II Memorial. In attendance were veterans of that conflict, many family members and other guests.
Harvey said 16 million Americans served in uniform during World War II. “Over 400,000 made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “They ensured victory over defeat, democracy over fascism and good over evil. So too will today’s generation, the grandsons and grand-daughters of the greatest generation, win the Global War on Terrorism.”
Harvey described Dole’s service as a lieutenant with the 10th Mountain Division in Italy during World War II, where he received severe injuries; and the service of Kroesen, who earned the Combat Infantry Badge three times, for service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
“I have visited with many of the brave young men and women serving today,” Harvey said. “Like Maj. Tammy Duckworth, a Black Hawk pilot in the Illinois National Guard. Maj. Duckworth and her co-pilot received injuries while flying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They landed their helicopter and saved the lives of her crew. Despite having lost both legs, she wants to remain on active duty. ‘No Iraqi guy with an RPG is going to dictate how I live my life,’ she told me.”
Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gordon H. Mansfield said the GI Bill of Rights introduced at the end of World War II was a major “change agent” in American Society that made much of the success of 20th-century America possible. He said the VA is today the nation’s largest health-care provider, and remains a home-buying and educational resource for veterans.
Dole asked all present to imagine the consequences of having lost in World War II. “Think if we had not prevailed, where we would be today,” he said. “What language would we be speaking? What sort of government would we have?”
He said he has little memory of the first VE Day. “On May 8, 1945, I lay in a hospital bed in Italy, barely aware of my surroundings. I got hit, I still don’t know by what, and I lost a kidney, the use of my right arm, most of the use of my left arm, and three years of my life.”
He said a pioneering surgeon helped him with his recovery. “The most important thing he did was tell me ‘You’ve got to grow up and get on with your life. You’ve got to do the best you can with what you have.’”
Dole said that of the 16 million who served in World War II, there are now only about 4.5 million left alive, and they are dying at an estimated 1,500 per day. “We’ve gone from the greatest generation to the disappearing generation. But now, after 60 years, our generation can pass the mantle of the greatest generation to another generation – the current generation.”
Gen. Kroesen said the National World War II Memorial commemorates more than the memory of those who fought in the war. “It recognizes something more – we all went to war. Not just the 16 million in the military, but the 130 million in the country. Our industrial might, our scientific community and our medical professionals … It was a nation that was attacked and it was our generation who responded to the grizzly task of going to war.”
“I reserve my principle homage for those who gave their lives,” he said. “This memorial is our guarantee that those who gave their lives before VE Day will not be among those who perished as if they’d never been born.”