With Gratitude for These Greatest Generation Vets
“When we leave, we hope we leave a good trail. God has been very good to me.”
Sometimes when it rains, it pours… Given the age of surviving World War II veterans, no day passes without a downpour of losses from the ranks of those from the Greatest Generation — those who have served our nation with honor and dignity.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II between 1941 and 1945, 291,557 were killed in action and 671,801 were severely wounded. Today, it is remarkable that about 170,000 WWII veterans are still with us. The youngest of those vets would have been 18 in 1945, which is to say they are 95 today.
Two weeks ago, we said farewell to one of the greats, Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, the last of the surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipients. There are now just 66 living recipients from conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Now we bid farewell to two more WWII veterans and one servant chaplain Korean War veteran.
Two decades ago, film producer Steven Spielberg, who had collaborated on the outstanding World War II film “Saving Private Ryan” in 1998, produced the 2001 series “Band of Brothers.” It was the remarkable story of the men of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division, and the European battle fronts they fought on through the end of the war. It was a story of one group of WWII Patriots, but it was a tribute to all.
Based on historian Stephen E. Ambrose’s book by the same name, “Band of Brothers” joins the list of the best WWII film projects depicting the valorous actions of everyday Americans. That list would include the one that tops my personal list, Mel Gibson’s 2016 movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” a remarkably accurate depiction of the valorous actions of conscientious objector and Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss — though he preferred the label “conscientious cooperator.”
The last surviving member of Easy Company’s WWII Band of Brothers has died. Mississippi native Pfc. Bradford Freeman, a mortarman, was 97. According to historian Rufus Ward, “He was in every major engagement in Europe during World War II.” He was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge but recovered and rejoined his unit.
His wife, Willie Louise Gurley, proceeded Mr. Freeman in death in 2008. He is survived by a sister, two daughters, four grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
Days later, another loss.
Earlier this year, we paid tribute to the life and service of Brig. Gen. Charles Edward McGee, a veteran fighter pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen.
Now, his wingman, Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson (Ret.), one of the last of the 332nd Fighter Group vets, has departed. He was 100 years old.
A Michigan native, Jefferson flew his P-51 “Red Tail” providing cover for bomber crews over Germany. He was shot down on his 19th mission; though he was able to parachute safely, he was captured and sent to Stalag Luft III POW camp in Poland and liberated with other American POWs eight months later. He was the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bronze Star, and in 2007, with other Tuskegee Airmen, he was presented the Congressional Gold Medal.
He said of his career after WWII: “I wanted to be a research chemist, but after going to war and coming back, I had to go back to school. And with a wife and kids and the mortgage, I said, oh, heck no, I don’t have time enough for that. So I became a schoolteacher teaching science. I had one big hell of an enjoyable life.”
Jefferson was a devoted family man of faith who observed, “When we leave, we hope we leave a good trail.” He added, “God has been very good to me.”
We also said farewell to another man of faith, San Diego native Capt. Robert “Bob” Warren (Ret.). He was 93.
Bob served on the USS Valley Forge during the Korean Conflict, and after graduating from San Francisco Theological Seminary, he was commissioned as a chaplain. After his retirement, he and his wife of 66 years, Genece, remained active, serving young enlisted Sailors and Marines. He returned to Camp Pendleton 20 years ago to minister to Marines attending the USMC School of Infantry.
It was there that we crossed paths with Bob, who had contacted The Patriot Post about distributing our Joshua 1:9 Marine dog tags. One part of our military mission of service is Operation Shield of Strength. More than a million dog tags have been distributed over the last two decades to Iraq and Afghanistan military personnel at no charge.
Bob, along with Camp Pendleton leadership lecturer and Vietnam vet Gunner Gilbert Bolton (USMC), have distributed more than 50,000 tags to Marines completing their SOI training. Gunner Bolton presented a Shield to all who attended Bob’s funeral. “Here lies the sailor home from the sea, here lies the sailor where he longed to be.”
It is with a heart of immeasurable gratitude that we honor these faithful men for their service and sacrifice. We likewise honor their families.
Finally, in tribute to another Marine who just celebrated his 100th birthday, I encourage you to pause and listen to the words of decorated World War II veteran Carl Dekel. He has earned a few minutes of your time to hear his perspective on where we are as a nation: “Nowadays I am so upset because the things we did, and the things we fought for, and the boys that died for it, it’s all gone down the drain. Our country is going to hell in a handbasket. We haven’t got the country we had when I was raised, not at all. … That’s not what our boys, that’s not what they died for. It’s just not the same. That isn’t what we fought for.”
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
The Patriot Post and our Patriot Foundation Trust are proud sponsors of the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Folds of Honor, Honoring the Sacrifice, Warrior Freedom Service Dogs, Officer Christian Fellowship, the Air University Foundation, the Naval War College Foundation, and the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation.
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