Today is VE Day, the day we commemorate the victory in Europe in World War II. I was blessed to take part in a VE Day observance ceremony in Brownwood, Tex., where the emcee noted that Brown County lost a local resident every week for the duration of the war.
The site of today’s observance, the Central Texas Veterans Memorial, stands where the Camp Bowie headquarters once stood. During World War II, Camp Bowie was the largest military training facility in North America. It was once home to the 36th Infantry Division.
Looking beyond the speaker, between the granite monuments bearing the names of Brown County natives killed in World War II, I could see across the valley that was once Camp Bowie. The area is now occupied by manufacturing facilities, baseball fields, recreational facilities, homes, schools, and Brownwood’s iconic football stadium.
I imagined the sight of soldiers marching in formation, military vehicles zipping along the base roads, ordinance being fired in live fire exercises, and planes taking off from the base’s runways. In that moment, I thought back to what life must have been like in 1942.
We often honor “The Greatest Generation,” the generation that fought World War II. Everyone sacrificed to save our country and our freedom, from the soldier who went to the front lines, to the manufacturer who converted his factory to make military equipment, to the civilian who bought war bonds, to the wife and mother who went to work to manufacture the tools needed to fight the war, to the parents who saw their sons shipped off on trains and buses, bound for duty stations before deployment, to the kids who collected metal and glass to donate to the war effort. Everyone sacrificed. Everyone contributed. Indeed, the Greatest Generation is worthy of our honor.
What separates the Greatest Generation from current generations, though, is not so much what they did, but what they faced, and how they overcame.
When our troops go to war today, we worry about casualty rates, and further implications of the war. Today when we go to war, we generally don’t fear losing our country. Yet, in World War II, we faced an enemy that we believed to be as strong, if not stronger than we were. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, our Pacific fleet was wiped out, and many military analysts said that if Japan had landed on our West Coast, they’d have reached St. Louis before we could have stopped them.
Germany was just as formidable of a foe. In the years leading up to the war, Germany paraded their technological advancements. At the outset of the war, we had a lot of ground to make up, which we ultimately did.
When America was drawn into the war, we didn’t face the loss of overseas resources, and we weren’t merely stepping in to help our allies. We faced the loss of our country, and by extension, the loss of our freedom. We had to act.
Faced with a challenge not seen since the Civil War, Americans willingly and wholeheartedly gave everything they had to protect our country, and to defend and build our way of life. The spirit of the American soldier, worker, mother, farmer and school child propelled the nation to victory, and a new, better world was birthed.
In the years since, we’ve had our moments of fear, but we’ve never been in peril. We’ve enjoyed nearly three quarters of a century of peace and prosperity, and it’s all because a generation rose up, met the challenge that was placed in front of them, and fought for their lives, and the lives of their children.
For that, we are truly blessed, and I am truly thankful. Take a moment, and reflect on how blessed we are, and remember the sacrifices it took to bring this blessedness to us. Then, thank a veteran.
For those who remember World War II, thank you for rising up. Your generation epitomizes the old proverb, “A society grows great when old men plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.”