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V-J Day +70 Years

September 2, 2015

For much of my life my neighbors and many of my school teachers were World War Two veterans. I thought about them, and their fellow vets who touched my life in the classroom as another autumn approaches, because this September 2nd marks the 70th anniversary of V-J Day and the end of the Second World War. Seventy years is a lifetime and World War Two veterans are virtually all over 90 years old. My current next-door neighbor is probably the last of his generation I’ll live next to and the time will come when their memories, wisdom, grit, and basic commonsense humanity will be lost to us. Their example, however, can continue to instruct and inspire in a polarized age when nothing seems to get done and crises are allowed to fester, to say nothing of the example our current generation of celebrity ‘leaders’ is setting for our children.

Looking back, I remember Mr. Taylor, who lived next to us on the Ferndale street where we lived in the 1968s and 1970s, and Mr. Laurain, next door to the first house I ever owned, who’d shared some of his 82nd Airborne lore from time to time. Then there were the teachers: Mr. Rhode, a Battle of the Bulge grunt who told our sixth grade class about the cold and the fighting; Mr. Goralczyk, who enlivened his American History classes with stories from the Pacific Theater; and Mr. Brown, another history teacher who shared some of his Army Air Corps memories.

While my own military service came too late to be in the ranks with many of them, I did serve with one; J.D. joined the National Guard in 1945, at the tail end of hostilities, and when it was all over he stayed on until age 60, retiring in 1987 after having held just about every NCO billet in Company A of the Detroit Light Guard.

Those stories won’t be re-told many more times, as the ones who came home to tell them are mostly gone now and the few we have will follow their comrades in the passage of time.  The 70th anniversary of the final victory that crowned their efforts is an appropriate time for one last thanks and maybe to hear a story or two, while they’re still here to share them.  The right-hand picture below is the famous photo, taken 70 years ago, of how it ended, on the deck of the battleship U.S.S. Missouri, six years and a day after Hitler invaded Poland.  The ceremony was solemn enough, but the joy it ignited is evident in the left-hand picture, that of the legendary ‘sailor kiss’ in Times Square.  It must have been some celebration…


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