By James V. Lee
May 28, 2012
As a member of Honor Flight, a group of World War II
veterans, I will be taken on a one-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Washington,
D.C. We’ll get VIP treatment and visit the monuments.
Our group was in the downtown Dallas Veterans Day parade
Nov. 11, all riding in Corvette convertibles. Five people preceded us on foot
carrying a big banner identifying us.
Thousands of people lined the parade route — cheering,
smiling, saying “Thank you!” I’ve never been so overwhelmed or experienced
anything like it before. I was glad I was wearing sunglasses.
Relatively few veterans of World War II took part in the
highly publicized ticker-tape parades following the war.
After I helped decommission my ship on the West Coast in the
early summer of 1946, I was discharged at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.
I rode a bus back to Texas. I got off the bus on a stretch of U.S. Highway 87
in West Texas and walked the last two miles down a dirt road, carrying
everything I owned in a suitcase toward a three-room shack I called home.
My mother saw me when I was about 100 yards from the house
and came out to meet me. She was crying. That’s the kind of homecoming most
World War II military personnel received. I never expected more. I was just
grateful to make it back. Some of my friends didn’t.
Alvin Kernan, university professor and author of Crossing
the Line and several other books, expressed a similar sentiment:
“In our time there has been much complaint by veterans,
particularly Vietnam veterans, that they were unwelcomed and unappreciated when
they came home. … I never wasted a moment worrying about the fact that no one
really seemed to know that I had been gone for five years, and the ones who did
soon tired of talking about it — very soon.”
Like most others who served their country, the war was the
defining moment of my life. But unlike many veterans, I have no collection of
memorabilia from those years — just two shoulder patches from one of my
I was thankful that an appreciative nation was willing to
pick up the remainder of my college costs, which were a struggle to pay before
my enlistment in the Navy.
In 1945, we celebrated the unconditional surrender of our
enemies with songs, such as “When the Lights Go On Again (All Over the World)”
that included the sentiment of “peace ever after.” But the U.S. has been at war
almost continuously — either cold or hot — since the end of World War II.
The unusual burdens borne by our service personnel in Iraq
and Afghanistan have brought about a resurgence of gratitude toward those who
make our nation safe, and that gratitude spills over to those of us who
answered the call so long ago. And we are deeply appreciative.
At this point, it’s likely that every family has offered up
at least one of its own to serve this country. This ought to be a uniting force
against foreign enemies and corrupters from within who would destroy what we
fought for. Both are equally dangerous.
James V. Lee of Richardson is retired from teaching aboard
Navy ships and has written Five Years at Sea and other works. His website is
saladopress.com and he blogs at theymademesayit.blogspot.com.