On Friday morning I had the privilege and honor of attending the World War II Memorial dedication in Grafton to all veterans who served during the war, but also to honor those who made the supreme sacrifice to our country. Tom Brokaw coined the phrase "The Greatest Generation" WWII vets and it is an apt description, but perhaps it should read "The Greatest and Quietest Generation."
By and large, our WWII vets are very closed-mouthed when it comes to their wartime service. They downgrade or simply ignore their own accomplishments to winning the war, when in fact many of their stories are amazing and extremely interesting to hear.
On Friday at the dedication inside the church in Grafton, all WWII veterans were asked to stand and be recognized. I watched, not at all surprised by their reaction. They looked left or right and hesitated before rising as if unworthy of the applause being given. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This week here in Millbury we learned a little more from two of our own WWII veterans, Francis Gaudere and Roland LaChance, who served in different theaters. Gaudere went ashore on Omaha Beach in Normandy and fought across France, Belgium and Germany as a combat infantryman in the Army. LaChance flew in divebombers and observation planes directing naval gunfire for the invasion of Iwo Jima in the Navy.
Earlier this year, Millbury residents honored Bernard Devoe who lost his life flying in B-17 heavy bombers during the air war over Nazi Germany. Their stories are typical and numerous of the sacrifice, service and dedication that it took as the whole world mobilized in the fight against tyranny.
But far too many of our veterans haven't told their stories for our shared history, and its a voice that sadly we are losing daily. My own father fought in France, Luxembourg, Germany and Czechoslovakia during the war. He never talked about the war, but when pressed would tell funny stories about his time in training in the U.S. prior to shipping out for combat duty in Europe. We were only allowed very brief glimpses when members of his Tank Destroyer unit would sometimes visit our home and they would talk about that time long ago.
One such time, as the veterans were speaking of the Nazi concentration camps, my father retreated to his bedroom and returned with a box of photographs that we were never allowed to see and pictures that were far removed from his many scrapbooks that he kept.
The images were horrible and graphic, as anyone who has ever seen the pictures of the Holocaust could imagine. One of our relatives there asked my father and his friends, "What in the world would possess you to take so many pictures of THAT?" They looked at one another and my father said, "Orders came down from above, supposedly from the old man (General George S. Patton) for anyone with a camera to take as many pictures as you can to record this for history because somewhere, someday, some SOB is going to say this never happened."
His experiences were similiar to many of those who served in his era, always remembered but never spoken of. It wasn't until his funeral did our family find out the extent of some of his experiences, when surviving members of his unit came to us and mentioned some of his exploits. He was even prominently mentioned in a chapter of a book that was published right after the war.
As my brother, sister and I read the pages it was if we were reading of a stranger, because this part of my father's life was an area that we were never allowed in. One of my own Army buddy's father stormed the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc on D-Day in Normandy -- and never knew about it until he went to the 40th Anniversary of the event when Ronald Reagan spoke there. Standing there with his father and his own surviving buddies, he said his father looked up at the cliffs with tears in his eyes and said, "How in the hell did we ever survive long enough to even get to the top."
Our veterans, especially our WWII vets, are a valuable resource and we're losing them rapidly. Their stories and their voices are ones that should be heard. They were our "Greatest Generation," but also the quietest. That should change.