Honoring our Greatest Generation


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



Most of us were not even born yet.

It was 75 years ago. The nightmare that was World War II was coming to an end.

On May 8, 1945, our Allied Forces celebrated Victory in Europe Day.

Four months later, on September 2, aboard the battleship USS Missouri, Japanese officials formally surrendered. We celebrated VJ Day – Victory over Japan Day. The world was no longer at war.

Sadly, the scars of our involvement in that war, from 1941 to 1945, will remain alive in our hearts, minds, and souls forever. Our WWII veterans are now in their 90s or 100s.

Over 16.5 million men and women served in our armed forces during that war. Sadly, almost 300,000 died in battle. More than 113,000 died from other causes, and 670,846 were wounded.

Slightly more than a year ago, before the pandemic started, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that approximately 245 WWII veterans were dying each day. That makes it even more important to remember them and to honor them.

The American people decided that we needed a national memorial to honor every person who fought in World War II. In May of 1993, President Clinton signed the bill authorizing the construction of our national World War II Memorial.

Just over 10 years later, in May of 2004, the national memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. Simultaneous dedication events were held in cities across the United States.

At the time, I was a member of DMAT-5, a federal disaster medical assistance team headquartered in Dayton. Our team was charged with providing medical care to the thousands of veterans and civilians who would be attending the dedication ceremony in Toledo.

The Veterans Department was concerned because, at that time, about 1,000 WWII veterans were dying each day. We vowed to each other not to lose a single veteran on our watch. We geared up and prepared for the day.

Our team’s cardiac defibrillator was placed in a backpack. I was assigned to carry the defibrillator along the parade route. Our radios were synchronized so we would all know if we needed to respond to any medical emergency.

Hundreds of the veterans were wearing their uniforms. All of them were wearing caps designating their branch of the military and where they were stationed.

It was an honor to watch these veterans — all in their 70s — as they proudly marched through downtown Toledo. The event in Toledo was successful.

About 18 months later, during the week of Veterans Day 2005, ss I served with the board of Clinton County Commissioners, Ray Souder, Director of our Veterans Services Commission, and Cliff Rosenberger came into our office and asked us why we did not have a Clinton County Memorial dedicated to everyone who ever served in our country’s military service.

It was a great question. We had no good answer.

As soon as our meeting was over, I walked across the parking lot to Ray’s office. We talked about the project and decided that the only way to get it was done was to make a commitment and get started. We also committed not to stop working on the project until it was complete.

We set a date in January for our first meeting. We shook hands and committed that we would assemble a team and meet every month until our project was complete. Only three years later, on Veterans Day 2008, the Clinton County Veterans Memorial was dedicated.

World War II veterans are not referred to as the Greatest Generation just because of what they did to win the war, but also because of what they did afterward. They rebuilt a devastated nation. They worked to bind the wounds of the war. They worked to start the healing process.

We need to acknowledge that healing is never complete. Regardless of how much time passes, the scars from our wounds still remain. Our nation carries scars from every conflict and every war we have ever fought.

As part of our ongoing healing process, we need to honor those valiant citizens who fought to serve and to save our country. They fought so that other generations of Americans might not have to go to war.

Sadly, the process never ends.

This May 8 we will remember VE Day. Later, we will observe Memorial Day. In September, we will remember VJ Day, and in November we will once more gather at the Clinton County Veterans Memorial as we recognize all of our veterans during Veterans Day.

Talk to our veterans. Thank them. Listen to them and record their stories.

God bless them.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist