Patriotic tributes are streaming in from everywhere on this Memorial Day weekend. One of the best in Saturday's Wall Street Journal takes on a poignant issue --" The Passing of the World War II Generation."
Historian James D. Hornfischer writes:
"Those veterans who stand away from the crowd or shun the opportunity to speak are of special interest to me. The distance in their eyes shows they they're still in the grip of what they've seen. While talking to them can be like trying to squeeze water from a stone, if you stay with it you can tap something deeply revealing."
One of those reluctant veterans was my father, Army Capt. Arthur Honig. He would not be happy to have me write about him here. He rarely discussed anything from the war. Rather, he preferred to think about his pre-war life: on the beach in Waikiki sometime in the late '30s, pictured here with his buddies. (Dad's on the left).
Capt. Honig served in the OSS. He faced death during landings in the Pacific and at the Battle of Attu in the Aleutians. I didn't even know about that until shortly before his death in 2008. He just didn't talk about it. (He did mention, in passing, that the Army had them pack the wrong uniforms, which weren't protective enough for the cold-weather landing.)
He watched Ken Burns' series on World War II -- briefly. I came in the house expecting it to be on. It wasn't. "I had to turn it off," he said. "The smell came back."
Hornfischer's conclusions about others like my dad resonate. He quotes a Bud Comet, described as "a reluctant witness," this way: "The thing that comes out of it is, if you survive, there's a purpose. You see why you survived. I feel like maybe God had other purposes for me."
Hornfischer points out that about 1.8 million World War II vets remain alive. That's less than half from 2003.
Of course I miss my dad. But it goes deeper than that. Those who lived through World War II (and the Depression before that) benefitted from overcoming some big, big obstacles. The sense of purpose, as described by Hornfischer, is something that more of us could use.