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home : opinions : opinions June 24, 2016

6/10/2014 12:45:00 PM
Why have WWII memorials been neglected?

Last Friday, a caravan of veterans on motorcycles accompanied busloads of World War II veterans in a parade through Sisters on their way to the dedication of a World War II Memorial in Salem.

The event marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the largest military invasion ever attempted. That bloody day was the turning point in World War II. It led directly to the liberation of Europe from the domination of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, and it changed the course of world history.

A Bulletin newspaper headline proclaimed that the new memorial was an honor long overdue. While true, there is, I believe, a poignant reason why memorials weren't really thought to be necessary.

In World War II, the entire nation was at war. Unlike today's wars, in which only a small percentage of the population is directly affected, that war affected virtually everyone. I was born in the year that followed World War II, yet I grew up in a world that seemed to continually heave great sighs of relief, in recovery from a Herculean effort that rescued the world from oblivion.

For years, my father's uniforms still hung in the closet. His battle ribbons rested in a little box on the top of his dresser. There were boxes of military manuals, signal flags, and other war surplus in the attic. Scarcely a day passed that did not include some reference or remembrance of the war.

World War II was a war that involved everyone. Everything was in short supply and rationed. Every man was expected to go to war.

World War II was distinctly different from today's far-off wars. People on the West Coast were expecting a Japanese invasion at any time. Residents armed themselves in anticipation. Coastal patrols were organized to keep a lookout for the invaders. Shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack, my father bought his own boat, joined the Coast Guard Reserve and patrolled the Columbia River from Astoria to Bonneville Dam to guard against saboteurs.

When military picket boats were built to take over the river patrol, my father was sent off to fight the war in the Pacific. My grandfather gave a World War I rifle to my mother to defend against the expected invaders. I still have that weapon.

Everyone lived and fought that war every day for four years. When it was over, the grief, stress, anxiety, jubilation, relief, and many other emotions lived on. Every day.

Little thought was given to memorials because every day was a memorial of sorts.

The unprecedented post-war economic growth of the country was, in a sense, itself a memorial to the war; and the nation put its heart into that effort, too. Memorials were little needed. Every day of renewed life in the resurgent country was a continuing memorial. Patriotism was, quite literally, taken for granted.

Now, 70 years later, the generation who lived through that era is dwindling. The next U.S. Congress will be the first since World War II not to include a veteran of that war. My father died in 2006 at the age of 90. Today, according to the Veterans Administration, another World War II veteran dies every two minutes.

With each such death, a living memorial is extinguished. So, yes, it's time to think about permanent memorials because the living ones that have been a constant part of our lives will not be with us much longer.

A frequent contributor to The Nugget, Craig Eisenbeis is a retired U.S. Coast Guard captain and graduate of the U.S. Naval War College. He is the recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal and five Coast Guard Commendation Medals.

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