By Hunter Scott, World War II Veterans Committee National Youth Representative
I recently read an article by Ben Stein entitled â€œE-Online Finalâ€â€”his last article for the E-Online web site. â€œOn a small scale, Mortonâ€™s, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to,â€ he wrote. After a few sentences on celebrities he has spotted there recently, he continued. â€œA bigger change has happened. I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly importantâ€¦A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all the decent people of the world. A real star is the U.S. Soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him. A real star, the kind who haunts my memory at night and day, is the U.S. Soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.â€
Ben Stein is right. A big change is happening. The â€œAmerican Iconâ€ is now shifting away from the movie stars and pop singers to the true heroesâ€”our military and veterans. Sure there is still some excitement when the occasional celebrity wanders through Mortonâ€™s, but few things give many Americans more pride than watching the crew of the USS LaSalle return from the Mediterranean after six months deployed, or the excitement of a young wife with two kids who sees her husband for the first time in a year because he has been serving in Iraq. The truth is, widespread appreciation for our military and veterans is growing faster than ever. Regardless of political views, Americans realize that we are at war and that our troops need our support. Finally, the true heroes are being recognized for their service to the greatest nation in the worldâ€”the United States of America.
Still, each day there are fewer and fewer remaining veterans of the Greatest Generation, and the time is coming when soon there will be none. It is important, now, that we do what we can to preserve the stories of Americaâ€™s true heroes. Many stories remain to be told, and it is up to the â€œLatest Generationâ€ to carry on the legacy of those who have come before.
A particular story of interest to me that not many people my age are aware of is the story of the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater. During WWII, the Alliesâ€™ goal in this particular field of action was to help the Chinese fight the Japanese, who had taken over many ports and airstrips, to disrupt the supply routes. Oftentimes battling the heavy wind and rain from the monsoons, American troops would press on to win back the Chinese ports. Stories from the CBI Theater, and other theaters of operation, are an important part of our history and there is a growing desire to learn about and tell these stories before time runs out.
Another story that has been preserved recently is the story of the USS Indianapolis. Following a series of naval mistakes that lead to the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, their Captain, Charles B. McVay III, was made the scapegoat and court-martialed unjustly. The crew of the Indianapolis never saw the recognition they deserved. For fifty years they tried to tell their story and exonerate their captain, but even in the late 90â€™s few people had heard about the Indianapolis or knew its role of delivering the first atomic bomb to its launching point. Today, their captainâ€™s name has been exonerated and honor has been restored to the final crew of the â€œIndy.â€ With thanks to many people who worked to fight for justice for the late cruiser, the stories of the survivors have been preserved and the USS Indianapolis is now one of the best-known ships of WWII.
It is stories like that of the USS Indianapolis and the CBI Theater of Operation that need to be preserved. The true heroes are finally being recognized and we must do what we can to record their stories. As Mr. Stein said, â€œI no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important.â€ The true stars are our veterans and those who serve in the military fighting for our freedom. These are the people we rejoice to see upon their return.
About a month ago I was returning from my 3/C MIDN cruise and I was wearing my â€œSummer Whitesâ€ aboard the Delta Airlines flight. After I sat down the flight attendant came over and whispered that there were seats available in 1st class if I would like to move up after takeoff. Sure enough, once we reached the proper altitude, she came back and escorted me to my new seat. As I was walking through the aisle I noticed another man in uniform being escorted to his new seat too. I was filled with joy, not because I was sitting in first class, but because our military is really being appreciated and treated like stars. We must celebrate and record the stories of yesterday and embrace those of today. The men and women of the military are the stars of America.