This summer, we will observe the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe on May 8, 1945 and in the Pacific on Sept. 2, 1945.  

It is important that we do this. It would be easy to be preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic and other things and allow these two dates to go unnoticed.  It is impossible to determine precisely how many people perished worldwide in this terrible war, but estimates go as high as 75 million.  We Americans would have to multiply our Civil War by at least 100 to have a reasonably accurate picture of World War II.  It was by far the worst war the world has ever seen.  What, then, should we do now?    We should remember, reflect and be thankful.   

War is a natural condition of man, a basic trait of human nature.  Man has warred against his fellowman for millennia.  The causes have been personal, political, religious and economic.  War is not waged for the benefit of the vanquished but for the benefit of the victor.  It brings out the best and worst in man, acts of great sacrifice, courage, bravery and heroism on the part of some, and acts of cowardice, deceit, treason and beastiality on the part of others.  Indeed, one of the World War II’s greatest legacies is that man’s inhumanity to man seems to have no limits.  

We should remember that war leaves many scars, physical and mental.  There are many adults alive today who have never known their father or grandfather because he was killed in the war.  When we think of dying in war, we think of bullets whizzing by, bombs falling, ships sinking and grenades exploding, but many others die from accidents and disease.  They were, however, just as loved, just as dead and just as missed as any others.

Some came home alive, but with severe physical injuries they lived with the rest of their lives.  Others came home without a physical scratch but were mentally and emotionally scarred for life with what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), survivors’ guilt, etc., and frequent nightmares.  Some things, such as watching a buddy’s body blown apart or liberating a concentration or POW camp, were so horrible that survivors understandably never could talk about them.  

Those of us who have lived in later years owe these people an incalculable debt of gratitude.  We can never say “Thank you!” enough.  Let us also remember that thanking our veterans, of whatever war or other time of service, as important as it may be, is not enough.  Families and friends suffered, too.  I once knew a lady, now deceased, whose young husband of less than one year was killed on Dec. 24, 1944, in the Battle of the Bulge.  He was the love of her life and was killed on Christmas Eve.  She remarried a few years later and had a family but never fully recovered.  Life can be cruel at times.

The father of a childhood playmate and neighbor of mine was a navigator on a B-24 Liberator bomber.  The plane went down and exploded.  No bodies were ever recovered.  Her mother received a 12x18 certificate from President Truman which reads as follows:

“In grateful memory of Second Lieutenant Samuel H. McChesney, Jr., who died in the service of his country in the Southwest Pacific Area June 3, 1945.  He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live, and grow, and increase its blessings.  Freedom lives, and through it he lives, in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.  (signed) Harry Truman, President of the United States of America.”

“In a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.”  Very eloquent.  Very true.

Winfield H. Rose taught political science at Murray State University for 39 years and is now retired. He is active in the Calloway County GOP, but speaks here as an individual and not as a representative of either of these organizations.

Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of the Murray Ledger & Times.

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