Listen to their stories

Published 6:58 pm Thursday, November 8, 2018

100 years ago this weekend, the guns fell silent in Europe at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. World War I, “The War to End All Wars,” came to an end with the signing of an armistice in a railway carriage in France.

A century later, those who fought in World War I have all perished. The last surviving veteran of that war, a British woman named Florence Green, served as a waitress in the Women’s Royal Air Force and passed at the age of 110 in 2012. The last combat veteran of the conflict, a British Royal Navy sailor named Claude Choules, died at the age of 110 in 2011.

With the passing of these two, and all the ones who came before them, the First World War has now passed forever from the realm of living memory into that of history.

Their sons and daughters, the men and women who fought in the Second World War, are now fading fast. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, of the 16 million Americans who served their country during that conflict, only 496,777 remained alive earlier this year, with an average of 348 passing each day. Each year, their numbers will grow more and more sparse, until sometime in the mid-21st century, when their stories will also pass into history.

From World War II to the present, nearly every generation since has had its defining conflict. From Korea and Vietnam to the sands of the Middle East in Iraq and Afghanistan, generations of men and women have sacrificed their own personal freedom during times of war and peace to ensure that all Americans enjoy those liberties.

As we approach this Veterans Day, 100 years since the armistice, let us not forget the sacrifices they have made. Let us hear their stories and remember their names. Let us salute the living, and remember the dead. Let us say thank you, and shake their hands while we still might.

While these conflicts still reside in the realm of living memory, let us reflect on the service of those in our community and those that we love. They didn’t do it for fortune and glory, but instead acted out of love for their country — because it was right. For that, we owe each of our veterans a debt that can never be repaid.