Somehow, we have melded Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day into days of recognizing all who have worn the uniform of our country.
That’s OK, but Veterans Day is the one on which we should be able to look them in the eye, shake their hand and say thanks.
More than 12 million men and women served during World War II. Tom Brokaw called them “The Greatest Generation” and rightfully so. Nearly 40 percent of them were volunteers who left their homes to serve in places they had never heard of.
About 1 million World War II veterans are still living. We are losing about 500 of them every day. I am the son of one of them and I miss him tremendously.
But what we will long miss is their contributions to our nation.
Many of them left rural hamlets to go to places such as Europe or the South Pacific. Some of them left high school before graduating to serve our country. They fought gallantly and we won.
For the families of more than 400,000 U.S. personnel, a knock came at the door of their surviving family members. Soon to follow was a casket draped with the flag of this nation. They are the ones we truly remember each Memorial Day.
The service of our veterans is enough to hold them in awe. But the truth is they came home and changed a nation.
For many, the GI Bill of Rights gave them an opportunity to complete the education interrupted by war. They became doctors, lawyers, teachers and professionals in many other careers.
They took chances and started businesses and found ways to contribute to the good of their community. They joined churches and civic clubs, volunteered at PTA carnivals and made a great effort to make the towns and cities where they lived a better place.
My dad was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for a couple of Nazi bullets that cut him down in a Belgian battlefield. He nearly died in a field hospital because of a rare form of anemia. A young Army doctor discovered what was about to take my daddy’s life and began treatment that kept him around to become a good father.
He spent the next 40 years in an off-and-on battle to stay alive. But complain? Never.
He died in 1984 in the VA Hospital in Decatur. His gentle spirit touched his caregivers so much they drove to Monroe to attend his funeral.
I’m not a native of Gainesville, but many World War II vets still were active in business when I moved here. You don’t have to look far around here to see the fruits of their labor that made this place better.
The same is true in communities all across Georgia and the United States. A park, a road, a school or a center that helps old folks or kids is standing because a World War II vet was relentless in his or her passion to see it happen.
Good people are still around who give back to their local village, but not in the volume we saw from The Greatest Generation.
We stand in the shadow of their good work as we slowly wave goodbye.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.