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As World War II veterans fade into history, their memories continue
Loy Woodring


Listen as Dick Taber of Clermont talks about this generation's warriors and the lack of credit he believes they receive.
A Sunday event bringing together veterans organizations from Hall County had plenty of World War II items on display but no veterans from that era to talk about them.

Perhaps it was another sad sign that veterans from that era are, as veterans officials have said, dying off a rapid rate.

And many of those who remain are declining in health, not quite as able to get to parades and other ceremonies held this Veterans Day to remember their service and sacrifice.

But the significance of the day is not lost on Dick Taber, a Clermont man who served in World War II as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot.

“The older you get, the more you look back,” said the 90-year-old Texas native, who has lived in Hall County since Thanksgiving 1989. “I have a few friends I flew with that are still alive — not too many of them, but we correspond.”

Taber served aboard the USS Enterprise in the Pacific Theater and was involved in “some of the major engagements.”

“I never really shot down a plane, but I bombed ships and shot at airplanes on the ground,” he said.

“I wasn’t a hero. I think people put commendations on fighter pilots. The heroes, I think, were the ground troops — my gosh, what they had to go through. I had it great as far as survival.”

Loy Woodring, who has lived in Hall since 1939, served in the Army infantry after D-Day and before the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive on the Western Front.

He was wounded in Germany, just before crossing the Rhine River.

“A rifle bullet went in and out of my steel helmet ... and just made a big gully in the side of my head,” said Woodring, 87.

He saw no further action, ending up in a hospital in Paris. He returned to the U.S. in January 1946, or after the war.

Looking back on those years, he believes those who served or were part of the ever-watchful home front were part of a “generation of necessity.”

“It was necessary that we went into the Army and the war, and nobody questioned it,” Woodring said. “It was an honorable thing to do.”

The company where he had worked before he entered the service had offered to seek a deferment of military service for him, but Woodring declined. He said he was “no better than others” who left families behind to go fight.

In some ways, though, today’s warriors have it harder, Taber said.

“We knew exactly who our enemy was and they have no idea half the time,” he said. “They’re just walking around trying to protect us and not knowing who to protect us against — and can’t even find them.

“I just think we’re involved in some things we shouldn’t be involved in, but that’s just one man’s opinion.”

M. Scott Ballard, who helped organize the Veterans Day Celebration and Family Day at the Northeast Georgia History Center on Sunday, said he believes something less tangible than World War II veterans also is fading from America.

“Everybody played a role (in World War II), whether you were counting off (rationing) coupons ... or you were serving on an island in the South Pacific,” said Ballard, who served in the Marines from 1985 to 2009, spending 2004-05 in Iraq.

“Back then, it was a much greater percentage of the overall population that was actively involved in what was going on,” he said.

Today’s Americans are less concerned or knowledgeable.

Ballard recalled a woman once asking him at a party, “So, what do you do?”

“I’m in the Marines Corps,” he said.

She paused for a moment, then asked, “Is that like the Navy?”

Glen Kyle, managing director of the history center and a military historian, said the World War II generation deserves its credit, but “it can be dangerous to assign any one generation the title of ‘greatest,’ because so much of America’s history is tied to great generations.”

Still, America’s World War II veterans fought the biggest conflict in history and won.

“They preserved freedom and ... there’s no question that the nation was never as unified in history as it was during World War II,” Kyle said.

Ken Wallace, the history center’s building and grounds committee chairman, said an 85-year-old veteran spoke at his church Sunday, recalling World War II and talking about how every member of his high school graduating class at least tried to volunteer for the service.

“I can’t imagine that happening today,” he said. “It was a different time.”

Also, at the church service, members presented a plaque to the family of the church’s last World War II veteran, who died this year, Wallace said.

“They’re going away,” he added.