Commentary

February 28, 2013

Sitting down with World War II veterans

Commentary by Master Sgt. Kevin Wilske
355th Fighter Wing Plans and Programs

Throughout my career, I have volunteered several times. Most have been your standard bullet-worthy events; however, a recent opportunity caused me to look at volunteering in a whole new light.

The event was an Honor Flight ceremony for World War II veterans held at the Pima Air and Space Museum. My job was to assist Honor Flight with checking in the World War II veterans and their guests, and to act as a table host to help them with anything they may need. As I watched attendees file in, it hit me. These were not just your ordinary veterans; these were men and women with stories that we only read about in our Professional Development Guides. I got the opportunity to aid a few of the veterans through the check-in and to their tables, and I was honored to hear their stories.

Mr. Rosenblum, a former corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, proudly said, “Once a Marine, always a Marine!” and told me of the numerous places he’d had the opportunity to visit while serving his country, listing them with a zest for duty and pride for serving. Still full of life, he informed me that he had all his stories catalogued, along with pictures, for his family. Another gentleman, a rather serious individual named Chief Master Sgt. (Ret.) Harold Butler, told me he was actually one of the first Chiefs in the U.S. Air Force.

After aiding a few more members and hearing their stories, it came time to take my own seat. I needed to find a table that had an open seat, and to my surprise, there weren’t many. The event was so full the committee had to set up another table to accommodate all the attendees. When I finally grabbed a seat, it was at a table full of men and their wives who were smiling and joking around with each other, just the way a group of active servicemen would. The heckling and commentary put me at ease and allowed me to ask them about their experiences.

I sat next to a gentleman who was drafted and sent over to Europe only to get taken as a prisoner of war during the last few months. He shared that about 800 POWs were marched across Germany for three months, with a little over 300 men left standing at the end. He was amazed at how men twice his size would just fall down and never get back up. As he finished his story, his wife leaned forward to tell me about her experience as a military spouse and how it was part of her life even to this day. She has been part of several groups throughout her life, and when putting together events, she had to make sure everything was orderly and streamlined, even down to the pictures on the wall.

The commitment they and their spouses had toward each other was also amazing. Mr. Rosenblum mentioned that he wrote his wife a letter every day during the 32 months he was gone. Today, we could not imagine that, with the world of Skype, e-mails and web-chatting.

As I sat there listening, I was amazed of the camaraderie that they all shared. Regardless of if they knew each other previously, they shared a common bond of patriotism and heroism.

After the event, I left with the realization that these men and women are of the greatest generation this country may ever know, and they set the bar very high. However, I believe we can all achieve this same level of commitment and heroism. We should all assess why it is we serve this country ourselves. Is it for the pay? The benefits? Or is it because we all have a common interest in preserving the rights and the way of life that our predecessors laid for us?

Honor Flight of Tucson is a volunteer-run organization that takes World War II veterans on sponsored trips to Washington, D.C. to visit the WWII memorials. Honor Flight also assists veterans in attending ceremonies put on in their honor.

If you would like to learn more about getting involved with Honor Flight, visit http://honorflightsaz.org.




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