V-E Day: 75th anniversary reflection from a Baby Boomer

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From my collection of photos and signatures from an evening with the men of 56th fighter group Zemke’s Wolf Pack back in the 1990s, that took place at the United States Air Force station in Los Angeles. (Courtesy photo)
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This past week we marked an important date on the calendar, as V-E Day, the remembrance of the end of the war in Europe during World War II came and went with very little fanfare.

Normally, the 75th anniversary of this momentous event would likely have been marked with more ceremony, but the world today is preoccupied with an unusual state of current events.

Fortunately, the written history of that World War has found its way into books and on to movie screens over the years. Memorials and statues have now taken the place of the flesh and blood that was lost on the battlefields, as well as those who came home and inspired us to be good citizens and to never take our freedoms for granted.  

We watched the President, First Lady and a handful of veterans place a wreath at the World War II Memorial in our nation’s capital, with no public present. Across the pond, Queen Elizabeth II — who served her country as a truck driver and mechanic during the war — was reading a statement to her countrymen who were at home, waiting out the COVID-19 quarantine. Other than that, the V-E Day remembrance came and went in a virtual silence.

At one point in her address to her people, the queen noted, “Many people laid down their lives in that terrible conflict. They fought so we could live in peace, at home and abroad. They died so we could live as free people in a world of free nations. They risked all so our families and neighborhoods could be safe. We should and will remember them.”

(Courtesy photo)

These words should make us take pause and remember just how great the sacrifice was by those who fought and died in World War II, and what they invested in our future with their heroic actions and service.

We Baby Boomers were raised by this generation and we benefited from their service to country and the world in more ways than we will ever know. As young adults, we looked up to American soldiers and sailors in much the same way that many today look up to the current incarnation of those who inspire us by their good deeds and service. However, looking back, it was a bit different for our generation. Our role models approached their “hero” status in a very different and humble way, and most took care to never burst the bubble of those of us who looked up to them.

As many of you know, my passion is aviation. Growing up, we all had our special reasons for clinging to the legacy of those we looked up to in service to America during World War II. Airmen from those war years were always my greatest passion and as a youth I immersed myself in all things Air Corps and pilots. As I grew older, my passion and understanding continued to grow. With time, I came to respect and appreciate the aircrews of World War II even more, as the reality moved from one of wonder to one of understanding and respect as an adult.

Some years ago, many of the pilots from World War II would attend events around the country and we the public were invited to come hear them speak about their combat experiences and interact with them in Q&A sessions. Of all the events I attended, I never once was disappointed with any of the pilots who had come to speak and share, as they were always humble and kind to all of us in attendance. They would sign books and photos while telling jokes, shaking hands and staging photos with us Baby Boomers who wanted that “hero shot” of us with the legends whose planes would hang from our ceilings when we were kids. Now that autographed book would take the place of those planes and would be a great place to retreat to, when life’s struggles left us hungering for some much needed inspiration.

(Courtesy photo)

As the war in Europe came to an end, the men who took to the air to defend the ideals of freedom began to come home to a nation that hungered for just a touch of what the sacrifice in the cockpit was like in combat.

More times than not, it was not pretty, but on some occasions it was worthy of a celebration and a smile. As with many things in life that come down to life and death, just living to fight another day is something to embrace — and the heroic American pilots of World War II were the very best at living to fight another day. Many of us Baby Boomers took that same mindset when it came to our own adult lives. We all benefited from those lessons that were learned in the skies of the world at war back in the 1940s, and used them to help us overcome the struggles in our own lives. These men were bigger than life to us and we still hold them near and dear to our hearts. We hope that the passion they passed on to us about honor, service and country is something we can hand off to future generations. Our hope would be that the long trail of patriots will never come to an end and that the freedoms that this nation, world and its people celebrated in May 1945 will continue to inspire.

This subject matter is very near and dear to me, as some of my closest and dearest friends were of this generation of aviators. Service men and women will always be my greatest personal treasure trove of life experiences, that have inspired me to be a better man and to pass on the traits of good character taught by the men and women who took to the skies during World War II.

Until next time, Bob out …
 
 
 

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