On this Memorial Day it is especially fitting to commemorate those Americans who served in World War II. This year marks the 76th anniversary of the German Nazi surrender, ending the war in Europe. The world would have been a far different place without Victory in Europe. This September 2nd will mark the 76thth anniversary of the formal surrender of Japanese forces, ending the war in the Pacific.
Memorial Day is to honor those troops who died in combat, but we should also honor those World War II veterans who survived the war but who are now passing away. 76 years after the end of the war, even the youngest of the World War II veterans who saw combat are in their 90’s. Of the 16 million Americans who served during the war, fewer than 100,000 remain alive today.
I am thankful to have family who served in both WWI and WW2. These Washington natives left home to protect the freedoms my children and I now enjoy.
One of those “youngest” WWII veterans was my grandfather, Eldon Marshall, who unfortunately passed away at age 91. He came back from the war to his wife he had married on leave, finished college and started his family and a career that included nearly 30 years as the City Manager for Olympia. He then served 33 years as a director of Olympia Federal Savings and Loan, retiring when he turned 89.
First Lieutenant Marshall was just 19 when he joined the Army and only 20 when he got his pilot wings and started flying C-47s. He boarded a troop ship on October 31, 1944 heading to a base in England where he flew missions into Europe, including flying paratroopers, supplies and gliders into the Battle of the Bulge in December 1945—which thankfully turned out to be the last major German counter offensive. As with so many veterans, we didn’t know much about what he did in the war until the last few years and then only when he was prompted.
He would have turned 21 just a few days before the formal German surrender. He said that he was there and had flown in supplies for the ceremony in his C-47 to Reims, France, the city north east of Paris where the surrender took place 70 years ago—one more detail we had never known.
After the end of combat, Lt. Marshall served several more months in the Army Air Corps before coming home, flying the Army Surgeon General around Europe for inspections and flying POWs captured by German forces back to their home countries.
It is important that we take a moment to remember those who fought and served to protect the freedoms we enjoy. The freedom of speech – to voice our opinions even when it’s different from others, and the right to vote for and elect those government representatives who serve the PEOPLE and are limited by the PEOPLE.
Our freedoms are not free. They were paid for by lives of many before us. Let’s take a moment to pause, reflect and thank those who paid the ultimate price.
Memorial Day, 2021