Some of the folks with whom I meet on a weekly basis are veterans, and because I meet with them at an assisted living facility, they are World War II veterans.
In a previous column earlier this year, I told you about a man named . Vern was a member of the 8th Air Force, who had been shot down and held a prisoner of war until he and many others were rescued by General George Patton’s 3rd Army.
This week I’d like to tell you about another veteran named Ed. Ed is 97-years-old and a veteran of World War II, having served for 10 years in the U.S. Navy.
Ed enlisted in 1935 at the age of 21. Because he had no training or skills, he had a great deal of difficulty finding employment — a situation complicated by the Great Depression. So like many men of that time, he joined the Navy in order to have a job and acquire a useful trade.
Ed went to Machinist Mate school for 20 weeks. He is pictured here in front of the instrument panel of the No. 2 engine of the battleship USS Mississippi. When Ed finished his training he was assigned to the light cruiser, USS Helena.
On Dec. 7, 1941 the Helena happened to be docked at Pearl Harbor. Early that morning while Ed was showering, the Japanese attacked. Ed managed to squeeze through a porthole and swim to safety.
The Helena was heavily damaged but it could be and ultimately was repaired.
After repairs, the Helena, with Ed aboard, headed for the Pacific where the crew joined a task force on its way to Guadalcanal. And that is where a whole new set of adventures awaited him.
As the Battle of Guadalcanal unfolded, Ed's ship was hit by four torpedoes. It happened on the evening of July 5, 1943. Despite heavy damage, the ship did not sink immediately, so Ed had time to abandon the vessel.
While many men were killed, some made it to rafts. But Ed landed in water where he treaded water and dog-paddled for more than two hours. Just when he was giving up hope, he heard voices. So he swam towards the voices and was picked up by a raft.
From there they were taken aboard a rescue ship. When all was said and done, more than 200 men had been killed and more than 400 were rescued.
Ed went on to serve on yet another cruiser where he stayed until the end of the war.
Ed’s story is just one of many extraordinary stories of the millions of men and women who have served our country before and after World War II.
Tom Brokaw named veterans like Vern and Ed “The Greatest Generation” but certainly those serving our country since then and, in fact, at this very moment are no less great.
Thank you Ed, Vern and the millions of others who have made it possible for us to enjoy the freedoms we have.
It is the tradition that on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Americans stop what they are doing to pay silent tribute to the men and women who are now or have ever served their country.
Surely we can find time in our busy day to do this, can’t we?