No matter where we live, no matter who we are, most of us know a World War II veteran.
They are family, friends, and neighbors. They are remembered on banners above our streets and forever etched in veterans’ memorials from Montoursville to Williamsport to Towanda.
“These were living men and women just like you and I. They had their life in front of them, the least we can do is remember them, and put their name on a piece of stone,” said Joe Doherty.
Doherty has gone to great lengths to start building a new veterans memorial in downtown Towanda. Once it’s finished, 91-year old Howard Kerr of Towanda said his brothers’ names will be here.
“They should be remembered some place for their service,” said Howard Kerr, a WWII veteran.
And so should Howard Kerr, a US Marine who fought on the Pacific front during World War II. Many did not survive the battles, an estimated 416,000 American forces died.
“We got hit hard, i got hit with a shell, wounded, was in a coma for a few days,” said Kerr.
Nearly 70 years have passed since the end of the second World War. Those kinds of first hand stories along with those kinds of heroes are fewer and fewer.
“They are a dying breed,” said George Heiges, head of Lycoming County Veterans Affairs.
George Heiges heads up the veterans affairs office in Lycoming County and spends every spring placing flags at the graves of veterans thousands of them.
“These are to honor the veterans who served our country and give you and me the freedom we have today,” said Heiges.
According to statistics, about every two minutes a veteran of the second World War passes on meaning the men and women who served this country bravely in the 1940’s are leaving us more and more rapidly, and in a couple decades, none of those veterans will be left.
“I was 19 years old, and invincible. A lot of my friends who thought they were invincible, are not invincible anymore,” said Bob Levan, a WWII veteran.
We met Levan at Hillside Senior living near Williamsport. As Levan remembers it, he was a flyboy and never saw combat overseas. Over the years, memorials like these were dedicated to Levan’s fellow servicemen and women who never did come home.
And when he’s gone, Bob Levan believes the memorials will be a reminder of what was lost and what was won.
“They’re a memorial, thank god I don’t hope we have to go through it ever again, no way,” said Levan.
Lynwood Moreheart volunteered for the service in 1943, and said he flew more than 50 missions in Europe. He said he never gave much thought, at least outwardly, to the human toll of it all.
“You always have this mission might be your last or something like that, never really dwelled on it, not much you could do about it one way or another,” said Moreheart.
Perhaps there is some way to remember these veterans when they’re all gone. Taking time to appreciate these memorials.
But even then, there’s a sad truth to knowing once the last veteran of World War II is gone, so too will be many of the personal stories of service and sacrifice for this country.
“Any memorial has to have something to back it up, or it’s not a memorial,” said Moreheart.