Tuesday - May 18, 2010

Category Image Time Flies 

My grandmother used to tell me about the Civil War veterans that used to sit on the park benches in Nantucket, spitting tobacco and whittling.  When I was young, it wasn't hard to run into veterans of WWI. Now, a WWII veteran who enlisted in 1945 at the age of 17 is 82 years old.  I suspect we won't be seeing them around much longer.

Yet my wife and I ran into a veteran of Anzio a few months ago (in Tool, Texas).  He told me a story about how he watched more than 200 men get killed in an artillery attack by the Germans.  He had warned them to dig in, but their Colonel refused to allow them to do so.  He was in a scout platoon, or forward observer section, I forget which, and didn't work for the Colonel, so he had stayed clear of them and dug in.  He was quite bitter in telling that story, you could see the horror still in his eyes.  PTSD can be very long lasting.

A WWI veteran that enlisted in 1918 when he was 17 would have been 82 years old when I was 20.  Today he would be 109, but there is only one or two American veterans still alive from that war.  All the rest are gone.

A Civil War veteran who enlisted at age 17 in 1865 would have been 82 in 1930 when my grandmother was 30 years old.  Her father probably knew a few veterans of the Napoleonic Peninsular War in Portugal.  A man who joined the Portuguese army in 1814 would have been 82 in 1879.  When you think of it that way, two centuries is not a long time.

A veteran of the Viet Nam War who enlisted at age 17 in 1975 will be 82 in the year 2040.  By then, I suspect that people will be living a lot longer.  I guess I only missed that war by five years, measuring this way.  I still have little understanding of that war.

If our current war were to end this year (fat chance!) then a 17 year old Marine serving today would turn 82 in the year 2075.  I hope to buy him a beer on that day at the nearby recruiting station.  And the youngster enlisting in the Marines would be only five people removed from meeting a veteran of the Napoleonic War.

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