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The Greatest Generation

November 9, 2010 - Erin O'Neill
My grandpa was just a young man in his early 20s when he left his life on the farm in southern Ohio to travel to Mississippi for basic training with the United States Army at the height of World War II.

He left his home country from a port in New York City, miles removed from his humble country home, his mom, dad and sister. His tour didn't start out well, as he broke his foot while on the transport over. When he finally arrived in Europe, he was ready to take on his scouting duties in the 69th Infantry Reconnaissance Division tracking down Hitler and the Nazis.

My grandpa, who made it to the rank of staff sergeant, doesn't like to talk a lot about his time in the war, much like others in the armed forces who witnessed the same shock and horror in Germany, France, Great Britain, the Pacific and the rest. But as he is getting older — he'll be 90 this year — it seems that the war is always in the back of his mind. You can see it in his eyes.

One of the things he is proudest of is his role in the end of the war, as part of the American unit that met the Russian allies at the Elbe River in Torgau, Germany, in April, 1945. The event was so crucial to bringing about the end of the war that there are stamps, photos, books and magazine articles dedicated to the meeting. A section of the relief carved at the World War II monument in Washington, D.C. also depicts this famous scene of "East meets West".

I have in my possession an original "Yank" magazine featuring a photo of my grandpa's smiling mug, the Russian and American soldiers linked arm-in-arm. I don't know if he has any medals or commendations. I'm sure he does — he never mentions it. However, he has his place in history, captured forever on film and now, with a renewed interest in all things WWII, being broadcast for millions to see on the Internet.

After the war, my grandpa returned home to southern Ohio, met my grandmother almost immediately upon his return when she stopped by his mother's house one day to take up charitable donations or some other thing that seems so quaint now.

They courted for a short time, married and began the process of starting their now huge family, which includes six children, 10 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and two on the way.

Grandpa was a Greyhound bus driver, grandma a school teacher. They were married for over 50 years, until her death in 2002.

While my grandpa's story is an important one for my family, it is merely one of thousands like it lived by soldiers from the Greatest Generation, each one unique and important in its own way.

So many of these men and women who aided the war effort abroad and at home are passing away and, with them, the stories they have to share.

I urge everyone to take a moment this Veterans Day to remember all vets who have risked their lives for their country and to take a moment to talk with a vet who is a friend, a family member or a neighbor. Listen to what he or she has to say. Take it all in, jot it down, share it with others. Keep the stories alive.

And thank them for all they have done.


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American and Russian troops link arms as they meet up in Torgau, Germany, in April 1945, near the end of World War II. Among them, third from left, is farm boy, Frank Veazey, of Portsmouth, Ohio.


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