Keep war memories alive

Published 10:20 pm Monday, December 10, 2012

There was more military news than usual in the Suffolk News-Herald last week.

With Friday being Pearl Harbor Day, I had the opportunity to interview two fine gentlemen who joined the war effort following the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, America’s naval base in Hawaii.

The attack that President Franklin D. Roosevelt framed as a “date which will live in infamy” caused the United States to enter World War II. Fred Appleton, now 92, also took up the cause, signing up only a few days after the attack.

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Appleton joined the Navy and became an aviator, he said. Among his biggest accomplishments from the war was his lone rescue of two occupants of a downed fighter in the Pacific Ocean.

Herbert Horst, now 88, had his own share of stories. A member of the Army Air Corps, he saw action on Iwo Jima and spent three days in a scooped-out hole with half a dozen Marines, he told me during our interview.

It’s no secret that the World War II generation — those who fought in the war or supported the effort back home — has but a few more years left on this earth. The people that Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation” are leaving us and taking their stories with them.

Many World War II veterans have already written their stories, or had them written, so they can be saved for posterity. But many others may still be holding onto their stories, waiting to be asked (or persuaded) to record them.

The history of World War II is not just the official history — the big events, the famous speeches, the prominent generals, the words in history books. Just as valid are the memories and the pictures of the rank and file who fought the war, flew the planes, steered the ships, stormed the beaches still carry the scars, both physical and emotional, from those days.

I have been privileged to interview many veterans through my job here at the newspaper and publish their stories. But the newspaper isn’t the only way to record things.

If you know a World War II veteran — and it’s very likely you do — ask him for his stories and write them down, even if it’s only in your diary or blog. These are memories we can’t afford to allow to go to the grave.