16 million American men and women served in World War II. Only 600,000 of them are left and on average 400 World War II veterans die each day.
They are a living testament to the heartaches and triumphs of the Second World War.
About 20 of them went on the Greater Peoria Honor Flight last Tuesday to tour their memorial, pay tribute to those who’ve gone before them, and share their stories before they are something we’ll only read about in history books.
“We had our full crew enlisted men none of us over 17 years old at that time.” WWII Navy Veteran, Bill Tortat, said.
At barely 18-years-old, World War II veterans were witness to a side of humanity that many of us will never see, leaving them with memories that even time can’t erase.
“We were making life jackets and bed rolls and the blue dye. I’d go home with the blue dye.” WWII Army Veteran, Wanda Powell, recalls.
Martin Henard attended the Nuremburg Trials and saw many of Hitler’s top military men hung. He also recalls letting starving children eat from his hands through a fence, a result of a country torn apart by war.
“They were hungry, they weren’t the ones causing no war.” Henard explained.
Many of them lost friends, the price of war, now marked by a wall of gold stars.
“I know what they mean. I know exactly what they mean. Every one of those stars is somebody that passed away, somebody that got killed.” WWII Vetera, Matthew Cannella, said.
“Kind of sad in a way I mean because a lot of them are your buddies but that, that’s war.” WWII Army Veteran, James Pellino, said.
“The memorial, it just, kind of gives me goose pimples.” WWII Navy Veteran, Vernon “Blackie” Black, said.
The veterans feel an immense sense of pride to take a picture and take in the sights of their war memorial, a testament to their service for our freedom.
“This is finishing my army career right here. Seeing everything I done, I done for the American people and no matter what it cost me.” WWII Army Veteran, William “Lyle” McGrann explained.
The oldest World War II veteran on the trip is 97 years old.