The somber gathering of veterans at the Burton Woolery Post of the American Legion witnessed a poignant decline in numbers this Saturday, as the names of veterans who had passed away in the year since the last Veterans Day were solemnly read aloud.
The dwindling presence of the once-dominant World War II and Korean War veterans was evident.
Among those present was 96-year-old Herb Ray, one of the two surviving World War II veterans at the ceremony. Accompanied by his daughter, Barbara Rumple, Ray shared memories of his service in the United States Navy aboard the USS YMS 17 during the final years of World War II in 1945 and 1946. His account offered a glimpse into a bygone era when he served as a minesweeper in the Pacific Theatre, witnessing the landscapes of war-torn islands like the Philippines at the tender age of 17.
Ray’s presence was a reminder of the fading Greatest Generation, as only one other World War II veteran and two Korean War veterans were accounted for in the assembly. The Vietnam War era, once prominent in veterans’ circles, has seen a sharp decline as many succumbed to illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure.
The ceremony underscored a shifting dynamic. World War I veterans are long gone. Organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion were once dominated by the resilient World War II veterans who returned from the battlefields of the 1940s to rebuild post-war America, but they are mostly gone as well.
Vietnam War veterans were left to assume leadership roles, but they too are rapidly diminishing, with Agent Orange-related illnesses taking a toll.
The torch is yet to be fully passed to the younger veterans of more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, who appear less inclined to join traditional veterans’ organizations.
The ceremony reached its poignant peak as the two pages of names of the departed were read, and a bell tolled in their honor.
Once occupied chairs in the front of the room stood mostly symbolizing the passing of time and the inevitable march of generations.
At 11:11 a.m., symbolizing the end of WWI on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, a longstanding tradition unfolded with a gun salute honoring veterans, followed by the haunting melody of taps, echoing through the American Legion post, preserving a tradition that has spanned generations.
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