September 17th, 2009
12:49 PM ET

Honor is due

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/17/flag.salute.jpg]

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

Honor is due.

They are old, the youngest in their early 80s, their faces etched with evidence of the decades.
They walk slowly, some leaning on canes and walkers; others make their way in wheelchairs.
What memories come to mind as they approach the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.?
They are the core of “the greatest generation,” which fought in Europe, the Pacific and other remote locales.
And we are losing them at an increasingly rapid rate.
The Veterans Administration estimates that by Sept. 30 this year, there will be slightly more than 2 million living veterans of World War II (including my favorite, an 83-year-old Navy veteran living north of Chicago), roughly 280,000 fewer than a year ago.

Honor is due.

When the light is right, the faces stare at you out of the granite wall at the Korean War Memorial.
On a cold, wet night, the statues of 19 weary troops returning from a patrol are particularly eerie.
A former colleague who fought in Korea often complained that veterans of that war were forgotten, coming as it did five years after the end of World War II.
Korean War veterans might be considered the kid brothers and sisters of the World War II veterans (though many also fought in that conflict).
As of last Veterans Day, there were an estimated 2.3 million living veterans of the Korean War.

Honor is due.

Vietnam was in large measure the baby boomers war.
Graying now, its veterans approach the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (aka “The Wall”) in reverence, some shielding their eyes with their hands, lest they be seen shedding tears for comrades (and perhaps their own youth) lost.
They leave memorabilia at the base of the wall, such items as combat medals, unit patches, old photographs and messages written to the dead.
An estimated 8.7 million men and women served in the U.S. military from 1964-1973 (with 3.4 million deployed to Southeast Asia) and at last count 7.1 million were living.

Honor is due.

At the time of Operation Desert Shield before the Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm during the fighting, an estimated 2.32 million men and women served in the armed forces (694,000 of whom were deployed to the Gulf region).
Of these, 2.26 million are among the ranks of living veterans.

Honor is due.

There are more than 23 million living veterans of the U.S. armed services, including more than 17 million who served during war times.

There are an estimated 1.45 million men and women currently on active duty and nearly 850,000 in the reserves.
More than 200,000 currently are deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan).
In time, they will finish their service and join the ranks of veterans.

The veterans of Vietnam War came home to a country that often seemed unwilling to treat the troops as an instrument of policy, not policy itself.
The veterans of the Gulf War returned to a welcome home not experienced by Vietnam vets.
Americans were eager to celebrate a victory achieved in a short period of time, as compared with the divisiveness and casualties of several years combat in Southeast Asia.
(Of course, what constitutes a “win” or a “loss” is highly subjective.)
The veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home to a country that more easily separates its feelings for the troops from its opinions about policy.
This is evident in the efforts by numerous states to ensure educational and employment opportunities for veterans, in Congressional approval of a “new” GI Bill,” recognition by the federal government and military (although some would say belatedly) that the traumas of war are not left on the battlefield and greater attention paid to the stresses experienced by military families.

Honor is due.

There is no national memorial in Washington, D.C., to the veterans of World War I.
The last living American veteran of “the war to end all wars” is 108-year-old Frank Buckles of West Virginia. Buckles is the focal point of legislation that would clean up and expand an existing monument on the National Mall to the World War I veterans, giving them their due alongside those remembering the sacrifices of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

If you are a veteran or related to one and interested in reunions with former comrades in uniform, check out: http://www.reunionsmag.com/futurereunions/upcoming_military.htm

Filed under: 360° Radar • David Schechter • Veterans
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. earle,florida

    I proudly wear an "American Flag Pin",on my hat everyday,and never leave home without it,with great pride. There is nothing else to add,except my personal graditute for their brave service,....God Bless the American Vet's!

    September 17, 2009 at 5:45 pm |
  2. Joe G. (Illinois)

    American Style is just American Style.. It smells like American Style.. It looks like American Style.. I cries and begs for number one status like American Style… American Style.. And they love it!

    September 17, 2009 at 4:46 pm |
  3. Desiree

    May the birds that take flight see what is before our troops and keep them safe, May our troops gain the sight and wings of the Eagle and Falcon and sore high above , To see
    the danger before them...

    September 17, 2009 at 2:21 pm |
  4. Rita Nalette

    Thank you.
    I am an Army Veteran.
    I am a caregiver of a WWII Navy Veteran who survived Pearl Harbor. I promised to help him make it to 100.

    September 17, 2009 at 2:13 pm |
  5. Cathy C

    sure would like to print that article out without all the ads surrounding it. Suggestions?

    September 17, 2009 at 1:52 pm |
  6. andy

    I only hope that in due time, I will served with as much honor to walk among the ranks of my fellow veterans.

    Here's to those now on patrol and those eternally on patrol

    September 17, 2009 at 1:46 pm |