The Star-Ledger (NJ)
Today marks the 90th anniversary of Veterans Day in America, and I would like to encourage all New Jersey residents to seek out and thank military veterans for their service to our country, especially those who fought in World War II.
For these men and women, this day honoring the sacrifices of the nation’s Armed Forces grows only more poignant with each passing year, because those who fought that war for us are leaving us.
As a member of the Board of Trustees of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, I was in attendance last week to commemorate the opening of its new expansion. Though the event was celebratory, I left with some sobering statistics that illustrate the urgency of cementing the legacy of our World War II veterans while they are still with us.
In 2000, there were 173,799 WWII veterans in New Jersey, according to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates. This year there are 64,486. Ten years from today, in 2019, just 8,663 will be alive. Across the nation, we lose 900 WWII veterans each day.
It is urgent we honor these heroes now, while there is time.
Strangely, given the scope, magnitude and importance of World War II, America had been woefully late in acknowledging a debt we can never repay to those who defended the liberty we take for granted. That is why completing the National World War II Museum is so important.
In 2003 Congress designated the institution as the nation’s World War II museum, preserving the legacy and telling the story of the Greatest Generation. It holds their memories and is a monument to their valor, but it’s also a place where all Americans can come to learn the important lessons of World War II for all generations: freedom is not free.
Visitors to the museum exhibitions will see and experience how, in the 1930s, the world’s democracies — America among them — ignored the threat of the Axis dictatorships in Germany, Italy and Japan. Our indifference to brutal persecution and genocide in Europe and Asia — the naiveté, the isolationism and the lack of military preparedness — inevitably invited unprovoked attack by the Axis powers in what became a global struggle between fascist tyranny and oppression and the Allied defenders of freedom.
The museum shows how the United States, after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, came together, united, and rose to meet a deadly threat, embarking on a journey that went beyond all boundaries.
More than 400,000 American troops would not come home. They now rest in marked and unmarked graves scattered across the face of the globe — from South Pacific atolls to European hedgerows to North Africa’s desert sands.
Their deaths were not in vain. America’s victory paved the way for much of the blessings that America and the world now enjoys.
The National World War II Museum tells the story in the words and voices of those who fought the war and faced its horrors. To visit it is to remember the lesson that peace without the resolve to defend freedom only brings blood, sweat, toil and tears. Its artifacts — aircraft, landing craft and personal accounts — link us to the young Americans who fought in WWII. They purchased for us a precious birthright we can’t take for granted. And while reminding visitors of the sacrifices we made then, the museum also symbolizes renewal. As it grows into its new campus in downtown New Orleans, it helping with that city’s post-hurricane recovery and becoming an anchor for a reviving city.
As we observe this special day of remembrance and thanks, it is my hope that the nation recognizes the sacrifice of the Greatest Generation to the preservation of this country’s founding principles and the strength of the American Spirit.
Again, I encourage you to seek out a World War II veteran and say “thank you.” It might be the last chance you’ll get to meet a genuine hero.
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