Yesterday I attended the memorial service of a 96 year old member of my church. I have known her and some of her family members for nearly 30 years and I was a Sunday school teacher for at least one of her grandchildren. She was a sweet lady, and until not too long ago, a regular at church. Reading her obituary, I was reminded of the huge impact of World War II - and not just for those in uniform. This woman's fiancé was an Army Air Corp pilot. He was killed in an airplane crash in 1943. She then married a young Navy officer. He died in a typhoon near Okinawa right at the end of the war. After the war she remarried and, not surprisingly, her husband was a veteran of the war.
Take this scenario a couple of steps further: This woman lost a fiancé and a husband. My guess is that she knew a number of other people who were relatively close to her who were killed or wounded during the war. Undoubtedly, she knew of or had some connection to many others. I doubt there was anyone in our country who was not touched in some way by a death during that war. Indeed, my church has some objective proof of that right on a plaque in its lobby. Thirteen parishioners died in the Second World War. My church is not a small one, but it is hardly huge either and I am certain it was much smaller in the 1940's. Even now if 13 parishioners ranging in age from their late teens to their early 40's died in a four year period, the impact would be tremendous. Most of the church members would know several of them, perhaps fairly well. No one would be completely untouched.
The World War II generation is almost gone now. When you look back at that "greatest generation" you cannot help but be awed both by what it accomplished but also by what it endured. The sacrifices of those who served were beyond measure, but as yesterday's funeral also reminded me, those service members had loved ones who also suffered. We can't forget that either. That generation brought us to where we are now. Their sense of duty and willingness to sacrifice is hard to overstate. I wish we could regain just a fraction of that ethic.