WASHINGTON – Veterans and their families gathered Monday at the World War II Memorial for the 68th anniversary of Victory Over Japan Day, which commemorates the day Japan surrendered to the U.S. in 1945.
But for many members of “The Greatest Generation,” each passing commemoration is a reminder that their numbers are dwindling.
Eck Muessig, 89, of Springfield, Va., was among those honored by laying a wreath at the memorial. He served in the highly decorated First Marine Division and fought on Peleliu and Okinawa in the Pacific. He says World War Two veterans rarely talk about their combat experiences.
“We never talk about the bad part of the war, about the killing part,” he says.
When veterans at his retirement home get together, they often share stories about funny things that happened during their service, he says, adding that more honor should be paid to the millions who sacrificed their lives on the home front during the war.
Terry Shima, of Gaithersburg, Md. was a member of the famed 442 RCT, an all Japanese-American unit that fought with distinction in Europe.
He says it’s still hard to talk about some aspects of the war, including the determent of many Japanese Americans in prison camps. It was particularly rough for those in the unit who came home wounded, he says.
“That was traumatic in many many ways … physically and mentally,” Shima says.
He says he came home having proved he was a loyal American.
More than 19 million Americans served in uniform during the second world war. Now in their 80’s and 90’s, they are dying at about 1,100 a day, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
More than 50 million people, military and civilian, died in World War II. Over 400,000 were Americans.