'We salute you:' WWII veterans honored at DC memorial event
By CARLOS BONGIOANNI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 11, 2014
WASHINGTON — Among the hundreds of people gathered at the National World War II Memorial on Tuesday morning to commemorate Veterans Day were about 20 WWII veterans who were singled out and thanked repeatedly throughout the ceremony for their service.
Joseph Galloway, a former combat correspondent who served as keynote speaker, noted that although the WWII vets’ numbers have “dwindled down to a precious few,” their contribution to promoting peace and freedom in the world still looms large. “We honor you. We respect you. We salute you,” he said.
World War II was fought at a tremendous cost, taking the lives of an estimated 60 million people, but as Galloway told the veterans and others in attendance, “There was not a voice raised against that war because it had to be fought and … it had to be won.”
Galloway said that the world could never thank that great generation of warriors enough for the role they played in defeating the “forces of evil loosed in this world” that had “turned the lights out in Europe … and most of Asia.”
What they suffered and sacrificed to win that war helped turn those lights back on, he added.
For Vietnam veteran Jim Stokely, the WWII memorial as well as the other war memorials along the National Mall are “hallowed ground.”
Stokely, president of the 1st Cavalry Division Association, said he has come to the nation’s capital for Veterans Day for the past 15 years to show respect to those who have fought to defend America.
He didn’t always feel that way. He wasn’t ready and, in a sense, the nation wasn’t either.
Drafted in 1968, Stokely put in his required two years of service in the Army and then quietly returned to civilian life. For 30 years, he said, he never admitted to anyone that he had been in the military. Then he attended a 1st Cavalry Division Association reunion and was able to finally deal with the haunting pain of rejection he experienced in 1970 after returning from Vietnam only to be met by a hostile crowd of anti-war protesters.
“I was pretty apprehensive about dragging this back up again," Stokely said. “But once you go to something like that (his first 1CDA reunion), “where there are other vets who have ‘been there, done that,’ you can talk to them, and they know what you’re talking about.”
During Tuesday’s ceremony, Stokely’s 1st Cav association was one of nine groups that laid wreaths in honor of Veterans Day. They planned to lay wreaths at the Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Veterans memorials later in the day.
Stokely said it gratifies him that the civilian population today treats troops coming back from the wars like those fought in Iraq and Afghanistan much better.
He noted that now when he wears his uniform, “you never know who’ll come up to you and thank you for your service. You have kids come up to you all the time … thanking you for your service. It means a lot.”