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May 30, 2004

In Memorium

Today I am remembering my maternal grandfather, Kenneth Ray "K.R." Rowley, Jr. K.R. was a veteran of World War II, having served as the co-pilot of a B-17 "Fighting Fortress" bomber in the European theater during 1944-5. He was killed in 1951 in a plane crash at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., while riding along on a training flight in the Air Force's new KC-97 Stratotanker refueling plane. He was 27 years old and had two young daughters.

The New York Times ran a piece today about the dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. yesterday (which I will be seeing in person on Saturday). I thought this passage was especially meaningful:

By some estimates, the dedication was the largest reunion of World War II veterans since the war ended in 1945. It was also probably the last of its size. Most of the 16 million who served in the United States armed forces in World War II have died, and those still alive, about a quarter of the total, are in their 70's or 80's. About 1,100 veterans who served in World War II die every day...

More than one thousand of these veterans die every day. More than 440,000 U.S. soldiers died in World War II - 3,000 died in one day, June 6, 1944, otherwise known as "D-Day."

I was watching Meet the Press this morning, and former senator Bob Dole was a guest. He spoke about the WWII memorial dedication, and mentioned how 90% of the cost was covered by private donations. He was asked why it took so long for the memorial to be built, and he - speaking as a WWII veteran who was greviously injured (he spent 39 months in a hospital and has lasting partial paralysis) - said that "we didn't want one."

And that really struck me about the generation of men and women who served in WWII or otherwise lived through it. By and large, if you read their stories (click on the Memories tab), or watch films and documentaries about the conflict, there is this overwhelming sense that these people truly believe they were just doing what they felt needed to be done. They didn't see it as some grand gesture. It was what the times called for, and they responded.

Dole also mentioned that during WWII, everyone made sacrifices, which he placed in contrast to the Iraq conflict. In WWII, people at home made do without some of the luxuries of life in order to contribute to the "war effort." These days, unless you're in the military, or know someone serving in Iraq, you're not asked to make any sacrifices at all. The most I'm doing, really, is paying more for gasoline.

Meanwhile, young men and women are giving the last full measure of devotion. Which seems out of balance. Shouldn't we all be asked to sacrifice a little, rather than a handful being asked to sacrifice everything?

Anyway, that's a different issue for another time. When I was in college I took a public speaking course. My topic was my grandfather, and what he means to me. I saved a copy of it, and just reread it. It's funny to read how I talk about him - my image of him is so idealized. It's especially ironic because I found out a few years later that he had not been entirely faithful to my grandmother, and they had only recently reconciled after a separation (due to his infidelities) a few months before he died.

Rather than typing it out, I've taken photos of the pages (you might need to mouse over the photos and click the resizing box that will pop up in the lower right corner of the image):

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My grandfather is buried in the city cemetary in Spencer, Iowa, his hometown. I hope someone there put a flag on his grave today.

ETA: I looked up the webpage for North Lawn Memorial Park, where my grandfather is buried, and it says that "each Memorial Day is marked with a display of Veteran Flags, known as the "Avenue of Flags". Approximately 25-30 new flags are dedicated each year on Memorial Day. Each flag is named for a deceased veteran."

Posted by Highwaygirl on May 30, 2004 12:51 PM to the category Family

Heewee, what a great entry. I especially felt your speech - I never knew my grandfather either. He died when my dad was 9.

Posted by: Teem at May 30, 2004 11:23 PM