Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 31, 2012

Veterans’ past experiences contain important lessons for the future

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Memorial Day weekend is the kick-off to the summer vacation season, but often in my case, it starts the summer chore season. I went up to my parents’ house in Fayette County for the weekend to help them take care of a few things.

My sister, Karen, and I sprayed and scrubbed pollen off the front porch and its furniture. Then it was time to move furniture. Karen had brought an old desk up from Charlotte, N.C., to swap out for a desk and buffet my Mom is replacing.

We hauled it all outside in the hot sun. At first I didn’t think it was all going to fit into Karen’s SUV, but she stubbornly persisted and finally — she inherited more of Dad’s engineering genes than I did — fitted it all into that vehicle.

Sunday we rested and Karen returned home where my nephews A.J. and Alex did the unloading. Come Monday morning, I cleared out the furnace room for Mom and then headed home to Mercer County.

It’s easy to forget the sacrifices that were made so we could have cookouts, some time off, and help our parents. Memorial Day is a time to remember loved ones who are now gone, especially the veterans who gave so much of themselves, even their lives.

I’m a bit of a history buff, and I’ve always been especially interested in World War II. That’s a time when the existence of the free world was really in doubt. It’s easy to believe now that the Allied victory over Japan and Nazi Germany was inevitable, that that’s not the case. The United States had a smaller army than most European nations when Adolf Hitler sent Germany’s armies storming over borders and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

If the enemy had not made some significant blunders early on — like not pressing their advantage when they had it and mistakenly thinking the war was going to be short — events could have turned out differently.

I’m also a fan of a writing genre known as alternate history. For instance, what if the Confederacy had won the Civil War? Alternate versions of World War II are especially popular. Some imagine a world in which Nazi Germany developed the atomic bomb first. They did build the first ballistic missile, the V-1, and the first jet bomber, so designing a missile or bomber capable of reaching the United States wasn’t completely beyond their capabilities.

Some stories have the Nazi going on to conquer America. Others envision a Cold War between the United States and Nazi Germany. I’ve read other stories in which the Japanese take Hawaii and Alaska before invading the West Coast. The list of variations and possibilities go on.

If it wasn’t for the efforts of veterans and the people back home supporting them, those scenarios wouldn’t be a science fiction genre. They easily could have become real history. I know from my reading that Hitler desperately wanted to bomb the United States. Fortunately, the Germans couldn’t make up their minds how they would do it, though they did ask aircraft manufacturers to submit ideas for an “Amerika Bomber” and talked about using the Canary Islands as bomber bases.

I’m sure Hitler wouldn’t have hesitated if he had a combination of ballistic missile and atomic bomb at his disposal. German atomic research faltered during the war, but if not for the sacrifices made by America’s veterans and those in allied nations, he would have gotten that horrible option eventually. Explosions at New York City and Washington D.C. could have marked the start of the Atomic Age.

Next week I’ll be hearing the real stories of that time and others when I travel to Washington D.C. for a trip organized by the Denver Foundation. A bus will take area veterans of America’s wars to the new World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial. I plan to be doing interviews en route to our nation’s capital, once we’re there, and on the way home to Mercer County.

I know that efforts are underway to preserve the recollections of our veterans before we lose them forever. Speculating about what might have been is interesting, but remembering what truly happened is actually important. Generals’ memoirs are important, but we need to hear from the people who were in the trenches, flying the planes over enemy territory, sailing ships into harm’s way, working grueling hours in horrible conditions all over the world. Without them, all the planning of presidents and generals would have been just a lot of role playing with no purpose.

Memorial Day is over, but the need to remember everything the veterans of all wars did for us does not stop there. Their experiences still contain important lessons for the future, and we need to listen.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.