Let Us Never Forget Our Solemn Pledge.
We must believe in our ability to work together to solve our toughest problems.
On Memorial Day, 1945, the war in Europe had ended but the fighting in the Pacific continued, Lt. Gen. Lucian Truscott voiced remarks at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery at Nettuno, Italy. Turning his back on the assembled VIP’s he faced the rows upon rows of headstones and apologized to the 20,000 fallen Americans who had been laid to rest far from home. He was quoted as saying, “All over the world our soldiers sleep beneath the crosses. It is a challenge to us – all allied nations – to ensure that they do not and have not died in vain.”
Fast forward to Memorial Day 2022, and the familiar voices of brothers in arms begin to call one another on the phone. People usually think of reconnecting with former military buddies as a joyous happening. However, for this Memorial Day, the topic of conversation was not an armistice, a promotion, or even a daughter’s wedding or new addition to a home, it was about the latest in a string of suicides that silence the voice of our brothers but brought renewed connections from other familiar voices. One desperately said, “Sir, I needed to call someone who could understand this.”
Everyone in the greatest generation understood war. At home they experienced rationing, schoolchildren collected scrap, and women took up factory jobs while overseas the troops endured combat and were witness to some of the largest and most brutal atrocities in the modern age. When the war was over, they followed the lead of Lt. Gen Truscott and committed their lives to ensure that they “have not died in vain.” The shared sacrifice of a generation united them and helped them solve tough problems.
In subsequent wars, such as the Korean and Vietnam era, Veterans did not experience the same level of understanding and thus either turned their voice inward or used their voice to fight for one another on subjects that varied from Agent Orange, PTSD, and other once-silent conditions.
The War on Terror introduced a unique time in our nation’s collective history as acts of war played out in real-time on our media devices. Although only one percent of Americans served post 9/11, it seems 100 percent of the country used their voice to express their opinions of this shared history as it unfolded.
For Korea and Vietnam Veterans, war was not a shared experience and therefore various voices having various opinions helped further the national conversation regarding the treatment of veterans leading to safer and more thoughtful approaches. Unlike the veterans of Korea and Vietnam, the veterans of the last several decades did not return home to the voices of dissent that could be addressed directly, instead, they returned to a polite nation that creates media of dissent and very little opportunity for honest, open dialog.
This new era of media, learning, and personal discussions bring rise to the question, “Do people really remember why we hold our veterans in a place of honor?” For years, voices saying meaningless phrases like “the enemy gets a vote” or “there’s nothing you could have done” were meant to comfort those of us who have held the heavy responsibility of leading troops in combat. However, many people seem to lack the understanding that our hearts have been forever scarred by the invisible wounds of war, scarred by guilt and grief, and by the longing for forgiveness that will never come. Even if forgiveness was offered, it would be hard to accept as no mere words can undo a life experience and because of this, we often feel isolated, misunderstood, and undervalued therefore our voices remain silent.
As conversations with the voice on the other end of the phone come to its inevitable conclusion, I am reminded that to remain silent is a betrayal of my obligation to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. As Horace Bushnell once said, the best thing for us to do is to remember “what they have put it on us to do for the dear common country to which they sold their life.” As we gather as one nation this Memorial Day, my hope is that instead of directing shallow words of gratitude at each other, we do as Lt. Gen. Truscott did and direct our gratitude directly towards those who made the ultimate sacrifice. In both our words and actions, let us all commit ourselves to serve the country to which they gave their lives.
While there is still much work to be done, the generation of Veterans from this century have access to vast resources, life-saving technology, and increased information. This same generation of Veterans is just now starting to define our post-service legacy and like our grandparents, return home with a deep commitment to service, and a desire to address the many problems that we face.
One such issue needing to be addressed is helping Veterans find purpose in their post-service lives. Truscott’s apology to the dead are not empty words, but a strong voice reminding us that we have an obligation to choose resilience and purpose when faced with guilt or grief. As an example, Gold Star Families, who have experienced tremendous loss, continue to serve their communities to maintain the legacy of the loved one they lost. I often recall a colleague of mine responding to the question “why do you do so much to help Veterans?” he simply held up his finger, choking back tears he responded, “for the one I couldn’t save.” By choosing to use his voice to advocate for other veterans, he not only helped them find their purpose – he found his own.
It’s often said that for those who have served “every day is Memorial Day,” a traditionally silent observance in the Veteran’s mind that can best be described as an impossible trinity made up of an overwhelming sense of guilt, grief, and grit. Usually, a moment of silence on this day is a welcomed and solemn way to honor the voices from our past, but for myself, after losing three former soldiers to suicide in the past few months, silence is no longer an option and the freedom to use our voice is the greatest gift that our veterans have to offer this Memorial Day.
Joseph Reagan is the Director of Military and Veterans Outreach for Wreaths Across America. He has almost 20 years experience working with leaders within Government, non-profit, and Fortune 500 companies to develop sustainable strategies supporting National Security, and Veterans' Health. He served 8 years on active duty as an officer in the U.S. Army including two tours to Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division. He is the recipient of multiple awards and decorations including the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
Where South Carolina Ranks Among States With Most WWII Veterans
With the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2021, the U.S. entered its first period of relative peace in two decades. While the U.S. continues to engage in limited military operations in the Middle East and other parts of the world, the drawdown of major military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan closed a major chapter in the nation’s military history.
Ultimately, more than 3 million Americans served in U.S. military operations in the 20 years following the September 11 attacks. But while the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan added a substantial number of veterans to the U.S. population, military service overall has become less common over time. The number of veterans in the U.S. has declined by more than one-third since 2000, from 26.4 million to less than 18 million, and that decline is expected to continue in future decades.
The U.S. population of veterans boomed in the middle of the 20th century, with the introduction of a military draft in 1940 and the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War II the following year. In 1940, only 9% of adults had served in the military, but just one decade later, that figure had more than quadrupled to 37%. Between veterans of WWII, the Korean War in the 1950s, and the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the share of adult veterans peaked at 44% in 1970. Since then, however, the share of veterans has declined each decade. The draft was ended in 1973, and over time, the aging and passing of older generations of veterans has reduced the percentage of former service members.
When broken out by conflict, the decreases in the veteran population become even more evident. From 2010 to 2020, the total population of veterans in the U.S. declined by nearly 5 million, from 22.6 million to 17.8 million. The ranks of Vietnam and Korean War veterans each dropped by more than 1.5 million over that span, while the decline for World War II veterans totaled more than 2 million. These declines have reduced the overall population of veterans even as the number of veterans from the Gulf War and Post-9/11 wars has grown.
World War II veterans totaled around 500,000 in the U.S. in 2020, and the Census Bureau estimates that by 2030, only 8,000 WWII veterans will remain. These veterans live in every state in the U.S., but large states like California (53,807), Florida (48,220), and New York (31,730) have the largest total counts of WWII veterans. But as a share of the over-85 population, many smaller states have higher proportions of World War II veterans, with as many as 10% of their oldest citizens having served in the war.
The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey. To determine the states with the most World War II veterans, researchers at Porch calculated the World War II veteran share of the 85-and-over population. In the event of a tie, the state with the greater World War II veteran share of the total veteran population was ranked higher.
The analysis found that in South Carolina, 7.0% of the population aged 85 or older served during World War II. Here is a summary of the data for South Carolina:
- WWII veteran share of the 85+ population: 7.0%
- WWII veteran share of the total veteran population: 1.7%
- Total WWII veterans: 6,098
- Total veteran population: 360,355
For reference, here are the statistics for the entire United States:
- WWII veteran share of the 85+ population: 7.7%
- WWII veteran share of the total veteran population: 2.9%
- Total WWII veterans: 512,607
- Total veteran population: 17,835,456
For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results, you can find the original report on Porch’s website: https://porch.com/advice/states-with-most-world-war-ii-veterans