A main topic these last few days around the coffee table is one regarding our nation’s oldest World War II veteran, Richard Overton. Mr. Overton was not only the oldest verified WWII veteran, but the oldest man in the United States! He was enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1940 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, served through 1945 in the 187th Engineer Aviation Battalion and was a Technician fifth grade upon leaving the Army. Overton died Dec. 27, 2018, at the age of 112.
The conversations regarding WWII vets is so very personal and local for so many of us, because most of our own dads and granddads saw active duty in one of the Armed Forces during the Second World War, and most of our moms and grandmas either served in the Women’s Army Corps (WACS), the WAVES, which stood for Women Accepted for Volunteer Military Services, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), or were employed in companies that made parts and supplies for the U.S. military. Many here locally in the Japanese community served in the famous 442nd Infantry Regiment, which still maintains the distinction of being the most decorated Unit in U. S. Military history. The 442nd was composed almost entirely of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry. They were primarily engaged in the European Theatre in Italy, Germany and southern France, and the unit’s Motto was “Go For Broke.” The Unit was activated in early 1943, and grew to a compliment of 4,000 men, many of whom had families in internment camps in the United States. The Unit was inactivated in 1946, but was again activated in 1947 as a Reserve Unit and garrisoned at Fort Shafter, Hawaii.
There were approximately 16,100,000 Americans that served during WWII, and it is estimated that about 490,000 are still living. The number of surviving WWII veterans here in the Western Treasure Valley region is unknown, but I know of about three or four who come into the Veteran Advocates for coffee and conversation periodically, and are still doing fairly well. We have lost another four or five within the last few years. We do still have a number of Korean War veterans that are still pretty active and come in quite regularly and have some amazing stories to tell of their incredible experiences in that war. One topic they quite frequently speak about is the possibility that they may actually see the re-unification of the two Koreas in their lifetime. Before this last year and a-half, there seemed to be no possibility of that happening, whereas the reunification of the European theatre and Eastern Europe was a reality to the majority of the WWII veterans who were actually there during the battles or were stationed there after the war.
One of our local WWII vets told the story of when he was captured and a POW (Prisoner of War), and the horrific death march the prisoners had to endure. Yet with that experience, he was liberated, and returned home and pursued a bountiful life and family. Another WWII local veteran spoke of flying the planes during the battles of war and then the stories of the Berlin Airlift crisis after the war when the Russians cut off access from the Allied Zones to West Berlin in Western Germany — truly an international crisis. I am also impressed with the personal responsibility, humility, work ethic, their need for prudent saving and faithful commitment that these individuals have shown as a group. They have taught us much because they lived during the Great Depression and WWII.
No matter what war or conflict or international crisis, there will always be those men and women who step-up to help overcome the odds and uphold the values and principals that we as Americans hold so dear in our souls and hearts and that reflect the human dignity and rights to Freedom. These are our veterans and our present day military, and we thank you for being there and taking on this selfless heroism in our Countries’ behalf.
“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” — Bob Dylan
Ronald Verini is a local veterans advocate who writes a weekly column for The Argus Observer. He can be contacted at (541) 889-1978, firstname.lastname@example.org or 180 W. Idaho Ave., Ontario, OR 97914. The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of The Argus Observer.