They have been called "Our Greatest Generation." Now, they are dying at a rate of more than 1,000 a day. Those veterans are finally getting recognized by way of a National World War II Memorial. In our exclusive private tour of the memorial in Washington D.C., we visit with two familiar war heroes, instrumental in getting the memorial built.
World War II, some have called it "the most devastating war in human history," 400,000 American lives were lost. Many of those who made it home were scared physically and emotionally.
The National WWII Memorial recognizes the sacrifices of the 16-million men and women who served. WWII veteran, Senator Bob Dole, took time to share his feeling with us about the memorial from his office in Washington, D.C.
"It's not that we wanted a memorial. Two thirds of us are dead. There's only about 5-million living, but we think it's symbolic. It tells people you may be called upon to make a sacrifice for your country sometime in your life, maybe with your life or with a life of disability or something else."
Senator Dole is the National Chairman of the World War II Memorial. He says, "We raised about $191 million, counting interest and the $5 million we got from the federal government. The rest came from private individuals and corporations. That in itself says a lot about what the American people think about the veteran."
And this memorial says a lot about what the veteran thinks about this country. "America is worth fighting for and it's the greatest country on the face of the earth. And, it's going to be a very fitting memorial and it's going to be about peace and strength, not about war and conflict and we're excited about it." But Senator Dole acknowledges that this memorial pays respect to those who didn't come home.
Thousands of Americans lost their lives in World War II, hundreds of them were from East Texas. "Of course Texas furnished a great proportion comparative members of the WWII thrust and a lot from East Texas," says U.S. Representative Ralph Hall from Texas.
We caught up with Hall in his office on Capitol Hill. Hall joined the Navy in 1942 and served as a pilot on an aircraft carrier throughout the war. "We have to be aware of our freedoms and that continued and perpetual thrust is the price you pay for freedom. I think that generation paid a great price."
As one of the last remaining WWII veterans, Hall is humble about the war. "Our generation's been called The Greatest Generation and I think there's only about 12 of us still in Congress, but really the great generation was our parents who got us ready for that, guided us through a depression and just fought a world war. I think they were really the greatest generation. I think my dad was."
Congressman Hall came from a veteran family. His brother also served in the war while his mother was back home worrying. "My mother used to write to me when I was with the fleet. There was just one of us in that little airplane but she'd write to me 'fly low and slow son and don't go up without your instructor.' I'd always write back and promise her I would."
Many veterans, like Senator Dole and Representative Hall, hope people will take something away from this memorial. Perhaps, a renewed sense of patriotism. "I hope some respect for the country and the people who fought and for their families who suffered. It's not about any one of us, it's about our country and about, in this case, young men who died for our country and that's what it's all about," says Dole.
This memorial will be a monument to the spirit, sacrifice and commitment of the American people to the common defense of the nation and to the broader cases of peace and freedom from tyranny throughout the world.
"When it's all said and done, it celebrates America's strength, our values, and our young men and women," says Dole.
Representative Hall says, "I think it's a great tribute. It's something we can all be proud of."
Dole goes on to say, "I'm just one of the sixteen and a half million who served, one of five million who survived and one American who believes we are one of the greatest."
The greatest, and one our country owes a debt of gratitude. This memorial, above all, will stand as an important symbol of American national unity, a timeless reminder of the moral strength and awesome power that can flow when a free people are at once united and bonded together in a common and just cause.
The actual dedication of the National WWII Memorial is May 29th. To coincide with the dedication, the U.S. postal service plans to issue a stamp depicting the monument. It will be on sale beginning May 20th.