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Another Old Joe Fades Away.

World War II ended 74 years ago. If a kid turned 18 and enlisted at the very end of the war, they would be 92 years old today. Even if they lied about their age and were really sixteen, which was not that uncommon at the time, they’d be 90 years old now. Most World War II vets are older. A soldier who turned 18 and enlisted at the beginning of the World War II in 1941 would be 96 this year. Actuarial science always comes to the same ultimate conclusion. There are very few World War II vets left.

This basic math tells us that the youngest a World War II veteran could realistically be is 90 years old, and that’s stretching it. According to the US Veteran’s Administration, less than 2% of the 16,000,000 original World War 2 vets are still alive. They are passing away at an average rate of 372 every single day. Within a decade, maybe a little longer, there will be none left. None.

One of those 16,000,000 originals was my great uncle Joe. He served in Italy and also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. An artillery guy. He never said a lot about his time in World War II. All I ever got out of him was that his unit was attacked by Stuka dive bombers and he lost most of his hearing due to being in artillery.

world war iiUncle Joe had a quiet dignity about him. I never saw him wear army veteran hats or place stickers on his car proclaiming his service –not that there’s anything wrong with that– it just wasn’t his style. He never talked about how he was the reason why the United States is still the land of Liberty. He never talked about the violence and death of war that he personally witnessed. He never talked of the grateful faces that cheered the American soldiers as they went town to town across Europe driving out the Nazis and restoring peace to the world.

Uncle Joe surely must have understood the history-altering significance of what he did. In his own way, with very few words, the World War II freedom fighter and real-life hero let his character do the talking. I’ve met several World War II vets and this seems to be a common trait among them.

They don’t say much about their service, at least not to those who did not share the experience. I think that is part of the character of the generation. Service to country was something you did out of a sense of duty. It wasn’t about calling attention to oneself. An important job needed to be done, so they stepped up and did it. It wasn’t any more complicated than that.

After World War II uncle Joe did what most of his peers did: Got a solid job, married, had children. He lived a completely respectable life. It was the same kind of comfortable middle class life millions of Americans enjoy…because of people like him.

We go to productive jobs, take the kids to school, practice a religion, speak for and against various causes, read any books we choose, own firearms, vote, travel freely, have access to a legitimate legal system, and run our mouths on the internet…none of this would happen but for uncle Joe’s selfless service.

But uncle Joe would never tell you that. He was much too modest even as there was nothing even remotely modest about his contribution to the United States. I don’t know if World War II gave soldiers character or brought out the character they already had. Does it matter? I’d like to think that if I had been alive back then I would step up and defend my country too. I’ll never know for sure. And thanks to uncle Joe, I’ll likely never be put to the test.

When Japan & Germany provoked the USA into World War II, they did so on the theory that Americans were hedonistic pleasure seekers with no mettle for a long war. Guys like uncle Joe showed them how incredibly flawed that theory was.

Uncle Joe recently died in Chicago after a lengthy illness. His memorial service will be next week. Adding to the sad but not exactly unexpected news is that between now and next week, many more World War II vets just like him will pass away too.

It’s too late to thank most World War II vets for their selfless service, but like uncle Joe they probably would not want to be called out anyway. We can truly honor all the uncle Joes of World War II by living in freedom with the kind of spirit that only Americans have. We need only to look to them as an example.

The Didactic Silence of Sir Nicholas Winton.

By Chris Warren.

Rare is the man who does something great and keeps it to himself. In a time of instant gratification and “likes” and ever escalating public self affirmations, simply doing the right thing only because it’s the right thing and not for recognition seems like an anachronism. A lot of people perform good deeds —which is awesome— and then go and brag about it, usually on the internet. It’s almost as if they are really doing it for themselves and the benefit to others is merely a pleasant side effect.

In late 1939 Nicholas Winton was a young English stockbroker looking forward to a leisurely ski trip in Switzerland when at the last moment he changed his plans and went to Prague, Czechoslovakia instead to help a friend with humanitarian work. Hitler was marching across Europe and there were a lot of innocent bystanders, particularly children. On a whim and with no resources, experience, or diplomatic contacts, Winton remained in Prague for months and singlehandedly arranged safe passage to England for 669 Jewish children who would have otherwise been murdered by the Nazis.

For fifty years, Winton never told anyone about what he did. In the late 1980s, his wife found a scrap book with detailed evidence of her husband’s pre-war rescue effort. Only then did the rest of the world find out about Nicholas Winton’s amazing act of altruism. On a BBC television program he was reunited with some of the kids he saved, who by then were senior citizens with children and grandchildren of their own. Until that time none of them knew the backstory of how they ended up in England or who was responsible for whisking them to safety before the Nazis came.

Since then, Winton was knighted by the Queen of England and has been given so many other awards and honors it’s hard to list them all. There are statues memorializing his work; a school in Czechoslovakia and an asteroid in outer space are named after him. Through all this, Sir Nicholas Winton has kept his composure and acknowledges his selfless deed only when asked about it. He comes from an era when there was no internet or social media, but I think even if it were an option in 1939, Winton would not have been on Facebook congratulating himself and fishing for “likes”.  After all, he kept it to himself for half a century and reluctantly talked about it only after someone else outed him.

“When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:2)

Winton is not known to be a religious person but those of devout faith can learn a lot from his attitude. He had no ulterior motives and did what he did solely because it was right and good. I believe there are others like Winton out there today; you will seldom hear about them because they are looking beyond their own presumptuous egos and don’t concern themselves with being noticed. Christianity teaches that those who boast about their good deeds will receive no Heavenly reward beyond their own bragging. If that’s true, and I believe it is, then Sir Nicholas Winton’s humble and understated life says more about him than any self indulgent internet platitudes could ever approach.