World War II was a sacrifice of extraordinary measures. Almost overnight, the country went from peace to war; from the Great Depression to an industrial powerhouse, providing the tanks, planes and warships that would deliver the peace; and transforming men and women from civilians to the defenders of the nation. The transformation from peace to war and back to peace cost the United States an enormous toll. When peace returned in 1945, the US military stood at just over 12,000,000 soldiers with over 1,000,000 dead and wounded.
The sacrifice of the military veterans of World War II was and remains one of the greatest stories of transformation, innovation, discipline, courage, valor and endurance our country has ever seen. This Veteran’s Day, the remaining military veterans of World War II are disappearing from our parades and gatherings. They should not and must not ever fade from our memories, our gratefulness and our respect.
All the veterans.
A group that often fails to be fully recognized for its role and sacrifice as military service members during World War II is women and ethnic minorities. In the era before the war, women and ethnic minorities were usually “second” class citizens, often paid lower wages, who did not share equally in access to all the United States had to offer its citizens. However, when World War II arrived on America’s shores, these citizens rose to offer valor, courage and bravery that exceeded what their country had given them.
African American military veterans.
The Tuskegee Airmen, a group of fighter, bomber, and reconnaissance pilots that fought in the skies of Europe and offered critical defense to the US strategic bomber forces, is one of the most remembered and respected stories of African Americans during World War II. However, the Tuskegee Airmen are just the beginning of the story. The US Army’s “Red Ball” Express, a critical logistical unit in Europe, provided General Patton’s tanks the food, fuel, and ammunition that helped defeat the ferocious Nazi German attack known as the Battle of The Bulge in December 1944.
But there many other such units, including the 761st Tank Battalion, the Black Panthers, an African American tank battalion in World War II. In the Navy, the African American crew of the USS Mason helped move and defend critical supplies from the United States to England. On the West Coast, African Americans in US Navy logistics units worked under extraordinarily dangerous conditions to load ships of fuel and ammunition to support the “island hopping” campaigns to defeat Japan in the Pacific.
Women military veterans.
While not officially recognized as uniformed members of the armed forces until years after World War II, women played a role in logistics, nursing, administration and flight that made them a vital and central effort of the US military effort. Women flew aircraft from factories and bases in the United States to forward staging areas, provided critical care as nurses and other hospital and medical care staff, and served as a critical backbone of administrative and logistical personnel that provided support to organize and supply the war effort. The US Navy’s Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES), the Coast Guard Women’s Reserves (SPARS), the Women’s Air (Force) Service Pilots (WASP), and the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) put women in uniform where they were essential to the war’s success.
Asian American military veterans.
The Japanese Nisei, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (motto: “Go For Broke”), was one of the more famous units of World War II. These Japanese American soldiers became one of the most decorated military units in World War II due to their combat performance. Asian Americans also provided critical knowledge of Japanese and other Asian languages for use by intelligence in support of the war effort. The people of the Philippines, then part of an American protectorate, were essential in operating guerilla forces behind Japanese lines, helping rescue downed American aircrews and prisoners of war toward the last stages of World War II.
Native American military veterans.
All military history buffs know about the Navajo code talkers of the US Marine Corps. These Navajo Indians were trained by the US Marines to transmit critical battlefield information as well as direct artillery fire and air strikes, using their native Navajo Indian language. While the Japanese had the ability to intercept and confuse US Marines speaking English, they had no idea what the Navajo language was. The success of the Navajo Code Talkers helped the US Marines provide effective artillery support in its missions to seize critical islands across the Pacific. The US Army in the Pacific also had a program that used Native Americans to speak their own language to ensure rapid, effective, and secure communication.
Hipic American military veterans.
Hipic Americans did not serve in segregated military units like African Americans or Asian Americans during World War II. They were largely spread across the military forces of the United States, but they still found a way to serve with distinction. The 158th Infantry, the Bushmasters, was a US Army infantry unit that was based in Arizona composed primarily of Hipic Americans. It fought an intense, heroic, and ultimately successful campaign across the Philippines in April of 1945 against the Japanese.
LGBT military veterans.
Today, all qualified military personnel can serve regardless of their sexual orientation. A great historical oversight of World War II military history is that we know and understand but little of the contribution of America’s lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered (LGBT) military veterans. This group either served in silence or was not allowed to enter military service at all due to laws and military regulations at the time. Dr. Alan Turing, a mathematician in England who was gay, was the leader of a non-traditional intelligence team of code breakers that succeed in cracking the Nazi German Enigma code.
On Veteran’s Day, we honor, remember and respect the courage and integrity of this small group of Americans that has given and continues to give so much to the defense of our nation. We must remember that the courage, sacrifice, heroics and valor of all Americans veterans each and every Veteran’s Day.