Sept. 2 marked the 75th anniversary of the official end of World War II. Representatives of the Japanese government signed the instrument of surrender, ending one of the most tumultuous times of the 20th century.
Over 16 million American men and women served during the war. In 2019 it was estimated there are 8,404 living World War II veterans in Wisconsin, 7,919 in Minnesota. Nationally, the estimate is 389,292 living veterans.
These veterans and their stories are vanishing at an alarming rate with 294 dying every day.
At this diamond anniversary of the end of the war, we wanted to recognize local veterans, living and dead. We are grateful for the cooperation of veterans and their families who provided photos and information.
Many who served left their homes as young adults, unsure of what they would face as they went off to war. Some didn’t come back, others returned to a new reality.
The period after World War II saw an unprecedented surge in growth and prosperity in our nation. Veterans came home and settled down to civilian life. The GI Bill and other veterans programs provided opportunities for these young men and women to succeed and helped create the middle class in America.
Veterans contributed to the success of their communities as they received their educations or learned trades and raised families.
Many never spoke of the things they did or saw during the war. Others spoke with their peers, sharing their common experiences.
In recent years, as these veterans die, there has been a renewed urgency to learn their first hand accounts of history.
As we gathered this information for the paper, we learned many things about local people who served. One of the people who contributed a story about his parent who served, learned about his father’s war experience from a box of photos.
His father took these photos and left them in a box in a closet. After the veteran had died, his son inherited the box of photos. A class project for his grandson brought the box of photos out. Looking through the box, a newspaper clipping told the man about the outfit his father served with during the war. After doing some research online, a picture of the timeline of his father’s unit’s service helped piece the photos together as the story became clear.
Dale Henke, whose father, Gerhart, served in Europe, said he learned a great deal about his father from that box of photos.
“Heroes come in all forms,” Dale says. “Most choose to relive their moments in silence and share little of their gallantry with others unless directly asked by someone. They feel honor for those who ‘gave more’ and self-humility demanded no less,” Dale said.
Henke encourages everyone who has a parent or grandparent living who served during the war to get the photo albums out and listen to the stories.
We realize that we have left people out of this edition. We did our best to get as much information as possible about the men and women who served during the war. We hope you enjoy these stories and share our appreciation for the efforts of the veterans
Thank you to all who served and helped create the life we enjoy today.
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