Each year, the number of living World War II veterans grows smaller. Those still alive are mostly in their 80s and 90s. These are men and women who made sacrifices and acts of heroism that many in the generations after them know little about.
Itawamba County had veterans serving in the Army, Marines and Navy. They were infantrymen, sailor, pilots, medics and more. They fought the Axis powers of Italy, Germany and Japan in north Africa, Bataan, Italy, Iwo Jima, Normandy, in the Ardennes, Saipan, Midway and liberated most of western Europe from Nazi control. Some Itawambians were captured as prisoners of war. Some were rescued. Others never made it home.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in the second World War, fewer than 500,000 are still alive today, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. An average of 348 American veterans of the war die each day. In Mississippi, fewer than 3,500 are still alive.
The waning days of our World War II vets is in no way unique. Every generation passes on, and with them go their stories. Not all of them, of course. Some are retold by family members or written into the pages of memoirs. Some stories stick around.
But many don’t. Take, for instance, this week’s 1A feature on Dorsey’s Russell Clayton, who was awarded with an Army Medal of Commendation following heroic acts during the Vietnam War. Clayton rarely spoke of his time at war, and if not for an article printed in a 1969 edition of The Itawamba County Times, the story of his heroism on Nov. 27, 1968 would be lost to time. Even people who knew Clayton didn’t know this side of him.
But stories like Clayton’s, like those of the generation before him, are important. With each death, we lose the firsthand accounts of their experiences. We should take time to listen to them while we still can.