WWII vets became county leaders

Published 7:53 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2017

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is an abbreviated version of comments made by Edwards during a Memorial Day service May 28 at Bethany United Methodist Church.

Isle of Wight and Surry residents defended our land and the principles for which it stands in every American conflict. And they paid a huge price.

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The Veterans’ Memorial on North Church Street has bricks that bear the names of every known son of Isle of Wight killed in those conflicts — 10 during the American Revolution, 18 during World War I, 19 during World War II, 5 during Korea and 8 during Vietnam. The Civil War took the lives of 205 Isle of Wight sons. That was at least 10 percent of the white male population in 1860.

But on this Memorial Day in 2017, I wanted to spend a few minutes thinking about those who came home from one war in particular — World War II.

This group of men and women, thanks to journalist Tom Brokaw, will forever be known as “The Greatest Generation.”

Many of us were born during or after the conclusion of World War II. We learned about it as children from newsreels in movie theatres, from John Wayne movies, from giants in journalism such as Edward R. Murrow and, in time, from our studies in high school and college.

These people, this “greatest generation,” were our parents and grandparents. They carried the Stars and Stripes ashore at Normandy and Anzio, at Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. They fought the Battle of the Bulge, of Midway and the Coral Sea.

What we often forget, however, is that the Greatest Generation was being molded long before 1941. For they were born before the great Stock Market crash in 1929.

I have often said that the ladies, in particular, of that generation — our mothers and grandmothers — were the most frugal people imaginable. Many of you can tell stories of your youth and of the people in your family who knew what it was to squeeze the nickel until the buffalo bellowed.

That generation, our parents and grandparents — men and women — understood sacrifice long before Pearl Harbor. Many of them knew what it was like to live through years of drought and depressed farm prices. They knew what it was like not to be able to buy shoes for the children every year. What it was like to struggle against seemingly impossible odds and still find joy in living.

And then, just as things were getting a little better — though still not wonderful — they were called on to go to war. And in those four very difficult years, they were further shaped and molded into self-sufficient and self-confident men and women.

After Pearl Harbor was attacked, men — and a significant number of women, many of them nurses — rushed to enlist, and the giants of industry began retooling America’s factories to build the weapons and materiel that would stun the world.

Men from every walk of life fought abroad and the nation’s women kept things together at home. They managed businesses and farms as well as families, and worked on assembly lines building aircraft and tanks.

When it ended, they reunited, and together, they built their families and rebuilt our county, our state and our nation.

The things that I most admire about that generation are these. First, they were doers. When the nation was in need, they stepped forward, some as draftees but many of them as willing volunteers.

And when they came home, they continued to be doers. They rolled up their sleeves and went to work building a peacetime economy unequaled in history.

And finally, they were not whiners or victims. So many times today, more recent generations of Americans tend to blame someone for their misfortune. They feel society owes them something. But not those men and women. They saw their fate and their future tied directly to their willingness to work, and they asked for nothing more than the opportunity to do just that.

And thus, those who carried the torch of freedom to distant lands between 1941 and 1945 came home and planted it right here in Isle of Wight and Surry counties in the years thereafter.

They were my heroes, and I’m sure they were yours. And I can’t think of a more fitting way to spend Memorial Day than to remember their contribution to our community.