While the remaining WWII veterans are still with us, there's something we can do for them

Memorial Day is May 27


In 1956 I recall my father pointing out a story in the Lincoln County (OR) Leader, our hometown newspaper. The headline read, “Last Civil War Veteran dies.”  The veteran was Albert Woolson, a Union Army bugler, age 106, the last surviving veteran of the Civil War. The article was especially meaningful to my father who remembered talking with Civil War veterans as a youth in rural Oklahoma. Remarkably, a considerable number of those who wore the blue and gray were still alive in the first quarter of the 20th century. In 2011 a decade after my father’s passing, the last American veteran of WW1 died at age 110, his name was Cpl. Frank Woodruff Buckles. May they rest in peace.

Now we are in the spring of 2024 with Armed Forces Day recently passed and Memorial Day just ahead. This is a time when we reflect on a special segment of our community who have served in the military and among them those who offered their last measure of devotion in the defense of freedom and liberty. I grew up among Korean and World War II veterans and, like other baby boomers, enjoyed Hollywood’s interpretation of their exploits. And, like my father, the very presence of these men and women made this period of American history both meaningful and tangible and as they fade away, I too am feeling a profound sense of loss.

The youngest of the WWII veterans are now in their mid-nineties and that includes those who exaggerated their ages to enlist. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, of the 16.4 million Americans who served in WWII fewer than 1 percent, or 119,550 were still living in 2023. Those recently departed include Lou Conter the last surviving crewmember of the USS Arizona, and Russell Hamler the last surviving soldier of the famed Merrill’s Marauders. And a grateful nod to our neighbors to the north who bid a final goodbye to the last Canadian Flying Ace, James Edwards.

America’s veterans are departing at a rate of 131 each day and by the end of this decade only a tiny number of the greatest generation will remain, and some readers of this column will surlily see a headline reporting “The Last WWII veteran has died.”  While their final leave is rapidly approaching, there are still a myriad of ways we beneficiaries can show our gratitude and respect.

One way is the Honor Flight Program that transports veterans to Washington D.C., to visit the WWII Memorial found in its rightful place at the foot of the Washington Monument. Since 2005, nearly 300,000 veterans have been flown free of charge to visit their memorial and to see and feel first-hand the sentiments of a grateful nation.  Each of these veterans, some in wheelchairs or using walkers, is accompanied by an Honor Flight volunteer. Especially heartwarming are the airport receptions for these veterans as they are escorted by uniformed service members through both leaving and receiving terminals – travelers stand and applaud; hugs are shared, and tears are shed.

If you wish to participate in history and sponsor a World War II, Korean or Vietnam veteran through the Honor Flight Program, a charitable nonprofit organization, you can reach them locally at:, or call 253-303-1130.

For those veterans who are still among us today, we offer a heartfelt and grateful Hail and to those now departed we offer a fond and grateful Farewell which is most ably expressed in the lyrics of Taps:

                “Day is Done, Gone the Sun, From the Lake, From the Hill, From the Sky

                All is Well, Safely Rest, God is Nigh.”

~ Terry OxleyTumwater

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