Unfortunately, COVID-19 has put a damper on our ability to celebrate Veterans Day in our usual way. But even in these challenging times, it is important to remember and honor our Veterans and their sacrifices.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, and I’d like to pay a special tribute to the airmen who fought valiantly during the war. The forefathers of today’s U.S. Air Force, the Army Air Forces, lost more than 88,000 airmen in four years. Their heroism and devotion remains an inspiration more than seven decades later.
World War II was brutal for servicemen: Out of 1,000 servicemen, an average of 8.6 would be killed in combat, three would die from other causes, and 17.7 would receive non-fatal wounds. But, if you were an airman flying B-17 bombers in the fall of 1942, you were looking at a 10% attrition rate on each mission. Imagine facing a mission knowing you have a 1 in 10 chance of not coming back alive, and you couldn’t go home until you’d flown 25 missions. The odds were daunting.
The invasion of Tarawa took place in November 1943. It is remembered as a hallmark of the Marine warrior because of the bloody nature of the assault. The Marines lost almost 30% of their men – about 1,100 killed or missing. Tarawa justifiably represents the best in Marine Corps valor.
But let’s not forget what happened three months earlier. On Aug. 17, 1943, the Eighth Air Force launched a raid on the Messerschmitt factories and ball bearing plants in the German cities of Schweinfurt and Regensburg. During that single raid, 60 B-17s and B-24s were lost, each carrying a crew of 10. Six weeks later, they hit the target again, and the Germans were waiting, and we lost an additional 599 airmen. The Air Force lost almost 1,200 men in just those two raids. But the targets were critical, and they hit those same targets 10 more times.
Even a casual study of our history proves that veterans do have a legacy of valor – from the Revolutionary War to actions on the ground today in the Middle East.
A few years ago, my wife and I went to see the movie “Hacksaw Ridge.” It chronicles the story of a war hero and conscientious objector, Army Medic Desmond Doss, who with other American soldiers had to climb a steep escarpment nicknamed Hacksaw Ridge to take on the Japanese forces stationed there. During this action, Doss singularly saved 75 lives and earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.
You cannot watch a film like that without wondering, where does America find heroes like these? Brave men and women, who in the face of all adversity, continue to follow orders, climb that hill, take that ground, give the last full measure of devotion.
The answer is simple. You will find them everywhere, and in Sarpy County you find them at the Omaha National Cemetery, the final resting place of so many heroes and veterans who earned their right to be there.
For me personally, I don't need to look any further than my own family.
In 1944, my uncle Les Hauschild was a young Marine and part of the 4th Marine Division that conducted an assault on Saipan, a Japanese occupied island in the Marianas Island chain. He spent three weeks on Saipan in heavy fighting to secure the island from the Japanese. His brother-in-law, my father, was at sea providing important artillery support from a nearby battleship.
Less than a year later, in May of 1945, while Desmond Doss was saving lives on Hacksaw Ridge in the Battle of Okinawa, my father was offshore on the USS West Virginia serving as a fire controlman first class. He laid down waves of supporting fire from the ship’s massive 16-inch guns in support of the 77th Infantry Division’s efforts to take that ridge. His actions singularly saved many lives on the ridge, and the many decorations in his shadow box that I keep in my office remind me daily that he was a true hero.
Half of a world away and a few months earlier, my uncle Louie Hauschild, an infantry soldier, took part in the Battle of the Bulge.
I knew these men simply as Dad, Uncle Les and Uncle Louie. But these men were heroes – they are American heroes – to a grateful nation.
I was fortunate, as part of my own military service, to visit the hallowed places of my family’s valor: Saipan, Okinawa and Germany. It was an amazing personal experience for me, because like so many other veterans, neither my father nor my uncles ever spoke about their personal exploits. They silently carried the burdens of those experiences their entire lives, with perhaps the notable exception of comradery at Legion Halls and VFWs, where veterans and colleagues confided in each other.
That is why honorable places like our local American Legions were important then and remain important places for veterans today. Veterans from every generation, no matter what war or conflict they fought in, carry wounds both visible and invisible, and organizations like the Legion and the VFW are there when veterans need them most.
Thank you to all those veterans who took the sacred oath without reservation or equivocation “to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, so help me God.”
So today, and really every day, it’s appropriate to remember, reflect, recognize, appreciate and celebrate our veterans’ accomplishments, and most importantly, give thanks to our brothers and sisters in arms, past and present, as we continue to enjoy the fruits of their sacrifices – our precious freedoms.
Sarpy County Board Chairman
Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel