~By Teller County Commissioner Dan Williams~
In a few days, many Americans will turn their thoughts to our Nation’s Veterans as we celebrate Veteran’s Day and recognize the servicemen and women in our communities. There will be special programs heard, speeches given, and the phrase, “thank you for your service” uttered.
This recognition is appreciated although never expected. Veterans are by nature a humble group who will not often speak of their service, sacrifice, or combat experiences. I was recently reminded of this as American Legion Post 1980 paid special tribute and recognition to one of our members, Harold Ahrendt, a Woodland Park WWII combat Veteran who turned 100 years old. He shared memories with us and took questions from those assembled about his war experiences and his return home. Each of us present walked away with a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation. This year as we remember and honor our Veterans, all of them, I would like to focus on the Greatest Generation and their sacrifices.
My generation’s warriors stood on the shoulders of our fathers, the Vietnam, and Korean War Veterans and in turn we all stood on the shoulders of our WWII Veterans. Their experiences, technological advances, and hard-won lessons are still studied in our military academies and military training schools. World War II was the largest scale war in the history of humankind, with more than 100 million people serving in military units. 16 million Americans served during WWII, at that time comprising more than 11 % of the US population. With all the pressing issues facing our Nation today and occupying our time, it’s important for all of us to remember that the WWII generation is rapidly passing from our midst. There is still time to say thank you and to listen to them.
All the Veterans who fought in the war are now in their 90s or older. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, only 240,329 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive today and 234 of them die each day. Said another way, only 1.8% of our WWII Veterans are still with us. Even more sobering, of the 140,000 Americans who fought on D-Day (June 6, 1944), only 2,625 survive. As of this writing there are only 3539 living WW II Veterans left in Colorado. Although under reported, COVID has taken a heavy toll on this population and continues to do so.
There is still time. This year on Veterans Day reach out to them. This is our opportunity to ask one more question, record one more living history, learn one more lesson, and another chance to say thank you before we have to say goodbye.
Dan Williams is the district 1 Teller County Commissioner, a retired US Army Colonel and combat veteran, to include Afghanistan and Iraq, the Post 1980 American Legion Commander, and a Post 6051 VFW Life Member. He lives with his wife Suzan, a retired US Army Nurse and Colonel on their ranch near Cripple Creek.
There will be a County wide Veterans Day Dinner sponsored by the American Legion Post 1980 for Veterans and their families at 5 PM at the Ute Pass Cultural Center in Woodland Park on November 11, 2021