Bells tolled from the National Cathedral and swing music from the 1940s rang out at the Mall as veterans of World War II assembled by the tens of thousands Saturday for the dedication of a memorial to their great struggle.My mother was a WWII veteran. She joined the Women's Army Corps for reasons she would never put in personal terms. I used to ask her, "Why did you join the Army?" I wanted to hear the details of a teenager who cared for her infant sister, named Hope, who was doomed by spina bifida, incapacitating the poor baby's mother with grief, and who went to college, at the University of Michigan, when she was only 16. I wanted to hear about how she had a great passion to leave Ann Arbor, where she had lived all her life, to have new adventures. But her answer was always devoid of a personal story. It was always: "You have to understand how it was for everyone at the time. There was a war."
A service of celebration and thanksgiving at the cathedral opened a day of remembrance for a passing generation. Old soldiers, many gripping canes or in wheelchairs, welcomed the tribute to their service while lamenting that the memorial has come too late for so many of their comrades.
"I wish they would have done it much sooner because there's a lot of people from that generation who are gone," said Don LaFond, 81, a Marine Corps veteran from Marina Del Ray, Calif., taking his seat at the Mall on a cool spring morning.
Only about one in four veterans of the war is still alive.
My father was drafted into the Army after the end date of the war, so he was not, technically, a veteran. They are both dead now and so are among the many of their generation who did not live to see the memorial. They met in the Army. My father had one of those Army office jobs, and so did my mother, who was transferred from working on battle fatigue cases to an office job when it was learned that she could type. My father had made some coffee in his office, and my mother went into the office attracted by the smell of coffee. They were married two weeks later. Personally, I owe my own life to the Army and the smell of coffee, but to be more like my mother, I shouldn't tell it as a personal story: There was a war. People did what had to be done.