These are perilous times for World War veterans, if not because COVID-19, then because of the creep of age.
The generation that liberated Europe and fought imperialism in the Pacific is now fading from view. At first the exit was gradual. As growing columns of obituaries attest, the pace has quickened, hurried on by a pandemic.
Memories of the living are being replaced by the recordings of history. While today’s holiday has roots in commemorations of those killed while fighting the Civil War, it’s also an occasion to reflect on the sacrifices and heroism of those who died well after their service ended.
They are people like William “Bill” Young, of Manchester, N.H., who died last Tuesday. Born in Lawrence in 1927, he was stationed in the Philippines with the U.S. Navy during World War II. Afterward he worked for Lawrence Paperboard. He and his wife, Clare, had four children and nine grandchildren.
Then there was Daniel F. Hanlon, of Peabody, who died earlier this month at age 92. A native of Chelsea, he served in the U.S. Army during the war. Back home he worked for General Electric in Lynn. He and his late wife, Helen, had two daughters and a grandson.
Joyce Booth, of Marblehead, died early this month at age 97. A native of Roseway, Nova Scotia, her family moved to the North Shore not long after her birth. In 1944, after graduating Salem College of Nursing, she enlisted in the Army and traveled to the Pacific with a legion of doctors and nurses preparing for an invasion of Japan. She ended up nursing briefly in Hiroshima and elsewhere in Japan following the war.
Once home in Marblehead, Booth and her husband, Bob, raised four kids and were deeply involved in town affairs. Her obituary recounted: “She was ever mindful of the sacrifices of those who served in the military and their families, and was proud to be the chief speaker at a town Memorial Day observance.”
Young, Hanlon and Booth were just three of the 16 million men and women who served the United States during World War II. More than 400,000 died in war. All but 300,000 have died since.
Today’s ceremonies may be muted given the protections we’re taking against COVID-19. But in many ways, this year’s holiday will be more meaningful as we pay tribute to those who died abroad as well as those who died at home, all of them having devoted themselves to service to their country.