World War II Veterans: Dwindling In Number, But Not In Our Hearts
World War II veterans are truly a dying breed. According to the Veterans Administration, approximately 492 World War II veterans die every day.
Unfortunately, with these men and women die the stories and accounts that have never been written down, captured on film or told to grandchildren. As a result, World War II and the “greatest generation” that lived it, will soon seem as distant to today’s young people as the Civil War is to my generation. But to those lives it has touched, directly or indirectly through loved ones, it will remain as large as life.
My grandfather, Jerry Pinkowski, (1915-1993) was 26 years old when America entered World War II. He was considered ‘unfit for service’ due to a childhood injury to his arm that healed incorrectly. But with the Army’s need for personnel being what it was at the time, they accepted him along with many other “limited” service men. He served as a mechanic in the 347th Ordnance Depot Company which was eventually attached to General George S. Patton’s famous Third Army. Although Grandpa got the “express tour” of Europe while chasing after Patton’s racing armored columns, he still found time to take photographs. Lots of them! (I’ve included several with this story.) Unfortunately, it was only through these photos that I was able to learn much of the details of my Grandpa’s service during the war. Like many World War II veterans he was pretty closed-lipped about his experiences in the war, and my family really wasn’t aware of the treasure trove of photograph negatives he had stashed away until after he lost his battle with cancer in 1993. I regretted not finding out more about the places he’d been, the things he’d seen, and the people he knew. I had missed the golden opportunity to hear my grandpa’s first-hand accounts, but the one thousand photographs that he left behind told a story all their own.
Over the years I have enjoyed studying his photograph collection. Casually at first, then later becoming more and more serious about unravelling the mysteries contained on the celluloid. The photos’ subjects are varied and range from ordinary everyday scenes of him and his comrades working, to 13th century gothic cathedrals surrounded by crumbling ruins.
In 2000 I published some of them on a website called Lost Images Of World War II, inviting visitors to offer their identifications and observations about the photos. That project springboarded me into more extensive research where I’ve been able to retrace Grandpa’s tracks across Europe, and also talk with the very few surviving members of his unit that I could find.
In August of 2011, I launched a new, more detailed website which features several hundreds of Grandpa’s photos along with summaries, analyses and modern day photo comparisons. The new website can be seen at www.lostimagesofww2.com
I urge all World War II veterans to write your memoirs. Tell your stories. Show your old photos to your family while you can still tell the stories behind them. Shining through in those stories will be the values and traditions of a time when sacrifice was commonplace, valor was all-in-a-day’s-work and truck drivers, college students, farm boys, and carpet store owners were heroes.
Through loved ones, the struggles of our Nation during the war have touched my life, and I know that my grandfather played an important part. I understand the sacrifices that my grandfather made, and the ones he was willing to make during a time when hundreds of thousands made the ultimate sacrifice. This selfless attitude is characteristic of American veterans—past and present. We must never forget those who went before us and made life in America as it is today possible.