Sunday marks Veterans Day, an opportunity to honor all veterans, both living and dead.
On the front page of this newspaper, we profile longtime Annandale resident Dante Macario, a humble, soft-spoken 87-year-old World War II veteran who embodies the spirit of this holiday.
After being drafted into military service as a University of Maryland freshman in 1943, the 18-year-old Macario was quickly made a “nose gunner” and found himself on a flight to war-torn England within days. From June 1944 to April 1945, he completed 30 missions over strongly fortified cities such Hamburg, Dortmund and Dusseldorf.
He flew each of his missions in a B-24 bomber, better known as the “Flying Coffin” for its inability to sustain heavy damage and remain aloft. Roughly four out of 10 B-24’s blew up on their way to missions due to fires sparked by fuel tanks that were mounted in the upper parts of the fuselage. Making matters worse, the B-24 only possessed one exit near the tail of the aircraft, making it nearly impossible for pilots to escape.
To his credit, Macario survived those 30 missions, eventually returning to the U.S. on a makeshift hospital ship that zigzagged across the Atlantic Ocean for more than a week to avoid German torpedoes.
Typical of many in his generation, Macario is quick to downplay his time in the service. He isn’t interested about the many medals earned, the lives he saved or the nations he helped to liberate.
Instead, he’ll tell you he was simply giving back to a country that had been good to him.
That attitude is typical of millions of veterans across the United States, another reason each of us should take a few moments out of our day to thank a neighbor, colleague or relative who has sacrificed time, sweat and blood to defend this country.
If you haven’t sought out a veteran in the past, make it a point to do so this year.
Some 270,000 World War II vets died in 2011, an average of 740 a day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Another 248,000 are projected to die this year.
With their ranks now hovering around 1 million, it won’t be long before the “Greatest Generation” of warriors is gone altogether. Most historians agree that, of all the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our existence as both a country and a culturally diverse and free society.
The number of surviving Korean War veterans, most well into their 80s, is also dwindling. Same goes for those who served us in Vietnam.
We need to remember our youngest veterans, too.
Like generations before them, those who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots around the globe have sacrificed an awful lot for our country. Many have returned home with physical and emotional scars that, in many cases, will last a lifetime. We shouldn’t take for granted all they have done to preserve our freedom.
When you get a chance, do something to acknowledge those efforts.
A simple “Thank you” is usually a good place to start.