Number of WWII veterans dwindling; less than 50,000 live in Ga.

tday@macon.comNovember 12, 2009 

DUBLIN — People such as Morris Flanders command more attention each year. From one Veterans Day to the next, fewer and fewer veterans of his generation attend ceremonies such as the one held Wednesday at the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center.

Flanders, 92, served in the western front of World War II. He is one of 40 World War II veterans who live in the hospital’s community care unit.

At the community care unit, World War II veterans spend the last years of their lives with each other. They have 1950s-themed parties. When a veteran passes away, the nurses leave a rose and an American flag on the bed.

“We have something in common to talk about,” Flanders said of the unit. “It helps you from dwelling on the loved ones you can’t be with.”

The fraternity of World War II veterans is shrinking. What former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation” is fading away into the history books.

The wealth of Department of Veterans Affairs figures tell the sad tale of time. More than 16 million veterans returned home from World War II. Only 2.3 million American World War II veterans — about 15 percent — still are living.

As of September, 48,072 World War II veterans still were alive and living in Georgia — fewer than half of the more than 100,000 World War II veterans living in the state at the beginning of the decade.

Wednesday was the 64th Veterans Day since the end of World War II. The youngest World War II veteran, whomever he or she may be, is at least 80 years old.

From October 2008 to October 2009, an average of 851 World War II veterans died each day, according to VA figures.

Wednesday’s morning ceremony at the hospital brought out local leaders and the commanding general of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, Maj. Gen. Polly Peyer. A group of Peyer’s airmen also made the 30-minute trip to the hospital, escorting a group of wheelchair-bound veterans from the community center to a conference room, where the Veterans Day ceremony was held.

Peyer used her remarks to pay homage to the previous generations of veterans, as well as acknowledge younger veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“As those veterans are aging,” Peyer said of the World War II generation, “we now have new veterans among us.”

Currently, 600 airmen based at Robins Air Force Base serve in Iraq or Afghanistan, Peyer said.

The American Veterans Center will open its annual convention today in Washington, D.C. Gen. David Petraeus will address the convention Friday.

One mandate of the convention’s organizers will be to record World War II veterans’ memories of combat.

“The (number of World War II veterans) we get to our convention has been going down each year and rapidly so as the years go on,” said Scott Yuhanik, spokesman for the American Veterans Center.

“As time goes on, it’s getting difficult for them to tell their stories,” he said.

To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.

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