The wisdom of these 15 average joe WWII veterans will break your heart and give you hope
The poet Dylan Thomas once wrote “Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight…” To many, that means people who have faced death have seen what’s most important in life, but for myriad reasons too many veteran experiences are left out of the history books, lost in the annals of time.
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The Reddit AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) is an amazing medium for the men and women of days gone by to share what those days were like. Those who survived the world wars have mostly gone on to live long, full lives. Given the proper forum, they enjoy looking back and from their recollections important lessons emerge.
Here are some of the best recollections and advice from the AMA forum. While they share their stories, they also share their advice for not going gentle into that good night.
1. Tom, an 88-year-old World War II veteran who received a Purple Heart and helped liberate Rome:
“War is hell. Bring our boys back from the Middle East.”
“The younger generation [who aren’t veterans] has a hard time appreciating the rigors of war because we have an all-volunteer military.”
“The German soldier was a brilliant soldier.”
2. A 91-year-old pilot and former POW:
“We were a generation strained in a very specific way. The depression had a huge influence on my life and still plays a role in who I am. I think people were more prepared for hardship back then than they are today. That being said, some of the service members today have been at war for over ten years. And they are volunteers. We were not tested like that.”
3. A 94-year-old Bataan Death March Survivor:
“Just be a simple soldier. Don’t lazy, sleepy or aggressive. Follow the orders of the day.”
“I never met the guards or saw them again, but I forgive them.”
“The worst thing was the death march itself and then the food in the camp. Just rice and salt. We used to try and get the leaves of edible plants and cook it. Some people were so hungry they would sweep up grasshoppers and eat it.”
“I only know that what I fought for was justified.”
“Have plenty of rest, sleep well, and eat everything that is given to you.”
4. Don McQuinn, an 84-year-old Korea and Vietnam Veteran:
“Somebody asked earlier about what did you take away from the Marine Corps. What I learned is that you can stop me, but you can’t beat me. I’ll be back. And when somebody bets on you like that, all the cards on the table are face up. And I had to succeed. There wasn’t any option. Pretty simple.”
“I appreciate the thanks, it was my privilege to serve.”
“The toughest were the Chinese. The nastiest were the North Koreans. The most dogged were the Vietnamese.”
“ Vietnam was the hardest. Going away. No definition of ‘the enemy.’ Incredible misunderstanding by the American public and press.”
5. Michael Mirson, 94-year old Soviet soldier, captured by the Nazis, Escaped to the United States:
“I believe in working hard and honesty.”
“In the Soviet army, they were very poor. Very little food, the boots were poor, and the discipline was not good. We walked in the Caucasus Mountains with blisters on your feet. You could barely walk, and had to go so slow. Officers on horseback would come by with a whip and say “comrade, you’re walking too slow, you must walk fast. You must walk fast for this country and for Stalin.” Once someone fought back against an officer, and was shot. This scared us into keep walking, no matter what.”
“I really learned how to survive. I truly learned how to take care of myself and others. I always tried to help my friends. I learned how to come together to help people, and how other people can help you.”
“It just always seems to be the same story, the fighting story. When people lived in caves, they fought with stones. Now they fight with planes and drones.”
6. Hubert Buchanan, Vietnam POW in Hanoi Hilton who returned to Vietnam meet his captor years later:
“In hindsight it was unwise to get involved in Vietnam, but given that time and history it was understandable that the U.S. got involved. As for Afghanistan and Iraq, I think it was a bad idea to get involved at all.”
“He was just a villager who got the credit for capturing me. It’s illogical to go from the particular to the general. For example, I don’t blame the Vietnamese people. If people were bombing my country I might try to capture the bombers.”
“He was very excited to see me, and it turns out he received a certificate from the government that said something like “village hero” … all in all, it was a “war is war” type of encounter.”
When asked if the Vietnamese were skilled fighter pilots: “I was shot down by a Vietnamese fighter pilot. What does that tell you?”
7. Norm, a 97-year-old ANZAC WWII Veteran, Fought at Papua New Guinea:
“I just want to be able to help people and see the smiles on their faces when the job is finished. Having something to do each day keeps me going.”
“Have respect for your elders, be honest, talk to people who have good manners and treat everyone as you would like to be treated yourself.”
“I couldn’t understand the Japanese at the time. I was offered to go to Japan after the war but I said no. I couldn’t understand the things that the Japanese had done in the war.”
“It was a matter of “if you didn’t get them, they’d get you”. So I didn’t really sympathize with them.”
“It’s been hard to let go.”
“I hope that all wars are finished. I hope they realize that no one gains from war.”
8. Dick Cole, 98-year-old WWII Air Corps Vet and James Doolittle’s Co-Pilot during the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo:
When asked what he wants for his birthday: “More Time.”
“[Jimmy] Doolittle was a great, great man and I am honored that I was able to serve under him.“
“One quick story most people don’t know is that he has a hunting cabin we would all go meet at. He always insisted on doing the dishes.”
“The hardest part of the Doolittle Raid was Looking at that black hole when we had to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.”
“Most memorable part was when my parachute opened.”
“Just to live your life to the fullest. Enjoy it!”
9. A 92-year-old WWII Veteran From New Zealand:
“Do what you want, eat what you want, drink what you want (he says on his 3rd Whiskey)…pauses…that and 5-7 vegetables every night.”
“The Japanese were doing the job they were told to do. But I didn’t like their cruelty. I felt sorry for the Japanese POWS in a way. They just sat cross-legged in the cages.”
“Easier today…’course they do, they don’t have to sleep on straw sacks!”
10. George, a 98-year-old Navy Chaplain:
“You get so much advice when you have lived as long as I have.”
“I sometimes think that we are the biggest threat to ourselves because of the foolish things we do. There is no ruler anywhere that has any control over good or evil. They all do what they think is best for them in the long run.”
“Always help people, however you can.”
11. Harry Snyder, a WWII Normandy and Battle of the Bulge Veteran:
“The average German soldier was like the average person. If he was captured, I could talk to him. They seemed like ordinary people you could find anywhere. The SS were the bad guys, the real killers. They were responsible for the death camps and the killing of innocent people. You couldn’t interact with them… you treated them like dirt.”
“She’s a great cook. You can’t go wrong for that, marry a great cook.”
“When we are attacked without provocation, either militarily or by terrorists. Then I think then we are justified to go to war.”
“When the war in Europe ended, we were going to be sent to Japan. Not to occupy, but to invade. Then, President Harry S. Truman dropped the bomb. Thank God for the other Harry. He saved a lot of us from going over there. I didn’t feel bad for the Japanese; I feel they got what they deserved. The President saved a lot of us from getting killed.”
12. Vic, a 93-year-old WWII Marine Corps Pilot:
“Peanut butter. Just keep eating peanut butter. There’s good health in eating peanut butter.”
“Time spent eating doesn’t count against time spent living, so the slower you eat the longer you live.”
“They shoot at us, and we gotta shoot at you.”
“Whatever you’re gonna do, be prepared to do it. Learn your lessons and what they teach you, whether flying or economics. Just pay attention and be prepared.”
13. Gerald Booken, a 102-year-old WWII veteran:
“At the time we felt that [the atomic bomb] was the thing we had to do to end the war, but afterward it was a dreadful thing because it did so much damage to the Japanese people.”
“Listen. Getting old is not the greatest thing in the world. There is nothing to look forward to. It is not a happy situation. That’s what I miss… the good old days.”
14. A WWII Veteran who helped liberate the Dachau Concentration Camp:
“One of the men in my 6-man squad was named Giudice, and he was Jewish. He didn’t say a lot, but you could tell what he was thinking.”
“We have no business being in many of the wars we’re in. We’re not going to change anything.”
“I don’t like the quacks who say it never happened.”
15. An 88-year-old WWII Combat Photographer:
“I hold no ill will toward Germans or Japanese. They’re great people.”
“Any war that followed after WWII I don’t agree with.”
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