My “Greatest Generation”: A Tribute to the Veterans in My Life
Today is Veteran’s Day. This is a simple holiday where all we need to do is honor and remember those who sacrificed to preserve our freedoms. So to celebrate, I am honoring and remembering six of the many men in my life who joined the massive effort known as World War II. Each had unique experiences and each deserves to have their story told. All of them came home from the war and all of them have since passed away. Do I know enough about their experiences to fully tell their stories? Not by any means. But I do know enough to honor them and their service seventy years ago.
My Grandpa and Grandma Kelsey sent three sons to the Pacific front. The oldest, my Uncle Ted, joined the Navy and attended the US Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Northwestern University. He saw combat duty in the South Pacific during the invasions of Okinawa, Iwo Jima, Saipan, and others. He was in in an airplane that flew over Tokyo Bay when the Japanese truce was signed on the USS Missouri. Ted was discharged as a 2nd Lieutenant and returned home in March of 1946. Uncle Ted passed away when I was too young to remember much. But all who knew him spoke of his steadiness and kindness.
Charles Edward “Ted Kelsey” 1919 -1971
Uncle Bill enlisted in the Marine Corps. His company was in the second wave of the invasion of Okinawa. I can only imagine the horrors he saw. He never spoke of the war that must have greatly affected this gentle soul.
William Henry “Bill” Kelsey 1921 – 1991
The youngest of the boys, Uncle Bob, joined the navy and kept a secret diary. Secret because if the soldiers were ever captured and the diary fell into enemy hands it could give away important information. But now, seventy years later, his family has his first hand account of his experiences in the Pacific. Bob served on the USS Enterprise air craft carrier. He narrowly escaped with his life when a Japanese suicide plane crashed onto the ship. Uncle Bob liked to tell of his adventures.
J. Robert Kelsey 1922-2010
All three brothers came home safely. I can only imagine the relief of my Grandma and Grandpa Kelsey when so many other men gave their lives.
My dad didn’t talk much about his experiences. He joined the Navy in March of 1945, as soon as he turned 18, and had finished enough of his senior year to graduate from High School. His older brother C.H. had already been serving in the Navy for two years. The war in Germany was all but over, but the Pacific War raged on and Dad fully expected to participate in an assault on Japan. When the bombs dropped in August of that year and the Japanese surrendered, my Grandma and Grandpa Shults could finally be at peace. The stress of having her sons in the war had caused much of Grandma Ettie’s hair to fall out.
My Grandma Ettie Belle and her boys, Bob and C.H.
I didn’t understand the camaraderie of serving together for a cause until I attended a July 4th celebration with my dad. In the local high school auditorium, the song for each branch of the military played. Seeing my eighty year old father stand with his peers as the Navy song, “Anchors Aweigh” rang out brought tears to my eyes.
When my dad passed away, he was given military funeral honors. What a fitting tribute to a man who loved his country and had been willing to give his life in it’s defense.
Bobby Gene Shults 1927-2011
Most recently my father-in-law passed away. Bill joined the army in 1945 and also served in the Korean war. Throughout his life he learned all he could of our constitutional form of government. He believed passionately in upholding the government our Founding Fathers envisioned. He was buried in the Veteran’s Cemetery with military funeral honors.
Charles William Elder 1928-2015
If you have any family members that lived through WWII, don’t wait to interview them. Get their stories as soon as you can. They may think that their efforts don’t warrant attention, but it took an entire country’s sacrifice to win that war. WWII veterans die every day and their stories are being lost.
The same could hold true for a veteran of any of the next series of wars. Each story deserves to be told. Someday you may be attending their funeral as they are given military honors and you will want to know more!
The Library of Congress is collecting original photographs, letters, diaries, and other memorabilia for their Veterans History Project. To learn more, visit http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
I am grateful to have known personally these six men and many others who are part of the “Greatest Generation”. And so, on this Veteran’s Day, I will honor and remember all those who fought to preserve our freedom.