Welcome Joan’s Journeyers. In a unique after-dinner rendezvous, six veterans of the armed forces gathered to meet and take a group photograph in the Holiday Villa East (HVE) Senior Community Dining Room in Santa Monica. Despite living under the same roof, several veterans did not know each other. For sure, they did not know their commonality – that each has served his or her country in the armed forces.
As the participants were positioned for the photograph, conversations became animated. Residents recalled tours of service in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Woman’s Army Corps (WAC) and Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC). Three HVE residents are among the approximately 16 million members of the U.S. Armed Forces who served in active duty during WW II.
We’ll Meet Again, the most well-known version is sung by singer Dame Vera Lynn, is one of the most famous of the Second World War-era songs about soldiers going off fight and their families and sweethearts left behind. The assertion that we’ll meet again is optimistic, as many soldiers did not survive.
This song came to mind as I thought about the residents at HVE:
We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where, don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.
U.S. battlefield deaths numbered nearly 3 million, with about 1 million non-theater deaths, and almost 700,000 non-mortal woundings. Statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veteran Population Projection Model estimates that by 2015, there will be less than 1 million WWII veterans alive, and nearly 492 survivors die every day. The median age for a WWII veteran in 2011 was 92 years.
I am humbled to know and recognize the following armed forces men and women who live with me at Holiday Villa East:
- Al Simon, 99, a former Army Intelligence Officer, served with General Douglas MacArthur against the 1941 Japanese Invasion of the Philippines. As the eldest WWII survivor living at HVE, Al stood front and center in our picture, waving the American flag.
- Rudy Krauss, 95, served as a sergeant on the battlefield with the U.S. Army in the North African Campaign against Hitler’s reviled General Erwin Rommel, who was also known as Desert Fox due to his sneak attacks. Krauss experienced extremely dangerous warfront battle and has survived seven decades to share in this priceless WWII remembrance photograph.
- During the Korean War, from 1953-1955, Marine Battalion Commander Tom Van Sant, 84, successfully led his on-ground battalion at the famed 38-Parallel that demarcates North and South Korea. At age 23, Van Sant says leading his men at battle taught him responsibility and leadership skills that have served him throughout his life.
- From 1957-1958, Alan Feuerstein, 82, served as a Navy Ensign, Second Division, Communication Specialist, on the USS Newport News, where the battleship deployment helped to enforce peace in the Eastern Mediterranean. Proud to this day of his service to his country, Feuerstein keeps the letter of Naval Service Commission in a frame hanging on his unit wall. Feuerstein says he wishes he could return to his commission and again serve his country.
Beginning in 1941, women placed an essential role in WWII
About 350,000 women served in the U.S. Armed Forces throughout the war, “for the purpose of making available to the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of the nation,” according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, publication CMH: 72-15.
At the time, women were not permitted to participate in armed conflict. About 70 percent of women who served in the military held traditionally “female” jobs and positions that freed men to fight. However, women overseas and stateside, worked in the U.S. Army and Navy as WAC medical corps assistants.
- Florence Greenberg, who is in her 90s, served as an Army-trained medical assistant in several Army hospitals across the United States. Greenberg’s face glows as she recalls her personally fulfilling WAC days. On the dresser in her room sits a framed black and white photo of Greenberg in full WAC uniform with her two brothers, one who served in the U.S. Navy and the other in the U.S. Army. “My goal is to be the oldest living WAC and get invited to the White House for a citation,” Greenberg commented.
- Naomi Ainslie, 93, rose from the rank of private to staff sergeant in the CWAC in Ottawa, Canada, where she worked on technology-like computer forerunners. Ainslie lived in Australia, Africa and the Far East before returning to Canada. Later she migrated to Los Angeles. Ainslie is the author of Rain For My Roots, a fascinating novel in which she describes many of her overseas adventures.
Patriotic US Holidays Bring Fun and Appreciation for Veterans and Democracy
HVE’s courageous veterans are representative of the millions of brave men and woman who fought – and fight – in the armed forces. On July 4, our senior community celebrates the holiday with a fabulous, fun barbecue. We will ask these veterans and all others present who served the armed forces and allied forces to stand and be recognized.
The next Joan’s Journey will discuss my hands-on experiences of pets co-existing with 55+ adults living in senior communities. The blog will feature my feline best buddy, Heather, and her human and cat friends at HVE. Until then, enjoy the journey day by day.
Joan London is a freelance medical and social service writer who specializes in topics on aging. London moved from Maryland to California to enjoy life in a senior living community and enhance her quality of life by living closer to her children and grandchildren.