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Vanishing voices of World War II veterans

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Vanishing voices of World War II veterans

First of a four-part series to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor which led to the involvement of the United States into World War II.

Photo contributed/

POSTED December 6, 2013 10:55 p.m.

World War II veterans are a dying breed – literally.

According to statistics from the United States Veterans Administration, these soldiers from the Greatest Generation are dying at the rate of more than 600 a day. One does not have to look far and wide to see stark evidence of that.

Years ago, a veterans group called Pearl Harbor Survivors got together at this time of the year for a Christmas party-cum-reunion. Many of these gatherings were held in Manteca. Now, the group has all but disappeared – at least, from the local scene. The last member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors group from Manteca, Adolph Kuhn, left Manteca several years ago soon after his wife died and is now living with his son in Oceanside where he continues to write about his memories of the attack that “will live in infamy.”

At the recent observance of Veterans Day on Nov. 11 at the Library Park, there was one noticeable change in the program. The members of the Honor Guard lined up to perform the traditional 21-gun salute at the conclusion of the patriotic proceedings did not include a single veteran from World War II. They were soldiers from the Korean War and the Vietnam War. At one time, as recently as a decade ago, about half of the Honor Guard consisted of World War II Veterans of Foreign Wars members from the Manteca (6311) and Ripon (1051) posts.

Last year, O’Connor Woods in Stockton interviewed 14 of its residents who are veterans of WWII, now well into their late 80s and early 90s, and put together their oral histories into a DVD. Sadly, said O’Connor Woods Senior Administrator Marcia Fitzgerald, since they completed the project, they have lost one of those brave soldiers.

“We have all these wonderful World War II veterans, and slowly we’re losing them,” Linda Kay of Manteca commented recently about the men and women whom she knew very well at O’Connor Woods. She was the marketing director at the independent living facility for seniors when they created the DVD project which she called “a living history.”

One of the veterans interviewed is Keith Cornell, brother-in-law of the late Nell Corner who served as Manteca city clerk for many years. Cornell, a highly decorated war hero, was a bomber pilot who flew 25 missions from England to Germany.

The same Veterans Administration source, which maintains a running count of this particular group of veterans, indicates that in 2000, there were nearly 6 million veterans of the Second World War still living. Ten years later, in 2010, there were only two-thirds of them still alive. Three years from now, there will be less than 500,000 around, the Veterans Administration graph shows. It is estimated that by 2036, all of them will be gone forever, with no one “left to recount their experiences.”

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