From the editor's desk

By CHARLIE SMITH,

By my estimation, I've written some 4,000 news stories and opinion pieces during my newspaper career. That's a lot of ink slung, and while some memorable assignments stand out, a lot of them start to run together after filing that many reports. While I've had a lot of fun, made a lot of memories and learned a lot of lessons (usually the hard way), I can't think of any that I've been more excited about than the features about World War II veterans published in this section.

These warriors are the last witnesses to our nation's greatest hour, when through sacrifices from every American, and the ultimate sacrifice from thousands of true heroes, our nation and our allies saved the world from tyranny. If you’ve never been to the World War II museum in New Orleans, drop what you’re doing and drive those two hours right now. You will walk out with a new appreciation for the everyday freedoms you enjoy.

The opportunity for such a triumph today seems unlikely. Our wars now don't seem to ever end, even when the armies are defeated. For example, Afghanistan remains much like it did when U.S. forces first entered it nearly 20 years ago.

And on the domestic front, we're fighting each other with an ever widening divide in America between conservatives and liberals. Our worldviews are so different that I'm not sure we'll ever be united about anything again. Rather than sending a generation of its young men off to fight and die, America is now wringing its hands over whether its young men just really might be women and should be treated as such despite anatomical and DNA evidence to the contrary. I can’t imagine the contempt surviving World War II veterans must feel for such foolishness.

Those still alive today were usually the youngest recruits at the bottom of the military totem pole. The high-ranking officers and veteran enlisted men were older and have long since passed on to their reward.

So these veterans often had unglamorous jobs. They scrubbed decks; they slept in pup tents in the scorching desert; they combed the seas for mines. And whatever they were doing, they were away from home. I felt like capturing those everyday accounts of what war was like is important.

So Managing Editor Susan Amundson, Sports Editor Joshua Campbell and I set out to track down as many of the surviving World War II veterans as we could, and we are forever indebted to American Legion Post 90 for providing us a list. That proved invaluable and saved us much time and energy. Many thanks to those veterans in the American Legion for helping us out.

Unfortunately, three of the veterans we had on our list died before we were able to speak with them, and some others were no longer able to handle being interviewed because of mental and physical problems associated with aging. That was a stark reminder that this was truly our last opportunity to write a publication in tribute to these heroes.

It was our great privilege to go into the homes of these World War II veterans and talk with them about those events from long ago, many which until now were recorded only in their memories. The need to record these stories is pressing. Many of them have never been published before and would probably be lost to history if not written down.

And the tendency of people to either forget or purposely distort (think Holocaust deniers) history is a strong one. Writing down the facts from eyewitnesses is the best antidote to such ignorance.

I thought about this while doing an interview with a World War II veteran: If these veterans were born from about 1919 to 1927, then they are old enough to have possibly met Civil War veterans. For example, someone who was 20 when the Civil War ended in 1865 would have been 82 in 1927. What a connection to our shared past!

One day, hopefully at least, I'll be an old man, and I'll be able to share with my progeny about how I met and interviewed World War II veterans. If I hit the fourscore years that Moses said we can hope for “if by reason of strength,” then the year will be 2065, a full 120 years after World War II ended.

But the memories will still linger of those who offered their testimony about what happened. To be a witness to those enduring words from the Greatest Generation is my honor and privilege as an American and a journalist.