Losing the ‘greatest’ | CraigDailyPress.com

Losing the ‘greatest’

Attrition taking its toll on World War II veterans

Joshua Roberts

— Bill Harding, Moffat County Veterans Service officer, spent Friday morning lowering American flags in honor of the anniversary on the attack at Pearl Harbor.

He spent Friday afternoon helping the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post honor a World War II veteran who’d recently died.

“We, as a generation, don’t understand the sacrifices that generation made,” Harding said.

Friday marked National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, the 66th anniversary of the sneak attack that led the United States into World War II.

While the day was meant to recognize the importance of that historical event more than six decades ago, it also shed light on the accomplishments of all World War II veterans, or “The Greatest Generation,” a group that is dwindling as years go by.

“Our attrition over the last two years,” said Harding, a Vietnam veteran and member of the local VFW and American Legion posts “has been fairly high.”

Two years ago, there were 50-plus local World War II veterans in Craig and the surrounding area, Harding said. Today, that number is about 25 to 35, he said.

Nationally, World War II veterans are dying off at an alarming rate.

“It’s tough to nail down,” said Jerry Newberry, director of communications and public affairs for the national VFW office in Kansas City, Mo. “The last number I heard is 1,500 per day. : You’d probably see an acceleration of that as time goes by.”

Newberry said estimates indicate there are about 2.3 million World War II veterans in the U.S. By 2020, those estimates reveal there would be only 200,000 veterans remaining, he said.

Mel Shockley, commander of the Craig American Legion post, also lowered the flag at the post headquarters Friday morning in honor of the Pearl Harbor anniversary. He said America is losing some of its greatest protectors with World War II veterans passing.

“It’s bound to happen, the attrition,” said Shockley, a Vietnam veteran. “It’s sad to see the men who fought to make this country what it is today leaving us in mass numbers. They’re the ones who kept this country” safe.

One of, if not the only, last remaining local tie to the attack at Pearl Harbor died in April.

Andrew “Andy” Nick Duzik, of Craig, enlisted in the Army in Jan. 1940 and was stationed at Pearl the day it was bombed.

“Being a Pearl Harbor survivor was something he rarely spoke of,” according to his obituary.

However, Duzik spoke to the Craig Daily Press in Nov. 2006 about the “date which will live in infamy.”

“We woke up to a hell of a bang that shook the whole barracks,” Duzik told a reporter. “There was smoke and (Japanese) Zeroes all over the place.”

Joshua Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or jroberts@craigdailypress.com.