VA: Nation losing WWII veterans at rate of 740 per day |

VA: Nation losing WWII veterans at rate of 740 per day

Bridget Manley

Jake Garcia thumbed slowly through a roster for American Legion Post 62 in Craig recently.

Garcia, the post's commander, was counting veterans in the legion's membership who served in World War II, a conflict in which millions of Americans served in theaters across Europe and the Pacific.

He found only five.

"World War II veterans are passing away at an alarming rate," he said the day before.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs confirms his conclusion.

The country is losing its World War II veterans at an estimated rate of 740 per day, according to information provided by Jo Schuda, VA spokeswoman. Nationally, 270,200 World War II veterans are projected to die this year, with 3,840 of those deaths in Colorado.

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"We've lost a great many of our World War II veterans in the last 10 years," said Jerry Newberry, director of communications for the Veterans of Foreign Wars national headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. "And as every year goes by, that naturally accelerates."

The national attrition rate is difficult to track, he said, "because veterans live in every community, every corner of the United States."

And, while most are recognized for their service, "there's got to be some that just go unnoted," he added.

Attrition at the local level isn't easy to pinpoint, either.

The U.S. Census Bureau's five-year estimate pegs Moffat County's World War II veteran population at 52, said Ed Wilkinson, Moffat County Veterans Service Officer.

However, he added that he couldn't estimate how many World War II veterans lived in the county five or 10 years ago.

The loss of these service members hasn't gone unnoticed.

"I've been in Craig over 30 years, and I know we've buried a lot of them," said Larry Neu, quartermaster for VFW Post 4265 in Craig.

As the World War II veteran population dwindles, officials are faced with the task of preserving the history they lived.

Nationally, the VFW participates in a project that records interviews with World War II veterans and preserves them in the Library of Congress, Newberry said.

"We've certainly been involved in that for years and years because we understand preserving their stories are important," he said. "It's important that their legacy is maintained."

For their part, local officials also are memorializing the men and women who served in the war.

VFW Post 4265 performs military funerals for service members who served in World War II, as well as for any other veteran.

"Veterans are veterans," said Mark Wick, post commander said. "We try to take care of them all as best we can."

The American Legion also performs military funerals for World War II veterans, Garcia said.

"There's a lot of history" connected to World War II veterans, he said, but that history can be lost.

"Their families have just lost track of the things they've done," he said.

Yet, Newberry believes the country will remember the men and women who served in this war, even as their numbers continue to decline.

"I think their contributions have been such that the memory of their accomplishments, their service and their sacrifice is one that Americans will hold on to for generations to come," he said.

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World War II veterans:

• Current population estimates

—U.S.: 1,711,000

—Colorado: 24,830

—Moffat County: 52

• Projected deaths in 2011

—U.S.: 270,200

— Colorado: 3,840

• Estimated national attrition rate: 740 per day

Sources: Jo Schuda, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spokeswoman, and Ed Wilkinson, Moffat County Veterans Service Officer.