DAYTON, Ohio — Paul Young rarely talked about his service during World War II — about the B-25 bomber he piloted, about his 57 missions, about the dangers he faced or the fears he overcame.
“Some things you just don’t talk about,” he said.
But Susan Frymier had a hunch that if she could journey from Fort Wayne, Ind., with her 92-year-old dad for a reunion of his comrades in the 57th Bomb wing, he would open up.
She was right: On a private tour at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, amid fellow veterans of flights over southern Europe and Germany, Young rattled off vivid details of his plane, crewmates, training and some of his most harrowing missions.
“Dad, you can’t remember what you ate yesterday, but you remember everything about World War II,” his daughter said, beaming.
When Young came home from the war, more than 70 years ago, there were 16 million veterans like him — young soldiers, sailors and Marines who returned to work, raise families, build lives. Over the decades, children grew up, married, had children of their own; careers were built and faded into retirement; love affairs followed the path from the altar to the homestead and often, sadly, to the graveyard.
Through it all, the veterans would occasionally get together to remember the greatest formative experience of their lives. But as the years wore on, there were fewer and fewer of them. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, just a little over 1 million remain. The ones who remain are in their 80s and 90s, and many are infirm or fragile.
So the reunions, when they are held, are more sparsely attended — yearly reminders of the passing of the Greatest Generation.
When veterans of the Battle of the Bulge gathered in Kansas City this summer, only 40 came, according to organizers, down from 63 last year and 350 in 2004.