Our opinion: Learn from them

For every harrowing story, every anecdote of a terrible time, there are thousands, tens of thousands, that will never be written, never be told.

Old soldiers never die, said Douglas McArthur, they just fade away.

While their living presence may fade from our vision, the memory and the lessons of their deeds should stay sharp in our minds.

Never in human history was the world so imperiled as it was 70 years ago.

Tom Brokaw called it “The Greatest Generation,” his landmark work on Americans who weathered this nation’s Great Depression and then defeated a human scourge in Europe second only to the Black Plague centuries before. In Asia, and among dozens of islands dotting the Pacific, they halted another government run amok.

In a television promotion to raise funds for the World War II memorial in Washington, Tom Hanks said, “They were ordinary people who half a century ago did nothing less than help save the world.”

Today, the youngest among them are in their late 80s, most in their 90s. For some, the memories are already lost. For some, even after seven decades, the memories are too terrible to relate. But, for others, the ability to talk about their part in the war fought around the world and here at home remains.

Through their stories we can try to imagine the chaos, the tragedy, the sense of duty, and yes, the heroism that is more awe-inspiring than anything Hollywood can conjure.

It has been said that heroism can only be achieved by ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances.

On Monday, 8th grade students at the Tidioute Community Charter School had the unique opportunity to meet two ordinary men who helped save the world, two among the millions of Americans who shouldered that job. They learned that all history was once real and that historical figures are not necessarily statesmen, but people like your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

Over the last two weeks the Times Observer has offered the stories of two more extraordinary men, and, over the next few, will introduce readers to more of them before they too fade away.

It is our great privilege to talk to these people and save their memories in the hope that in some small way those stories can inspire others to seek them out, talk to them, learn from them, and simply say thank you.