So long lives this, and this gives life to thee
Pilgrimages to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., are final journeys for many of the long-lived veterans of World War II. These elderly men and women from around the nation come every day of the year, but the days surrounding Veterans Day bring them in great numbers. The weather has been good to them this year, so they linger to ponder in comfort, seeing sights and refreshing memories beyond the imagining of one who has not shared them. Still, the atmosphere of the solemn place is charged with their presence, and history lives palpably.
That was how it felt the other day, and how it’s been each time we’ve visited the World War II Memorial.
This year, the last surviving veteran of World War I died. Now the youngest World War II veterans are in their 70s. As a population, they are dying at a rate of 1,000 per year. By 2020, according to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, they will be no more.
So while you can, snatch the living history of World War II from oblivion.
Bill Burton, our vital and venerable columnist from 1993 until his death in 2009, kept his memories of serving in World War II close, even on his visits to the Memorial. Bill was more concerned that we remember the ones who never lived to make memories or stories or lives.
So each Veterans Day, he told the story of Henry Beckwith, his boyhood chum who never returned home, lest Hen’s ties to this world be severed. Sometimes he told Henry’s story to himself; sometimes only to his family; sometimes to all of us through Bay Weekly.
This year, we write in Bill’s stead, speaking both their names lest they — and all those for whom they stand — be forgotten.
Once again, Bill wrote in these pages in 2005, we are asked to remember those who served. I cannot allow the day to pass without somber thoughts of my best high school friend, Henry Beckwith of Navy Air, who went down over Great Britain in ’44. As we fished, studied and chased girls, we anxiously waited to join the fight against Tojo and Hitler. Several times the Navy turned us down; we weren’t yet 17.
We had planned to serve together, but I wanted the SeaBees; Henry, Navy Air, so we parted when we joined up. I never saw him again, though often I have played tennis at the recreational center named in his honor, the Beckwith-Bruckshaw Lodge in Burrillville, Rhode Island.
Nothing has or ever will be named in my honor, but I have lived a full life while Hen was around only 19 years. He never had the time to marry, start a family, never enjoyed the pleasures of adult life, that first new car and house, grandchildren, the works.
It isn’t only on Veterans and Memorial Day, but not infrequently at other times, I think about those two carefree students, Hen and me, and wonder why it was he. Why was I the lucky one?
The day I received a newspaper clipping telling about villagers in Ireland burying Hen in a field where his plane went down, aloud I promised him he would never be forgotten.
Nor should any of the others be forgotten; it matters not what war, what place, what time. It matters only that they made the supreme sacrifice. Enough said.
By the way, on one thing Bill was wrong. He was honored as an Admiral of the Chesapeake, and the Choptank River State Park Fishing Piers at Cambridge and the pier at Fort Smallwood Park in Pasadena are named in his honor.
Visit Ballyconneely and Clifden, Ireland, and you’ll also find a monument that citizens there dedicated in 1994 to Henry Beckwith and the crew who fell from the sky with him in a PB4Y-1 Liberator.
Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor & Publisher