'Greatest generation' legacy is for future generations

SALEM — As Oregon officially recognized the "greatest generation," a new memorial dedicated Friday aims at telling future generations why World War II was so important.

More than 2,000 people came to the site west of the Capitol on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings of American, British and Canadian troops on the beaches of northern France. Within 11 months, the war in Europe ended with Germany's surrender, and within four more months, Japan surrendered in the Pacific war.

"We certainly needed both victories, or your grandkids would be learning English as a second language," said Bill Markham of Roseburg, who would go on to serve 28 years in the Oregon House.

Markham, now 91, was then a B-17 bomber pilot based in Britain. He did not fly on June 6, 1944, but his father was a reserve officer who landed as part of the invasion.

Markham read a pre-invasion letter issued by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied supreme commander, who told the 163,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen they were embarking on a "great crusade." Eisenhower's postwar memoir, published four years before he was elected president, is titled "Crusade in Europe."

Oregon has had memorials for those in other wars — including the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan — but not for World War II until now. About 153,000 Oregonians were in uniform during those years; an estimated 17,000 remain alive today.

The memorial consists of a 33-foot-tall obelisk — Oregon is the 33rd state — and marble walls bearing the names of almost 3,800 Oregonians who died. A global map depicts the major battle sites.

The Legislature authorized the memorial in 2011 and approved $250,000 for it. The other $1 million was raised by the Oregon World War II Memorial Foundation, led by Vietnam War veterans Lou Jaffe and Jim Willis. Willis was director of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs from 2003 to 2013.

Gov. John Kitzhaber was born after the war, but his father, Albert, served in the U.S. Third Army led by Gen. George S. Patton, and began war service in France.

Until his father's death in 2006, Kitzhaber said, "I would call him up every year on June 6 and thank him for saving the world."

"Let's not forget to be grateful for what we have been given by what others gave," he added.

The crowd included military veterans of America's other wars since World War II, and two Iraq War veterans — Cameron Smith and Maj. Gen. Daniel Hokanson — now lead the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs and the Oregon National Guard.

Hokanson said every veteran "will have his own story to tell."

Kitzhaber said among the last U.S. troops to go to Afghanistan will be a 950-member combat team from the 41st Infantry Brigade in Oregon, swelling the ranks of veterans from the recent wars. The soldiers are scheduled for deployment this summer for a nine-month stint.

"Veterans are not a burden we have to bear," he said.

"They are an enormous asset that we have the opportunity to be in touch with. They are exactly what Oregon needs. They are mission-driven, hard-working, service-minded men and women who are willing and able to help their communities."

Dirk Kruysman, also of Roseburg, offered a different perspective on World War II. He was just 10 and living in German-occupied Holland when the Allies invaded Europe.

"It was this day that was the beginning of the end of a long, brutal war in Europe," he recalled. "I do remember my mother telling me that if the rumors of an invasion were true, there now was hope that the war would end someday."

People in Nazi-occupied Europe could not simply turn on a radio — the Germans would not broadcast such news, and would arrest anyone caught tuning in to the BBC in London — but booklets were dropped a few days later.

Still, it took 11 months for the Allies — including the former Soviet Union — to subdue Germany. Kruysman said while his family struggled with the lack of food and heat, "we were the lucky ones," because their neighbors were executed for being part of the anti-Nazi resistance.

"But there are millions of people in France, Belgium and Holland who were given a chance to live again because of the blood, sweat and tears of the soldiers, sailors and airmen of the United States, Great Britain and Canada," he said. "I find it so sad that so many people, both here in the United States and in Europe, have forgotten or never even learned what the people of the United States did there."

Among the other guests at the ceremony were former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who was a Marine from 1959 to 1963, and the only veteran among recent governors; Salem businessman Gerry Frank, who was in the Army in Europe during World War II, and Robert Maxwell of Bend, Oregon's only living Medal of Honor recipient, who also was in the Army in France.

Secretary of State Kate Brown joined Jaffe and Larry Epping of Salem, another Army veteran in Europe, in cutting the ribbon for the memorial.

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Updates with crowd estimate furnished by Oregon State Police; corrects spelling in last paragraph.