Paul  Kengor

Memorial Day is a wonderful constant. Every year, it never ceases to touch me. My family attends an annual parade in Mercer, Pennsylvania. It’s terrific—total old-school. The flags, the courthouse, the kids, the snow-cone stand, the marching bands, and, most of all, the troops from different wars—that is, the survivors who remain with us.

Speaking of whom, Memorial Day always brings another constant, a sad one: each new Memorial Day brings less World War II veterans. They are leaving us at a rapid clip. Anyone who entered World War II at age 18 in 1945—the final stretch when someone could have joined the war effort—would now be 86 years old. Anyone who entered the war at age 18 in 1941 is 90. There aren’t as many now as there were 10 years ago, and 10 years from now … well, do the math.

A colleague of mine was reminded of this universal reality just a few weeks ago. His name is Glenn Marsch. He teaches with me at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania. As a professor of physics, Glenn understands something about constants and universal laws. This Memorial Day will be his first without the constant of his father. He lost his dad in March.

Glenn’s dad became a soldier in October 1944, shipping off to the Pacific. He was an army construction engineer, often a dangerous job. He had fellow troops—friends of his—who were killed. He personally incurred a serious wartime injury. Because he didn’t talk about the injury (or the war), Glenn didn’t learn the full extent of it until the funeral. “My oldest brother revealed that Dad had been burned over much of his body,” says Glenn. “He recovered and went back to active duty, but I never saw him on a beach without a shirt and long shorts. Upon smelling something disgusting, he would say, ‘smells like human flesh burning.’”

Think about that: Glenn never caught his dad without a shirt and pants or long shorts—not even at the beach in the summer. His father stoically concealed his wounds. Never talked about them.

Glenn’s dad instead quietly came home from combat and served his country in another way—as a good, God-fearing American who held a job, loved his wife, raised his kids, and made a better culture and country. And there were millions like him.