The recent passing of President George H.W. Bush reminds us of our dwindling number of World War II veterans, the men and women who served so many decades ago who survived to tell about it. Mr. Bush was the last World War II veteran to serve as president.
There were several World War II veterans in my family. One aunt served as a Marine and her husband served in the Navy. My favorite veteran in my family was Uncle Rudy, my father’s brother. If Rudy were alive today, he would be 101 years old.
My father was unable to serve. Diagnosed with tuberculosis, instead of military service, he spent more than a year in medical treatment. Rudy served in the Army and attained the rank of sergeant before being discharged at the end of the war. Rudy was two years older than dad. Rudy was one of the best people I ever knew—a good-looking, hardworking and loving man who should have had children, but never did.
In Spring of 1975, my father died in Albuquerque. My mother bought a house that had a swamp cooler. Before my dad’s death, I got that swamp cooler working. Up on the roof of the house, I connected the copper tube that supplied the water, checked the filters and turned on the water to flood the cooler. Unfortunately, a few weeks later there was a freeze and the copper tube burst.
When my father died, my grandpa, Uncle Rudy and other family members came to Albuquerque for the memorial service. Rudy and I spent several hours on the roof of Mom’s house—trying to get that swamp cooler going again. We were both veterans working together to cut down the copper tube and reinstall it on the cooler.
A few days later, we parted company. I never saw Uncle Rudy again. He died of a sudden heart attack in December of that year. Years later, I treasure that time we spent together.
We should value our handful of surviving World War II veterans. We are losing them every day. To some extent, it was Rudy’s example that led me to serve, including a year in a combat zone. Rudy drove a truck in New Guinea, but his service was important and he served with honor. I miss him.
WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.