Paul LaScala’s concerns are not typical among young teenagers. The 14-year-old freshman at St. Francis High School in Athol Springs spent part of Veterans Day participating in a ceremony to honor sailors who served on Navy destroyer escorts and all other military veterans at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park.
Paul says he worries that other young people absorbed in the gadgetry of the digital age will end up without a full appreciation of the sacrifices that past generations have made to ensure their freedoms.
“A lot of young people today are so involved with technology, their tablets and iPads, and so much is taken out of the history books that there is hardly anything about Pearl Harbor and not just that, but the Holocaust,” Paul said Monday of America’s reason for entering World War II and the atrocities committed by Hitler at his concentration camps against Jews and other groups.
“Had people not made a sacrifice to fight in World War II, we’d be part of Nazi Germany,” the teenager said as his granduncle, Frank Illig, 87, of East Aurora, a Navy veteran who served on a destroyer escort in World War II, stood a few feet away. Illig expressed appreciation that someone so young could fathom how others had put their lives on the line when they, too, were young.
A few moments later, the teen was one of several people selected to toss red roses of remembrance into the waters beside the USS The Sullivans, a Navy destroyer named in memory of the five Sullivan brothers who perished when their ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine in the Pacific.
Danny Koslicki, an 87-year-old Navy veteran, said he, too, worries the sacrifices of past generations will be forgotten.
“I notice that when you talk to children about Pearl Harbor, maybe only one out of 10 knows anything about it,” Koslicki said. “When we had the terrorist attacks on 9/11, lots of flags were flown, but now people forget. You have to remember terrorists are sneaky weasels.”
Navy veteran Fran Lucca, 88, captain of the Buffalo Chapter of the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association, which sponsored the waterside ceremony, said he fears that a time will come when young people won’t even know who America’s enemies were in World War II.
“There are revisionists out there who want to change history, and I’m afraid that someday children won’t know who started the war, but as long as we’re alive, we will keep alive the memory of the 17- and 18-year-olds who made sacrifices and fought,” Lucca said.
But time is waging its own battle and winning against those who can still provide firsthand accounts of World War II. An estimated 413 of them die every day in the United States, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“When we started our association chapter in 1978, we had about 200 members,” Lucca told the 20 people at the ceremony. “Now we’re down to 40 or 50, and there are maybe a half-dozen of us here today.”
Many people, though, have not forgotten the sacrifices of the sailors who served on destroyer escorts.
Gabe Ferber, of Buffalo, arrived at the ceremony to say thanks on behalf of his late father-in-law, Irving Schwartz, who served on a “Jeep Carrier” ship transporting airplanes at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.
“Had it not been for the courage of the destroyer escort sailors who went up against the largest battleship in the world, the Yamato, my father-in-law would not have survived,” Ferber said.
Ferber, holding a book on the battle in his hands, shared his gratitude with Illig, who had brought his grandnephew to the Veterans Day ceremony.
Illig expressed his own gratitude that a stranger would take time out of the day to stop by and say thanks.
Vietnam War veteran Mike McCullon, a volunteer docent at the park, said there are others signs of encouragement that veterans will always be remembered.
“Many people don’t even know the park is here, but we are getting class trips coming with high school students and younger children,” McCullon said.
“So there is hope.”