By Tony Kutter
Every Monday, The Buffalo News interviews a veteran of a foreign war. Several weeks ago, the reporter interviewed a 91-year-old veteran of World War II. It turns out my wife, Trudy, worked with him in the accounting department at Ashland Oil Co. in the 1950s. He was a guest at our wedding.
We never thought about him anymore, assuming he had passed away. After reading the article, Trudy contacted him. He and his wife are still living on Grand Island. A lively discussion ensued, followed by many emails. We hope to meet him soon.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, of the 16 million Americans who fought in World War II, there are only about 620,00 living today.
In The News article, our friend shared his experiences growing up and serving in the military as an 18-year-old and what life was like during the war. Most men felt it was their duty to enlist.
I joined a visitation program funded by a grant from a Genesee County person who left several million dollars to help local senior citizens programs. I visited three World War II veterans who just wanted to chat and visit with another veteran.
I recall one man who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was an interpreter for Gen. George Patton. This veteran could speak both Polish and German. He said to me: “You know, nobody is interested in my stories except you. I always look forward to spending some time with you.”
Sadly, all three have since passed, and so have their stories.
I believe everyone should write his or her memoirs. I have taken on this task and I’m amazed at the materials you can assemble by doing a little research. I often wish I would have asked my parents more about their lives. One does not think much about that until they are gone.
I am a first-generation American who spoke no English when I started school. My father was in World War I on the German side. He was a prisoner of war in France. He escaped from prison in the winter and had to hide out. He suffered severe frostbite, among other injuries. He made it home to realize the armistice had been signed.
I am a Korean War veteran. Fortunately, I came home unharmed. I often asked my father about his experiences in the POW camp. But it wasn’t anything he enjoyed talking about. He told me that he was always cold, hungry and humiliated.
During World War II, America was highly polarized. We had our isolationists and interventionists. President Franklin Roosevelt was an interventionist.
I worked with my father in the cheese factory and lived at home until I was 26. We often spoke about the war. I think one of the most unpleasant discussions we had concerned the Holocaust. His answer was that over here, we didn’t know anything about it. I did some research. In the beginning of the war it was in the newspapers, but it usually was just a little article on the back pages. Many German-Americans originally thought it was just propaganda.
Germany had a propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels. Today we call it fake news.
My father told me that even though he had been an American citizen since 1928, he had to be careful speaking about these matters. It didn’t take much before you were considered an extremist.
I urge you all to write your memoirs. Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be so proud and thankful that they know something about their grandparents. And it may give them a different insight into history.