Monday, November 12, 2001

A Veterans Day view of America




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        Veterans Day calculates the cost of freedom by measuring America's boundless generosity. The day honors those who gave their time and, sometimes, their lives to preserve our liberties.

        The events of Sept. 11, coupled with the upcoming 60th anniversary of Japan's given attack on Pearl Harbor, have added poignancy to this three-day weekend's ceremonies.

        Any parade or patriotic speech, any playing of taps or waving of the flag, provides us an opportunity to reflect, to see us as we were then and as we are now.

Different times

               These reflections contrast how Americans react to sneak attacks. Since the evil acts of Sept. 11, donations of $1.2 billion have poured in to help the victims.

        By itself, the American Red Cross' Liberty Fund has received $564 million in donations. That fund is under fire. Questions are being asked about how the money is being spent.

        After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, there were no money disputes. There was no money.

        “We got nothing,” said 78-year-old Joe Whitt, president of the local chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

        “They didn't have any fund-raisers like they're doing today,” said Jim Welker, a 79-year-old former Cincinnatian living in Elida, Ohio and serving as the association's state chairman.

        “The guys who got killed got $10,000 from their GI life insurance,” said 82-year-old Julius Finnern, the association's former national secretary from Menomonee Falls, Wis.

        Death benefits were paid “if GIs kept up their payments of $4.50 a month,” said Jim Welker. “We only made $21 a month.”

A grateful nation

               For that princely sum, Joe Whitt volunteered to stand on the deck of the USS San Francisco on Dec. 7, 1941 and fire a rifle at Japanese planes.

        “Those son of a guns weren't going to catch me hiding in some rat hole.”

        Jim Welker woke up in his Army Air Corps barracks on Dec. 7 to see a Japanese Zero “with those big red meatballs on the wings” strafing the neighborhood.

        Julius Finnern was a fireman on the USS Monaghan. During the Dec. 7 attack, his destroyer rammed a Japanese sub. “It rolled under us and was greeted by two 500-pound depth charges that effectively sent its crewmen to their ancestors.”

        For their efforts on that fateful day, Jim, Joe and Julius received a star on their American Defense ribbons.

        “Everybody in the war got the ribbon,” Julius said. “Only those who fought at Pearl Harbor got the star.”

        The yellow star, he added, “is about the same size as what a kid in kindergarten gets on his report card.”

        Joe remembered receiving “a bronze medal in 1991. The government had it struck for Pearl Harbor's 50th anniversary. Had to go to Columbus to get it. Some dignitary was supposed to be there. He never showed up.”

        None of these men feels jealous about the money raised since Sept. 11.

        “I never expected to live past 25,” Julius said. “I'm 82 and still on the right side of the sod.

        “So, I gave $100 to the relief fund. We're a generous nation.”

        Generous with donations. Generous serving our nation.

        Remember to extend that generosity. Honor America's veterans.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at cradle@enquirer.com; 768-8379; fax 768-8340. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/radel

       



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