World War II Veterans Are In Their 90s

Last week, I read an article in the Smithsonian Magazine , titled, “Lone Star,” a tribute to a 91 year old WWII veteran.

Written by Al Reinert, the story touched my heart with its description of the wartime experiences and current struggles with aging experienced by Ray Halliburton of Luling, Texas. Illustrated with poignant photos of Ray, the article also tells the sad tale of his older brother Johnnie, who died in France in August, 1944.

The following caption appears under a picture of Ray sleeping in his bed, his blankets pulled up to his chin, his cane leaning against the wall:

“Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, some 847,000 are alive today, with the greatest numbers in California, Florida, and Texas.“  (Lone Star, by Al Reinert, Smithsonian Magazine, January/February 2016, Vol. 46, Number 9, page 111)

These living WWII veterans are only 5% of the original number. Each day, statistically, close to 500 of these men and women pass away, their memories, if not written down or recorded somehow, lost forever.
These figures hold special meaning for me because preserving the memories of my uncle, Herman Lang, was the motive for writing Immigrant Soldier and my research has brought me into contact with many wonderful WWII veterans.  But besides military veterans, many others played important roles in the defeat of the Nazi juggernaut. These various heroes, anti-heroes, and by-standers are also passing away at the same rate, their memories no less valuable to our understanding of that important time.

Preserving  memories from World War II and the Holocaust is a mission of importance.  Two organizations which collect these vanishing memories are The National WWII Museum in New Orleans ( )  and the National Holocaust Museum World Memory Project (   In fact, my friend and “Ritchie Boy,” Ralph Hockley, will be interviewed and filmed by the National Holocaust Museum next month.

A few weeks ago, I attended a talk given at my local Chabad Center.  The speaker was 95 year old Marthe Cohn, a diminutive and spritely lady who was a spy for the French Army during the war.  After the Allied invasion at Normandy and the re-establishment of the First French Army, Marthe, then a 4’10,” pretty 21 year old, Jewish blonde, went behind enemy lines posing as a German nurse looking for her fiancé.  She gathered important information and delivered it to the French, thus helping to shorten the War.  I was entranced by Marthe Cohn, her personality still full of zip and her memory remains vital and brimming with details. She frequently entreated her audience to “Google it if you want to know more.”  I bought her book, Behind Enemy Lines, which I plan to read and review here in the next few months.   Then I did as she suggested. I Googled her. Among other clips, I found a wonderful video on U-Tube that shows a somewhat younger Marthe making her presentation at a Southern California senior center.  This video is an hour long, but well worth the time.

As 2015 comes to a close, I want to thank you, my blog readers, for being part of one of the most exciting years of my life.   For me, it was the year of Immigrant Soldier, The Story of a Ritchie Boy. I have dedicated the last 12 months to my book and it has been an unbelievable experience.  I have learned more about publishing and marketing than I thought possible, met many wonderful and interesting people, and been honored in ways that I never imagined.  My wild ride as an indie-author is not over.  January and February are already filled with presentations and book-group visits.   Though I may be posting slightly less often (I have set myself the goal of one post every 2 weeks in 2016), I hope you will continue to follow my blog.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *