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Members of ‘greatest generation’ visit memorial

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Melanie Streeter
  • Air Force Print News
They have been called the “Greatest Generation,” and now a fitting tribute to them adorns the National Mall here, set between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.

“It is A-No.-1-plus,” retired Master Sgt. Paul Bradford said of the World War II Memorial. “But it’s 50 years late.”

Sergeant Bradford served in the Air Force until 1963. During the war, he was deployed in the Pacific theater as a combat engineer, building and maintaining runways as Allied forces hopped from island to island, combating Japan.

“It really is beautiful,” he said. “Everything is represented. It’s a very honored thing, and I think it is just outstanding. Obviously a lot of thought went into this.”

After the war, Sergeant Bradford left the military for a time, but was drawn back to serve. He and his wife, an Army nurse he met during the war, went to Japan, where he was assigned to the 1st Occupation Force.

Sergeant Bradford is back with the military again as a resident of the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, one of two Armed Forces Retirement Homes in the nation.

Another resident, retired Chief Master Sgt. Warren Toogood, said he also appreciated the memorial.

“It took my breath away,” Chief Toogood said. “When I stood in front of the stars on the wall and realized each star represented 100 men -- 100 lives -- it just (took my) breath away to see how many lives were lost to preserve the peace.”

The Freedom Wall is adorned with 4,000 gold stars in memory of the nearly 400,000 Americans who gave their lives in the war. On other walls are inscriptions quoting the leaders of the time.

“I like the design,” Chief Toogood said. “I like the General (Douglas) MacArthur, (and Presidents) Harry Truman and (Franklin) Roosevelt quotes. When you read them, you sort of get sentimental.”

Congress authorized the memorial in 1993, and construction began in September 2001. The official dedication ceremony, scheduled for May 29, is expected to attract more than 800,000 people.

One of the inscriptions on the monument, a quote by President Truman, rings just as true today as when the words were spoken 59 years ago.

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”

With the opening of this memorial, a lasting reminder of those sacrifices will be there for generations to come.