They truly were "The Greatest Generation," those 16 million-plus men and women who served America in World War II between 1941 and 1945.
Approximately 980,000 of these veterans remain with us, about 16,000 residing in Tennessee.
Most of the survivors are in their 90s. We are losing them at the rate of approximately 413 a day.
Four of these patriots live under one roof at Elmcroft Senior Living and Memory Care Community in Lebanon: Elmer Marler, Dorothy Ruth, Jim Williams and Neville Triplett.
Earlier this month the quartet was happy to share a few of their wartime memories with The Wilson Post in conjunction with a unique experience that will pay tribute to and celebrate servicemen and servicewomen at Fiddlers Grove on Saturday.
"This event will be honoring all of our veterans with a special emphasis on the World War II veterans," said Gwen Scott, Fiddlers Grove event coordinator. "We will be opening at 10 in the morning with a parade of veterans around the newer part of Fiddlers Grove and that will be followed by a presentation of colors and a short program.
"Folks who attend will be able to visit with members of 101st Airborne Living History Group, who will be dressed in WWII uniforms and sharing history about what it was like stateside during the war. There will be four camp shows recreated by the Freedom Belles from Atlanta, and during the day swing music and news from WWII will be broadcast over loudspeakers."
Alison Chambers, founder of The Freedom Belles, adds, "For the Tennessee Maneuvers event, we are excited to be bringing both our Freedom Belles trio and our camp show troupe.
The trio will be performing 1940s hits in three-part harmony, and the camp show troupe will be portraying Old Hollywood celebrities in a camp show led by Bob Hope [an impersonator]."
The Freedom Belles are a trio of singing pin-ups committed to celebrating and commemorating history. The camp show troupe portrays famous screen and stage icons through the decades with song, dance and lots of heart. Led by Bob Hope himself, their camp shows bring the past alive and recreate WWII, Korea, and Vietnam era camp shows. Among their celebrities for the day will be actors impersonating Bob Hope, Betty Grable, Dorothy Dandridge, Susan Hayward and Ava Gardner.
Admission to the event is $10 for ages 19 and older; $5 for ages 18 to 6; and free for those 5 and younger. Veterans, anyone who dresses in 1940s' clothing or in their military uniform will receive a $2 discount.
Wilson County native Elmer Marler, 100, was born four miles out of Watertown on Statesville Road. On Nov. 11, 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, and two years and seven months later found himself a part of the Allied invasion at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
A communications technician with the 186th Field Artillery Battalion, he recollects of the momentous event, "We lost so many good men."
Marler served as a radio operator on a Jeep as American forces crossed Europe.
"I was with a captain. I had a lot of work to do, messages," said the veteran, who spent one day in Paris on his way to the Rhineland. "The French were very glad to see us."
Traversing northern France, he and his band of brothers fought their way through Belgium and Germany and found themselves in Czechoslovakia when war in Europe ended May 8, 1945.
Later Marler returned to Nashville and worked several years building aircraft at the Vultee plant before starting a career of 17 years with TRW Automotive in Lebanon. The father of two daughters and three grandchildren has been at Elmcroft for seven years and is Watertown High School's oldest living graduate.
"I have a Bronze Star for repairing telephone lines under intense fire beyond the call of duty. I'm mighty proud of that," said the centenarian, who also earned five Battle Stars.
Dorothy Ruth, 92, who was born in Birmingham, Ala., grew up in Clarksville. In November 1942 she joined in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), a WWII division of the U.S. Naval Reserve consisting entirely of women.
"If you were a woman, you had to be 20 to enlist," recalled Ruth, who did her basic training at Hunter College in the Bronx, New York.
"I enlisted because of my father. He was a doctor and a WWI vet, and he really wanted to go to into WWII. They told him he was too old. It really upset him. I thought, 'This is something I could do for my father and the country.'
"Women at that time could not go overseas unless you were a nurse. I was a yeoman second class," she said of her stint while working in personnel at an air base in Atlanta.
"It was interesting," she noted of her duties. "I got to see a lot of people who came for various and sundry reasons. I assigned court martial cases to officers. You saw two kinds of people, from those who were not too bad to the worst."
Ruth, who shares her room with her Parisian cat Pierre, left the WAVES in May 1946 to pursue a business degree at the University of Tennessee. She and her husband later settled in Lebanon where she has spent the past 46 years.
The homefront heroine, who has collected a display shelf with about a dozen feline figurines, says, "I've had about a dozen cats. This cat is 12 years old. He will be my last cat."
A wide map on a wall covers a course of 23 years in the life of sailor Jim Williams, 91, a Chicago native. Pins dot a route of tens of thousands of miles of ocean voyages during his career in the Navy. Atop the map it reads: Jim Williams' Travels.
The destinations include New Guinea, the Philippines, Australia, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and other countries. The bodies of water include the South Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic Ocean, Norwegian Sea and Arctic Ocean.
His international journey began on his 18th birthday, Nov. 14, 1941, as he enlisted at the post office. Expecting to begin his naval career on the Great Lakes, he found himself later that day on a train bound for the Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho.
The temperature was below zero when Williams arrived. When another train pulled in with new sailors from San Diego, Williams and his group observed them in short-sleeve shirts and ill-prepared for the cold, thus they shared their sweaters and coats with the Southern Californians.
After being sent to San Francisco, he was assigned to a unit in New Guinea where he says his role "was to greet flying boats and ferry their personnel ashore to Admiral Thomas Kincaid's U.S. 7th Fleet headquarters." One memorable day he took a motor launch and picked up Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Williams spent 23 years in the Navy, serving three years aboard the USS Saratoga in the mid-1950s and retired as a chief boatswain. He then worked 20 years at Florida Steel in Jacksonville, Florida. The father of two has five grandchildren and has lived in Lebanon the past four years.
Neville Triplett, 92, born and raised in Flora, Mississippi, enlisted Nov. 15, 1942, into the Army Air Force. Awakened in the wee hours one morning, he was instructed to take an IQ test and decided to randomly check the answer boxes, resulting in a low score.
"They asked me if I was illiterate," he said. "Later I made friends with a man in headquarters and he talked me into retaking the test. I found out you had to score 110 to make an officer candidate. This time I scored 108.
"While I was at Daniel Field in Augusta, Georgia, I made corporal, two stripes. They put me in a group of 300 Mexicans up from the Texas border. I would write letters for them and read letters for them. Anything to help them soldiers.
"One day a sergeant asked if anybody could type. I was through volunteering for things.
The sergeant found that my records showed I had taken typing in high school. He chewed me out. They gave me a typing test and then I became a buck sergeant and was making $96 a month. A private made $50 a month."
After a 15-day furlough back home, he returned to base to find out they were making up six units to go to Flora, Triplett's hometown. There he completed basic training and shipped out with 2018th maintenance ordinance company AF.
"They high-balled us on a train to Seattle to catch a ship. When we got there the ship had pulled out for New Guinea. We stayed in Seattle for 30 days and caught the next ship for Oahu, Hawaii, where we were for 10 months.
"I was sitting on Okinawa when (President Harry) Truman dropped the bomb. Thank God Truman dropped the bomb," he said.
After his discharge in 1946, Triplett returned to his hometown to run a café. The father of two children has eight grandchildren and has been in Lebanon the past two years.
An American flag reserves a place of honor on the wall above his bed. A rock roughly the size of a football rests on the floor and bears the inscription: "Pikes Peak, 1985," a souvenir he brought down from its 14,000-foot summit 30 years ago. A collection of shot glasses fills a display case on another wall.
"I have one from 49 states, all but Alaska," Triplett grins. "I've had a drink in every state.
There's a lot to see in these old United States, more than on all the oceans. It's been a wonderful life."
Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at email@example.com.
Living history event and USO-style show to honor vets at Fiddlers Grove Saturday
The 101st Airborne Living History and Fiddlers Grove Historical Village join forces to present a day of activities in honor of American military veterans 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at Fiddlers Grove at the Wilson County Fairgrounds. The event will recreate the atmosphere of what it was like to be a soldier in WWII, offer entertainment by a camp show troupe, share historic photographs from the Tennessee Maneuvers and broadcast wartime radio shows. The event begins at 10 a.m. with a parade through Fiddlers Grove, and all veterans are encouraged to participate. It will be followed by a flag presentation. Four 30-minute camp shows will be performed at the Opry Pavilion at noon, 2, 4 and 6 p.m. by the Freedom Belles, who will be dressed in 1940s-style clothing and sing a variety of war-time hits. At 1 p.m. Wilson County native Woody McMillin will sign copies of "In the Presence of Soldiers," his book about the WWII maneuvers that took place in Middle Tennessee. Admission is $10 for ages 19 and older; $5 for ages 18 to 6; and free for those 5 and younger. Veterans, anyone who dresses in 1940s' clothing or in their military uniform will receive a $2 discount.
World War II Veterans Statistics
More than 16 million Americans served in World War II, during which 407,316 of them made the supreme sacrifice.
As of June 24, 2015, approximately 980,000 of these veterans are still living, 16,000 of them in Tennessee.
By 2036, there will probably be no more living WWII veterans.
The average soldier was 26 years old in 1944. Sailors and marines were generally younger.
38.8% of U.S. servicemen and all servicewomen were volunteers.
61.2% were draftees.
Average duration of service: 33 months.
Average base pay: enlisted man: $71.33 per month; officer: $203.50 per month.
Source: The National World War II Museum