July 19, 2024

COLUMN: Let’s honor them no matter when

I’m 99% sure I broke a rule of the Memorial Day holiday you probably saw Friday.

But I still don’t feel guilty.

Years ago, I was told by a veteran Memorial Day, which was Monday, is to remember those who have served and are gone. Veterans Day in November is the time to honor those who have served and are still living. There is also an Armed Forces Day when those are still serving are recognized. I understand that to the fullest.

Can you appropriately mix the purposes of each holiday?

This year is the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. Sandwiched between World War II and Vietnam, the three-year battle including the United States still may not get the attention it deserves like the other two wars. The war was the setting for the massively popular television show “MASH” in the 1970s and early 1980s, but that was intended for comedy and dramatic entertainment. My neighbor when I was a young teen in Colorado had served in Korea and we really didn’t talk much about his service. (I started watching reruns of the show about the same time my neighbor’s friendship got more in-depth.) I didn’t push the war stories either as I was a kid with other interests.

As an adult, I don’t want the Korean War end anniversary to be forgotten. The war ended in July 1953 so we could have saved it for July. But was it inherently wrong to have something about a living Korean War veteran for Memorial Day as there were some 54,000 American lives lost?

The stories from these generations need to be told, recorded and passed down to future generations.

In 2015 I was part of a national volunteer organization to help honor the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II that year. Services were held at places across the country with an emphasis in September. At the time, some people who contributed to the organization estimated an average of 500 World War II veterans were passing away daily. The national Veterans Affair office in early 2022 estimated 234 deaths a day of people who were in the war.

I’ve asked various people since 2015 if anyone is keeping track of the remaining World War II veterans so we will know who, where and when about the last one. It was such an important part of American and world history and American culture. I know of veterans who were proud of their service, but have no interest to talk about it decades later. One of my grandfathers was one of those. We need to keep track of the Korean War veterans too. Adair County had Clarence Pfundheller who served at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 194. He told his story to school students before his passing.

Janine Stange, a woman from Staten Island, New York, sung the national anthem in all 50 states and has since become a supporter of service people from that era. I was at her Iowa performance and have since followed her efforts on social media. She is noting survivors she is aware of on special occasions. Janine was also at the World War II anniversary meeting I attended.

Last December, the San Diego newspaper reported no veteran survivors were expected to attend annual Pearl Harbor services. It was the second year in a row without a living survivor. There were thousands of troops stationed there before the attack. A Pearl Harbor survivor network organization chapter closed in 2019, eight years after the parent office already called it quits, with records then of about 600 survivors.

Those who served during Korea deserve the same attention from more people.

I wanted to find someone from Union County who served during Korea. I asked the same on the Creston News Advertiser Facebook page a few weeks ago and got a response. Thanks. But I wondered if there were people who knew of someone but not linked to our Facebook followers. I made some phone calls. Some calls didn’t produce what was desired.

Maybe we can find some additional information and have something in July.

These stories can’t wait.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.