You may have noticed in the past year an increase in the number of Chronicle stories about World War II veterans, the most recent on April 23 about the military experience of Ted LaDoux, a sailor who was aboard the USS William D. Porter when it sank.
Every warrior has a story to tell and time is running out to get those of the “Greatest Generation” down on paper before they have passed on.
According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs, WWII vets are dying at a rate of approximately 492 a day. That means there are only 855,070 veterans remaining of the 16 million who served in the European and Pacific theaters during the bloodiest battles in American history.
More than 60 million people were killed during WWII, over 3 percent of the world’s population at that time. Twenty-two million to 25 million of those casualties were military personnel, including five million who died in captivity as prisoners of war. Over 400,000 United States troops were killed.
Our reporters are dedicated to getting the experiences of as many WWII veterans as possible on record during the next couple of years. We ask readers with a loved one who served in any branch of the service during that time to email Neita Cecil, firstname.lastname@example.org or RaeLynn Ricarte at email@example.com, or call 541-296-2141, ext. 112.
Since we are talking about World War II in this column, here are a few interesting facts from the Armed Forces History Museum:
• To date, World War II caused more destruction and cost more money than has any other conflict. The U.S. defense budget during the war increased from $1.9 billion to a staggering $59.8 billion.
• More than 80,000 U.S. soldiers died in the Battle of the Bulge, making it the largest and deadliest battle for U.S. troops to date.
• Newly developed blood transfusion proved to be the most important medical advancement, credited with saving the lives of WWII troops.
• The country with the largest number of casualties was Russia, which lost more than 21 million people. Only 23 percent of males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 survived the war.
• An average of 27,700 tons of bombs was dropped per month by the Allies from 1939 to 1945, a total of 3.5 million tons.
• The U.S. camouflage print for service uniforms used during World War II was designed by Norvell Gillespie, garden editor for Better Homes and Gardens Magazine.
• The youngest serviceman in the U.S. military was Calvin Graham, 12, who lied about his age when he enlisted in the Navy. His real age was discovered after he was wounded.
• Only one out of every four men serving on U-boats survived. German U-boats are credited with sinking 2,000 Allied ships. A total of 781 U-boats were destroyed in the process.
• The Battle of the Atlantic is the longest of the war, lasting from 1939 to 1945.
• Production of war-related items soared in the U.S. during WWII, including: 650,000 Jeeps, 300,000 military aircraft, 89,000 tanks, three million machine guns and seven million rifles.
• The only reported civilian deaths in the U.S. from 9,000 balloon bombs launched by the Japanese were in Oregon. Five children and one pregnant woman were killed in an explosion after finding a bomb that had not detonated.
• It is believed that as many as 2,000 Kamikaze pilots died while sinking 34 U.S. ships, damaging 368, killing 4,900 soldiers and wounding 4,800.
• To avoid using the German name “hamburger” during World War II, Americans used the name “Liberty Steak.”
• The top ace fighter of all nations involved in WWII was the German pilot Erich Hartmann, known as the Blond Knight, who is credited with 352 “kills.”
• Private Eddie Slovik was the only U.S. deserter of WWII shot for this crime since the Civil War. He was executed in January of 1945.
• The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was (and continues to be) the most decorated unit in U.S. history. The motto for this Japanese American volunteer group was “Go for Broke.” They received a total of 4,667 medals and citations, including 560 Silver Stars and 4,000 Bronze Stars.
• During WWII, the largest Japanese spy ring was located in Mexico, where they monitored the U.S. Atlantic fleet.
• The U.S. is the only country that Germany formally declared war on in WWII.
• When the war was over, the majority of German war criminals gained their freedom by claiming to be refugees at various displaced persons camps.
• Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier, emerged from the jungles of the Pacific island of Lubank in 1974. Unaware Japan had surrendered, he had remained hidden in the jungle for 29 years.
Memorial Day is fast approaching and the Chronicle is on the lookout for a story befitting that somber day that remembers America’s war dead. Please contact a reporter if your family has something to share. The Chronicle staff thanks and honors veterans from all of America’s wars, as well as their families, who have shared the sacrifice.