published Friday, March 9th, 2012

Honoring a vet and a generation

Murel Winans is a member of this nation's aptly named "Greatest Generation," those men and women who willingly, ably and bravely served the United States during World War II. They earned the "greatest" sobriquet not only for their service at the front and at home, but for what they accomplished in the decades following the war. For all that they did, they deserve the accolades that have accrued to them over the years.

The men and women of the "Greatest Generation" have been honored in many ways over the years, but those laurels have been mostly a collective honor. There's nothing wrong with that, but it is sometimes helpful to remember that individual deeds and accomplishments, multiplied by the millions, are the building blocks of the generation's greatness.

Murel Winans, a Chattanooga who landed on the beach at Normandy on D-Day, is one of those millions. A Navy corpsman who also saw service in the Pacific theater, Winans treated wounded soldiers and sailors on the beach on the day of the invasion and continued to provide aid for weeks afterward. He's never forgotten what he saw then, but he doesn't dwell on it. "You don't never forget it. It's etched on your brain," he says. "But I don't dwell on it because I don't think it it's good for you to dwell on it."

That understanding, too, is a hallmark of the "Greatest Generation." It is that spirit that the nation and the rest of the world should remember. In Winans' case, his service nearly seven decades ago is being recalled and celebrated again. On Thursday, Winans and five other Tennessee veterans were honored with the French Legion of Honor during ceremonies in Nashville. It is France's highest award. It commemorates service in France and to the French people during some of the darkest days of World War II. It is a fitting honor for Winans and his fellow veterans. It is also especially timely.

According to statistics compiled and reported by the Veteran's Administration, the nation's veterans of World War II now are dying at a rate of about 740 a day, a toll that is swiftly reducing the ranks of the about 16 million who served the country during the 1941-1945 conflict. Currently, there are only about 1.7 million World War II vets remaining. Most are well into their 80s, and if their service is to be publicly acknowledged before they die, the time to do so is passing quickly.

Honoring World War II vets like Winans and the generation he represents is a reminder of the valor, the spirit and the fundamental decency of the millions who selflessly risked their lives, who worked tirelessly in the war effort and who joined forces to build a post-war democracy that became the envy of the world. It is a potent reminder, too, of how far a United States increasingly divided by partisanship on vital issues has strayed from the ideals exemplified by the "Greatest Generation."

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