DENVER (KDVR) — Out of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II, there are roughly 240,000 veterans still living. One group has made it their mission to make sure these heroes’ service and sacrifices are remembered, honored and most importantly, never forgotten.
This country is quickly losing members of the “Greatest Generation,” according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
William Wilburn enlisted in the U.S. Army straight out of high school and served in occupied Germany during WWII. He was a mechanic in the 614 Tank Destroyer Battalion.
“In Germany, we had to hide from Germans,” he said when describing this chapter of his life. “(We) couldn’t go out any place after dark.”
“Everybody likes to be appreciated, but the sacrifices those guys made, we’ll never be able to understand,” his son, Derrick Wilburn, said. “Sleeping in the crawl spaces beneath a tank, and eating (tiny meals) and freezing cold at night — the sacrifices they made for freedom, nobody understands but them.”
William’s grown children do not even fully understand these sacrifices, mostly because their father rarely spoke of his time in the service.
Derrick Wilburn tries to understand regardless, writing in his blog, “One of the neat things that happens when you move old people around is you start going through stuff and discovering things. In so doing I’ve found my dad’s old Army paperwork, enlistment and discharge papers included.”
Wilburn had a long list of decorations, citations and medals and was honorably discharged one year after the war’s conclusion in 1946.
It is not unusual for WWII veterans not to have received medals, as it was common practice then to issue ribbons instead.
“Sir, it’s my honor to award you the third medal here, which is ‘Army Occupation of Germany,'” said a member of the Association of the U.S. Army and Salute Colorado group who awarded Wilburn the long-overdue commendation.
The service of Wilburn and the millions of men and women who stood alongside him during one of the globe’s darkest hours may not have been well-known, individually, but it is something that should never be forgotten.