The Greatest Generation soon will be gone, but not forgotten. With 1,200 to 1,500 World War II veterans dying each day across the nation, Doug Hastings is working to ensure the living don’t go without seeing the memorial to their fallen comrades in Washington, D.C.
“We have a very short time to make sure these people get to see the memorial built for their service and sacrifice,” said Hastings, the founder of the Vets to Washington Project.
“When we lose the World War II generation, we lose more than just a group of people, a group of veterans,” Hastings said. “We lose the character of this nation that came to the aid of the country when it was in its greatest time of need.”
For the past seven years, Hastings has organized bus trips for veterans living in Georgia and South Carolina to visit memorials in the nation’s capital. Two more trips this September and October still have seats available, and he needs the public’s help finding veterans in the Augusta area, where he says there are more than 700 living.
The best way to thank the Greatest Generation is a trip to see the National World War II Memorial, Hastings said. The privately sponsored trips are free for veterans, he said.
Of the 16 million men and women who served in World War II, fewer than 1 million are still living, Hastings said. A majority of the veterans will not be around to see the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in just five years, Hastings said.
“We have not forgotten their service, their sacrifice and the last 70 years of freedom they gave us,” he said.
Visiting the World War II memorial with other veterans creates a special trip, he said. On the bus ride, veterans who enter as strangers quickly become family by sharing stories and songs from their era, Hastings said. Many admit they have never verbalized their combat memories, even to their spouses.
“It’s being able to go with a group of combat veterans who know and understand what you’ve been through,” he said.
Hastings has taken more than 500 veterans to the World War II memorial, a privilege that touches him every time.
“It’s quiet for a few minutes because they are awed and amazed at the beauty of the memorial,” he said. “Without fail, the majority of them cry at one point or another.”