Charles Beason, 98, still remembers the time he spent in the Army from his enlistment in 1940 until his discharge in October of 1945.
Beason was the oldest veteran at an honorary luncheon for World War II veterans Thursday morning. Beason fought with one of two American divisions that landed on Utah Beach — code name for one of five sectors of German-occupied France — during the D-Day invasion, and served in the five major battles that followed the Normandy landings.
“I don’t think too many are looking for love and glory out of it,” Beason said as 15 veterans were escorted into the Elks Club in Augusta on Thursday. “We did the job we needed to do.”
In 2013 there were more than 1.7 million Americans alive who served in the second World War. Around 558,000 of them are estimated to still be alive today, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs.
Chuck Burke, the veterans representative for the Augusta Elks Club, said plans are to continue hosting the annual luncheon — held on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor — “as long as the they’re here.”
“It’s my understanding that World War II veterans are dying at a fast rate,” he said. “We do this because we realize there won’t be that many, and every year the crowd gets smaller.”
During the past three years attendane for the honorary event have declined from 50, in the first year, to 15, this year.
“They are dying off and a lot of people don’t realize that the Elks is the number one veteran program in the U.S.,” said Burke, whose father served in the war . “I was in Vietnam but I have no clue what these people do.”
Among those at Thursday’s luncheon was Richard Craig, a 92-year-old Navy veteran who served for 28 months in the Pacific during the war. Craig, an avid attendee of area veteran events, noticed the decline. He said he found the luncheon helpful.
“I’m almost insistent on attending them for the memories and seeing the other veterans who served,” he said. “I think it is great for the Elks Club to do this. The numbers are decreasing but it is good that somebody will have a program for the veterans.”
But for Dennis Trudeau, a 92-year-old Canadian Airforce veteran who was captured on D-Day, the event was a first for him. As the veterans gathered to share a meal, they embraced each other with handshakes, laughs and stories of their time in the service.
“We all have vivid memories but the best thing I remember is when I got liberated,” said Trudeau, a Grovetown council member and former town mayor. “I thank God I was alive, I was free and I was going home.”