THE BLOG
07/07/2010 03:33 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

WWII Veterans: Great Men from Small Towns

Last week, there was a ceremony in the tiny city of Malden, Massachusetts, to dedicate a World War II memorial to honor that city's contribution to the battle against fascism.

While many American cities have a memorial of some sort to their hometown veterans of foreign wars, the dedication in Malden was particularly noteworthy because this small municipality of just five square miles sent over 8,000 men and women in uniform to join the war effort between 1941 and 1945.

Even more stunning is the fact that Malden saw three of its sons serve on Iwo Jima. While the name of that island is now synonymous with Joe Rosenthal's famous photo of Marine and Navy Corpsmen raising the American flag (and, to a younger generation, a successful film by Clint Eastwood), the battle fought on Iwo Jima is noteworthy for more than just nostalgia.

The men who fought so valiantly there won an island that was vital to ending the war, as Iwo Jima was home to two important airfields and was also considered by the United States to be an important emergency landing location for the delivery of atomic weapons in the fight against Japan. Considering this strategic importance, it is not surprising that some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific Theater during WWII took place during this battle. Despite great preparations by the Japanese, including heavily fortified bunkers and an elaborate tunnel system, American soldiers took only about 200 prisoners of the estimated 18,000 enemy soldiers they faced. All the rest of the Japanese were considered killed or missing in action.

It's easy to simply throw the label "greatest generation" at these men and women who fought so bravely more than 65 years ago and then put them neatly away. It's even easier to forget their contribution, as our nation's population of WWII heroes continues to dwindle, their memories and accomplishments seemingly losing their battle against their only insurmountable foe: time. But thanks to efforts of people like Kevin Jarvis, our remaining veterans and their families know that their contributions will always be acknowledged.

Jarvis, a Marine Corps veteran himself whse father, John, was one of the heroes of Iwo Jima, played an important role in organizing the ceremony in Malden. He also arranged for Harry Baker to deliver the keynote address. Who's Harry Baker? He's another son of Malden who fought on beach at Normandy and at the Battle of the Bulge, among other campaigns. Jarvis brought another nonagenarian to the event, Bill Hughes, who saw four campaigns during the war, and also went to school with Jarvis' mother and father in that small city.

Today, tens of thousands of American troops are in faraway lands fighting under the American flag, instilled with the same patriotic spirit that guys like John Jarvis, Harry Baker, Bill Hughes and countless others carried inside them in lands they never thought they'd visit. They come from big cities, small hamlets, farms, suburbs and universities, just like their uniformed predecessors. Here's hoping that our new generation of heroes will have folks like Kevin Jarvis to work to preserve their memories and honor their contributions well into the future.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.