Veterans of War…and Life
As the warriors of World War II move through their 80s and 90s,
it should be a matter of national pride to recall the exploits that made them
“the greatest generation.”
Photography by Denise Ritchie
Martha Sutton’s shadow box memorializes her husband Roy, one of the first American pilots to engage the Japanese after Pearl Harbor.
In 1986, when the Challenger explosion shocked the world, I was a junior in high school stuck home with the flu. I was annoyed that my one chance to watch cheesy daytime television was interrupted by what I naively thought was a hiccup – a mistake to be corrected with parachutes and a mulligan.
In response to the disaster, President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation and said, “We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us.” Another generation is upon us since that speech, and his words were prophetic. When virtual wars can be battled in shorts and sunshine, and Glee is a television show rather than a feeling, where is the wonder? And how do we dazzle? It turns out that wonder and dazzle are treasures to be discovered right here in Vero Beach.
From October to April, our population balloons, and traffic on the roads and in the grocery aisles elicit the occasional eye-roll. Amid the tricky left turns and flurry to get things done, it’s easy to take for granted the personal histories that give our town depth. Yet, hidden among the palm trees and ocean breezes are stories of adventure and heroism that rival the most classic American adventure novels. There is a risk that as the men and women who served in WWII advance in age, their stories will depart with them as quickly as when they left home to serve. Sixty years before tweens could engage in virtual battles fought only with hard drives and remote controls, Vero Beach played a crucial role in preparing soldiers for real battles. Pilots trained all over our state because of the predictable temperate weather and sparse population. In May 1942, the U.S. Navy awarded a $4.8-million contract to expand the Vero Beach airport to provide a Navy and Marine training base for more than 2,700 men and 300 WAVES and female Marines.
At the same time, thousands of kids in their teens were leaving farms in Arkansas and upstate New York, colleges in Detroit and Massachusetts, and homes in rural West Virginia, where people and businesses had been slow to emerge from the depths of the Depression.
Read the entire article in the Summer 2011 issue