More than 70 years after World War II, Wasilla veteran Eldon Gallear continues to wonder why people are so thankful.
“People have been great,” he said, visiting war memorials in Washington, D.C. with the other Alaska veterans of the 2014 Honor Flight. “Man, I never expected anything like that from the people.”
Gallear and other Alaskans who left their jobs and families to fight for freedom cherished the day they’ve been waiting decades for: The new World War II Memorial in the nation’s capital is only ten years old.
But as the Honor Flight tour continued over to Arlington National Cemetery, things changed for Gallear. All those headstones — nearly 420,000 of them — struck a deep chord for the veteran.
“When I see all those gravestones boy, I don’t know,” he said.
While Gallear’s friends watched the somber ceremony of the guard protecting the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, he stayed behind.
“I just didn’t feel like going to the memorial up there knowing what that forgotten soldier was.”
So there he sat, on the bus, thinking about the enemy sinking his ship and sending him into the water in 1944.
“And when you lose a ship and you lose your buddies, it isn’t exactly easy,” Gallear said.
On the bus, he also thought about a child.
“One little girl in grade school asked me if I’d ever been scared. And I says, ‘Yes, twice,’” Gallear said. “Once in the South China Sea in a typhoon. And the other time on a life raft when sharks were bumping it trying to roll me off so they could kill me bite by bite.”
And Gallear wonders why people make such a fuss about veterans of the greatest generation.