Each of the past several years, the Veterans Museum at Balboa Park in San Diego honored the area’s World War II veterans on its “Spirit of ’45 Day.”
In 2010, Congress designated the second Sunday of August as a day to pay tribute to the men and women who comprised the “Greatest Generation” of Americans. They are the men and woman who defeated the Nazis and the Italian fascist regimes in Europe, and crushed Imperial Japan in the Pacific to end the war in 1945.
Past events included parades, music, entertainment, and the chance to “meet WWII veterans and share their stories from that time in our history,” according to the SanDiego.org website.
This year, however, San Diego and most other cities that celebrate “Spirit of ’45 Day” will be doing so in spirit only. Like so many other casualties of the coronavirus COVID-19, the museum is temporarily closed. Its annual celebration in San Diego will be virtual, with presentations on Zoom and other online options.
None of the area’s World War II veterans will attend as guests of honor for lunch. Nor will members of other veterans groups and community and youth organizations who traditionally attend to show their appreciation. More than 200 World War II veterans attended last year’s event.
“We can’t do it this year,” said Jack Harkins, the museum’s president and a retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel. “It’s just not feasible to do anything.”
“I get a lump in my throat just talking about it,” he said. “The last few years, our lawn in front of the museum has been covered by World War II veterans.”
San Diego County is among the 33 California counties on the state’s watch list for COVID-19 spread for two or more weeks, with five others added in the past week. In theory, hot-spot counties are supposed to prohibit large gatherings of people. In reality, many people refuse to abide by the state’s mask mandate, maintain social distancing ,and follow other established protocol. That, experts say, contributes to the spread of the disease and is why counties remain on the watch list.
The Veterans Museum folks love these veterans far too much to risk possible exposure to the virus. Age itself already poses too much of a threat to them. Most are in their 90s, some are 100 or older. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, only about 300,000 are still living, down from 939,000 in 2015.
No in-person event this year means at least some of these World War II veterans could lose their last opportunity in public to tell their stories, to see the looks of awe and respect on the faces of those attending, and to soak in the appreciation and love.
This year’s celebration will rely on a click of a mouse to honor the remaining men and women of the “Greatest Generation.”
The Spirit of ’45 Day will go on, if in spirit only.
For more information, visit Spiritof45.org.