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By Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging issues
Of the 16.6 million living veterans, serving in World War II to the Global War on Terror, one half of these veterans are age 65 and over. The graying of America’s veterans is well-documented in a U.S. Census Bureau report released last July.
Taking a Look at America’s Aging Veterans
The Census Bureau report, Aging Veterans: America’s Veteran Population in Later Life, released in July 2023, examines demographic characteristics of the nation’s aging veterans who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam,
According to the new census data, of the 16.6 million living veterans, 8.1 million, that is nearly one-half (49%) of all veterans in the United States, were age 65 and older. Of all veterans, 1 in 4 is 70 to 79 years old. The largest group of older veterans (5.5 million) served during the Vietnam War. World War II veterans made up the smallest group (183,000) of war-time veterans.
The Census data noted that living veterans are overwhelming men, especially those who are older than 70 years old. The largest age groups of male veterans are 72-74 years old. This has occurred as the result of the United States entering the Vietnam War in 1964, with soldiers 18-20 years old making up the core age group of draftees and enlistees.
But census data also reveals that today there are an increasing number of living female veterans. This is due in large part to changes made in the 1970s when the military transitioned to an all-volunteer force combined with Congress passing legislation that allowed woman to enroll in service academies. Now woman make up one 1 in 10 veterans, says the Census Bureau.
The 9-page report, based on data from the 2021 American Community Survey, reported that older veterans were less likely to be living in poverty and had higher incomes than other older adults. These individuals were more likely to have a functional disability than other older adults. However, these individuals were less likely to have a service-connected disability compared with all veterans.
This Census Bureau report is based on data from the 2021 American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS is a nationwide survey designed to provide timely and reliable data every year on the demographic, social, economic and housing characteristics of the nation, states, counties and other localities.
The Census Bureau researchers found that older veterans were less likely to be at risk of isolation than other older adults. About 43% of older veterans experienced at least one characteristic of isolation compared with 46% of older adults who never served. In contrast, veterans in general, regardless of their age, were more likely to have at least one characteristic of isolation than nonveterans (34% compared with 27%, respectively).
The Last Man Standing
As the living veterans grow older, we will witness the passing away of generations of these individuals. As the living veterans grow older, we will witness the passing away of generations of these individuals. Wikopedia, a free online encyclopedia hosted by the Wikopedia Foundation, details two of the following examples.
In the 1950s, we saw the passing of the last Civil War veteran. Wikipedia reported that on August 2, 1956, Albert Henry Woolson, 106, was the undisputed last surviving Civil War veteran on either side. The drummer Boy in Company C 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment, serving in the Grand Army of the Republic, had enlisted in 1864 to fight in the nation’s bloody American Civil War, also referred to as the War Between the States. The last verified Confederate soldier was Pleasant Crump, who passed away on Dec. 31, 1951.
Over 13 years ago, a veteran of World War I was nationally recognized, like Civil War Veteran Woolson, for being the last of his generation of veterans to pass away. Frank Buckles, 101, was reported to be the last survivor of 4.73 million Americans who fought in the War to End All Wars. In 1917, the 16-year-old, who would ultimately leave military service as a corporal, had enlisted in the U.S. Army and was assigned to drive ambulances and motorcycles near the front lines in France.
As we celebrate Veterans Day, there are fewer aging World War II veterans attending ceremonies held throughout the country to honor their military service. With their medium age now pegged at 93 years, many of the “Greatest Generation,” are frail, and their numbers are dwindling. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that out of the 16.1 million soldiers who served in World War II, 183,000 are still alive today. Over 1,200 of these veterans reside in the Ocean State.
By 2040, America’s last living World War II veteran is expected to pass away like Woolson and Buckles. The last surviving veterans of Korea and Vietnam will mark an end of an era. When this happens, their stories can’t be shared to us personally, but only told in our history books or by television documentaries or movies (like Saving Private Ryan) or by historians and academics at universities and colleges.
Like many I know, I failed to ask my father, the late Frank M. Weiss, to share his World War II experiences. All that I have now are his scrap book, filled with faded pictures of his military service, yellowed letters and military memorabilia, his medical and discharge papers, sitting in a red Neiman Marcus box in my basement. The names of his comrades, activities and state-side base locations captured on film no longer have any context to me with his passing.
Two days ago, on November 11, 2023, Veterans Day ceremonies and activities were being held throughout the Ocean State and across the country to honor those who are serving or have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. By 2025, the Department of Veteran Affairs estimated that there will be a couple of hundred World War II veterans, over 1,600 Korean and 14,000 Vietnam veterans still alive in Rhode Island. In the coming years, frailty and health issues will keep these elderly veterans’ from attending Veteran Day celebrations and even at their reunions. As a generation of Civil War and World War I veterans vanish right before our eyes in 1956 and 2011, we must cherish the surviving older veterans. In the next thirty years, we are poised to see new generations of veterans who fought in three wars die out of right before our eyes. I say, cherish them as long as you can. Urge those who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam to share their personal stories and oral histories for the sake of America’s future generations. They have so much to say and America’s younger generations has much to learn from them.
Remember, don’t miss the opportunity to thank any living older veteran you meet in your daily travels. Thank them for their service to our country.
Today’s commentary is dedicated to my father, Second Lt. Frank M. Weiss, who died in December 2003, in Dallas, Texas, at 89 years old.
To read other columns by Herb Weiss, go to: https://rinewstoday.com/?s=herb+weiss
Herb Weiss, LRI -12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who has covered aging, health care and medical issues for over 43 years. To purchase his books, Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly and a sequel, compiling weekly published articles, go to herbweiss.com.
This was GREAT and very true. Thank God for all they gave, some gave sone some gave ALL>
Nice article Herb.
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