There’s a reason we call them “the Greatest Generation.”
The men – and women – who grew up during the Great Depression and entered adulthood just in time to fight in World War II.
They saved the world and laid the groundwork for the freedom and prosperity we enjoy to this day.
They were so young when they shipped off from Camp Shanks in Orangeburg to places in Europe they had only read about.
They did what they had to do. They did it with strength and courage and resolve.
My dad was one of them. He served in the Navy and took part in the Battle of Okinawa.
We’re familiar with the heroism our troops displayed on the beaches of Normandy and other spots in Europe where they met the enemy head on.
Less familiar to most of us are the stories from places like the Philippines, which the Japanese bombed and invaded the same day they attacked Pearl Harbor.
I was honored to take part Saturday in a touching event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Bataan and the Bataan Death March.
They were key events during World War II and I’m proud that Rockland has taken a lead in making sure that this crucial chapter of history and the heroism displayed by our military are never forgotten.
That’s why I joined hundreds who came to Orangeburg over the weekend to learn more about the sacrifices we and our allies made on the Bataan Peninsula during the early days of World War II.
We took part in a symbolic walk to the flagpole on Bataan Road near Western Highway in memory of the brutal Bataan Death March that took place 75 years ago.
The death march, 65 miles in the searing heat with no food or water, started after the brave American and Philippine forces who had held out against the Japanese for four long months, were forced to surrender after a long, drawn out battle.
We’ll never know exactly how many people died. Estimates are that up to 10,000 American and Filipino troops lost their lives.
When word reached back home of the atrocities our troops endured in Bataan, the nation was transfixed.
Camp Shanks in Orangeburg was an the embarkation point for troops to be sent to the Europe. It became known as “Last Stop, U.S.A.”
As it was being built, all the new streets were given typical names like First Street and Avenue A.
All the streets, that is, except for the one named Bataan Road to pay homage to the Battle of Bataan.
It was fitting then that 75 years later Rockland County – Orangeburg – became the site of a commemoration to make sure that the Battle of Bataan is not forgotten.
The event was organized by New City resident Jerome Kleiman, who was determined not to let the 75th anniversary of the death march go unrecognized.
He pulled together a proud showing of veterans as well as representatives of the Philippines and members our local Filipino-American community.
This commemoration served once again to honor the contributions of our Greatest Generation.
And another reminder that our freedom is never free.