Remembering ‘The Greatest Generation’

SOLANA BEACH — Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5431 based in the city annually honors veterans of all wars in impressive ceremonies but particularly the diminishing group from World War II, whom television newscaster Tom Brokaw has labeled “The Greatest Generation.” These men and women were really just in their late teens and 20s when they ventured into the unknown.
According to a list compiled by American Legion Post 416 for the San Dieguito Citizen newspaper, there were more than 650 service personnel from the local area — a significant number considering the population of the entire district was only around 14,000 residents.
David Gonzales, a San Dieguito High School graduate, promised a buddy that when he returned he would spearhead the building of a memorial for those killed in action. He formed the San Dieguito High School Veterans Association and in 2003 his promise was fulfilled. An inscription on the memorial reads, “All Gave Some, Some Gave All.” Names of nine World War II veterans appear on a bronze memorial along with others from the Korea and Vietnam wars, including David’s buddy who was killed after David made his promise.
Fourteen years ago, Jim Downs, also a San Dieguito High School grad, a veteran, and a member of the Rotary Club of Oceanside, prevailed on Robert Nelson, assistant principal at El Camino High School, to invite veterans to relate their experiences to the history classes. Downs promised the full cooperation of the Rotary Club for the project.
This has become an annual Veterans Day tradition. Downs points out that because of the diminishing number of veterans from the Greatest Generation, the day now includes veterans from the Korea and Vietnam wars. Earlier this month, more than 100 vets — both men and women — spoke to the history classes.
These sessions were preceded by a program presented by students in the auditorium. Attendance was so large that some students had to be turned away after standing room only capacity was reached.
Downs, now retired, said the project will continue as long as El Camino is willing and there are enough vets to carry on.

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