ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Every day our nation loses more members of the greatest generation. Men and women of that era answered the bell after our nation came under attack, throwing us into World War II.
Among them was Don Bine. As a teenager, he served during a critical time of the war in Europe.
But, as he tells us, he and his fellow soldiers were anything but ready for what was to come.
“As far as during the Battle of the Bulge, that was such a mess,” said WWII Veteran Don Bein.
Every day, memories of World War II disappear. The sights. the sounds, the highs, and the lows. Millions of those real-life stories are now being silenced.
“They are, for lack of a better term, they’re dying off at a very quick rate because of their age currently. There’s not many left,” said National Guard Cpt. Dylan Hedrick.
The Department of Veterans Affairs calculates, about 245 WWII veterans die each day. In fact, only about 325,000 of the 16 million Americans who served were alive last year.
“I like to talk about the war, because I think people should know what happened,” Bein explained.
Don Bein enlisted in the military when he was 17. He finished high school and at 19 shipped out to Europe to fight the Axis Powers.
“We were not prepared for so many things in World War II,” he described.
Don is now 96. He lives at Person Meadows in Rockford, where he shares the stories of what he saw, what he experienced, and what he remembers. That includes fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. It was the largest and bloodiest single battle in WWII.
“So, we ended the Battle of the Bulge and it started to snow. The Germans had lightweight pants and tops, snow-white they can slip on over their clothing and all of their equipment. We have nothing,” Bein described.
“We’re standing around in olive drab overcoats, brown greenish-brown coats. The only thing missing is a red bullseye right here,” Bein laughs. “Our military was so stupid, that we were not prepared. Now, that doesn’t mean the American soldiers, we immediately went into homes, homes are not occupied during the war, everybody takes it all.”
“We grabbed sheets, bedsheets and wrapped them around us. I have pictures of, I don’t know where they are now, of infantrymen walking along the road with bedsheets, that was their camouflage,” Bein said.
“He’s living history and still sharp as a tack mentally,” Cpt. Hedrick said.
Cpt. Hedrick met Don at Peterson Meadows where his mother lives. A friendship bloomed.
“To me, it’s a great honor to show my appreciation to a service member who proceeded me, who’s been through so much more than I have in my career,” said Cpt. Hedrick. “As we miss and we lose those people who gave so much, I think it’s important that we honor those who are still living and appreciate and show them the respect they deserve for all that they sacrificed and gave.”
The VA estimates the very last World War II veteran could pass away in 2043, just 22 years from today. That makes it even more important we listen and learn from them.
“I just believe that it should be talked about, our history is what teaches us about what we should do in the future, and if we don’t study our history and learn from that I think we’re making a big mistake,” Bein concluded.
Don recently received some long-deserved high-honors as well. Cpt. Hedrick made the day possible. In June, Cpt. Hedrick presented Don with a shadow box. Inside was the Military Service, Good Conduct, Army of Occupation, The American Campaign, and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medals.