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Losing history: Aging WWII veterans means fewer stories from the greatest generation

Chester Grobschmidt
Posted at 6:28 PM, Nov 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-11 19:31:46-05

SOUTH MILWAUKEE — As the country marks another Veterans Day, the number of World War II veterans alive is falling at a rapid pace.

The Veterans Administration estimates that more than 230 WWII vets die every day.

American Legion Post #27 in South Milwaukee used to be filled with people who served in World War II, according to post commander Raymond Grabowski. Today, there are just three.

Chester Grobschmidt
Chester Grobschmidt, the 101-years-old World War II veteran spoke at the American Legion Post in South Milwaukee.

The oldest veteran, Chester Grobschmidt, is 101-years-old. He remembers finding out he had been drafted at 19-years-old.

“I was chosen to go into the service and I was happy to do so,” said Grobschmidt.

His friend Ruben Navarro signed himself up for the Army just before the war came to an end in 1945.

“As an 18-year-old kid, you are a kid you know. You turn into an adult when they swear you in,” said Navarro.

He was shipped to Japan right after the atomic bombs were dropped.

Ruben Navarro (far right) sits across the table from his friend, Chester Grobschmidt. They are both World War II veterans.

“That was bedlam. There was thousands of people, thousands (of) soldiers and we didn’t know what we were going to do, “ said Navarro.

Grobschmidt ended up in the Pacific as well. He was in the Admiralty Islands working on radio towers. He says two other brothers ended up serving in the war as well, but one almost did not make it out.

“My brother was a prisoner of war in Germany. That was a saddening experience,” said Grobschmidt.

His brother survived the war, but many veterans have since passed away. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, of the 16 million men and women who served in WWII, about 240,329 are still alive.

“We are losing a good part of history when they pass,” said Grabowski.

Grabowski heads up the South Milwaukee Veterans Council, as well as the American Legion Post. He thinks its important that WWII veterans share their own history, and that is getting harder to do.

The National WWII Museum says Wisconsin has around 4,399 vets left, and most of the people alive are in their 90s.

“I’m running out of veterans to talk to and ask to do things,” said Grabowski.

Grobschmidt and Navarro know there are not a lot of the men they served with still around, but they are proud of what they did for the country.

“To be associated with those guys is an honor,” said Navarro.

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