In 2004, the World War II Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. to the 16 million Americans who served in the armed forces during that conflict. The numbers of those surviving WWII veterans dwindle every day, as they are well into their 80s and 90s. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates, WWII veterans are dying at a rate of 900 a day. And out of 16 million, there are less than 2.5 million left. My father, who joined the Army Air Corps in his college years and became a B-29 pilot, will turn 93 in April. By 2020, even the youngest among them will be gone.
Now, Kenneth G. Nagel, the Grand Master of California has announced Operation Greatest Gift, the Grand Master's Project for 2009-2010, a program that will sponsor trips for hundreds of California's veterans to visit the Memorial.
From the Grand Lodge website:
We will organize several three-day trips to Washington, D.C. designed to provide what many [California] veterans cannot provide for themselves: an assisted visit to the memorial, at no cost to them. Because of our support, they will have an opportunity to say goodbye to fallen friends, be recognized for their service to our country, and come to terms with an important part of their lives.
The Grand Masters Project will also raise funds to support the work of the Masonic Hospital Visitors Program Committee. This committee of dedicated Masons ensures that there is always a presence at our states veterans hospitals by providing friendship, social programs, and regular visitation.
The goal is to raise $400,000 for this program. To that end, I received a note today from Brother Andrew Brumana, Senior Deacon at Mission Lodge No. 169 in San Francisco. In an incredible commitment last night, the lodge voted a contribution of $25,000 to this project.