- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2000

Mildred Crow Sargent still cries when she talks about the early 1940s, when thousands of Americans died while fighting for freedom in World War II.

But the retired high school history teacher from Florida said it was the comfort from the community, which she said no longer exists, that made the loss more bearable for survivors and enabled them to live on.

"I remember how everyone stood around and comforted each other," Mrs. Sargent said quietly yesterday, tears welling in her eyes. "It was such a time of caring for each other and cooperation. And that was something very special. I think we've lost that now."

Mrs. Sargent was among four World War II veterans who were saluted yesterday in Bethesda, Md., for the accomplishments and sacrifices they made for the country during the war.

During a two-hour ceremony at the National Institutes of Health, the four veterans remembered how the war affected those who fought it and those who remained at home. They also shared their thoughts on what they believe are the differences between their generation and people today.

The ceremony, "Salute Past Generations," was part of Montgomery County's Commission for Celebration 2000, a yearlong millennium celebration. At the end of the event, the veterans received gifts from the commission.

Retired Air Force Col. Charles E. McGee, who flew fighter aircraft as a Tuskegee Airman, said people today often take things like freedom for granted and don't appreciate that older generations worked hard to make such things readily available.

"They don't realize that these things didn't come that easy," said Mr. McGee, a Bethesda resident and national president of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. "People take many of these things for granted."

Mr. McGee, who was drafted in 1941 and later joined the famed Tuskegee Airmen, flew 136 missions in the war and remained on active duty for some 30 years, rising to the rank of command pilot with more than 6,100 total flying hours.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the pilots and bombardiers of the all-black 99th Fighter Squadron based near Tuskegee, Ala.

Mr. McGee later flew with bomber squadrons in Korea and with the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in Vietnam.

"It's just disheartening to see people when they don't salute the flag or not willing to pledge allegiance," Mr. McGee said. "So many generations before them fought hard for their country."

Like Mr. McGee, Charlene Cohen, of Montgomery County, also faced opposition when she joined the war effort. She said even though women weren't shown a lack of respect by men in the Army, it was still unpopular for women to join the forces.

Mrs. Cohen joined the Women's Army Corps in 1943, and after undergoing basic training, she left for Europe in 1944. She arrived in Scotland the day before the Allied invasion of Europe on D-Day.

"We had the courage to bring an end to the war and help preserve the freedom so many had died for," Mrs. Cohen told dozens of people who attended the afternoon event.

The veterans said adults and children today are at a loss for education about the sacrifices made for today's freedoms. They said their generation had to work hard to achieve things in life.

"Everyone was supposed to work," said Mrs. Sargent, a champion riveter, who later worked on the wing section of the B-52 bomber during the Korean War. "I think people now expect everything to be handed to them."

Getting an education is one example, Mrs. Sargent said.

"This generation doesn't take advantage of the opportunities they have to get a good education," she said. "It's something my generation thought it would be a blessing to get."

Milton Greenberg, who served in the 82nd Airborne Division in the war, told the audience how the GI Bill of Rights helped him get a college education and take out a loan to buy his first home.

The GI Bill is a program that offers educational stipends for former members of the U.S. armed forces.

Now, Mr. Greenberg teaches government in the School of Public Affairs at American University, where he has served as provost and interim president the past 20 years.

"I don't know where I would be without it," he said of the GI Bill.

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