WWII a mission of remembrance

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For those who remember and revere World War II, 60 is the magic number.

Six decades have gone by since the raising of the American flag over Iwo Jima, the war’s end in Europe and the Pacific, and other pivotal military events of 1945.

Beginning this week, the Department of Defense will honor all of them in a six-month-long salute that includes patriotic fanfare and heartfelt remembrances in a half-dozen cities. There will be swing music, vintage uniforms and the close harmonies of Andrews Sisters impersonators.

But the visceral side of the war has not been overlooked.

“We remember and honor our World War II vets. These men and women have a real special place in our hearts. But we also intend to make sure the lessons we’ve learned from them are not lost to future generations,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jack Dunphy of the Defense Department’s World War II 60th Anniversary Committee.

The mission got under way in a lofty spot.

The Virginia-based office was established by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz last year to honor the veterans and reacquaint Americans with their nation’s four years in World War II with an eye on decorum.

All events and activities “will be conducted in a dignified manner, displaying sensitivity and appreciation for the tragedy of war and the losses suffered by all nations,” the committee noted.

“What’s the biggest lesson we can bring to the public?” asked Cmdr. Dunphy. “It’s that America should always be prepared, we should always have a high state of military readiness. Freedom isn’t free. We knew that 60 years ago and in Korea, and we know it now.”

Through the end of August, the committee will stage large-scale events in Tampa, Fla., San Antonio, San Diego, Boston, Chicago and Vancouver, Wash.

“We’re bringing these commemorations to the veterans, particularly those who may not have the funds or the health to journey elsewhere,” said Cmdr. Dunphy. “These cities have the highest concentrations of veterans in the country.”

One event will transpire in a more desolate region, however.

The Bataan Memorial Death March takes place March 20 at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range though hilly New Mexico terrain and at elevations as high as 5,300 feet. The event recognizes 76,000 U.S. and Philippine troops overwhelmed by Japanese troops in the Philippines in 1942 and forced to walk 75 miles to a prison camp without food, water or comfort.

Only 56,000 made it.

Meant for military teams in full field gear but open to the public, the 26.2-mile march is somewhere between runner’s marathon and basic-training nightmare: those competing in the “heavy” category must carry a 35-pound rucksack.

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