As our World War II veterans pass on, let us celebrate their contribution to our freedom.
The World War II generation is inevitably disappearing, a point driven home again recently when two prominent local veterans died.
Harold "Sparky" Songer, 88, of Danville passed away Sunday. The next day, 94-year-old Tony Bilek of Rantoul died.
Mr. Songer was a World War II veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, the furious and ultimately unsuccessful counterattack that proved to be Adolf Hitler's last serious effort to stave off defeat. Mr. Songer was taken prisoner in the assault and survived six brutal months as a prisoner.
Mr. Bilek's experience was even more harrowing. He was serving in the U.S. military in the Philippines during the outbreak of World War II and was taken prisoner by the Japanese. He survived the notorious Bataan Death March and 3-1/2 hellish years in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.
While both men saw life under the most barbaric conditions, each dedicated their careers to the military after the war ended and then enjoyed productive lives in the civilian world. They exemplified what's become known as "The Greatest Generation," World War II veterans who saved the world from genocidal dictators and then returned home to rear their families and serve their communities.
Mr. Bilek wrote a book about his experience, "No Uncle Sam: The Forgotten of Bataan," which serves as a reminder of the awful sacrifices sometimes required of our military men and women. Mr. Songer was instrumental in the creation of several war memorials and the Vermilion County War Museum, making it a point to help veterans in any way he could.
The same, of course, can be said of hundreds of thousands of this country's military veterans. They served with distinction.
Songer and Bilek represent who they were and what they did.