By Terry Miller
On Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of veterans were honored at ceremonies around the United States.
Observances, both large and small, recognized the vital role these men and women play in keeping our nation and world safe.
The “Greatest Generation” – those who served during WWII – is at a crossroads in their lives. Many have passed on but some remain strong, even at 95 years old, like a former Arcadia dentist, Dr. Jack McEwan. McEwan is a distinguished B17 bomber pilot who flew scores of missions in the South Pacific during WWII.
On Tuesday Jack McEwan visited the children at Baldwin Stocker Elementary School in Arcadia to discuss his illustrious career and service during one of the longest wars in world history.
Prior to his brief talk, McEwan was overcome with emotion as students read Joanna Fuchs’ poem, entitled “They Did Their Share”:
“On Veteran’s Day we honor
Soldiers who protect our nation.
For their service as our warriors,
They deserve our admiration.
Some of them were drafted;
Some were volunteers;
For some it was just yesterday;
For some it’s been many years;
In the jungle or the desert,
On land or on the sea,
They did whatever was assigned
To produce a victory.
Some came back; some didn’t.
They defended us everywhere.
Some saw combat; some rode a desk;
All of them did their share.
No matter what the duty,
For low pay and little glory,
These soldiers gave up normal lives,
For duties mundane and gory.
Let every veteran be honored;
Don’t let politics get in the way.
Without them, freedom would have died;
What they did, we can’t repay.
We owe so much to them,
Who kept us safe from terror,
So when we see a uniform,
Let’s say ‘thank you’ to every wearer.”
As a World War II veteran, McEwan was selected to join other veterans for the annual courtesy Honor Flight Southland to Washington D.C. on Oct. 23, 2015, to view ¬the war memorials and to see the Changing of the Guard. His son Richard from Florida accompanied him, but didn’t tell him about the “Mail Call” for veterans during the flight to Washington.
Jack’s son was in the brand-new Baldwin Stocker School for sixth grade and was in the first graduating class. He contacted the principal of the school who talked to teachers about sending surprise mail to Jack McEwan aboard that historic flight. During the five-hour flight to Washington there were 95 wonderful letters with drawings from the fourth grade classes of Baldwin Stocker, read with great emotion and deep gratitude.
There were 25 letters from second graders and a thoughtful message from Baldwin Stocker Elementary School principal Jayne Nickles.
An overwhelmed Jack McEwan was handed over 100 letters from family and friends, thanking him for his service and wishing him well.
At every viewing stop in Washington there were many well-wishers, expressing appreciation for the veterans’ service. Arriving back at LAX, there were 500 people forming two rows, clapping and shaking the hands of the 66 veterans who went on that Honor Flight.
Jack McEwan and his family have lived in the San Gabriel Valley for 58 years. Owning a dental office on Huntington Dr., Dr. Jack served three generations of patients before retiring.
Jack McEwan served in the Army Air Corp as a Captain for four years during World War II. He piloted a B-17E heavy bomber in combat duty in the South Pacific, having flown 58 missions. Many of his army buddies didn’t make it home from World War II. McEwan was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon.
Flying combat missions in the Pacific was a terrifying experience. The volatile tropical weather could be as lethal as the enemy. Seeking comfort during his sorties, the young pilot would softly sing the words of a hymn his mother taught him as a child:
“The Lord is my light; then why should I fear?
By day and by night his presence is near.”
At war’s end, he returned to civilian life, attended university, and became a dentist. Sixty-six years ago he married “the sweetest girl in the world,” a young BYU student named Betty Clark. The McEwans have three sons, 16 grandchildren, and 26 great-grandchildren.
McEwan told the eager young minds that although his generation was given the coveted title “the Greatest Generation,” it was Baldwin Stocker students who will be the next “Great Generation.”
“Young people, I salute you, one and all,” Dr. McEwan told the pupils.
Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation and as a culturally diverse, free society. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 640 WWII veterans die each day.