ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Members of Rock Island Arsenal and the Quad Cities community celebrated, recognized and honored the "Spirit of '45" during a ceremony at Rock Island National Cemetery, Aug. 16.
The Spirit of '45 is a day to honor the men and women who served in World War II, whether they were overseas in uniform or family members at home. The war ended on Aug. 15, 1945 -- a date widely known as "the day the War ended and the healing of the world began."
Scott Lamb, director, RI National Cemetery, welcomed guests and gave opening remarks.
"Today and throughout the week, communities across America have been paying tribute to these ordinary heroes of the past century by remembering what was achieved for our country and the world, and the incredible sacrifices that they made so many years ago," he said.
"It's our hope that our children will always remember this generation and will continue to draw strength and inspiration from their example of national unity, cooperation, integrity, courage and selflessness as we face the challenges of today and the future."
Lamb asked all WWII veterans to stand and receive applause from the audience.
One of those veterans was Harry Hansen, a 94-year-old member of the American Legion, Post 246. Hansen served as a Soldier from 1941 to 1945 with the 44th Infantry Division in Europe. His younger brother, Earl, also served in the war and is buried at RI National Cemetery.
"I went to Europe and he went to the South Pacific. They kind of split us up," said Hansen. "I never knew much about his service. I never even knew where he was over there, and he didn't know where I was, outside of letters we got from our parents. They tried to tell me what he was doing, and him what I was doing, but there wasn't much you could tell in those days. They were certainly (happy) to have us both back home safe."
Neither Hansen nor his brother were drafted. They both enlisted because, "that's what a kid does," according to Hansen.
"I wasn't even barely 20 years old," he said. "The wars are a lot different now. (Soldiers) have a lot better gear and different problems. You have to stay with the troops, and do the right things.
"People come to these and don't realize everything we've done. They don't know what we went through. If we can tell the kids some things -- we can't tell them everything -- maybe they'll get a better idea of where we came from and where we're going."
Col. Lance Koenig, chief of staff, U.S. Army Sustainment Command, was the keynote speaker.
"The toll taken by World War II is etched into the grounds of this cemetery," he said. "Here we can learn the story of World War II -- a story of sacrifice, and courage, and determination, and ingenuity -- a story that ended with the defeat of tyranny and a victory for hope and freedom."
Koenig told the stories of two WWII-era Medal of Honor recipients who are buried in the cemetery here and stressed the importance of honoring and remembering their sacrifice.
"The spirit of those who fought in World War II will live forever," he said. "It is the spirit of self-sacrifice and devotion to a cause higher than one's own self -- the spirit of community pride and national unity -- the spirit of personal motivation and a 'can-do' attitude -- the spirit of true pride and patriotism based on positive actions, not just words and beliefs.
"Let us never forget the contributions made by 'The Greatest Generation' -- the generation that fought and won World War II, that lost many of its members to that war and who left a legacy which continues to inform us, inspire us and guide us."
After his speech, Koenig was joined by Hansen at the base of the cemetery's flagpole -- the American flag waving overhead -- to lay a memorial wreath. They rendered a salute during a rendition of taps, performed by American Legion Post 246.
After the ceremony, Maj. Gen. Kevin O'Connell, commanding general, ASC, presented Hansen with a commander's coin.