World War II was arguably the most important event of the last 100 years, but we 21st Century Americans are inclined to stow it in the attic of our national memory – an old trunk stuffed with dusty, half-remembered facts and curling photos. Though there are still people who can recall the battles, for most of us, WWII is virtually a forgotten fight.
Not for Becka Lynn Pittard. The La Grange, N.C., student wanted to know more about how North Carolina helped win WWII, so she researched and wrote about the sailors who navigated ships off the North Carolina coast despite the threat of attack by German submarines. Last July, the essay by the seventh grader from Frink Middle School won an award in a contest sponsored by The National WWII Museum in partnership with National History Day.
We need more Beckas
As a board member of The National WWII Museum, I can tell you America needs more Beckas. We need to remember the lessons of WWII. Honoring, remembering and telling the story of WWII remain the Museum’s central mission. It is vital for young people to learn about the war. To ensure they do there are always important educational initiatives unfolding at the Museum – from growing a Victory Garden to encouraging National History Day competitions, like the one Becka participated in, to hosting WWII Quiz Bowl to a middle school robotics camp.
This month, North Carolina has an additional reason to be proud of Becka. She and a chaperone will be traveling to New Orleans to represent our state at the opening of the fifth phase of our expansion, the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. Becka will join young people from the other 49 states and Washington, D.C., WWII veterans and curators to dedicate this soaring monument to the American spirit.
A tribute to their sacrifice
I take great pride in watching this institution grow from a single building to a six-acre, $325 million campus filled with priceless artifacts from G.I. diaries to a B-17 Flying Fortress. Just as precious is the opportunity for young scholars like Becka to travel to the museum, learn about the war and talk directly to those who did the fighting – the generation of men and women called the “greatest.”
Sadly, these eyewitnesses to history are leaving us, dying at the rate of 700 per day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Therefore, it is vital that we complete the museum while significant numbers of these Americans are still with us, to serve as a tribute to their accomplishments and sacrifice.
On Saturday, I will attend the formal dedication of The National WWII Museum’s US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. I look forward to meeting Becka and our war veterans and to saying “thank you” for all they have done to tell the story of the “war that changed the world.” They are all inspirations to North Carolina and the nation.
Peter Foss of Charlotte is a National WWII Museum board member and an executive with General Electric. For The Record offers commentaries from various sources. The views are the writer’s, and not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board.
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