Memorial Day 2013: WWII ranks are a dying breed

About 650 die each day, and thousands are laid to rest every week.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESSMay 27, 2013 

Memorial Day One Week

Morton Tuller served in the Army Signal Corps.

PROVIDED BY THE TULLER FAMILY — AP

The ritual plays out dozens of times every day with a neatly folded flag, a crisp salute and one more goodbye to a fast-fading generation of soldiers, sailors and Marines.

These were the men and women who made history in places such as Normandy and Anzio, Iwo Jima and Peleliu. Vets who came home were the ones lucky enough to see their hair turn silver, to dance at their children's weddings, to cuddle their grandchildren.

The youngest are now in their mid-80s.

The first seven days in May offer a small glimpse of ordinary lives shaped by an extraordinary chapter. Among the many who died in that one week were three veterans who took vastly different journeys in life.

THE CRYPTOLOGIST

Morton Tuller devoted his life to celebrating others, creating trophies and awards honoring a job well done at school or work.

His own accomplishments as a young soldier in the Army Signal Corps were medal-worthy, but Tuller kept his success secret much of his life.

As a cryptologist, he had a high-security-clearance job deciphering American codes sent ship-to-ship in the European and Pacific theaters. For decades, he told no one, not even his wife, about his work on Navy ships that landed in Sicily, southern France, North Africa, Okinawa and Iwo Jima.

Tuller kept his wartime vow of silence for more than half a century. Then a public TV show featured a machine he'd used for message encryption. He figured it was OK to discuss the past - and time to collect medals he'd never received. A local Arizona congressman helped him cut red tape. And at age 79, Tuller was, for once, a recipient of honors himself.

In all, he received six medals, one ribbon and 10 battle stars.

But he made it clear he'd endured a terrifying ordeal. His son, Howard, recalls his father would say, "'You can't possibly imagine what it was like. Every gun on the ship would be going off. There's nowhere to hide. Kamikaze pilots are flying low. It was just madness.'"

Tuller's years in uniform were just part of his eclectic life. Tuller always had a joke or magic trick and carried a pocketful of silver dollars he'd hand out to anyone and everyone.

"He was a hoot," his son says.

Tuller created trophies and awards for 35 years. When he died just weeks shy of his 92nd birthday, he was buried with his favorite blue-and-white cap embroidered with the words "WW II. 10 Battle Stars."

THE RADIO OPERATOR

Bernard Adamski took more than 60 years to write a wartime memoir.

Adamski, an Army Air Corps radio operator and turret gunner, was captured by the Germans on July 12, 1944, after his B-26 bomber was shot down. The next 10 months were a constant fight for survival: First, Stalag Luft IV, a squalid, overcrowded prison camp in what is now Poland. Next, a forced three-month march of more than 600 miles, fending off cold and starvation. Then, Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Finally, liberation by the British on May 2, 1945.

Adamski had shrunk to 97 pounds.

He returned to Buffalo, N.Y., tucking away cruel memories with his uniform and Purple Heart. He married a neighborhood gal, Irene They raised three children. Adamski eventually became an assistant forester for the city of Buffalo.

He said little about the war until several years ago when he joined a support group at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He found comfort and camaraderie with other vets who'd been prisoners.

Robert Young, the group coordinator, helped Adamski trace the route he'd taken during the forced march. "He wanted to know," he says. "He needed to know."

Young said Adamski change over the years. "He was less anxious, less depressed, he did a lot more talking," he says. VA staff urged vets to record their memories.

The details surprised even his son. David Adamski says, "There's no way I could have handled that."

Despite his painful past, Adamski, who died at 88, was the eternal optimist.

THE ARTIST

Dean Carter took his sketchbook everywhere - including to war.

Carter wanted to be an artist since second grade in Henderson, N.C.

He served with the Army Air Corps in India and China as part of a radar unit, spending much of his time on a remote Chinese mountaintop. He returned home with charcoal sketches and lush watercolors of pagodas, landscapes and people.

After the war, Carter took advantage of the GI Bill to finish his bachelor's degree at American University and receive a master of fine arts from Indiana University. He then headed to Paris to study sculpture.

Carter died at 91, not long after the conclusion of his final exhibit at Virginia Tech. He was too ill to attend, but a video linkup allowed him to watch from home.

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