One Last Flash

Flash coverThis Flash is not a fleet-footed tights-wearing superhero. It is, or was, a publication, though saying it was about superheros would not be wrong. The Flash‘s banner reads “A publication of the 78th (Lightning) Infantry Division Veterans Association dedicated to the preservation of the friendships established in 2 world wars”. The association is disbanding. There just aren’t that many friendships to preserve anymore.

There were 1542 members at last count; 1011 veterans and 531 associates. I was one of the associates. My dad had been a member. After his death in 2011,
I wrote to arrange my own associate membership and was warned that the association might only continue another year or so. It lasted for a bit more than two. The note that cautioned me about the possible end of the association mentioned a couple of reasons. One was obvious. At that time, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 670 World War II veterans were dying every day. Another, though related, might not be so obvious. Veterans in the association ranged in age from 85 to 95. They remained very much in control of their association but recognized that increases in age are often accompanied by decreases in faculties. In the words of that note, “They want to decide what to do before they are no longer able to do that.” Just one more example of how “The Greatest Generation” doesn’t want to have someone else finish their business for them.

Dad never attended any of the reunions or other gatherings of the association but he “read” every copy of The Flash. Starting in the mid-1990s, I would bring home the issues he was done with and “read” them, too. We both went through the pages the way one does with a newspaper, scanning the headlines until something caught our eye. For Dad, it would probably be a place or a name he remembered. Increasingly, when he recognized a name it would be in an obituary or the “Taps” column. I looked for anything related to the 309 Field Artillery Battalion, Dad’s unit, but finding something was fairly rare. Mostly what I read were the remembrances that veterans or, as was also increasing the case, surviving family members, sent in. Sometimes it was a quickly written and possibly even jumbled memory of a single incident. Other times it was a longer memoir. Some were organized and well written, others not so much. But all were interesting. All were glimpses of real history that I felt privileged to read.

The Flash was not a glossy magazine. It was printed on newspaper like stock in black and white with just a touch of red on the front and back covers. It was well organized but not overly edited. Pretty much everything members sent in appeared in print. Even the last issue includes change of address letters mixed in with the obituaries, reports on recent happenings, requests for information on events of 70 years ago, and those remembrances that I look for. It was published quarterly although the final issue came out more than a year after the previous one. The June 2012 issue announced the planned dissolution and spoke of one more issue. When the end of 2012 came and went, I figured that was probably not to be. When the final issue did arrive, I was glad to see it and sad to read that this time it was  — officially — for real.

The final issue reported on the 68th Jonah Edward Kelley Award ceremony that took place in Keyser, West Virginia, in April. Kelley was the 78th’s only Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and the Veterans Association has annually given the award and a $6000 scholarship to a graduating senior at his former high school. The Association’s remaining funds are being transferred to the Ed Kelley Scholarship Trust so that this practice can continue.

The Association’s website will also continue. There is an active group of 78th reenactors and two members of that group have taken on the work and expense of keeping the website, which includes a message board, alive at www.78thdivision.org, the same address it has always had. The website for the 78th Infantry Division WWII Living History Association is at www.78thinfantry.com.

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