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veteranAs Veterans Day draws near, it comes with the realization that the stories of those who served in the military and efforts of war are treasures, particularly those of the second world war.

The dwindling number of World War II storytellers is incentive for the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. Their website proclaims, “The urgency guides the Museum in everything we do,” as they encourage visitors to donate an artifact or collect the oral or written history of a veteran. “We are dedicated to telling the entire story of the American experience during World War II…so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn,” the site continues.

What an invaluable mission. For those of us who know or come into contact with a veteran, what a priceless opportunity to tap into living history. We dare not waste it, for there is something powerful and almost mythical about speaking personally with someone who was there.

Many of us have seen the film “Saving Private Ryan.” While perhaps too gruesome for some, films like this go a long way toward helping current generations understand the enormity of the D-Day conflict on the beaches of Normandy almost 75 years ago. They go even further to make us wonder why on earth someone would willingly enter such a conflict.

Yet, to hear it from someone who lived it, to watch their eyes cloud with tears and memories others can only (or barely) imagine, is to begin to understand, if even just a little.

In the city of Naperville, each day provides an opportunity to be reminded and respectful of the sacrifices made by veterans of war, thanks to the many monuments, freedom shrines and commemorative messages along the Riverwalk and in parks throughout the city.

Burlington Square, Central, Freedom, and Veterans Parks in Naperville are all places where people can honor military servants all year long and where many veterans gather on Veterans Day. Several local schools invite veterans to share their stories with young students as well.

On Veterans Day itself, November 11, North Central College’s Wentz Hall will host its annual free concert at 3:00 p.m., featuring patriotic music. Afterward, the Naperville VFW will host dinner and a social, at which local WWII veterans will share their stories. In the nearby city of Aurora, an annual Veterans Day parade begins at 10:15 a.m.

At Monarch Landing, our annual “Time of Remembrance” program on Veterans Day honors the senior living community’s resident veterans. This year, a professional singer delivered a rousing tribute to veterans at the community, and a woman whose Japanese-American family was in a California internment camp during WWII spoke to residents about their experiences.

Year round, an honor roll proudly displays the names of the many veterans at Monarch Landing and The Springs, including those who participated in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. That they are living among us is an extraordinary blessing. Hearing their stories, their life legacies, is an even greater one.

This Veterans Day, if you’re lucky enough to be with a veteran or participant of a war effort, particularly the second world war, talk to them. Thank them. Relish the rarity of the gift.