On Dec. 7, 1941, life changed forever for the Jung brothers of Freeburg.
The next day, baby brother Ronald came home from Freeburg High School and saw his older brothers, Richard and Robert, in the kitchen with their friends.
“And they were all going to enlist and join the next day,” Ronald recalled. “Which they did. And I was mad because my mother wouldn’t let me enlist. And later on, she signed a paper, and I got into the Air Force.”
Flash forward nearly 75 years. Ronald, 89, is seated on a couch, next to Richard, 90, and Robert, 93.
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Before them, arrayed on a table, are scrapbooks full of faded black-and-white photos of their childhoods growing up in Freeburg, three boys raised by a single mom during the depths of the Great Depression.
The photos segue to those of young men in uniform serving in World War II: Ronald behind the trigger of a .50-caliber machine gun of a B-24 bomber that he served on as an aerial gunner; Richard, a Navy sailor who crewed amphibious landing craft, stationed in New Guinea; Robert, also a sailor, standing on the deck of the PT boat he was assigned to as a gunner, cutting the hair of another sailor, while awaiting their next assignment at their base in Corsica, France.
Seating in a Freeburg living room Saturday evening, each brother, in his own way, marveled at his great good fortune: to survive World War II, to come home, to marry and start families, and to grow old with the people he knew best of all: his own brothers.
For Ronald, there is a sense of urgency. He turns 90 on Monday, and he wants to make sure he gets there.
“I’m pretty excited I made it this long,” he said. “And I got my two brothers.”
Like millions of other members of “The Greatest Generation,” the Jung brothers remained deeply mindful of their wartime memories and their role in helping win the bloodiest, most high-stakes war in history.
The pride runs deep for the Jungs. They realize they took part in something historic and epic, a conflict whose lessons need repeating.
If America had lost the war, “We’d be speaking Japanese,” Ronald said.
“And eating sauerkraut,” added Richard.
Both brothers bristle at revisionist history as to whether America should’ve dropped the atomic bombs that both credit for ending World War II and saving countless American troops’ lives.
“They saved a million people by dropping that bomb,” Ronald said. “I get pissed off when people say they should never have dropped that bomb...The best thing Truman did was drop the bomb.”
“They couldn’t let the war drag on for another five years,” Richard said. “They had to do something.”
By end of World War II, more than 16 million Americans had served in uniform as part of the war effort. As of this year, it’s estimated that fewer than 750,000 World War II vets are still alive, and that number shrinks each day with the passing of nearly 500 veterans.
“By 2036, it is estimated there will be no living veterans of World War II left to recount their experiences,” according to the National World War II Museum website.
All three Jung brothers agree that there is much about the modern era they will miss, such as upcoming futuristic tech marvels like robotic airplanes and cars. But all three also agree many good things have already been lost from days gone by, such as the community bonding and trust people experienced during the Great Depression, an era when no one locked their doors at night and kids could wander the neighborhood without fear.
“We were born at the best time,” Ronald said. “The time before the war and after the war.”
Richard smiled at the memory, then he looked at his little brother. Richard’s face grew somber.
“People don’t talk about war anymore and they have to realize,” he said. “It has to be a hell of a good reason for us to go back to war.”