Sixteen million Americans served in the armed forces during World War II. Only 1 million of them are still alive to talk about it.
In their 90s now, they're dying at a rate of 555 a day, according to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
Some 36,000 of those veterans live in Illinois.
But owing to the steady march of time, none will be left in another 20 years.
Four years ago, the Spirit of '45 Day was created through congressional resolution as a way to honor the everyday heroes of World War II the second Sunday of every August. You may not have heard of it; it hasn't caught on in many states.
But the True Patriots Care Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Elgin, recognizes that time is winding down on those who served during World War II, and it is doing what it can to express a nation's gratitude to those who put themselves in harm's way at a time of unprecedented crisis. So on Sunday -- Spirit of '45 Day -- the organization held a day of activities that ran the gamut from solemn and inspiring to celebratory and humorous -- in the small community of Gilberts in rural Kane County.
True Patriots President Jerry Christopherson served in the Army in the 1960s, but he clearly treasures the legacy of those who fought before him.
"We have to keep remembering. We lose World War II veterans every single day," he told Daily Herald staff writer Matt Arado, who covered the event. "There just won't be many more chances to express our thanks.
"Not only did they save the world on the battlefield, but then they came home and helped rebuild the country after the Depression. We all owe such a huge debt to them."
Huntley resident Sandra Royer was there to watch her dad, Donald Mickelsen of Huntley, receive a flag in honor of his service in the Marine Corps in some of the heaviest fighting in the Pacific Theater.
"I really hope these kinds of events help the younger generations understand the sacrifices that our veterans have made," she said.
That the True Patriots chose also to honor veterans of the Korean War, what Christopherson called the "forgotten war," certainly will help that cause.
Here's hoping that the Spirit of '45 catches on elsewhere and that as time inevitably marches on and there are no longer any World War II vets to thank in person that groups expand their reach to not just veterans of World War II and Korea but to those from Christopherson's generation, who slogged through Southeast Asia in the name of the United States of America.
• For more on Salute Inc., organizers of Spirit of '45 activities, go to saluteinc.org.