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On Historic Election Day, San Diego World War II Veterans Reflect On Lifetime Of Voting

World War II veteran Ervin Wendt, 100, shares his life-long experiences of voting, Nov. 2, 2016.
Nicholas McVicker
World War II veteran Ervin Wendt, 100, shares his life-long experiences of voting, Nov. 2, 2016.
WWII Veterans Reflect on Elections Through The Decades
On Historic Election Day, San Diego World War II Veterans Reflect On Lifetime Of Voting
For some members of the so-called Greatest Generation, Election Day is more than just the candidates and issues. Casting a ballot is a way to pay tribute to those who have fought courageously to protect America’s freedoms and right to vote.

Election day for some members of what's been called the greatest generation is more than just the candidates and issues. Casting a ballot is a way to pay tribute to those were fought courageously to protect America's freedoms and write about. Susan Murphy met up with two World War II veterans to talk with them about election day to the decades. My country is everything. It really means a lot. He says he's never missed voting in an election the first time the World War II veteran cast a ballot in a presidential election was in 1936. Franklin D Roosevelt won a second term. He remembers the boats in the early years being tallied with chalk. And the throngs of people gathering around radios and in the streets as the results were announced. It was wild at times. Roosevelt brought hope in a time of darkness as America was in the midst of the Great Depression. I lived on five dollars a month for about three years but I had something to eat and I had a place to sleep. He joined the Navy and then came the attack on Pearl Harbor that launched the United States into World War II. The Japanese had started the war, and we knew we had to finish it. He fought in the iconic battle of Guadalcanal and the Battle of Midway. There was only three people left. It is Mission Hills home offered him memories. 91-year-old Royce Williams searcher and World War II as a fighter pilot and considers participating in elections one of the most Honorable and patriotic acts a citizen can perform. This is what makes America tick. It was designed to make us different and to have a place in what is going on. It is he first voted in 1940 for. He says one of the most memorable presidential elections to him took place four years later. The next for years Williams played a big role. This is a painting of the airplane that I was flying. He found himself flying alone and fending off seven fighter jets. He married and had three sons and moved 29 times during his Navy career and an American flag flies over his home. His living room wall places metals showing his years in service. He's lived through many of America's ups and downs. We were able to get over the hurdles and come to an agreement and he's also lived through a lot of presidential elections. Little changes made year-by-year but this year a huge change is made. This election day is very important. It is also lived through a lot of presidents. Eisenhower was a good leader. Johnson was for a lot of the poor people. He served in the Navy as commander-in-chief and this will be his 21st time voting in a presidential election. Whatever happens in an election, that's my President. He says throughout his elections and the many changes and advancements he has experienced, one thing remains the same that is the responsibility of the people. To do right. That is a big responsibility. Susan Murphy, KPBS news. Veterans Day coming up is a holiday to honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women who answered the call to serve in the U.S. military. What better way to honor that service the to make sure vets can get a good job and they reenter civilian life, but that is not always the case making the transition cannot be difficult especially for lead to fighters Navy SEALs. Joining me is Joe Musselman. Welcome to the program. Thank you so much. Unemployment for post 9/11 veterans is at a record low but what does the John Mica like for veterans? We have on record the highest percentage of veterans moving into government jobs in the history of our country. I think that is a deceiving statistic. More and more veterans are moving into government employment back into government agencies back into civilian contracting so that's not exactly representative of how many veterans are transitioning into private-sector civilian jobs. Do think that rate is higher for special forces? Not according to what we are fighting finding. So former seals and Rangers gravid toward desktop to towards security firms but now there's an increasing demand from the taking industry? So that used to be where folks thought that their skills translated into now we are seeing something different. Technology is all about massive impact on joining missions that are much bigger than themselves and in some cases it's about small team environment and working together for greater mission to spread large impact of environments and chaos. That is something that Navy SEALs and special operators can truly associate the background with and are very effective under pressure and able to adapt quickly to new environments. On the plus side a lot of companies they veterans are ideal employees, but on the other side, they don't understand military structure. So how does that make it difficult to hire or place veterans ? Speaking for the special operations community there is an education that has to happen. They need to be educated on the industry and the industry functions on whether skill sets faults and most important in the private sector needs to be educated on how the special operator can bring impact into their business and drive innovation inside of their business. For us it is important on the education piece that we are educating both sides on where each other can benefit from what others experiences. Specifically, what kind of problems to they have when they are applying for jobs? In is definitely change. We bridge this process very efficiently and in the past it was difficult for employers to make a direct translation and transition from a special operators background into the roles inside of their organization. It is tough to break down the experience of what an operator has done. I built small teams across 17 different Allied nations and had to speak multiple languages and travel different countries. How does that break down? That is with the on the foundation does. It draws the linkages within the organization and special operation veterans. Let me break this down so a former neighbors Navy seal who had highly specialized skills you take that individual and veteran and you try to transmit those skills into something that a civilian employer is going to understand? Correct. We put our folks through 120 hours of executive one-on-one coaching through three phases of education and the employers are inside the classroom with our fellows. When you meet them and see them and have their backgrounds explained and in what they have done it is very clear about where they can fit inside the organization. Is a challenge to because a lot of veterans coming out of Navy SEALs basically been trained not to talk about what they do. Correct. All veterans are extremely humbled about their service but it's been brought up in the culture of the Navy seal and special operations committee to not talk about where they've been and what they've done and so now we are asking them in transition to talk about where they've been and what they've done. So big part of our program has the fellows understanding where they've been and where they are now and where they hope to go and learning how to communicate that effectively. Give us an idea of where the veterans were been through your program have gotten hired and what their jobs are now? The teams and the special operations community are all about innovation. People inside the private-sector think that veterans have a very command and control strict regimented kind of framework that they been working. It is the complete opposite. It's all about creating chaos, innovating on the spot so some of our fellows have been drawn to organizations that are big disruptors. So whenever fellows is running the entire autonomous driving program for over in Pittsburgh. He's a very young individual and has 187 direct reports. That doesn't happen, typically but he possessed the skills that they needed. More senior folks are leaving training and development for faculty at the headquarters in Vermont and teaching professors and educating faculty members on how to be great leaders inside the educational system. You would not think that if you would book that entire user experience was being managed by a Navy seal. So as we see where our fellows are going, many are working inside of hospitals and scripts and others are going inside of thinking and wealth management. As long as submission is much bigger than them then they are very satisfied in the next roles. I want to thank you. I've been speaking with Joe Musselman founder of the honor foundation. Thank you so much.

For some members of the so-called Greatest Generation, Election Day is more than just the candidates and issues. Casting a ballot is a way to pay tribute to those who have fought courageously to protect America’s freedoms and right to vote.

“My country is everything. It really means a lot,” said 100-year-old Ervin Wendt.

The World War II veteran said he has never missed voting in an election. The first time he remembers casting a ballot in a presidential election was in 1936, when Franklin D. Roosevelt won a second term.

The votes in those early years were tallied with chalk, he recalled. And throngs of people gathered around radios and in the streets as election results were announced.

“It was wild at times,” Wendt said. “There was still name-calling and so forth, but they were always still responsible.”

Wendt said Roosevelt brought hope in a time of darkness as America was in the midst of the Great Depression.

“I lived on $5 a month for three years, but I had something to eat, and I had a place to sleep and I was strong — young and strong,” said Wendt, who got a job in soil conservation at a public works program under Roosevelt’s New Deal.

“That’s when all of us boys that didn’t have any money in our families, we went there,” Williams explained.

He made $30 a month, but he gave $25 to his parents.

Wendt joined the Navy as a way out of poverty. Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor that launched the United States into World War II.

“The Japanese had started the war, and we knew we had to finish it,” said Wendt, who served as an aviation ordnanceman and turret gunner on fighter planes. “It shaped my whole life.”

He fought in the iconic battle of Guatalcanal and the Battle of Midway.

“There are just three of us left,” said Wendt, holding up a Midway reunion picture from a decade ago.

His Mission Hills home offers a panoramic view of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego Bay. The aircraft carrier, decommissioned in 1992, was named after the war-altering battle.

After the war, Wendt married and had one daughter.

“Nobody loves war, but it certainly had this country pulled together,” said Royce Williams, 91, who also served during World War II, as a fighter pilot in training.

“We were Americans and we had an enemy to fight and a country to support and we did it,” Williams said.

Williams said he considers participating in elections one of the most honorable and patriotic acts a citizen can perform.

“It’s what makes America tick,” Williams said. “It’s what was designed into this country to make us different and have citizens have a place in what’s going on.”

He first voted in 1944, when Roosevelt won his fourth-term election. But one of the most memorable presidential elections to Williams took place four years later.

“I remember expecting (Thomas) Dewey was going to win and (Harry) Truman pulled it off,” Williams said. “Big surprise to everybody.”

Truman led the country through the Korean War, where Williams played a big role. At one point, he found himself flying alone and fending off seven Russian fighter jets.

“I shot down four of them before getting out of ammunition and 263 holes in the airplane,” said Williams.

World War II veteran Royce Williams, 91, reflects on elections through the decades, Nov. 2, 2016.
Nicholas McVicker
World War II veteran Royce Williams, 91, reflects on elections through the decades, Nov. 2, 2016.

Williams married and had three sons. He moved 29 times during his lifelong Navy career. An American flag flies high over his Escondido home. His living room wall displays medals, plaques and photos showing his years of service.

He has lived through many of America’s ups and downs, he said.

“We were able to get over the hurdles, come to agreements, build on that, get stronger,” Williams explained.

Williams has also lived through a lot of presidential elections. His favorite years were during more simple times, he said.

“America by Rockwell is what you hoped America would be,” Williams said.” There wasn’t any nastiness, no hate in the game.”

Ervin Wendt has also lived through a lot of presidents. He served in the Navy under America’s commanders in chief for 44 years. This year marks the 21st time he has voted in a presidential election.

“Whatever happens in an election, that’s my president,” Wendt said. “And I’ll do everything I can to support whoever is elected.”

Wendt said throughout his 100 years of elections, candidates, issues and the many changes and advancements he has experienced, one thing remains the same.

“The responsibility of the citizens to do right,” Wendt said. “That’s a big responsibility that we all have. To do right.”