NEW ALBANY — Try to put yourself in Will Block's shoes.
You are 18 years old and just graduated from high school. You have a bright future, like all 18-year-olds. There are so many memories to make and fun to have.
But two months after graduation you receive a letter from the military draft board. You have been drafted into the U.S. Army. Those future plans and fun have to be put on hold. The world is at war, and despite being a teenager fresh out of high school, you are heading overseas to defend our way of life and defeat the axis powers.
That is how Block began his adult life. The 94-year-old New Albany resident was fresh out of St. Xavier High School in Louisville when he received his draft notice. He was heading to war.
From 1943-46 Block served as a clerk at Gen. Douglas MacArthur's headquarters. From New Guinea, to Australia and finally the Philippines, Block saw a lot during his time in the Army, traveling with MacArthur. One vivid memory he has was right out of basic training while making the trip across the Pacific Ocean to New Guinea.
"It took us 30 days to get there. We had to do a lot of zig-zagging because of Japanese subs," he said.
Block spent most of his time in Manila. He said U.S. troops in the Pacific not only died in combat but also from malaria.
"A lot of fellas died from eating bad food. But we made it," he said.
Block remembers the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, even though he was stationed thousands of miles away in the Pacific.
"I had no idea where they would send me," he said. "I probably wouldn't have been part of the first landing, but probably the second. But I went to the Pacific instead of Normandy and was assigned to his [MacArthur] headquarters. I was really fortunate."
He said he had taken some business courses at St. X which may have been why he was made a clerk in the Army.
Block said while he was in Australia, troops were practicing and preparing to invade Japan. But instead, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on the country, which ended the Pacific portion of World War II.
"We were taking over islands and building new air fields, getting ready," he said. "Fortunately, it never came to that."
Block said while working in the same building as MacArthur, he was "pretty well protected."
He said occasionally people will ask him about the war when he is wearing his World War II veteran's hat. He said his father served in World War I.
There are only a small fraction of World War II veterans still able to discuss the war that saved the world. According to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 496,777 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2018. They were a different breed. Not only in combat, carrying the fate of the free world on their backs, but when they returned home after the war they became leaders in industry and business.
They also were the backbone of various veterans organizations for decades.
"They were a very large group and they really grew the VFW," said Jim Dexter, commander of VFW Post 1693 in New Albany. "At one time, we were the third largest post in Indiana. But a lot of them have died and younger people aren't joining like they used to."
In the early 1970s the post had nearly 1,800 members, Dexter said, many of whom were World War II vets, and now that number is 800.
Dexter said there are only a couple of World War II vets who are still active at the post. He said last year two died on the same day.
He said he always enjoyed hearing their stories and experiences when they felt like sharing.
"A lot of guys who saw heavy action wouldn't talk about it. They saw horrific things," said Dexter, a Vietnam veteran. "It brings back bad memories."
Steve Koerber, commander of the Floyds Knobs American Legion, said his father was a World War II veteran but never talked much about his time in the service.
"He didn't talk about it until I got back from Vietnam," Koerber said. "He began to open up then."
Dexter said he never had much interest in learning about World War II until he watched the history of the war on the History Channel.
"I couldn't turn it off," he said.
Block still gets emotional talking about the friends he served with who have passed away. He is proud of his service, for his was the Greatest Generation.
"There aren't too many of us left," he said.