Three years ago, veterans of World War II were the grand marshals of the Ogden Veterans Day parade. That's where Norm Nelson gave me a list of all the World War II vets he knew in Box Elder County.
There were 27.
I recently showed that list to Norm again.
Norm read the names carefully, then took out his pen and put a dot by one. "He's in Arizona with his daughter, waiting to die."
Another: "He's having trouble."
A third: "He's biding his time in South Salt Lake."
He put dots by eight names, all guys who are sick, fading.
Then he put check marks by 12 names. After each he said, simply, "He's gone."
Twelve dead out of 27 in three years, and more on the way.
Norm, a Vietnam veteran, is the Utah chaplain for the VFW, also active in the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans. Mostly he's just a guy who likes to get out and help old soldiers. He works with a lot of World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans but also, increasingly, veterans of the current wars.
A couple weeks ago, the U.S. Air Force asked Norm to round up 10 World War II veterans so they could be given places of honor at Friday's rehearsal of the Hill Air Force Base air show. Norm discovered, to his dismay, that finding 10 veterans of that long-ago war who could make the trip and enjoy the experience was a challenge.
He did his best in Box Elder, then borrowed a couple from Weber and made sure to ask them all, "How's your health?" Even the most spry have their bad days.
Side note: The Air Force needed the vets' names, ages and driver license numbers, "so they could do background checks on them," Norm said, his voice dripping with disgust.
It rankled. Background checks on his veterans?
OK, it's the new world, and Norm knows that, but "I know every one of them said they'd still give their life if they have to defend this nation." His tone, more than his words, said what the Air Force could do with its background checks.
That's the problem. Nobody knows these guys. World War II ended 67 year ago. Its soldiers' stories are fading along with their bodies.
Norm knows even very old vets need organizations like the ones he works with. Veterans are the only people who know what soldiers have been through. They're the only ones who really understand.
"Every now and then you'll see one of those guys at a funeral," he said, where veterans form an honor guard to make sure another old soldier gets a proper send-off.
"He'll suddenly step back, with maybe a tear in his eye, and everyone else knows: Something hit him, reminded him of something, brought back a memory. So they just wait until he steps back."
The need knows no age limit. He said it's amazing how little it sometime takes to help a returned vet who is struggling, feeling alienated from family, after coming home from war.
"I got the nicest letter from a lady the other day. She said 'I want to thank you for my husband back. He's a veteran from this war (Afghanistan) and all you said was 'Welcome home.' "
Norm will have no shortage of new veterans to work with, but isn't it hard watching old friends fade and die?
Norm doesn't see things like that.
"I look at them and I thank God, not for who they are but for the privilege of knowing them," he said, "and that they lived and did what they did for me and you."