Estimates are that there are about 1,000 World War II veteran dying each day. When the United States commemorates the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy in 2014 and the anniversary of the end of the war in 2015, the ranks of those who survived the epic battles of that war will be thin. AOL Autos takes a drive into history in a Jeep Wrangler to reconnect with one of our fallen heroes who never made it beyond the age of twenty-four.

World War II occupies a special place in American culture, even today. Perhaps that's because it was the last war fought by the U.S. with such clarity of purpose going in, as well as clarity of victory at the end. Feature films and and books continue to come out, and more movies are in development to break when we mark anniversaries in 2014 and 2015.

There were an estimated 416,000 American military deaths recorded in World War Two, with two of them coming from my family. There were an additional 1,700 civilian deaths attributed to the war--Pearl Harbor, civilian volunteers working and living abroad, etc. There were a total of 16,112,566 Americans who served one branch or another of the military during World War Two.

There is hardly an American family that doesn't have a connection to World War II; parents grandparents, uncles, cousins who fought in the war or at least played a role in defeating the Axis forces of Germany, Japan and Italy. In that war, after all, unlike the wars fought today, even civilians played a big role--living through food rationing, organizing metal and rubber drives, selling and buying war bonds, working in defense plants, and even, like my own Mother, training as coastal airplane spotters.

[If you want to follow WW2 history day by day on Facebook through the letters of David Kiley's parents' and news nuggets that he has culled to give you a picture of what war-life was like 70 years ago, like Kiley's Facebook page Forever and Always here.]

My father, Charles Kiley, led a story-filled, exciting war. A correspondent for the Stars and Stripes newspaper, he finished the war at the side of General Dwight Eisenhower, covering the future President as he and his staff negotiated the final surrender by Germany. But he had a brother, Eddie, who lived a very different war. An infantryman in the Fifth Armored Division, he was killed on December 11, 1944 at the age of 24 in a place called the Huertgen Forest in western Germany.

For most of my life, all I knew of my Uncle Eddie was what I could see in a painting done by my Uncle John. Too, there was a photo of my father and Eddie in London when they found themselves together on one of Eddie's few leaves. But that, and just a few stories my father imparted, were all I had to go on--until recently. My cousin Annice had four cans of 8mm film laying in the bottom of her closet. She gave them to me, and I had them converted to DVD. The results were heart rending. It was film shot by my Uncle John of my father on his induction day in 1941, my parents wedding day in 1944, as well as the first moving pictures I have ever seen of Eddie. A clip is included in our video here. He is young, good looking and full of possibilities in the moving pictures.

Eddie has been a mystery that tugged at my curiosity for years. Before all the WW2 veterans are gone, and we can no longer commemorate and mark their sacrifices with them in our midst, I wanted to forge a closer connection to the uncle I never knew. So, I went to see the battlefield where he was killed, and, for the first time, to his grave in Belgium.

In the summer of 2011, I began working on a book to chronicle the war that my father covered for the Stars and Stripes newspaper, that brought my parents together, that my Mother lived through as a home-front bride and that took the life of my uncle and a cousin. That book will come out by the end of 2014. But you can take a short journey for a few minutes with me into December 1944 with our video here.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 494 Comments
      gmydogbud
      • 3 Years Ago
      Had a uncle who died in the invasion of Normandy and for what! We are all friends with the Germans, and the Japanise and Hated all over the world. Had an uncle who was prisoner of war in a German Prison Camp and came back beaten, broken teeth and skin and bones. Had another who was with McArther and came home with gungle rot. Had a Great Uncle Gased in the First World War. We have a President who wanted our injured Service men and women to pay for their own health care, till the American People complained. Government won't protect our borders however spends hundreds of Billions in so called "Nation Building". A lot of good American men and women have died over the years, Two World Wars, and how many Police Actions and for what? Today, people come to this country, not to become Americans, but for what they can get and are happy to tell you, "Well YOUR Country Allows It"! May God Bless All Those Who Gave Their Life!!
      MIKE
      • 3 Years Ago
      Thanks for the great story. It was a special generation. We visited Nuttuno Cemetery in Italy 10 years ago. I had a cousin that I never knew who was killed at Anzio. He was brought back after the war and buried in CT. The feeling of being there is like no other that I can describe. Thanks again, all these brave men and women will never be forgotton.
      clarissa49
      • 3 Years Ago
      Great article! Thanks for sharing!
      ANDYUPER
      • 3 Years Ago
      Great story, touching tribute to your uncle. I drove a Jeep in Korea (1970) hooked to a 1/4 ton trailer full of missles up and down washed out hills, valleys and mountains north of Seoul. That was fun stuff, and I'm glad the tradition continues. I now drive a Grand cherokee and it's a lot nicer!
      • 3 Years Ago
      My uncle died two days after the war was over.Shot by a snipper in Medeberg,Germany.They buried him in Holland and two years later was returned to his home in N.Y. I can just barely remember as a child attended the funeral.
      • 3 Years Ago
      David, my tears are falling. This story realled choked me up. I hope to see more of your work in the future. Keep telling stories - you are great at it.
      Jim
      • 3 Years Ago
      HappyJoyJoy333 What a shame those guys are today asking their top military boss if their families wll be getting their paychecks come August 2nd. I know they didn't vote for the Tea Party.
      kitkat5510
      • 3 Years Ago
      WWII Vets were/are the best generation! My Dad served in the Air Force, flew in B-17's and just loved it! He was lucky to complete his 25 Bombing Missions. He actually flew over Normandy Beach on D-Day. On his last mission, his plane was shot down over the ocean. They were lucky to chute down and survive in the water for the day until a ship came by to pull them out of the water. Luckily that ship was not German, but it was English. He was in the Hospital in England for a week, released and came back home on the QE2, standing next to Bing Crosby on the Deck of the Ship. I lost my Dad 6 years ago at the age of 82 and miss him dearly. Not a day goes by that I don't think of him. My one big regret ... I didn't ask more questions about the War from him. If you have a Dad or Grandparent that is still alive that served, please take the time to ask them about their time. Find out about their experience and really listen closely. Soon all of our WWII Vets will be gone and there will be no one left to talk about it.
      • 3 Years Ago
      God bliess our troops, its not an easy job, thank you all
      ttaylorjdt
      • 1 Year Ago
      Let us never forget those who served. Never!
      • 1 Year Ago
      David Kiley: Thank you for sharing your story and that of your Uncle Eddie. A moving story and tribute to one of the many brave Americans who gave their all for our freedom(s)!
      malibrat
      • 1 Year Ago
      I am extremely proud to be the daughter of a WWII Navy LST 266 crew member, and have had the honor to meet many of my Dad's shipmates over the past thirteen years at their annual reunion...with the loss of each shipmate my heart breaks. Thank you to all who have served to protect our freedom past and present, all of you are my heroes.
    • Load More Comments