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Remembering Mac McElrath and his greatest generation
Mac McElrath around the time he served in World War II and was taken prisoner by the Germans. He made his home in Ceres and later Hughson up until his death last month.

This paper would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the passing of Eldred "Mac" Lincoln McElrath.

Mac's April 16 death represents the passing of what Tom Brokaw called the "greatest generation." Approximately every two minutes a memory of World War II disappears from the planet. Mac was one of the 600 from that generation that passes away daily.

On a number of classroom presentations, I had the chance to hear Mac tell his story of being shot down while piloting an Air Force bombing mission from his base in England. His B-24 bomber was shot down Jan. 2, 1944 as it was dropping bombs on submarine pens in Germany. Mac survived the crash but Germans on the ground wasted no time in finding the Americans and taking them prisoner. Mac had an uncertain future as he endured 16 months of being captive in Stalag #1 near the Balctic Sea. He never complain about how he was treated but did mention the daily rationings were less than desirable.

His family back home in the United States was on pins and needles the whole time. Especially anxious to hear about his condition beyond the official "Missing in Action" pronouncement by the military was fiancé Jane Stowe, who lived near Mac's family in Waterville, Minn. Mac's loved ones would not learn his fate until four months later when a radio transmission was monitored from the East Coast. His German captors allowed him and others to occasionally speak their name and parents and hometown into a radio transmitter so that short-wave operators could hear who was captive and relay the information to their folks back home. Several ham operators on the East Coast notified McElrath's parents by postcard, faster than the American Red Cross was able to do.

When Russians moved in on the Germans, the camp where Mac was held was deserted and the Americans were free - but on their own to find the path to their superiors and freedom.

Mac's eyes must have filled with tears as he gazed upon the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 1945 where fireboats were squirting red, white and blue streams of water.

Mac headed straight home, then to Springfield, Mo., where Jane was serving as a nurse in the Army Nurse Corps. Since both were in the military, they secured a three-day pass, got married on July 20, 1945 and honeymooned in nearby Branson, Mo., a far cry from the entertainment capital that it is today.

After both retired from the military that October, Mac found a job as a telegrapher for the Chicago Great Western Railroad Company in Minnesota. Bitterly cold Minnesota winters prompted them to head to California in 1950 for a Southern Pacific Railroad job. Mac got out of railroad work and in 1956 was hired by Arthur L. Harris, the manager of the Bank of Ceres. The bank building still sits at the southeast corner of Fourth and Lawrence streets.

There are few people alive today who remember Mr. Harris, who had a reputation for being guarded when it came to approving bank loans. In fact, he even turned down a loan for Chester Smith, who built a radio and TV station empire on the west coast. When Mr. Harris retired, Mac became the assistant vice president. He retired when the bank was United California Bank.

Like most in that generation, preventing Nazi domination of the world was not enough. Men like Mac came back to their hometowns where they served their communities - in Mac's case serving on the Ceres School Board and the Salvation Army board - and their churches and families.
Three years ago Mac and Jane McElrath moved from Ceres to Samaritan Village in Hughson. Mac had suffered a minor stroke and communication became difficult with the loss of hearing.

Mac's birth on Sept. 10, 1919 made him two months older than my grandmother, who is still living at age 93. It will not be long until I see her passing too. She held down the home front while my grandfather worked in the ship building yards in Oakland.

Their generation was great because they put others above themselves and rose to the occasion of defeating the threat to freedom, and had an inner resolve, strength, focus and character and they successfully built post-war America into what it is today. They sacrificed and in the end were rewarded with blessings of freedom and prosperity.

There is no easier way to take your freedoms for granted today without remembering the Mac McElraths of the United States and realize that freedom came with a great personal cost for millions since the nation's founding.

It's been estimated that there will be no more World War II veterans living by 2036. They are leaving us quickly. If you know one, get to know their story. Forgetting their story and failing to retell it is one of the surest pathways for future generations to losing the freedoms for which this country has been so blessed.

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