United States war veteran Steven Melnikoff asked a group of young people in his native Maryland recently: “What is the holiday in November?”
The 99-year-old lone survivor of the 29th Infantry Division of the US Army was surprised to find not one person could answer that question: November 11, the end of World War I.
In Sydney this week, for the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 presented by Jaguar Land Rover, Melnikoff told how he has dedicated the final years of his life to educating young people about the war.
Melnikoff was among the troops which landed at Omaha Beach during the Allied invasion of the German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944.
The operation was the largest seaborne invasion in history and laid the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front.
“My goal is to talk to people, especially young people,” said the Tech Sergeant.
“You may not believe this, but I’m the only one left in my division who can walk and do this kind of thing, they are all gone.
“It’s important for school kids to learn. We don’t want the memories lost.”
Melnikoff is among a group of veterans from the Greatest Generations Foundation, founded by Australian Timothy Davis, to visit the Invictus Games. The foundation is dedicated to preserving the stories of servicemen and women globally.
“We are here to pay homage to the 100th anniversary of mateship between the USA and Australian veterans,” said Davis.
The veterans attended events at Sydney Olympic Park yesterday including swimming. They also plan to visit the Sydney Opera House, climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge and play a game of golf as part of their trip.
“Anything you can do for the veterans is therapeutic,” Melnikoff said of the Invictus Games.
“I was one of the fortunate ones, nothing ever affected me.
“I didn’t talk about it for a long while but somehow my brain absorbed it. I never had nightmares and even though we didn’t talk about the war then, I’m dedicated to talking about it now.”
Also in Sydney is Michael Gantich, from California, a US Navy quarter master who survived the Pearl Harbour bombings in Hawaii on December 7, 1941.
The 99-year-old is a proud father of four, grandfather of 13, great-grandfather of 18 and great-great grandfather of nine.
“I’m just proud to be here. I’m dedicated to helping veterans – so anything that can help like the Invictus Games is good,” he said.
“I heard so much about Sydney over the years and to see the city in person is such a great thing.”
Invictus Games Sydney 2018