"Imagine, a 16- or 17-year-old kid gets to sit in the turret with a machine gun," he said. "That's why they take young men to fight the war. It's exciting. There's nothing fearful about it.
"Then the fear comes later as you mature a little bit."
He's sure he killed some Japanese aboard ships, but he never could see from up in the plane. Facing death and dealing death, he thinks, made him a better father. He learned tolerance in the war, perspective about what really matters in life, both of which gave him patience with his eight children.
"Live for today," Budden said. "You never worry about tomorrow. That's what I'm doing now."
The philosophy has helped in recent years when he battled prostate cancer, bladder cancer, the loss of a kidney.
Surviving members of the generation are facing their second near-death experience. First came combat, then old age. And yet, they say they can face death with equanimity because of their life experience. The memorial is a comfort, too.
"I don't even think about death much," Budden said. "It's going to come when it's going to come. But it's going to have to come get me, because I'm not going to volunteer."
"You know what he said when I asked if he was up to coming here?" said Barbara Budden. " 'If I drop dead in the middle of the memorial, I'll die happy.' "
Just then, with the dedication stage spread in front and the Washington Monument behind, Franklin W. Hooper butted into the conversation from one row back.
"Let's talk about the guys who won the war: the Army," he teased.
"You couldn't have won the war unless we got you there," Navy man Budden answered.
Hooper, from Aberdeen, N.J., was a machine gunner with combat engineers who built roads and bridges on islands in the Pacific. He recalled the time a mortar shell landed near where he was shaving one morning -- a dud. And when he saw a Japanese soldier with a bayonet charging him -- and woke up in the hospital, not remembering anything.
After experiences like that, "you learn not to fuss over little things," Hooper said. "Nothing can bother us after what we've been through."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Jean Klein, 78, a war widow who lives north of Denver, dances with Byron Logan, 77, from Hickory, N.C. Logan, who served in the World War II Navy on the USS Murrelet, is a World War I enthusiast who is wearing an authentic uniform from that war. Many strangers of the WWII generation greeted one another like family.
(Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)