By Ray Starmann
They were called Bob, Harry, Red, Leo, Dick and Mary. They trudged through the jungle on Guadalcanal, waded through mounds of volcanic ash on Iwo Jima, shivered miserably at a place called the Bulge and gave a dying GI life-saving plasma at a hospital in Italy. Some worked in the factories that churned out tanks and planes and fuel barrels 24/7, while others waged war with slide rules and chemistry beakers.
They never complained because they knew the task at hand was so important that the future of the world rested in their hands. As Winston Churchill so eloquently put it, “If we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Churchill knew that with victory, “All Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.”
They knew to live in a world run by a Hitler or Tojo or Mussolini was not an option. They would do whatever they had to do, even if it meant some of them had to die. For them there was no substitute for victory.
They had a look in their eyes and an aura that symbolized the greatness and goodness they represented. This country had never seen a generation like them before and may very well never see one like them ever again.
They were our mothers and fathers, our grandparents. Since they first retired and then began to pass away, the country has never been the same.
Every generation America produced has done many great things. But, without a doubt, the generation that won World War II, saved the world and secured the most prosperous peace in history is in a class by itself.
We need to study their lives and actions in detail; from the way they paid for goods to the way they waged war and conducted foreign policy.
The Greatest Generation can still teach us many things: hard work, respect for the rule of law, a selfless can do attitude, an enviable sense of patriotism and above all, standing up in the storm and doing what is right.
The Greatest Generation believed in the almighty, everlasting power of the United States of America. To them every other country on earth was either a “has been” or an up and coming punk on the corner. There was no questioning of our greatness. There was no denying our wealth. There was no hiding from American exceptionialism. To them we were the guardians of goodness on the planet and anyone who denied that could go straight to Hades.
While this patriotism may appear from time to time on the surface today, I believe many Americans wonder if we are indeed on our way out, and ready to land on the ash heap of history with other defunct formally great powers like the Romans or the British.
As of now, American is in retreat, at home and across the world. Our foreign policy is in shambles. The Russians continue to outwit us in a carnival shell game of obfuscation and aggression. ISIS runs rampant across Syria and Iraq, committing mass murder and conquering new territory. The Chinese smile at us and talk trade and then attempt to scare us out of the South China Sea.
Americans have become self-centered, pleasure seeking, and too worried about mundane and trite nonsense on social media. We have become the masters at wasting time. As a nation we are too focused on feeling insulted and demanding someone apologize for the most ludicrous of reasons. And, if no apology is forthcoming then that person is ostracized into digital oblivion.
Can you imagine a GI from the 1st Infantry Division riding in a Higgins boat, ready to land on Omaha Beach and wondering how many “Likes” he has on Facebook or another GI taking a selfie with the Normandy cliffs in the background?
We need to get back to basics and spend more time solving our problems than complaining. We need to reinvigorate that can do, common sense attitude that used to be as American as apple pie.
While respect for the military is at an all-time high, the public must understand that patriotism entails more than “supporting the troops” by standing at attention during the national anthem at a football game. Freedom is not free. It never has been. It never will be.
In 1964, on the 20th anniversary of D-Day, CBS newsman Walter Cronkite – who as a young UPI reporter had landed behind enemy lines that night in a troop-carrying glider – interviewed Eisenhower on Omaha Beach. Gazing at the coastline, the former allied commander and retired president recalled why that mammoth invasion was different from famous battles in ancient history: “It’s a wonderful thing what those fellows were fighting for and sacrificing for, what they did to preserve our way of life. Not to conquer any territory, not for ambitions of our own. But to make sure that Hitler could not destroy freedom in the world. I think it’s just overwhelming; to think of the lives that were given for that principle, paying a terrible price on this beach alone. But they did it so the world could be free. It just shows what free men will do rather than be slaves.”
To paraphrase President Kennedy, a World War II veteran himself, “We need to ask once again, what we can do for our country.”