getting any younger, and there are fewer every day - American's World
War II generation.
They may seem like any other group of old people, mostly
retirees now, just old men and women on porches, in nursing homes, parents
and grandparents - but they're not.
When they were young, they saved the world.
Remarkable now how completely ordinary it seems.
No other generation in history can make that claim.
Not the Founders of the American Revolution, the
ancient Greeks, and Romans, nor the baby boomers - not even the early
Other generations had great struggles; other times had
great challenges; but at best here and there were saviors of a town or a
country, vanguards of unfulfilled promises, dreamers of vision.
America's World War II generation did not, as a group,
achieve the heroism of an individual like Joan of Arc, nor is there any
evidence that their "souls were touched by fire" as Oliver Wendell Holmes
Jr. described the experience of the Civil War when he had grown old.
But isn't it funny that victory in the most intense,
deadly and important struggle in human history should be sort of ordinary
to those who won it, and those who benefited?
America's World War II generation saved the world
because it had to be done, and no one else was available to do it.
It isn't that America's Vietnam generation, for
example, both the pro and the con, couldn't or wouldn't have saved the
world. They didn't get the chance.
It isn't that the Russian's, who actually broke the Wehrmacht, or
Chinese, who held Japan's best troops
in a death grip, or British or French or any of the rest of the world's
peoples, didn't win the war.
But they didn't save the world from an unspeakable
That was the Americans - when as Winston Churchill
said, the "new world came to save the old."
But they weren't vast forces of history, or legendary
warriors. They weren't even all combat soldiers, or Rosie the Riveters.
They were ordinary people - my Uncle Ed, and your mom
and dad - who lived in an extraordinary time.
So they did what had to be done.
There was a fair amount of ballyhoo last December, at
the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, although it got sticky with tensions
on the current U.S. - Japan relationship.
In a few years, there will be lots of half-century
anniversaries of V-E and V-J Day, maybe some prayerful ceremonies honoring
the liberation of the death camps.
The ex-Soviet republics might pause to remember that
there was once a place called Stalingrad, and it was very important.
There will be fewer alive then who actually did those
So what that 50 years ago today, or last week or next
year, a lot of people killed and died for famous victories?
This isn't about anniversaries, or the all-World War II
newsreel channel that every cable TV system seems to have. It's about the
old guy you see on the street. with the little poppy in his lapel, or the
blue-haired woman who forgets things and rides the bus.
Let's take a long, last look at these people now, while
we have a chance.
No one has ever done anything like their achievement
before - and God willing, no one will ever have to do anything like it