Lessons from the Greatest Generation
Last week I was flying home from Texas. I got to the airport a couple of hours early. While I was waiting for my flight, I happened to come upon an Honor Flight. An HonorFlight is a non-profit organization that flies World War II Vets to Washington D.C. for free to see the World War II monument. It’s amazing.
I cannot even begin to express how moving it was. They had a small ceremony for the veterans before they boarded the plane. The man who greeted them thanked them for their service and their sacrifice. He mentioned the 400,000 plus who gave their life in war. He talked about how they went off to war as boys and had to grow up within a matter of months and how they came home men. He said that they truly were the greatest generation. They closed the ceremony with everyone singing the national anthem. (I’ve included the video I took with my phone). I was crying like a baby at that point!
As I watched the vets being honored and board the plane, I thought about the cost of war, the price they paid. They may not have lost their lives in war but it cost them. My dad was part of the Greatest Generation. He was raised during the depression and fought in World War 2. I so wish he could have gone on an HonorFlight and seen the monument.
My dad passed away five years ago at the age of 86. At his funeral, his youngest brother told me that my dad had gone away to war a young kid and came back an old man. War changed him.
My dad began to talk more about the war towards the end of his life. My sister Nancy had the amazing opportunity to go to several of his war reunions. It was at these reunions that he reconnected with his best friend from the war, Ollie Olsen. During the last five or so years of Ollie’s life, they would call each other weekly. I remember the incredible sadness my dad experienced when Ollie passed away. The bond of war is unbreakable.
At one of the reunions, Ollie told my sister two stories. The first was about how Ollie and my dad had night patrol. They had to sit back to back looking opposite ways. It is where the saying “I’ve got your back” came from. They both saw Germans coming over the ridge. Ollie whispered “Do you see them?” Dad answered, “Yeah, don’t worry, I am going to mow them down if they get too close”. He was brave. He didn’t show fear. The second story was there was a reconnaissance mission that one person needed to go on. It was a dangerous mission. No one wanted to go so they drew straws. The guy who drew the short straw was a mess. My dad volunteered to go in his place. When asked why, dad simply said, “he has a family, wife and kids. I’m single. It would be ok if anything happened to me.”
My dad received 4 bronze stars and a good conduct ribbon though he never got them. He was proud of his service during the War and it saddens me that he never got them. I wish we could have done that for him before he died.
The cost of war is high. My dad struggled with alcoholism the rest of his life. He had nightmares. A couple of months before he died, he had a nightmare in which he thought he was back in the war. He thought he was in a field or a meadow and was under heavy fire. He was 86 years old at this time. His hips were full of arthritis and could only walk with the assistance of a walker, but this night he was agile and nimble as a 23-year-old. He kept saying “Where’s my gun? The Germans are coming? We got to get out of the meadow!!! Now!!!” Thank God he could not get to his guns…he thought I was a German. 64 years later and he was still on the battlefield.
My dad, as have many other soldiers, paid a steep price to protect us, to protect the world. Our family paid a price…dealing with his alcoholism through the years and all that came with that. He dealt with tremendous guilt. I remember him telling me one day when we were out to lunch at the Amvets that the men he killed had moms, dads, wives and kids at home just like he did. They were kids just like he was.
Was it worth it? Is war ever worth it? Yes! Sometimes war is necessary. I think of Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount in which He says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called Sons of God.” He doesn’t say peacekeepers, he says peacemakers. Sometimes in order to make lasting peace, real peace, you have to stand up for what is right. Evil can not go unchecked. We could not sit back and watch 6 million die simply because they were Jewish. We could not sit back while we were bombed at Pearl Harbor or as Hitler marched through Europe, taking what he wanted. We should not be quick to go to war. We should always consider the cost, the sacrifice. Because it will cost. Lives. Families. But there are times going to war is worth it. My dad knew why he was fighting.
I am proud of my dad and all those men of the Greatest Generation who fought for us. Who fought for the world. Who laid their lives down so we could be free. Ordinary men and women doing extraordinary things. For others. I do not glamorize war. I have seen the effects first hand of what it does to one who has been in battle. It is a horrible thing. The cost is high. But there are some things worth fighting for and dying for. There are still things worth sacrificing for. Jesus says “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
I read a quote this week from John McCain’s book Why Courage Matter: A Way to a Braver Life. It said,
“we should live as we wish them to live, honestly, justly, compassionately. Live it not ostentatiously but routinely, without remark.”
This describes the Greatest Generation. And this stands in stark contrast with the age we currently live.The older I get, the more I want my life to count for something greater than myself. I don’t want a comfortable life, I don’t want to live just for myself. I want to fight for people, for souls. I want to love people who don’t look like me, act like me, talk like me. I want to be brave. I want to love deeply. I want to be selfless. The example of my dad’s generation moves me.
I am incredibly thankful for the Greatest Generation. I am thankful that they rose to the occasion and sacrificed themselves for others. I want to be like them. I want to be an ordinary girl who does extra-ordinary things! I am thankful that I serve a God that can do just that…use an ordinary girl to do extra-ordinary things!