Green Room

Perspective from the Greatest Generation

posted at 4:58 pm on May 29, 2012 by

Happy (belated!) Memorial Day!

I’ve always loved Memorial Day weekend. Of course, like most red-blooded American families, this weekend means that pools are opening, a big family bbq, and the beginnings of summertime. More importantly, it is a thankful time – where we “memorialize” all those who have given so much to serve our nation.

Most of us have friends and family that have served in the military. My granddad, my pop, my two aunts, and my one uncle all have served. My cousin is going to be deployed in the fall. Some of you reading probably served yourself or are still serving today. Thank you. You are heroic stewards of freedom.

I was with my grandparents this weekend, both a part of the “Greatest Generation.” When Tom Brokaw coined the phrase, I think he must have had my grandparents in mind. They are hearty stock. As I sat with them one morning, my grandma was reading some stories in the paper about WWII vets. Inspired by their words, she told me some of her own memories from that time. There was something that stood out to me as she recollected: she always referred to the troops as “our boys.” Compare that to now. As a culture, we tend to refer to the troops as, well, “troops” or “the military.” We’ve lost the sense of community, the personal connection with those who are serving. Not to say that there aren’t wonderful organizations that coordinate letters, care packages, or special ways of thanking our troops, but as a culture, I believe there should be a renewed, cultural recognition of the sacrifices these men and women are making to protect us. After all, like my grandma says, these are “our men and our women.”

So, as you enjoyed your beers and burgers, I hope you stopped and remembered those who have gone before us, some paying the ultimate price for freedom, and those who still protect us.

In addition, as we approach the 68th anniversary of D-Day on June 6th, I found an excerpt of Reagan’s speech at Pointe du Hoc on the 40th anniversary of that important day. Reagan captured the essence of the Greatest Generation, their fierce duty and honor, as thanked them for risking everything so that we could be free.

Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your “lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor.”…

Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you…

Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”

Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.

Thank you very much, and God bless you all.

President Ronald Reagan – June 6, 1984

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This Memorial weekend end I thought about some of the Vets I’ve talked to and some of the messed up Vets I’ve talked to. It was called shell shocked after the big one and my high school history teacher was one of them that came back after WW II. I talked to one mess up Vietnam Vet who was a female nurse in Vietnam after her husband took over after a crying spell at a beer party I attended. She was a very beautiful nurse and she told me she held the dying hand of many young men talking to her while they died asking her if she was an angel and some saying, “I think I’m dead now and it wasn’t so bad because you are welcoming me to heaven”. There were a few more things she went on to say and how they all flash back when I get too drunk at these beer blasts. She further said that these will probably be with her the rest of her life. I’d never thought of females coming back from Nam being messed up but I thought I would share this experience that the men are not alone.

mixplix on May 29, 2012 at 7:18 PM

Great words, Elizabeth. Thanks. And thanks to all the vets out there, past, present, and future.

J.E. Dyer on May 30, 2012 at 1:37 PM