Tag Archives: Greatest Generation

Pearl Harbor signaled an awakening

Seventy-seven years ago today, warplanes swooped in from over the ocean and laid waste to a U.S. naval base and nearby Army airfield at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, U.S.A.

The event brought the United States into the global conflict that already had swallowed Europe.

I don’t want to recall the destruction of what occurred in Hawaii that day. We know what happened there, with thousands of American sailors and soldiers dying at the hands of the attackers.

This day marked the birth of America’s Greatest Generation. These men and women answered the call to duty, they rushed to save the world from the tyrants who would do what they did at Pearl Harbor and worse, what they were doing to civilians in Europe and Asia.

We’ve spent a good deal of time remembering one of those young Americans who thrust themselves into harm’s way. Young George Herbert Walker Bush had a college career waiting for him, but he put it on hold. He enlisted in the Navy and became the youngest naval aviator during the war. He faced a harrowing shootdown and rescue by an American submarine in the Pacific Ocean.

He was one of an estimated 16 million Americans who did as the late president did. My father was among those who got into the fight quickly. He, too, felt the enemy’s wrath — in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations.

Pearl Harbor signaled a new day in global geopolitical history. It thrust the United States into a worldwide conflict. It mobilized our industrial might and turned it into the world’s greatest military machine.

It also heralded the birth of a generation that demonstrated courage beyond measure. We honor those Americans today while we recall the tragedy that sprang them into action.

Did they make it back home?

This picture appeared on an earlier item I published on this blog. It’s from World War II.

The men you see in this picture are part of the Greatest Generation, the fellows who answered the call to save the world from despotic tyrants in Europe and in Asia.

I see photos such as this and wonder on occasion: Did these men survive their mission and were they able to serve for “the duration” of the war and return home?

Normally I don’t spend a lot of time wondering these things, but they do cross my mind on occasion.

I am thinking at this moment of an exhibit I’ve seen a couple of times in Fredericksburg, Texas. It is the Nimitz Museum on the War in the Pacific. Fleet Admiral Carl Nimitz was a native of Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country and the city is rightly proud of its most famous son. He commanded naval forces in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II.

It is full of picture of men sitting aboard landing craft as they prepared to storm ashore at any one of the many island battlegrounds where the fought. I look into the eyes of those men and wonder if they survived.

Granted, those young men — if they did make it home and are alive to this day — would be very old men now. Indeed, I am the product of a member of the Greatest Generation. My own late father would be 97 years old. He saw his combat on the other side of the world, in Africa and in the Mediterranean Sea.

Another exhibit that evokes such a feeling is the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire, N.M. It sits on a bluff overlooking a gorgeous valley amid the New Mexico mountains. It is the product of a man who lost his son in battle during the Vietnam War. It, too, contains pictures of men facing extreme danger, along with letters they had written home to their loved ones. The letters express the anxiety and, yes, the fear in the men’s hearts as they prepared to fight a determined enemy.

You look at those pictures as well and ask: Did they return home and were they able to start or re-start their lives with loved ones, to rear their children and welcome their grandchildren into this world?

The pictures are the faces of men who have ventured straight into hell on Earth and you hope that by God’s grace they were able to return to their earthly home.

Last of The Greatest Generation

Of all the tributes that have poured in after the death of former President George H.W. Bush, the one that gives me significant pause is this one: He is the final member of the Greatest Generation who will serve as president of the United States.

Wow, man! Think about that one for a moment.

The past four presidents have come from the Baby Boom generation: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump; Clinton, Bush and Trump all were born in 1946, the year after World War II ended; Obama was born in 1961.

But prior to those men’s election, the nation was led by a number of men who had served during World War II. Jimmy Carter was born in 1924, but didn’t graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy until 1946. The others all served during World War II; many of them saw action during the great conflict.

Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy and, of course, Dwight Eisenhower all wore the uniform during World War II. It could be argued that Ike was the greatest among the Greatest Generation, given that he served as Supreme Allied Commander of forces in Europe.

George H.W. Bush also distinguished himself during World War II. He was the youngest naval aviator on active duty. He got shot down over the Pacific Ocean and was plucked from the water by a U.S. submarine.

Why is it a big deal to remember this as we honor President Bush? Because his passing represents the end of an era. I mean there will be no one else ever elected to the nation’s highest office who shares the history of the men I noted already.

The same can be said of Korean War veterans. They, too, have grown old. The Vietnam War generation comprises Americans who are getting long in the tooth as well . . . and yet, I hear that former Secretary of State/U.S. Sen. John Kerry — a Vietnam War combat vet — is pondering whether to run for president in 2020.

President Bush’s death serves as a metaphor of sorts for what the nation is experiencing with regard to the 16 million Americans who helped save the world from tyranny. We’re losing these men and women every hour of every day. I don’t know how many of them are left, but I do know they are in their late 80s and 90s. Time will take their toll.

President Bush’s passing should remind us of the need to appreciate the service others of his generation — the Greatest Generation — gave to the nation they love.

Dad would be appalled in the extreme

My late father wasn’t a particularly political individual. He didn’t have a lot of deep-seated political views that he shared regularly.

Dad, though, was a proud veteran of World War II. He served in the Navy, seeing combat in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations.

Thus, when I see pictures such as the one above — taken at an April 2018 neo-Nazi rally — I wonder: What would Dad think? How would he react?

He’s been gone for more than 38 years. To this day I have no particular memory about a discussion between us about neo-Nazis or those who sympathize with the monsters who in the 1940s tried to kill Dad and those who fought alongside him.

There has been a significant increase in the open demonstrations of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and others of their ilk during the past few years. Some of it was a response to the 2008 election of our first African-American president, Barack H. Obama. More of it came with the election of his successor, Donald J. Trump.

Indeed, such KKK luminaries as David Duke, the former Klan grand lizard, er … wizard, have commented openly about the joy they felt when Trump was elected in 2016.

So, I am able to some dots. Duke and other KKK members praise Trump’s election and we see a rise in Klan and Nazi activity across the land. Coincidence? I, um, don’t believe so.

The sight of this political idiocy makes my blood boil. I realize that our Constitution grants all citizens — no matter how disgusting their political views — the right to carry on as these idiots are doing.

I only can ask: How in the name of human decency can they burn a swastika and believe it will persuade anyone to join their perverted cause?

Dad and all those members of the Greatest Generation would be appalled.

Happy birthday, Sen. Dole; thank you for saving the world

Robert Dole’s 95th birthday shines a vivid light on what we all have known for a long time.

It is that the world’s Greatest Generation is getting very old. Many of them are in failing health. They remind us daily — even without saying a word — of the sacrifice they made to protect us from tyranny and the tyrants who practiced it.

I saw a gentleman today, in fact, with a “World War II Veteran” ballcap. I thanked for him saving the world from the monsters who sought to enslave the world. He smiled and said, simply, “You’re welcome.”

That’s how it is with the Greatest Generation. They went to war, did their duty, answered the call and returned home to start their lives, rear their families, and live normal existences.

Sen. Dole is getting his share of good wishes today. He earned them all. He served for decades in the U.S. Senate, representing Kansas. He ran for president a couple of times, winning the Republican nomination in 1996 and then losing to President Clinton who won re-election in near-landslide proportions.

His service, though, preceded his political years by a good bit. It began when he enlisted in the U.S. Army and deployed to Italy, where he fought the Germans in the waning weeks of World War II.

Dole was wounded grievously in the Italian mountains. His right arm was shattered. He would keep his arm, but it became virtually useless.

He didn’t let the wound stop him from fulfilling many years of dedicated service to the country.

That’s how the Greatest Generation rolls. Indeed, subsequent and preceding generations of fighting men and women have exhibited these traits of selflessness.

However, I want to single out the Greatest Generation as a way to recognize one of its members, his service to the nation and take note of time’s inexorable march onward.

Happy birthday, Sen. Dole. And thank you.

74 years later, D-Day still stands alone

The Greatest Generation generally is defined as millions of American men and women who stood firm against tyranny during an intense, bloody and desperate global conflict.

Meaning no disrespect to those Americans who answered the call for freedom, let me suggest that the Greatest Generation comprised men and women from around the globe.

Seventy-four years ago today, American soldiers — along with Canadian and British comrades in arms — splashed ashore at Normandy, France. They had just completed a harrowing journey across the English Channel to pierce Adolf Hitler’s Fortress Europa.

These brave men endured unspeakable horror. They faced a determined enemy intent on keeping the land they had conquered four years earlier.

The D-Day invasion today stands as the greatest amphibious assault in the history of warfare. Five thousand ships supported the attack. Hundreds of airplanes flew sorties over the Nazi defenses.

What often gets short shrift, though, is the composition of the entire attack force. It was made up of French fighters and Poles. They formed gallant military units after their own countries fell to the Nazi juggernaut. Other nations took part: Denmark, Greece, The Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand all participated in this mammoth endeavor.

What’s more, French, Dutch, Belgian and Norwegian resistance fighters never stopped battling the occupiers in the years preceding the launching of Operation Overlord.

It was an international event of the first order.

And I cannot dismiss the bloody fight that was occurring along the Eastern Front as the Red Army marched from the Soviet Union, into Poland, Czechoslovakia and Germany as it sought to rid the world of the tyrant Hitler and his minions.

One final note I want to make: Supreme Allied Commander U.S. Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was prepared for the worst on D-Day. He drafted an announcement that he never had to make. He would take full responsibility for the failure of the invasion had the international force been unable to secure the beachhead at Normandy.

That, dear reader, is true leadership.

The Greatest Generation, comprising fighters from many nations, ensured success in the weeks and months that followed the titanic assault against the forces of evil.

We owe all of them an eternal debt of thanks.

‘First lady of the Greatest Generation’

I cannot let this day pass without offering one more tribute to Barbara Pierce Bush, although I won’t take any credit for a profound description of her offered today during her funeral.

It came from historian, author and journalist Jon Meacham, who called Mrs. Bush “the first lady of the Greatest Generation.”

Think about that for just a moment.

She died this week at age 92. She was married for 73 years to the 41st president of the United States, George H.W. Bush, who, before he was elected vice president and then president compiled a stellar record of accomplishment.

Meachem’s tribute to his friend spoke eloquently about the generation of which she was such an integral part. She married the love of her life, U.S. Navy Lt. jg. George Bush, who came home on leave from World War II to marry the love of his life. He had been shot down while fighting Japanese warriors over the Pacific Ocean. He was among the 16 million Americans who answered the call to defeat tyranny and defend the United States of America.

His beloved “Bar” worked at the home front while her man was far away.

Yes, Mrs. Bush served in that unofficial — and until today, it was the first time I’d ever heard it said — capacity as “the first lady of the Greatest Generation.” Indeed, the direct descendants of those then-young American men and women — and that includes yours truly, as my father also fought the tyrants in Europe — understand what Meachem’s tribute was meant to convey.

She stood as strong in defense of our nation’s values as the man she married more than seven decades ago.

I want to thank Jon Meachem for telling us all today about Barbara Pierce Bush’s contributions to forging the Greatest Generation.

They wanted to get into the fight

My late father was 20 years of age on Dec. 7, 1941.

Pete Kanelis was a second-year student at the University of Portland (Ore.) when word filtered back to the mainland about the “dastardly act” in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

It didn’t take Dad long to make up his mind on what he wanted to do. He wanted to get into the fight. He waited about two whole months before going downtown. He went to the armed forces station and sought to enlist in the Marine Corps. The door was locked. He walked across the hall to the Navy office and signed up.

He was after all, young and full of what might be described as “p*** and vinegar.”

He would become one of about 16 million young Americans who responded just as he did. He went looking for a fight and oh, brother, he found it. The Navy sent him to the Mediterranean theater, where he fired a 3-inch, 50-caliber deck gun at Italian and German aircraft.

He was part of the so-called “Greatest Generation.” I was — and still am — so very proud of his service.

The attack at Pearl Harbor, which occurred 76 years ago today, defined a generation. Dad’s generation — virtually all of them, as near as I can tell — fought willingly in that great conflict. Their hearts were broken at the prospect of a foreign power killing so many of our young Americans — on American soil to boot!

They answered our nation’s call, did their duty and then came home to help build a postwar country that has set the economic and military standard around the world.

I’ve re-thought a bit the notion that Dad’s generation was the “greatest” this nation ever has produced. I am not yet willing to hand that title to another generation of Americans, but my sense is that today’s young Americans are competing with Dad’s brethren for the title of “greatest.”

Many of today’s military men and women dropped what they were doing one Tuesday morning, on Sept. 11, 2001. Let’s call them the “9/11 Generation.”

I’ve actually met young Americans who joined the military because they, too, wanted to get into the fight — just as Dad did so long ago. I recently made the acquaintance of a young physical therapist at the Thomas Creek VA Medical Center in Amarillo. She joined the Navy right after 9/11 because — like many of us — was enraged at the attack carried out on U.S. soil.

Whereas Dad and his brethren enlisted — or were drafted — to serve “for the duration” of World War II, the current fighting force has been deployed multiple times to battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, I long ago lost count of the deployments a cousin of mine has served in those conflicts before retiring from the Army.

It’s good today to recall how an earlier generation of Americans surrendered their relative comforts to take on a direct and existential threat to their nation’s way of life.

Dad was one of them.

Honoring a new ‘Greatest Generation’

I am re-reading a book I’ve owned for a couple of decades.

The great broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw penned “The Greatest Generation” to pay tribute to the men and women who saved the world from tyranny during World War II.

Brokaw’s thesis is one that I still accept, that those 16 million Americans who answered the call to fight a global war on two fronts — in Europe and the Pacific — exhibited unparalleled devotion. They served “for the duration” of the war. They finished the job and came home to start their lives.

I’m reading the book, though, with a slightly different take than I had when I picked it up the first time.

The current generation of fighting men and women is rising to the level of devotion and dedication that my father’s generation did more than 70 years ago.

Under vastly different circumstances, to be sure.

They are fighting an enemy that is every bit as cunning and resourceful as the Nazis were in Europe and the Japanese were in the Pacific. These terrorists against whom we keep sending these young Americans to fight are ruthless and dedicated to the perverted principles they are following.

Today’s generation of young American warriors is facing multiple deployments onto the battlefield in Afghanistan and other places — some of which are undisclosed. Four Army Special Forces troops died recently in Niger, bringing into the open a deployment few Americans knew was under way.

I long have saluted my father for his contribution to fighting tyranny during World War II. I am proud of what he did as a sailor who saw more than his share of combat in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations.

I also want to salute other members of my family who’ve thrust themselves into harm’s way during the current war against international terror. My cousin served multiple Army tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have a nephew who drove an Army tank into Iraq when that war broke out in March 2003; he would return to Iraq for a second tour.

The war on terror just might be a conflict that has no end. There might not be any way for the United States to declare total victory as this country was able to do in 1945. The enemy surrendered unconditionally, giving The Greatest Generation of Americans its ticket home.

Can we achieve a similar end to the current war? I am trying to imagine how that gets done.

Meantime, the current generation keeps fighting. These young Americans have earned their status as the newest Greatest Generation.

I am proud of them beyond measure.

The world changed 75 years ago

pearl-harbor

It took a sneak attack on American warships moored in a Honolulu bay to change the world forever.

The attack occurred 75 years ago at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Japanese pilots taking off from Japanese aircraft carriers swooped in over the harbor on that Sunday morning. They strafed and bombed the ships, sinking several of them where they were docked. They did the same thing to our Army aircraft at Hickam Field.

Thousands of American sailors and soldiers died that day.

The nation was shocked beyond its ability to believe what had just happened. Think of it today as the “original 9/11.” Most Americans weren’t prepared to cope with the idea that a foreign power could strike us on our soil, killing our military personnel.

President Roosevelt stood the next day before a joint congressional assembly and asked for a declaration of war. It came quickly and overwhelmingly.

We stood united. We rallied ourselves. We mobilized. We turned our huge industrial capacity into a weapons-making machine.

All told, our nation sent 16 million Americans into the fight against the Japanese … and against the Nazi Germans and the Italians in Europe.

We seemingly don’t fight “righteous” wars these days. Our nation remains divided in the extreme as we continue to battle international terrorists in faraway places. Indeed, today’s division has its roots arguably as we fought the Korean War, then the Vietnam War.

World War II was different. We coalesced behind the president. We drafted young men into the military and sent them into harm’s way.

We created “The Greatest Generation,” which was given that title in a book of that name written by legendary broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw. It truly was the greatest generation.

Many of us today owe our very existence to the men who fought the tyrants and returned home safely to start their families. I am one of them. My late father was among the 16 million. I am proud of what he did in the Navy to save our nation from the tyranny that presented a clear danger to this great nation.

We ushered in the nuclear age and near the end of that world war, we used that terrible weapon against those provoked us into the fight. The Japanese started it; we ended it. Just like that.

Thus, the world changed forever.

Those men who answered the nation’s call to battle are dying now. Only a fraction of them remain with us. They are in their 90s.

I’ll be out and about for the next couple of days. I believe I am going to thank any of those men I see wearing a ball cap with the words “World War II veteran” embroidered on it.

We owe them everything.