Tag Archives: Greatest Generation

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.

Thank you, Greatest Generation

130902154011-01-end-of-world-war-ii-0902-story-top

I feel moved at this moment to offer a word of thanks to roughly 16 million Americans who answered the call in the fight against tyranny.

It was 71 years ago today that General of the U.S. Army Douglas MacArthur accepted the terms of surrender signed by the Empire of Japan. World War II came to an end.

Those 16 million Americans were those who wore the nation’s military uniforms after Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

My father was one of them. He went to the federal building in downtown Portland, Ore., in February 1942 to enlist in the Marine Corps. The door was locked, so he walked across the hall and enlisted in the Navy.

Dad shipped out shortly thereafter for San Diego, where he received three weeks — just three weeks! — of what passed for boot camp before shipping out for Europe. He learned his seamanship skills aboard the troop transport ship headed for England.

The great broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw chronicled what he called “The Greatest Generation” in a book that carried that title. I have re-read it at least three times.

Those men and women are dying rapidly now. They’re in the late 80s and well into their 90s these days. I love meeting them today and talking to them about their service and, of course, thanking them personally for it. Most of them just shrug and pass it off as ancient history.

Most of those I see with the “World War II vet” gimme caps are too humble to want to spend much time talking about what they did. Back then, they simply acted out of love of country and perhaps just a touch of fear for what might happen if they didn’t get into the fight.

The prophet Isaiah tells us in Scripture how he answered God by saying, “Here am I! Send me.” These great Americans answered that call in a time of international crisis.

That great struggle came to a formal end on the deck of the great warship USS Missouri. If only it would have signaled the end to all conflict … forever.

It didn’t.

However, the men and women who defeated the tyrants deserve our undying thanks and gratitude now and for all eternity.