This is asking for a lot, but it rings true: We need a new “Greatest Generation” to seize control of their futures and ensure the United States’ status as the world’s most powerful nation.
With Memorial Day upon us, there’s no better time not only to thank those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but also to commit to triumph over turbulent times and a deeply polarized country in order to maintain American greatness.
Former network broadcaster Tom Brokaw paid homage to those who served in his 1998 book, “The Greatest Generation,” a history of the World War II era. Brokaw saw these Americans as those who fought in World War II and those who contributed at home, enduring rationing and other sacrifices.
We never heard them ask for praise and recognition. Instead, they asked us to always remember the nation they fought to save.
We must always remember and thank the 291,557 U.S. soldiers who died in combat, the additional 125,243 killed in related causes and members of Gold Star families, who lost someone to the war.
I call upon the graduating Class of 2022 — and all Americans — to re-create the selfless spirit of those who won WWII and built a great nation, and to become the new Greatest Generation. I ask you to do so at a time when seemingly every field of endeavor is changing faster than ever before.
The enemies today are not Japan, Italy or Germany. Instead, they are domestically produced, such as global warming, mass shootings, conspiracy theories, domestic terrorism, the nation’s political divide, a growing anti-government sentiment that’s exemplified by angry radio and television public affairs programs, social justice, the high costs of higher education and health care, the misuse of technology through fake news, an economy that doesn’t work for all, rebuilding the middle class; the battle for control between authoritarianism and democracy; and more.
We’re not a broken nation. We’re simply unfinished and always striving not to become perfect, but to become a “more perfect union,” as included in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
Many students in the Class of 2022 have demonstrated they have the right stuff, bravely carrying on despite the pandemic’s cost of the death of over 1 million Americans and the effects on their families. They’ve also dealt with damage from out-of-control wildfires and mass shootings.
Brokaw said it was the greatest generation ever because they saw their duty as the right thing to do, not to gain fame and recognition.
Many were part of D-Day at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 6, 1944, when the Allies loosed 176,000 troops, 12,000-plus airplanes and almost 10,000 ships, boats and landing craft to invade Normandy’s beaches on the north coast of France. It arguably was the turning point of World War II and enabled the Allies to ultimately defeat Germany.
Brokaw’s book also talks about low-key citizens who returned to ordinary lives; about those who produced war goods, served in government or provided moral support to overseas troops; the unique sight of women in uniform; the internment of Japanese-Americans, including 7,000-plus at Camp Amache near Granada in southeast Colorado; and many Americans who put their careers on hold to fight in the war.
So what happened? When did we sacrifice solid American values and instead start wallowing in greed and self-centeredness? It may have been in the late 1900s, when the self-sacrifice and teamwork that helped the United States to persevere began disintegrating into greed and materialism. Today, the robber barons of the late 1890s look like saints.
How did we get so far off track? Maybe it’s because people debate such topics as the legitimacy of elections every minute of every day on social media.
There’s a crying need for Americans of all ages to step up and live the noble ideals that carried us through tough times — not just World War II, but also historical benchmarks such as the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I, the Great Depression, the 9/11 attacks, Watergate, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby as well as of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and more.
Let’s continue to share our unique talents overseas, offering the latest techniques in such areas as producing safe drinking water, operating farms and vaccinating people against COVID-19.
On the home front, we need new volunteers to work in our schools, civic organizations and charities, and to help revitalize our communities.
We need parents to run for school boards and to help their kids with homework.
We also need courageous community leaders who will help local governments manage the public’s business without fear of mean-spirited personal attacks.
We need people to help tutor at-risk kids and to register new voters.
It took a foreigner to point out a truth about us. Winston Churchill said, “You can always count on Americans doing the right thing, once they’ve exhausted every other possible alternative.”
Are you ready to grab the baton, Class of 2022? Show us you’ve got the right stuff and that war is not the only way to prove greatness.
Jim Martin can be reached at email@example.com.