A year ago, on a trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, my family had a "chance" meeting with an amazing World War II veteran, Col. Glenn Frazier in Mobile Bay. Col. Frazier had written his story of serving in World War II in the Philippines and his subsequent years as a Japanese POW, and he was doing a book signing on the day we happened through. I picked up his book, had him sign it for my brother-in-law, and left. On the way back to our vacation house, I started reading, and by the time we came home, I had read the entire book and was deeply touched by his story.
Col. Frazier was featured in the Ken Burns documentary, The War, and so I rented the The War, mainly to hear Col. Frazier retell his story. The documentary brilliantly balances historical insight with emotional and transparent first person accounts, and I devoured the stories and history of World War II through the screen. I have been "hooked" on studying WWII ever since.
There is so much about this war and the generation of men and women who served then that impresses me. I admit that by nature I am drawn to a time lived more simply, where aspirations centered around family and faith instead of possessions and prestige. Even with most of that war's behind the scenes stories laid bare for my generation, it still was in its very essence a fight between good and evil, black and white, with little shade of gray anywhere. The motives were more pure, although not always entirely so, than most world decisions made today. I find I admire and respect the people who can choose personal sacrifice for the good of the whole over self promotion and the "bait and switch" of political side-stepping. It makes me grieve some of the principles my generation has embraced, and I wonder how the World War II generation views the direction in which our country's collective soul is heading.
This morning I watched the ceremony held at Normandy for the commemoration of D-Day. I love all things historical and military, so I spent quite a bit of time in front of my computer watching (one of the advantages of being in this generation!). The men I saw today were frail and aged, but still had a strength of character that was equally visible. No, none of them were saints. All the veterans I saw today came home and lived lives as fallible humans - their service didn't spare them from the remainder of life's pain and troubles. And that is what I think I find so beautiful. They were the ordinary, every day folks who stepped up to do the extraordinary. They simply did what needed to be done, personal agendas aside.
I am reminded today to be thankful for the ones who served before and for those who have come after who are ready to sacrifice for the good of the whole. I am thankful for those who see that the big picture is bigger than themselves. I am reminded to try and live that way myself when I see the greatest generation aging.
And if I am honest, I worry sometimes that the character that made them great might leave this earth with them.