I wore them as he did, next to my flesh. I was, after all, born of his flesh. The World War II-era dog tags of Clinton S. Thomas with his serial number and blood type stamped on them look as they did then. This metal hasn't tarnished. Neither will his reputation, nor that of every other member of "the greatest generation" whose memorial was dedicated Saturday (May 29) in Washington and in whose memory this son sat with thousands of other surviving peers. Dad died in 1983, and so I proudly represented and honored him at the joyous and solemn ceremony.
In the midst of terror warnings, tens of thousands blanketed Washington's beautiful Mall on a perfect spring day and were reminded that history can be a powerful teacher and a compelling example.
My Dad and four of his five brothers served in World War II. All came back. But 484,000 Americans did not. Dad was the oldest of nine, and when he was drafted in 1943, a year after I was born, he was already 35 years old. A wife, child, career and age were not enough to earn a deferment in those days, but few asked for one because it was considered a necessity and an honor to defend this country, to rid the planet of Hitler and to make sure Pearl Harbor was not only remembered but avenged and never repeated.
At the Saturday ceremony, there was much talk about duty and doing what was expected. Many of those who served rejected the word "hero." NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, whose book, "The Greatest Generation," popularized that phrase, noted that these men and women had come through the Great Depression when the war broke out. "They learned to live without," said Brokaw. "They knew the value of a dollar." They were "good people doing the right thing. That's how a great nation is preserved."
Whether future generations remember and appreciate World War II and what it meant for liberty and justice in the world depends a lot on how history is taught. If it is taught the way students in a Montgomery County, Md., public school are learning it, I am not optimistic.
From a May 28 story in The Washington Post, we learned that Tiffany Charles got a B in history last year but is not sure what year World War II ended (it was 1945). She can't name a single general (Eisenhower, MacArthur, Bradley, Marshall), or one battle (D-Day, Guadalcanal, Corregidor, Bataan). Neither is she able to name the president of the United States at the time (Franklin D. Roosevelt). I did all of these from memory. We had a better history teacher when I was in a Montgomery County school.
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