Their great-uncles and cousins (of whatever remove) proudly wore the uniform of the United States and shipped out across both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Their great-grandmother was an air raid warden, patrolling Quackenbos Street in the nation's capital to make sure that all the shades were drawn against the Nazi bombers we were sure would soon be on the way.
The family saved newspapers and peeled silver paper from chewing gum wrappers to "help the war effort." We planted Victory Gardens so food could be shipped "to the boys overseas." We were thrilled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and we knew all the words to "God Bless America." We read favorite psalms and recited heartfelt prayers out loud at school (never dreaming we were desecrating the Constitution).
I thought of all this, listening to President Bush dedicate the memorial and sharing the tears of gratitude with the aging men and women around me on the Mall. "With all of our flaws," the president said, "Americans at that time had never been more united."
The greatest generation fought, worked and grieved to save their country and to give others something worth saving, not for pelf and power of empire but because it was the right thing to do.
Bob Dole captured the spirit, calling the memorial "a tribute to the physical and moral courage that makes heroes out of farm and city boys and that inspired Americans in every generation to lay down their lives for people they will never meet, for ideals that make life itself worth living."
Because of what they did, my new granddaughters, along with their cousins, can share a common heritage of freedom. More than one orator observed on Memorial Day just past that we are not likely to see another such "greatest generation." We must hope they're wrong, while keeping the dream alive for the generation now aborning.
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