George E. Leake turns 93 years old today, August 11, 2013. The two contributions of George’s life that are most significant to me personally are his daughter, my wife of 35 years, and the freedoms that I share with three-hundred-million fellow Americans.
George served in the United States Air Force during World War II. He worked ground operations in the Pacific theater in support of General MacArthur’s island march toward the Empire of Japan.
The train ride to San Francisco from his home farm in Delaware segued to ships that transported George to bombed out airfields in the Philippines. The mission included recapturing islands, rebuilding airstrips, and establishing ground support for American military aircraft.
One of the three major Philippine Islands had been lost to sympathizers of the Axis powers led by Nazi Germany. The local people were treated with unspeakable cruelty by the terrorists who had taken their island. And as George described the Philippine people, “They loved Americans. They wanted us to get the islands back in American hands.”
In the summer of 1945, George’s team was transported to the Dutch East Indies. They camped on the beach in tents, accommodating snakes and hungry insects. “It was the best and the worst time of my life. The best, at least when I wasn’t getting shot at.”
George described the local native people as being “very poor, devastated by war. The Japanese bombed their islands and did not leave them with anything.” One day, a small boat appeared on the horizon, coming toward them. As it came closer, they realized that it was a mere dugout canoe being paddled by two very young native boys, under the age of ten.
While they spoke no English, the boys were able to get across to the Americans that they had been sent to ask for food and anything else that might help their folks. During their weeks on that island, George and his fellow soldiers were visited several times by boys aged six to ten who paddled in from somewhere beyond the horizon. They always left with a canoe full of food, candy, and even some of the soldiers’ gifts from home.
These impoverished villagers sent the youngest members who would be able to make that trip. They knew that their boys would not be seen as a threat. And they knew that the heavily armed Americans were the good guys. “They seemed very happy to see us each visit. They knew of our generosity.”
It was 68 years ago last week that George’s team was readying to move on to Okinawa when MacArthur’s advance across the Pacific came to a halt. The two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had brought an end to the conflict with Japan. George made it home in time for Christmas, reversing the same route through San Francisco that had brought him to the South Pacific. In December, he received a hand-painted Christmas card from The Philippines; a well-spoken young man who had worked for the American soldiers, expressing his deep appreciation.
The unremitting war against liberty has evolved a great deal since 1945. The battles now reach everywhere that the digital world connects. American strength continues with superior technology. And if the character of the Greatest Generation still dominated Washington, the American people would trust its heroes in the NSA to handle sensitive information appropriately and to give due respect to citizens’ privacy.
But that superlative power has been tainted by dishonorable arrogance. The selfish behavior of powerful officials in a position of trust has put Americans on the defensive from their own government. We will likely never know the extent of the IRS corruption. And that is precisely the issue. Those positions of historical honor – Attorney General, Cabinet Member, President – are reduced to apparatchiks of a political agenda.
I hope for a return to the days when the most powerful among us are also our greatest servants. Earlier today, I thanked my father-in-law, George E. Leake, for his selfless service to our nation. He responded, “I don’t think I am owed anything.”
Happy Birthday, Dad.