They call them "The Greatest Generation"... and they deserve the name.
I grew up in their shadow... the men who fought and died in WWII... and then again in Korea. Born in 1945, on the day the Japanese signed the surrender papers on the decks of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Harbor, I could hardly escape it. My namesake, Uncle Frank, was killed in Germany. Several uncles served. All the movies of my youth heralded their exploits.
And today, they are dieing at an alarming rate, these men and women in their 80's and 90's. I have made it my business to meet and thank as many of them as I can. I approached a guy at the Mall in Daytona Beach yesterday. He was wearing a hat that said: "WWII - Silver Star." They don't give those away... They are earned through acts of considerable bravery. I chatted him up and learned that he was an Army Combat Engineer on the D-Day landing in Normandy. He drove a Bulldozer on that hellacious beach, under intense enemy fire, attempting to establish cover for the troops. I listened to his story for about 15 minutes and it left us both misty eyed. I thanked him for his service in WWII - and he thanked me for mine in Viet Nam. Amazing... in that we Viet Nam War Vets are not at all used to being thanked.
Recently, I've met and spoken with a Marine who survived in shark infested waters after his ship, the USS Indianapolis, was sunk by torpedoes in the Pacific. And to an Army infantryman who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. And to an Army Air Corps pilot who flew B-17 bombers, as Luftwaffe fighters tried to knock him out of the sky. A friend of mine from Massachusetts, a military vet himself, has a Dad who was an Ace pilot in the Big War... not many left. Another friend, right here in Palm Coast, is a former Marine (don't ever call them "ex" Marines) and was also awarded the Silver Star for bravery... His challenge came on November 27th, 1950, as 30,000 US Marines, US Army Soldiers, and UN Forces faced off against 120,000 Red Chinese Army Regulars at The Battle of Chosin Reservoir. The brutal winter campaign earned our forces the nickname "The Frozen Chosin."
These people really did "save the world for democracy." It's not just a frivolous saying. What freedom we have today really is a result of the sacrifices this generation made. The other night, I was at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach for a high school graduation ceremony. As the Colors were presented and the Star Spangled Banner was being sung, young people all around me talked and laughed and ignored the moment. Life was good - not a care - no Draft to worry about - the volunteer force will take care of business. It makes me crazy... and I can't imagine what these WWII and Korean War Vets must feel, when they see this kind of disrespect.