Fall and the Great Generation

Fall has finally arrived at Arlington, though the recent drought has dimmed the color throughout the cemetery according to those who work here. Friday was our first cold and rainy day. By afternoon I think everyone was cold and soggy including the horses that pull the caisson. But that is part of the job knowing that we go in all weather - the mission will always be accomplished here - to honor those who have served their country in uniform.

I have had some very touching funerals in the past few weeks. There are so many unique stories. I have had a memorial service for a man shot down in Korea whose remains have yet to be recovered. A young man killed in a motor cycle accident. An 82 year old man killed in an accident with a car while he was riding his bicycle. Many unique ones. Almost all my services are connected to veterans or dependents of World War II.

As I hear their stories from their loved ones and sometimes read their stories through tributes and official military documents, I have come to see that perhaps the description of "the greatest generation" is not lost upon them. I would certainly rate today's soldier, sailor, marine, or airman up there with any warrior of that age. And indeed they are engaged in titanic struggle of huge scope and perhaps even more important consequence, but truly there was something special about the generation that saved the world from the tyranny and dominance of Nazi Germany and Japan.

Thinking of that generation, one too has to remember, that the men and women who went off to fight the war, and the men and women who remained at home, did not have the advantage of knowing they would win. They believed they could win. They knew they had to win. And they were committed to winning. But they didn't know, like we know, that they won.

I have a strategy game that reenacts WWII that I enjoy playing from time to time. But knowing how the war went makes it much easier to win the game. How much easier decisions and effort would be if we could someone jump to the last page of the book and ready how it turns out - or at least get some hints about how to reach a successful conclusion beyond the investment of will, reason, and perhaps plain and pure guts. But will, reason, and plain and pure guts is what they had for they didn't have the advantage of hindsight, the possession of the last page of the book. The outcome was far from certain in the early days and costs were high, but they did not quibble.

Costs were high. We have lost some 3,800 casualties in Iraq, and unless I am mistaken, not all that number is due to combat losses. Illnesses, accidents, suicides, and so forth are included I believe. Each death is one to be mourned and a terrific cost in defense of liberty. But the costs of the WWII generation were staggering. Sometimes the first day of a campaign's opening would bring more casualties than our 6 years combined in the war against terror. But they believed they could not afford the cost of loosing. They believed before they knew - before the last page was written - before the pictures - concentration camps, dead children, dead mothers, fathers, grandparents, entire families, emaciated bodies of the survivors. They believed before certain evidence of a desire by those who considered themselves superior in breeding and philosophy to the rest of the human race who considered they had a destiny to rule all others - that liberty was the enemy of human achievement and rule by the select to be our end. How the world would be different had the men and women of the great generation quibbled. But they did not. With penetrating insight they believed. They looked, considered, understood the tremendous price and sacrifice demanded, but understood the cost of not going forth, girded up their courage with with reason, will, and pure guts and went forth determined to not loose for the sake of liberty, for the sake of their children and grandchildren. I am one of those grandchildren. Perhaps so are you. Enslaved nations were liberated. Conquered nations were set free, rebuilt, and have become tremendous allies of liberty in the world.

It is a true honor at the graveside of one of these airmen to manifest the honor and the debt that this nation has for them. But not for warriors alone. I do almost as many funerals for wives and sometimes the dependent husband. And this is where the generation that my uncle who past away last Friday, who fought at Bastone, truly becomes Magnus - (Great). It was not just the nation's men taking up the shield and spear of war and sallying forth into defense of liberty and justice but those who remained at home who committed themselves to winning the war. Manufacturing plants hummed. Food and other goods were shared and people went without that supplies could be sent forth. Even children collected scrap metal. The entire nation reasoned, willed, and went forward with determination to win. Of course I speak with hyperbole, for there were then, as always detractors, doubters, contesters. But that generation would have no whisper of doubt, no whiff of defeat, no weakness of knee detract it from the only reasonable path before it in the face of what was coming. Victory. For surrender was death, perhaps slow, perhaps in the future, but death for liberty to be certain. Death of a dream. Death of what our nation stood for. And this the great generation, this the Magni, could not stand - so forth they marched, at great cost, to great and tragically necessary victory.

Every year the seasons come and go. Summer if followed by fall and temperatures cool and colors bloom. But the winds of coolness remind us that time passes and winter will come. So we gird ourselves and prepare for service in the cold, the rain, the snow, and the ice because it must be done. But Spring comes too. New life. New hope. But even in the midst of spring one knows that to all things there is a season. A time for peace. A time for war. Soon summer comes again. Once again fall comes and winter will rear its cold head. We do what must be done in all kinds of weather - with the same dedication every day, every time heat or cold beautiful day or cold dreary rainy day - for each family, each servant has earned the gratitude and the honor that is our privilege to represent on behalf of the nation at Arlington.