The Greatest Generation

"They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. They succeeded on every front … As they now reach the twilight of their adventurous and productive lives, they remain, for the most part, exceptionally modest … In a deep sense they didn't think that what they were doing was that special, because everyone else was doing it too."

-- Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation   

   Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the storming of the beaches at Normandy.  My brother Bob just returned from there a few days ago, he told me the preparations for the day were in progress, and his emotion  was evident when we spoke about it on the phone.   I found the men, who are numbering very very few today, were on my mind throughout the day.  Men much younger than my own son, men the age of those I am seeing posted online at high school graduations and in prom photos.  
        Was it just me or was coverage of this momentous day sorely lacking on American television ?  I usually listen to BBC radio on satellite radio in my car and throughout the day there was live coverage of the speeches and events at Normandy.  Moving words, men remembered, Queen Elizabeth who was a teenager during the bombings of London laid a wreath at the monument in the cemetery in Normandy.  There were soldiers there, soldiers in their twilight, men who once waded into chest deep water moving floating bodies aside to scramble onto a beach raining with bombs and bullets.  It was said by the commentator for BBC radio this is most likely the last time the soldiers from that battle will again gather at Normandy, most of them being in there late 80'a and mid 90's, the travel is difficult and they are slowly succumbing to time.
       It was evident when listening to the remembrances throughout the day that the nations across the Atlantic are to this day so very grateful to the United States soldiers that stormed those beaches and liberated them.  This was one of the revelations I had when traveling through London.  I knew there was a World War II I know the dates and the fact that London suffered countless bombings.  It wasn't until I saw the city first hand and heard the countless tails of the extent of the bombings, and saw the evidence left in some buildings.  The pivotal moment for my understanding occurred at St Paul's Cathedral, the story of the miraculous salvation of that monument after it too was hit, but survived.

      At the far end of St Paul's Cathedral there is a memorial chapel dedicated to the American Soldiers that fought in Britain.  I was stunned, on entering I was moved to tears.  This was the part of the cathedral that had taken the blow and was destroyed, when the rebuilding began it was decided that this would become a memorial chapel to American soldiers.  The stained glass holds images of American airmen and foot soldiers, and before the altar of the chapel there is a book with the names of every American that fought in Britain during the war.  I was told by a tour guide that if you have a name of one of these soldiers  you can call ahead and  the book will  be opened to that page where the name can be seen.

I now have an even deeper understanding and appreciation for what these very very young men gave to free a country that was not their own.  Could the young men of today do this ?  Of course they can they are doing it right now.

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