Greatness for All

Silhouette of a soldier against the sun.

Generations That Keep Going

Today is a day for reflection: what does “greatness” mean?

United States journalist Tom Brokaw, former anchor for the NBC Evening News, called those of the World War II era the “greatest generation.” Yet today, on the Task & Purpose website, author, former soldier, and Iraq War veteran Matt Gallagher provocatively entitles his article, “The Greatest Generation Wasn’t Always That Great.”

Now let me say this: in no way does Mr. Gallagher cast doubt on the motivations and actions of those who served both this country and others during that war. His point is not that they were not the greatest generation.

Rather, his point was the even those service members, coming home after clear victory in a well-supported war, found that the world—the “generation”—they encountered upon their return was certainly not always the “greatest,” and certainly not unified in the views of what should happen to and for combat veterans.

Ultimately, his claim is one of both encouragement and challenge for modern service members returning from War. He encourages his fellow veterans not to assume that service members of the 1940’s were somehow immune to the pains and the pressures now faced by those of the 2010’s. When Gallagher recently read a war/post-war memoir by the famous newspaper cartoonist Bill Mauldin, for example, he found evidence that by no means was return to civilian life easy after all those ticker-tape parades of the newsreels were long past.

Yet he also wants to challenge veterans—including himself—never to forget what I also urge them (and you all) never to forget: the same drive, the same sense of mission that underlay their military service (that underlay your military service, for those of you who served) can still be used to forge an identity that includes both veteran and civilian within it. Being a veteran of combat is not just saying something about the past, about “back then”: it is also saying something about the future, about what can be brought into that future, about all those missions and connections that are still there to be looked for, striven for, lived for.

I think Mr. Gallagher and I would agree:  You, today’s combat vets, like those of the “greatest generation,” had what it took. But even more, you still have what it takes. And both he and I encourage each of you—each of us—therefore to do what needs to be done.

That’s a definition of greatness that all of us can affirm. And even better, live.

No matter what our generation.

Until tomorrow, be well,


To learn more about Matt Gallagher’s work

click here.

An Infamous Day

Silhouette of a soldier against the sun.

And Living On, In Spite Of

I show my age, of course, remembering that today is Pearl Harbor Day. Post 9/11, post 7/7, now post 13/11 (i.e., November 13, just last month), days of infamy pile up one upon another, reminders of wars that persistently force us to recall that War never ends.

If days of remembrance bring to mind only nationalism, however, then I must admit to each of you: I cannot join those celebrations. Through the years, I have come to be impressed that, in the long run, to remember attacks solely to uphold ideas, no matter how ennobling those ideas may be, is only to court the danger itself of those very, never-ending wars.

If days of remembrance remind us, though, that our fellow citizens, going about the day-to-day of their lives, can sometimes die for no reason other than their having happened to have been associated, at least at that deadly moment, with a particular nation-state: then for those days, I will always pause to remember.

Sailors who were doing their day-to-day duties at 0800h on the USS Arizona may have signed up to defend a nation, but at that “infamous” moment, they were simply doing their jobs, no aggression in mind or in body. Officer and enlisted alike, they died because of who they were, not because of what they were doing at that moment. They couldn’t—and shouldn’t—be blamed for the actions of a government miles away any more so than could and should secretaries taking messages on the 90th floor of a New York building or twenty-somethings chowing down on Southeast Asian delicacies on a Parisian backstreet.

Secretaries and twenty-somethings, after all, can be formidable street fighters if, under the right circumstances, they choose to become so.

Remember: we all participate in the aggressions (perceived or real) of our nation-states by our very willingness to go about those days-to-days without perpetual resistance. Some are indeed willing to live lives of perpetual resistance, true. To them, I grant a reprieve from our corporate blame. To the rest of us, sorry.

On days such as today, we remember that War destroys lives. We remember that, at that moment, it could have been any of us. We remember that, at any moment, it still could be any of us.

We remember because we have loved, because we love, and because we will continue to love, in spite of War and all wars past, present, and future.

To the crews of the Arizona and its sister vessels, therefore, seventy-four years afterwards: for your service, for your lives, I remember, and I say, “Thank you.”

Until tomorrow, be well,


The Band Plays On

Silhouette of a soldier against the sun.

Landing onto a Life

Some seventy years ago, Jim “Pee Wee” Martin was one of the “Band of Brothers,” a short, young kid in the United States Army’s 101st Airborne Division, floating down onto Normandy Beach in northern France, into Hell, into history. Not only did he live to tell about it: he lived to do so on Facebook, of all things.  Take a look at “A WWII Veteran Shares His Stories in Person, Via Social Media.”

A lot happens in seventy years. Radio turns into television, turns into VHS, turns into YouTube, and before you know it, you rely on Mark Zuckerberg more than you rely on your friendly, neighborhood postman.

And just as much as #WeAreAllParis, we find ourselves saying, #WirSindAlleParis.

So in seventy years a life is lived, a life of someone whose friends lost theirs somewhere miles/kilometers north of Paris, not far from the American cemetery where my father’s eldest brother was buried before his twentieth birthday, a second lieutenant from Des Moines who would never shoot hoops with the boys from North High School again.

Both aimed to do their part to create a world where life could be lived as freely as possible. One made it. One didn’t.

Some still struggle to live freely in this world that these young men sought to preserve for us. Some have found freedoms they never dared even dream of. But in Ohio, USA, a young man grew slowly, ever slowly into an old man who still remembers.

And probably can teach Mark Zuckerberg—and me—a thing or two.

Reach out to others. Tell the stories you can. Live life by touching other lives.

There’s no other way for War to end, whether or not wars ever do.

Merci, Monsieur Martin.  Danke.  Thank you.

Until tomorrow, be well,


If you’d like, please check out Mr. Martin’s Facebook Page

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