Jewish World Review May 18, 2000/ 13 Iyar, 5760
World War II gave us our true heroes
I WON'T BE DENIED my heroes, even if they deny
I'm talking about the World War II fellows, specifically a
batch of B-29 Superfortress bombers and crews whom
I praised in a dinner speech Friday night. I spoke to
them of leadership -- theirs (Churchill/Roosevelt) and
ours (you know who) and how leadership translates to
It began something like this: "In 1940, Winston
Churchill addressed the British House of Commons for
the first time as prime minister. Famously, he said, 'I
have nothing to give but blood, toil, tears and sweat.'
"Some 50 years later, Bill Clinton addressed the
American voters. Infamously, he said, 'I feel your pain.' I
ask you, to which generation would you rather belong?"
These characteristic statements -- Churchill's and
Clinton's -- convey as succinctly as any the stories of
our two generations, the challenges posed and our
responses to them.
One is profound, the other trite. One suggests courage,
the other emotion. One is tough and gutsy and
commands, "Follow me," while the other proffers the
studied empathy of an ineffective therapist who, lacking
real insight, merely listens and urges, "Tell me more."
Without genius, it is easy to see that nations become the
messages they accept.
Summoned to courage, they behave heroically.
Summoned to empathic self-examination, well, look
around. The previous century began with a drumroll; it
ended with an ear-numbing whine.
That's why I eagerly accepted the invitation to speak to
Tom Brokaw's "greatest generation." I went with one
purpose in mind, to praise famous men. I thanked them
for saving the world from fascism and nazism; I urged
them to tell their stories so that future generations might
learn from them.
For the greatest generation is also the silent generation.
They don't talk much about their war experiences,
except perhaps among themselves.
The meeting I attended was the 25th reunion of the 73rd
Bomb Wing, which essentially won the war even before
we dropped the A-bomb. These were the men who
bombed Japan . . . and bombed Japan . . . until that
nation's urban-industrial centers were cinder dust.
Of the 600 who attended their reunion in Norfolk, Va.,
the youngest today is 74, I was told. Yet when I looked
out into that crowd, I didn't see grandfathers or even
fathers. Having watched the newsreels and videos of
their daredevil performances, their youthful elegance,
their immense courage, I saw, well, hunks. Gleaming
white smiles, cut muscles and chiseled jaws. And I saw
courage of a sort we rarely see.
So I told them that. I also told them that my generation
views them as heroes. And I thanked them.
Surprising to me, especially in this age of self-adulation,
they declined to accept service on those remarks.
Though politely appreciative, these men whose acts of
bravery have permitted the rest of us to live bountifully,
do not see themselves as heroes.
"We just did what we were told," so many of them said.
Typically modest, these veterans of the world's worst
war are humble and hubris-free. They, who felt no one's
pain but their own -- who really did give their blood, toil,
tears and sweat -- are still bashful in the presence of
I like that in a
JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.
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