Greatest Generation II

Kyle-Anne Shiver & Lee Cary
It's better that I'm not near a television this week.  I didn't have to witness the talking news heads somberly remind us that the Killed-In-Action count in Iraq has rolled 4,000, and how the war there has been going on for five years. (They say "five" like they wish it had more syllables.) Listening on the radio, do I discern smears of disingenuousness in some of their voices, crocodile tears?  

When I see them in the airports, today's service men and women, I don't see people who feel sorry for themselves.  I see the proud grandchildren of the greatest generation - Greatest Generation II.  And, damn, they are magnificent.

As often as I can, without being intrusive, I speak to them and say thank you.

A Lieutenant Colonel and a half-dozen junior officers stand in a circle as he briefs them on their travel plans.  I sit a few feet away awaiting a flight and listen in. They look like high school kids to me, maybe college for the LTC, but I recognize the language they speak. It doesn't change. When there's a lull in the conversation, I say, "Excuse me gentlemen, I'm an old vet from Vietnam, and you guys are my heroes. Just want to say thank you."  "Roger that, sir," the LTC says. 

Another airport, a Spec 4 who looks like he could be my grandson in 10 years happens by with a patch I recognize.  "Hey, 82nd." He stops.  I stand, shake his hand, and say, "Thank you. Stay safe." (It's the only time I've wished I‘d jumped out of a perfectly good airplane so I could have said, "All the way.") He says, "Thank you, sir."  I love saying a variation on what he's heard before, "Don't sir me. Just a sergeant once."  He gets it and smiles.

An Army Captain sits with his wife and three small children; he's obviously going overseas. He steps away for a moment to go to the ticket counter.  I speak to him briefly on his way back to his family.  I "sir" him, because he sure deserves it.

To three privates just coming back with the dust still on their boots I say thanks, "Do you guys know you're Valley Forge material?"  I think they understand what I mean, but if they don't they will someday.  To one young troop with the CIB (Combat Infantryman Badge) looking every ounce the seasoned infantry grunt, I ask, "Has anyone thanked you yet today for your service?"  "Yes, sir," he says.  "Okay, then hold mine in reserve for when you need one."   But I don't think he ever will.

These people project a will that says they know what they're about, and that's all the assurance they need.  The "thanks" from civilians - that's just gravy.  

Today's U.S. Armed Services are almost unique -- all volunteers.  How many other American war forces in history can we say that about?  The Continental Army of the Revolutionary War.  The hodge-podge army that stood with Andrew Jackson at New Orleans in 1814.  Hardly a month passes when we don't see a story about how some soldier or Marine who'd been very seriously wounded and goes through months of rehab so he can rejoin his unit. (I don't remember a "her" story, but a female soldier recently was awarded the Silver Star.) At least one Marine returned to Iraq on a titanium leg. 

Where in the world do these people come from? Who raised these kids? 

They're the grandchildren of the greatest generation. And among them, even more amazing, are legal immigrants who earn their citizenship by serving what is not yet their country. That eclipses the pyramids on my list of world wonders.

So it's a good thing I can't watch the TV weenies this week mournfully remind us that 4,000 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq.  They don't need to remind us of the cost, or try to provoke our sympathies.  We've seen them in the airports.  Perhaps, even spoken to one.
It's better that I'm not near a television this week.  I didn't have to witness the talking news heads somberly remind us that the Killed-In-Action count in Iraq has rolled 4,000, and how the war there has been going on for five years. (They say "five" like they wish it had more syllables.) Listening on the radio, do I discern smears of disingenuousness in some of their voices, crocodile tears?  

When I see them in the airports, today's service men and women, I don't see people who feel sorry for themselves.  I see the proud grandchildren of the greatest generation - Greatest Generation II.  And, damn, they are magnificent.

As often as I can, without being intrusive, I speak to them and say thank you.

A Lieutenant Colonel and a half-dozen junior officers stand in a circle as he briefs them on their travel plans.  I sit a few feet away awaiting a flight and listen in. They look like high school kids to me, maybe college for the LTC, but I recognize the language they speak. It doesn't change. When there's a lull in the conversation, I say, "Excuse me gentlemen, I'm an old vet from Vietnam, and you guys are my heroes. Just want to say thank you."  "Roger that, sir," the LTC says. 

Another airport, a Spec 4 who looks like he could be my grandson in 10 years happens by with a patch I recognize.  "Hey, 82nd." He stops.  I stand, shake his hand, and say, "Thank you. Stay safe." (It's the only time I've wished I‘d jumped out of a perfectly good airplane so I could have said, "All the way.") He says, "Thank you, sir."  I love saying a variation on what he's heard before, "Don't sir me. Just a sergeant once."  He gets it and smiles.

An Army Captain sits with his wife and three small children; he's obviously going overseas. He steps away for a moment to go to the ticket counter.  I speak to him briefly on his way back to his family.  I "sir" him, because he sure deserves it.

To three privates just coming back with the dust still on their boots I say thanks, "Do you guys know you're Valley Forge material?"  I think they understand what I mean, but if they don't they will someday.  To one young troop with the CIB (Combat Infantryman Badge) looking every ounce the seasoned infantry grunt, I ask, "Has anyone thanked you yet today for your service?"  "Yes, sir," he says.  "Okay, then hold mine in reserve for when you need one."   But I don't think he ever will.

These people project a will that says they know what they're about, and that's all the assurance they need.  The "thanks" from civilians - that's just gravy.  

Today's U.S. Armed Services are almost unique -- all volunteers.  How many other American war forces in history can we say that about?  The Continental Army of the Revolutionary War.  The hodge-podge army that stood with Andrew Jackson at New Orleans in 1814.  Hardly a month passes when we don't see a story about how some soldier or Marine who'd been very seriously wounded and goes through months of rehab so he can rejoin his unit. (I don't remember a "her" story, but a female soldier recently was awarded the Silver Star.) At least one Marine returned to Iraq on a titanium leg. 

Where in the world do these people come from? Who raised these kids? 

They're the grandchildren of the greatest generation. And among them, even more amazing, are legal immigrants who earn their citizenship by serving what is not yet their country. That eclipses the pyramids on my list of world wonders.

So it's a good thing I can't watch the TV weenies this week mournfully remind us that 4,000 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq.  They don't need to remind us of the cost, or try to provoke our sympathies.  We've seen them in the airports.  Perhaps, even spoken to one.