As we reflect on the anniversary of the end of World War II, I hope we will pause and consider all the contributions in war and in peace of the greatest generation. They fought for us in that war and through the hardest of times.
The abiding story of the greatest generation, and the lesson to be learned, is how to gather for ourselves that toughness, the scrap and scrabble of spirit that this special generation carried with them. As they faced the fear of those times, they learned not to be intimidated by fear, or to take its counsel. “The only way around is through,” some old wisdom tells us. In many ways, this describes the greatest generation in a nutshell, buoyed by hope along the way when they hit what my dad, a member of the greatest generation, called those dips in the road.
Buddy Graham, another member of the greatest generation and the father of my wife, Janet, his only child, was one of thousands of foot soldiers in World War II. He was in the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944), the last great offensive of the German army in World War II and one of those defining battles when victory hung in the balance.
When he died, Janet found in his wallet a folded-up piece of paper.
A prayer of hope was commissioned by Gen. George Patton, commander of the Third Army, for better weather to allow the Allies’ superior air power to thwart this German offensive:
Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.
The weather did clear, miraculously. With our superior air power, the last line of defense of Germany was broken.
This prayer created a national sensation in the states. All GIs in that battle were given a copy and Buddy carried it in his wallet for nearly 55 years.
After her dad’s death, Janet gave to each of our children a copy of that folded-up prayer so it might serve as their own well of hope for their days ahead. And with a parent’s wish, they remember the sacrifices of the greatest generation, which helped to get them here, with opportunities beyond the reach of most of that generation. Because none of us who followed those humble soldiers of life got here on our own.
As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II (V-E Day, May 8, 1945; V-J Day, Sept. 2, 1945), we should reflect on the “way through” of the greatest generation and hitch a ride on the hope of those who fought to keep us free. We should reflect as well on their formative experiences during the Great Depression, which served to chisel that anchoring strength that helped them through. The next time we mark this historic event in a major way, they will all be gone, relegated, as the poet forlornly observed, to the silent shore of memory.
Those of the greatest generation, including members of the families of everyone reading this, fought for all of us. They all went to war, or they worked in the war effort back home.
But that was not their last battle. They fought for all of us in life as well with that same hope when they came home. They sacrificed to give those of us who are their children and grandchildren a better way, an easier way. They made sure we received our fair chances, including a chance for an education, and more. And they spent no time reflecting on how those hard times removed many opportunities for them, opportunities so many of us should be sure we, including our children and grandchildren, do not now take for granted.
For those of us who have expanded horizons, moving us closer to the full promise of our lives, because of what the greatest generation did for us. Etched now on history’s most sacred page, reserved for those who gave their chance to those of us who came after them.
How grateful we all should be.
Mike Wells is a lawyer who lives in Winston-Salem.
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