Greatest generation fought for greatest nation

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 26, 2003

Kevin Cooper/Ironton Tribune Editorial Staff

Television news anchor, turned author Tom Brokaw dubbed them the "Greatest Generation."

Brokaw was speaking about the men and women who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II.

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And truer words were never penned. These men and women were truly the Greatest Generation.

For many of us who are too young to remember World War II, it is difficult to imagine the world in which our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents lived.

Through the years, I've met dozens of World War II veterans. I've met men who were attacked at Pearl Harbor in the opening volley of the war on Americans. I've shaken hands with men who fought hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese. And I once spent the afternoon with a former pilot who was shot down behind enemy lines in Germany and was captured.

Each veteran has a new story of heroism and intrigue. Each one touched my heart as they spoke about what they did so that I may be free.

The one thing that struck me most through most of my encounters with World War II veterans is the manner in which they describe their feats.

Rarely did I hear one of them even come close to bragging about their exploits and adventures. No, in fact, most of the veterans tell of their experiences in an almost matter-of-fact sort of manner.

As they calmly describe what it felt like to storm a German machine-gun nest, I couldn't help but ask myself, "Could I have ever been so brave? could I have accomplished the amazing acts of heroism and courage?"

Fortunately, I've never had to answer those questions, but I'd like to think I could. Actually, I'd like to think all Americans could do so, if pushed to that point.

Thank God the men and women who were pushed in the 1940s managed to muster the strength and fortitude to persevere.

It is because of their brave, often selfless acts, that we honor their memories on Monday's Memorial Day.

The day, originally begun as a holiday to decorate graves of war dead, has become one of togetherness, family values and patriotism. And, while some may say we spend too much time barbecuing and kicking off the beginning of summer, I suspect a number of soldiers back in the 1940s would argue that's exactly why they were fighting, to protect the greatest country in the world.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1445 ext. 12 or by e-mail to