Thursday, December 07, 2006

From One Generation to Another

(image courtesy of
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — This will be their last visit to this watery grave to share stories, exchange smiles, find peace and salute their fallen friends.
This, they say, will be their final farewell. With their number quickly dwindling, survivors of Pearl Harbor will gather Thursday one last time to honor those killed by the Japanese 65 years ago, and to mark a date that lives in infamy. "This will be one to remember," said Mal Middlesworth, president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. "It's going to be something that we'll cherish forever." The survivors have met here every five years for four decades, but they're now in their 80s or 90s and are not counting on a 70th reunion. They have made every effort to report for one final roll call. "We're like the dodo bird. We're almost extinct," said Middlesworth, now an 83-year-old retiree from Upland, California, but then — on Dec. 7, 1941 — an 18-year-old Marine on the USS San Francisco. Nearly 500 survivors from across the nation were expected to make the trip to Hawaii, bringing with them 1,300 family members, numerous wheelchairs and too many haunting memories. Memories of a shocking, two-hour aerial raid that destroyed or heavily damaged 21 ships and 320 aircraft, that killed 2,390 people and wounded 1,178 others, that plunged the United States into World War II and set in motion the events that led to atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "I suspect not many people have thought about this, but we're witnessing history," said Daniel Martinez, chief historian at the USS Arizona Memorial. "We are seeing the passing of a generation."
Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, who dubbed Americans who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II "the greatest generation," agreed to be keynote speaker for Thursday's ceremony. A moment of silence at 7:55 a.m. was to mark the time when the attack began. Martinez, the USS Arizona historian, likened it to another reunion 68 years ago — the final gathering of Civil War veterans in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when aging warriors in blue and gray shook hands and shared war stories. In 1938, as in 2006, the nation faced an uncertain future in a world gripped by conflict. "The passing of that generation had its moment and we're going to have ours," he said.
My grandfather was stationed in Guadalcanal during WWII and wasn't able to see my uncle for the first three years of his life. My sweet grandmother kept in touch with her beloved husband as much as possible, writing love letters back and forth and wondering in anticif she would receive one in return. I remember listening to stories she would tell of the time when he was away, being toosed back and forth between the feelings of pride and fear. Very little was told from his side of the story--of the things he saw, battles he fought, comrades he saw fall. I cannot begin to comprehend what that season in history was like for them, and I am still amazed even though the Lord has called them both home in recent years.
This time in history moves me to reflect in a way much different than others. Because this generation of men is so significant in our nation's history, I begin wondering about other generations that have followed. What were these men who lived through WWII remembered by? What examples did they leave behind for their family and friends? How have other generations compared or contrasted to such sacrifice and bravery?
My other grandfather was overseas during the Korean War and so close to the action that he still gets choked up when attempting to recollect a certain event. His aim with a rifle is unbeatable, his love for country unmatched, and my family knows that comprehending his firsthand experience in Korea is unfathomable. He never talks about things he saw during his service.
When I fastward to today, to the generation by which I am defined in our society, I wonder at how we will be remembered. There are men and women my ages and younger fighting overseas as I type, and I get knots in my stomach whenever I hear of someone denegrating their service. I am not one to wave flags around, wearing shirts that say "God Bless America" or "I'm Proud to Be an American" on them, but I am mindful of the country in which the Lord has called me to live. This country spans the spectrum when it comes to pride versus humility or rights versus rules. I am oftentimes discouraged by the ways in which the media portrays the current war, and I can't help but wonder what it must be like for the individuals over there who here of such opposition. I am slow to being idealistic in thinking this country will ever be truly unified. Maybe that is why I look back at my grandparents' generation with such admiration. Even if there were select groups opposed to WWII during that period of time, individuals who rejected the idea of Americans getting involved in the war, they have largely been long-forgotten. The perseverance of noble, humble men is what remains embedded in our history and memories.
With that said, the question remains open-ended for a young woman in the midst of a postmodern, over-medicated culture: how will we be remembered by the generations to come?


Panda-Mom said...

Thank you for honoring the memory and being so mature about the reality of it all. No, you aren't missing anything on my blog. That was for a friend that I was with last night that I don't get to see very much. She reads my blog but never comments so I gave her a little hello with that post. XXOO

Josh said...

It is sad that there are so few of them left. My grandfather, who was in Europe and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, died a dozen years ago. I have his purple heart. I've seen some of the footage from when the last Civil War veterans gathered in Gettysburg. It's in Ken Burns' Civil War documentary. Amazing.

Hey - we're planning to check out Clifton Baptist when we get to Louisville. Have you been there? My friend Kevin McFadden (do you know him?) is a member there, except he's interning with Mark Dever next semester before beginning his PhD.

Gretchen said...

Excellent article. I feel precisly the same. I am not a "I heart America" bumper sticker girl (my allegiance being to a King and a Kingdom as Derek Webb says), but I do have the utmost respect for the men of that generation. Both of my grandfather's fought in WWII, and scarcely speak of it (except once to each other!). My mom's dad has a Nazi knife he found in a raid, and all the grandkids have always been in awe! My other grandfather fought in the town called Biche in France (pronounced "bish-ay". He has an ANCIENT card in his wallet naming him as a "Son of Biche". And that is the extent of what I know of their stories! (except what my Grandmother has told me from the romatic side -- eloping together before he left!).

Thanks for writing this to make us stop and think.

ckhnat said...

mmm ... yes, i highly recommend the Emily books. I tend to think that it is an autobiography of L. M.'s own life and evolution of style in her own writing.

Sense and Sensibility? I actually through that book across the room in frustration. Not because of poor writing, mind you. But Austen's view of society around her was spot on, and she pointed out the incredibly FRUSTRATING characteristics of her main characters ... oh, wo is me! i shall DIE if i don't see Mr. H again, groan!

GloryandGrace said...

Josh and Gretchen,

I have been to Clifton a few times myself. You will see that many of our professors (ones that are my personal favorites, in fact) attend and teach and/or are elders there. I'm not familiar with their outreach there, as far as what they do in the surrounding neighborhood, but I do know that their doctrine is spot on (evident both in preaching/teaching as well as the worship music that is picked for the services).

If you have questions about any other churches in town, just let me know! There are several I visited this last year or have people I know at various ones.

Gretchen said...

Thanks for the feedback! We are looking forward to a bit of church-hunting. This will be a new experience for us. What church do you go to?

GloryandGrace said...


Church-hunting was an extremely new experience for my boyfriend and I as well. We go to Immanuel Baptist Church, and I'd be more than happy to touch base with you when you move here in the event that you're interested in visiting.

I saw your sweet comment on my dear PandaMom's blog :)