Emulate the Greatest Generation today

I was honored to be a speaker for the 74th anniversary of VJ Day program at Westerly’s War Memorial on Monday. VJ Day, as we know, celebrates victory over Japan on Aug. 14, 1945. We have all seen the iconic picture of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square. What a great visual of the joy America must have been experiencing. Tom Brokaw labeled them the Greatest Generation, and yes, they were and are the greatest generation. 

WWII was not just won by our men and women serving in the armed forces. The civilian population, adults and children, all did their part. By the end of the war, 36 percent of all defense manufacturing was performed by women ("Rosie the Riveters"), 40 percent of all vegetables in the United States were grown in Victory Gardens and people of all ages were engaged in scrap drives to get metal and rubber goods recycled to make war goods. Yes, our military fought to a great victory, one that President Truman said, “This is the day we have been waiting for since Pearl Harbor. This is the day fascism finally dies as we knew it would!” The final surrender and signing of documents onboard the USS Missouri would not happen until Sept. 2nd, but hostilities were over. Liberty triumphed over fascism! 

This surrender only came after the US and dropped two nuclear bombs, one on Aug. 6th and another on Aug. 9th. Some try to condemn this action, but millions of lives were saved. Some would not be here if we had not used this technology to end the war. This area sent many of its young to war. Many did not return. A friend told me his mother had a boy on either side of her locker at school die in the war. Rhode Island is right to remember this day as a holiday celebrating the end of the war and the eventual return of our sons and daughters. 

The Greatest Generation won this war as a nation. I wonder sometimes would today’s generations do the same? Would we “rally the nation” to do scrap drives, plant Victory Gardens or tolerate the rationing of food and gas? Would we speak with one voice about opposing our enemy? Sept. 11, 2001, seemed to give an indication that we would, but I wonder. Have we forgotten how to act as a nation with one voice when it comes to foreign relations? Yes, we can disagree and debate differences on policy but it seems we have lost the ability to respectfully disagree and work together to get to a common solution for our country. 

I suggest we can return to the kind of nation we had during the Greatest Generation’s time. Let’s go back to a friendly hello when we see people on the street (even strangers), help others without a feeling we are owed something back (just do it because it is the right thing to do), and look for the best in each other but respect our differences. That is the America that was fought for in the '40s. 

When I am around our young active duty members, I feel that we still have America’s best serving, and we should all be proud. They are continuing the proud traditions of the past. As a nation, we need to rediscover our common past and our wishes for the future. Can we? I think so. The communities of Westerly, Stonington and the communities in South County and Southeastern Connecticut have a close past and a bright future because we treat our residents as friends and neighbors. We work together for common solutions. When we do this, we honor those who made today possible, the Greatest Generation. 

Donald Maranell, LT, SC, USN (Retired), is a former first selectman of Stonington.

 

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