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May 29, 2010

A Salute to the Last Men of the Greatest Generation

Years ago, on a business trip to Washington D.C., I visited Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Memorial. On the evening I was there, I was fortunate enough to see a special ceremony where marines from the battle were being honored. One account really struck me as it was being read. The citation read that the marine being honored had "with rifle, grenade, bayonet, and eventually fists, valiantly fought off the advancing enemy" until he was one of the last men standing. That description painted a perfect picture for me of a tough, resourceful, and determined man fighting with whatever he had available to the very end. Even after he had fired his last bullet, thrown his last grenade, and buried his bayonet into an attacking enemy, he still defended himself with his bare fists and fought to the end.

I've never experienced anything like the bloody battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. I was in the Air Force at the very end of the Cold War, so all my military "battles" were fought from behind a computer terminal in safe and sunny Florida. Still, I grew up with a WWII veteran as my grandfather and role model and I think some of his spirit rubbed off on me. I should say I hope he rubbed off on me, because like most of the men of his generation, there was much to be admired.

Sadly, we are quickly losing the last members of the World War II generation. As of last count in 2008, there were estimated to be less than 2 million WWII veterans still alive in the US, and we're losing them at a rate of over 1,000 per day. It's estimated that the very last WWII veterans will be gone with in the next ten years.

These are more than cold statistics to me and my family. My grandfather, a Navy gunner who fought in the Pacific, died last November. My wife's father, an Army radio man who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped liberate Nazi concentration camps, died two years ago. The picture below was taken of him with a local group of Battle of the Bulge veterans only three years ago. Sadly, I read this year that the same group has suspended their formal meetings because they are down to only four remaining members. We are losing these good men far too quickly.

When the men of that day were called to fight evil in the world, they quickly volunteered and left their families and homes to go fight on the other side of the world. And back then, we didn't just drop smart bombs or launch missiles from the safety of airplane cockpits and ship decks. Our men stormed beaches, parachuted behind enemy lines, and fought the enemy hand to hand.

While the men were gone, the women they left behind not only kept the country and their homes running without help, but they also picked up wrenches and welding torches and made the weapons and equipment that their men needed overseas. Perhaps most admirably of all, when the war was over, the men came home (those fortunate enough to survive) and once again became husbands and fathers and peaceful citizens.

I've been greatly inspired and influenced by the World War II veterans I've been fortunate enough to know. We can learn much about being real men from their example. Like I said, I have not had to fight in a war, as they did, but in my greatest battle in life, I tried to fight with the same resourcefulness and determination as the marine being honored at the Iwo Jima Memorial. In trying to save my first marriage and then to save my sons, I tried to use every available resource and never gave up. My story might have read, "fighting with the aid of counselors, pastors, elders, lawyers, judges, small groups, and eventually nothing but prayer..." In my personal Iwo Jima battle, I've run out of resources and am down to my bare fists of daily intercessory prayer for my sons. But like the marines, sailors, soldiers, and airmen of my grandfather's generation, I won't stop fighting until I'm dead or victorious.

If you are fortunate enough to still know someone from the greatest generation in our country, especially a veteran, I encourage you this Memorial Day weekend to reach out to them, show them your appreciation for who they are and what they've done, and to learn from their example. Take the chance while you still have it.


  1. Thanks Rob - Mom and I loved this!


  2. Excellent piece. Thank you for sharing this. What a picture of how we should stand as Christian men and fight sin.