Sunday, May 30, 2010

Thanks to “The Greatest Generation”

In honor of our fallen heroes on this day of remembrance…

One of the finest books that I have ever read is The Winds of War by Herman Wouk. It is a fictional account of a Navy family set in non-fictional World War II. Wouk has written many excellent books that I heartily recommend – The Caine Mutiny and War and Remembrance being his major works that I have enjoyed.

My wife and I both enjoy reading novels set in history, and we recently decided to relive some old times by renting The Winds of War mini-series (about ten hours to watch in total, and it only gets you to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 - there is also a War and Remembrance mini-series sequel that followed).

One cannot help but be drawn to the central figure in the story – Pug Henry – played exceptionally well by Robert Mitchum. Pug is a gritty, determined Navy captain, who is smart, resourceful and protective of his own family. He is a classic military man, willing to sacrifice his own life and dreams for the service of his country. His career goals are constantly frustrated, as he is continually passed over for sea captaincy in favor of dealing diplomatically with the central figures in the war story – Hitler, Roosevelt, Churchill and Mussolini. His toast at a banquet hosted by Josef Stalin is one of the best scenes in the movie.

Pug finally gets his battleship command of the U.S.S. California, only to arrive in Pearl Harbor a few days after its destruction by the Japanese attack. His son is serving there aboard an aircraft carrier, and Pug displays his typical, reserved demeanor in dealing with the overall situation.

At the end of the movie, Pug stands on a hill overlooking Pearl Harbor, as his son sails away toward the unknown aboard the carrier. He lifts his eyes to the heavens, and says these incredible words (they brought tears to my eyes):

"Oh, Lord, in a world so rich and lovely, why can your children find nothing better to do than to dig iron from the ground and work it into vast, grotesque engines for blowing each other up? Is it because Abel's next-door neighbor was Cain? Is it because if my enemies make deadly engines, then I must do it better or die? Maybe the vicious circle will end this time. Maybe not. Maybe it will take Christ's Second Coming to end it. Maybe it will never end. But it is 1941 and I know this. Until the life is beaten out of the monster Hitler, the world cannot move another inch toward a sane existence. There is nothing to do now but win the war."
I admire the men and women of that era, and the sacrifices that they made. Their firm resolve to do what was right, at all costs, is unparalleled. It is truly difficult to watch this scene without tears welling up in your eyes. Many times, I have longed to have been born during that era, if for no other reason than to have experienced the hearts and minds of “the greatest generation”. Their unselfish attitude, and their willingness to give up their dreams for a time in order to win a bitter but necessary war inspires me to be involved in great things. How I wish for the chance to be involved with people like them, working for a cause that is great and good.

If you know a WWII veteran, please forward this to them. For those World War II veterans and families who might read this, let me thank you for the sacrifice of time, pain, and even family members if you were called to make such a forfeit. You are truly heroes, who gave up so much in order for our nation (and other nations, as well) to continue in freedom and serve the Lord without fear of punishment. I long for a nation that stands ready to do it again if called upon.