The Big Sixty

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Yes I did, I watched the entire dedication ceremony for the better-late-than-never World War II Memorial on the Washington Mall.

I admit to misty eyes while viewing all those old duffers and their ladies…it was like looking in a mirror and trying to remember being young. Two things jumped into my mind when the camera panned the crowd. 1) There were more veterans in those seats than military men and women fighting in Iraq. 2) If each of the 4,000 gold stars on the memorial wall represents 100 killed in World War II, then in Iraq there are less than 9 stars required while it takes 34 to represent those killed on Sept. 11.

I also admit to a certain pride when I hear speeches referring to the Greatest Generation. And I won’t argue the stated fact, compared to what goes on in this country today we were. Not only did we live through the Depression prior to the war, we lived after the war and helped bring some sanity to a troubled nation. Back then my heroes were Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Bradley, Churchill, and even Patton who saved our butts during the Battle of the Bulge. Finding heroes today requires a lot of thought.

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After the dedication they seated several old veterans at a table and let them tell of their capture by the enemy. They told their stories matter-of-factly with no emotion to give one a clue as to how hair raising their adventure had been. No dwelling on injury or the cruelties they suffered, not even anger toward their captors. Sixty years was plenty of time to &uot;get over it.&uot; Now many make a point to revisit the battle scenes and meet with old enemy survivors, to somehow agree it was not necessary to hate each other when both were doing what they were told by their superiors. I know the feeling and lived several months in Germany after the war. Now I treat my friends in Germany and England the same though I admit it was quite different 60 years ago.

Sixty years ago even those too young wanted to join the fight to save the world. Today most of the elite manage to avoid any kind of service and don’t give a damn about those who serve in the military. The result is soldiers risking their lives for less pay than a local policeman. We had the G.I Bill that let us get an education even if we came back in one piece. The families of those killed in New York City on 9/11 received more than a million dollars each. Military widows get far less but when the sons and daughters of the elite are forced to serve in the military the benefits will skyrocket. Right now a few hundred thousand men and women are fending off what could ruin the lives of 240 million citizens whose greatest problem is coming up with the price of gasoline.

The Virginian-Pilot flattered me last week when they printed my picture at age 18 and a short story about what it was like on D-Day. For some reason it still bugs me that so much attention is paid to one particular day when it was followed by 11 more months of easy ways to be killed or badly torn up. I’ve watched all the episodes of the &uot;Band of Brothers&uot; and know it would be strong medicine for pampered high school students, certainly more beneficial than sex education taught by unqualified instructors. It might give them a sense of well being because it’s only a movie and they know there is as yet no draft. On the other hand it might instill a feeling of patriotism and send some of them running to the recruiter of their choice. As always, someone has to defend our freedoms.

Andy Damiani did his Roundtable Talk show at the MacArthur Memorial and it turned out to be two shows because James Zobel, the archivist, was so interesting. Like MacArthur was his father, he knew him so well. He is a young man doing an important job. Having been in the European Theatre I heard little about that famous general until much later. My trip to the MacArthur Memorial was an eye opener. Apparently he was as pompous as Patton but unlike Patton he pleased many presidents and did his part in many wars. I have added him to my short list of heroes. His last years were spent trying to eliminate war as a method to solve national disputes. His ideas need further study.

Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be contacted via e-mail: