The Greatest Generation

November 5, 2015
One of many cemeteries in Europe where Canada's war dead lie.

One of many cemeteries in Europe where Canada’s war death lie.

On November 11, 2015 it will be 70 years since the end of the Second World War 1939-1945 and over 100 years since the beginning of the Great War 1914-1919.

Tom Brokaw’s  famous book, “The Greatest Generation”, is in my opinion one of the best reads on war and sacrifice. It is a collection of stories from veterans and their wartime experiences. It’s not about generals and strategy, but rather about ordinary people and how they stood up and fought for our freedom against the evil forces seeking to destroy and conquer the world. Although American it applies to all who were of that generation. These people grew up in the Depression of the 1930s and did what had to be done in the 1940s. They made it possible for us to have the society we have today. The following quote from the book says it all

“They came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America – men and women whose everyday lives of duty, honor, achievement, and courage gave us the world we have today.”

These men returned from the horrors of war to short-lived celebration and then resumed their lives as best they could. For years they never talked about their experiences. All that changed after fifty years when they realized age was killing them off at a rapid rate. They didn’t want to tell their stories to glamourize war, but so that we would never forget. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to know some older vets who told me of their experiences. It is incredible to see a vet tear up when he remembers a buddy from all those years ago. They remember the friends they lost like it was yesterday such was the horror of it. To all the vets who tell the stories thanks for letting us know what it was really like.

To younger people if you want to know about wars don’t read the accounts of generals and politicians, read the stories of ordinary people, the soldiers who went through the mud, the fire, and the blood. For Canadians there is “Testaments of Honour: Personal Histories of Canada’s War Veterans” by Blake Heathcote which I highly recommend.

Other books to read are Stephen Ambrose’s “Citizen Soldiers” or Cornelius Ryan’s “The Longest Day”. These books are far more interesting and enlightening then some general’s memoirs. The movie “Saving Private Ryan” which revolves around the D-Day landings is one of the most realistic war movies of all time. Director Steven Spielberg screened it for veterans of D-Day to get their input. To a man they liked it, but said it lacked one thing, the smell. They told him the smell of blood, gore, death and cordite from shells was overpowering during the combat. They also told him the noise level pierced them to the very soul. These were the things they still remembered all those years later.

When you attend or watch the Remembrance Day ceremonies and you see all the old vets close your eyes and visualize them as young boys and men in their late teens and early twenties preparing to charge off the landing craft into the hellstorm of machine gun fire and shelling. While you’re contemplating that image ask yourself if you could stand up and do what needed to be done.

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D-Day 67 years later – we must remember.

June 6, 2011

On this the 67th anniversary of D-Day we must remember the sacrifice the servicemen of the Allied Powers (Canada, Britain, the United States, France and Poland) made on the beaches of Normandy, France that fateful June day in 1944.

When you look at the photos of aged veterans commemorating that event, realize that on June 6, 1944 these were mere boys and young men who dashed from the landing craft across the beaches under murderous fire from the entrenched German positions. A terrible number of these young men died there on that beach in the battle against tyranny.

The Second World War had been raging for four long years to this point. The invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 resulted in the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of the war in Europe less than one year later. It was the turning point of the war in Europe. If the invasion had failed the war would have dragged on for many more years.


Turning Point: D-Day, June 6, 1944

June 5, 2008


(View from a landing craft disembarking troops on D-Day)

Sixty-four years ago under overcast skies, Allied troops from the United States, Great Britain, France and Canada sat in landing craft awaiting the fateful order to hit the beaches. They were part of the largest amphibious landing ever.

These men were not professional soldiers seeking conquest for conquest’s sake. Rather, they came from all walks of life back in the real world.  These ordinary young men I am sure were filled with dread as their landing craft negotiated the deadly gauntlet from the ships to the heavily fortified beaches of “fortress Europe”. On the shore above the beaches German defenders waited to drive them back into the sea.

When the steel doors of the landing craft splashed into the surf, the soldiers slogged towards the shore through a firestorm of machine-gun fire and shelling. Many were killed instantly, others drowned in the water, still others made the beach only to be killed before advancing further. Those that did find cover from the German defenders’ onslaught had no rest, they now had to advance and drive a wedge into the enemy fortifications. It was imperative a beachhead be established, or the war would be prolonged yet again. To end the long war the Allies must push the Germans back. The goal, to land on the beach, stay there, and advance to Berlin. Hitler and his evil Nazis must be defeated at all costs. The world was watching and waiting.

Eleven months after these brave men fought and died on the bloodied beaches of Normandy, Hitler was dead, and the Second World War was over in Europe. D-Day, June 6, 1944 was truly one of the most important turning points of the war.


(American cemetery at Normandy)

Those who fought there, and those who died there, I salute you.


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