Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Farewell to the G.G.

A few months ago I noted in this space that the next megaproduction from the Ken Burns folks was on its way to a PBS channel near you. It arrived, titled simply "The War". With the aid of some reruns I think I've seen it all now. I hope you followed my advice and did likewise. Of course some of the footage was bloody, as you would expect. The folks at home were nicely represented, and some of the vets possessed some amazing storytelling skills (along with good editing, of course) that helped us see things the way they once had in that great conflict.
Lately some things have happened that make me think it's now time to say a collective goodbye to the WW II vets. First, their children, the Baby Boomers, have started to collect Social Security checks. Then there's the simple math that reminds us that a vet who was 25 years old on VJ day in 1945 would now be 87. Of course, there's the odd 14 year-old Marine who will be with us for a long time yet, but the vets of that war are passing on right on schedule. "Grandpa" from my wife's side, helped a few pilots stay alive guiding them into an air base in Nigeria, but he's now been gone awhile. My dad, who spent some of the war in a dynamite factory, has been gone 11 years.
And Paul Tibbetts passed away recently. Mr. Tibbetts was moderately famous for having been the pilot of the B-29 named for his mother, the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. No doubt his piloting skills got him the assignment, but the fact that he was a straight-arrow type who was unlikely to bring any bad P.R. to the military had to be considered. He and his crew were trained on a "need to know" basis, and so went on their mission as near-innocents. Part of the assignment involved trying to record the damage done by the bomb, which was made easier by the good weather over the target that day. No one on the flight could have predicted exactly what they would see, but the sight itself didn't prevent them from doing their duty.
Tibbetts' life after the war couldn't be completely lived in obscurity, but he was never a source for anything that seemed controversial. He consistently said that the A-bomb mission never cost him any sleep. He became something of a role model for all the vets by simply going ahead with his life without seeking any special status or award, at least from the war itself. He was 92 when he passed away last month.
It was Tom Brokaw who wrote the book which designated the generation which grew up in the Great Depression and won WW II as the Greatest Generation. Did they have their problems? Absolutely. They smoked and drank too much, and their kids grew up to confuse them almost as completely as the Fog of War itself. Maybe it's silly to designate one generation as the "Greatest", but they deserve our thanks and respect for having gone through some horrific times, and overcome problems we hope to never see again.


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