Take the time to listen to our veterans

The headline of a story in the most recent Seniorific News, a free monthly paper always available at the Dallas JCC, caught and held my eye: “Last Witnesses to the Greatest Generation,” it’s called. That means me!
Those who served in World War II are commonly referred to today as “The Greatest Generation.” Other generations also have other names: My children are “Baby Boomers,” those born between 1946 (after the vets came home, married and started having families) and 1964. I’m a member of what has been called “The Silent Generation,” born in 1945 or before and including those who defended our country and saved the world from Hitler. Some of them have really been silent ever since they came home from war, but some have spoken out about their experiences.
I was born in 1934; as a 7-year-old, I learned firsthand about Pearl Harbor, and have clear memories to this day of Dec. 7, 1941, and the chaos that ensued. I knew that my mother’s five brothers all enlisted in an assortment of service branches (Army, Air Corps, Merchant Marine) the very next day, and were inducted immediately. I consider myself lucky to be one of those “Last Witnesses.” But that is also scary. How can we — who are aging or already aged ourselves — keep alive the realities of that time for the generations who have come after us?
My children knew their great-uncles well after they returned home, and heard their stories firsthand, and have never forgotten them. And my grandchildren and great-grands, members of cohort Generations Y and Z, are fortunate that one of my uncles — the youngest of the five — lived long enough for all of them to know him well, and to hear his stories. Because of his longevity (he was almost 96 when he passed away last year) we made up, for a too-brief time, a rare five-generation family. But were those youngsters old enough to understand those stories, and retain them? I doubt it. It’s now my job, as one of the Last Witnesses to that Greatest Generation, to keep those stories alive by retelling them as I learned them from that generation before me.
So now, I’m making a pitch here for the local Jewish War Veterans’ Posts, and their Auxiliaries. Every Jew who has ever served in the U.S. Armed Forces — any service branch, in any year — war or peace, any place — overseas or stateside — any amount of time — at any age from teen to senior, should be a member. As should every woman who has ever served in uniform, or kept the home fires burning while her husband or children were away on duty, or was widowed during her husband’s wartime service, or has outlived him since his return. Please use your Google to find meeting dates and locations in both Dallas and Fort Worth and just walk in: you will be warmly welcomed, and hear some great stories!
Someone once told me that the quality of a war is found in its songs. “Keep the Home Fires Burning” emerged from World War I, as did the “smile trio”: “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag,” “Smile Awhile,” and “There Are Smiles That Make You Happy.” The Greatest Generation gave us “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer,” and “Roger Young.” If you don’t recognize any of these, please look them up. But I dare you to find any song from the Korean War that hit the pop charts, and those from Viet Nam that did were mainly about peace. However, the greatest song of all time — in war and in peace — for all of us is “God Bless America,” by our esteemed Jewish composer Irving Bailin, a Russian immigrant who adopted the last name “Berlin” to sound less ethnic. In 1911, who could have known? That not-knowing in advance is itself the biggest story of history!
Harriet Gross can be reached at harrietgross@sbcglobal.net.

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