As I stood with my wife and my son in Washington, D.C., on a warm spring day, looking at the imposing statue of Marines raising the American Flag on Iwo Jima, my emotions ran the gauntlet from pride to sadness.
Senior Editor Phillip Marshall
Raymond Marshall, a Marine sergeant, my father’s beloved older brother and my uncle, died a hero’s death in the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945 and was awarded the Silver Star. I know him only in pictures and in the stories my father told.
For the parents of my generation, World War II was so much more than stories in a history book. It was oh so real. For us children, it was fascinating to hear our fathers talk. They mostly told funny stories of camaraderie. Those who had been in combat rarely talked about what it was like. When they did, the looks in their eyes were very different.
When I was little, as my brother and I went to sleep at night, our father sat in a child's rocking chair I still have in my home and sang songs to us he’d heard as an Army Air Corp communications officer flying high over Sicily. He told us of the day the news came over his radio that the war in Europe was over. He told us about a day he took a nap in the back of the airplane and, how minutes after he’d gotten up, the cot where he’d been lying was destroyed by an artillery shell. He told us about the convoy that took him overseas being attacked.
Those men in what Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation” had a bond. They really did believe they’d gone to fight for freedom and for the American way of life. They came from big cities and from little towns. They were farmers and factory workers, doctors and lawyers.
More than 400,000 of them didn’t come home.
My father, a young sports writer in Birmingham, went to enlist the day after Pearl Harbor. He stood in a line, he said, that stretched for blocks.
Those men didn’t go to fight for the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. They went to fight for their country. They came home and worked hard to give all of us children the best quality of life the world has ever known.
Today, on the anniversary of the grand experiment called American democracy, all those who have fought and those who have died because they saw it as their duty to their country deserve our honor, our respect and our gratitude.