Armed Guard - The Great Generation

The Great Generation

Floodlight Findings From Feeney - August 26, 1996 by Bill Feeney [ - delete the NOT to send email] [may be freely copied for non-profit use per the below notice]

A comedian on TV in the last few years mentioned some differences between his father and himself. He said, "By the time my father was 35 years old, he had fought in, and helped win a world war. He had married, fathered four children, gone to night school while working, and built a house for his family. I just turned 35 years old. I'm single. For me, it's a major accomplishment when I get my CD collection in alphabetical order. What happened?"

The point is not to criticize my own baby boomer generation now. That can wait for another occasion. The reason that someone can worry about organizing a CD collection is because of actions taken by earlier generations. The unparalleled freedoms and material well being enjoyed in this country are a direct result of those who went before us.

Those in the generation of my parents, those who grew up in the Great Depression and World War Two, have sacrificed, fought, bled, and even died to give the United States its current blessings. Out of the Great Depression came what history will surely call the Great Generation.

The twentieth century has rightly been called the American century. Not because we have taken over the world. Instead, American ideas have triumphed. The ideas of political freedom together with economic freedom have prevailed against great odds. These ideas are today in ascendancy around the globe. Challenges lay ahead, but the threat of world wide reign of totalitarianism has been removed for the immediate foreseeable future. That dark shadow over the future is no more.

The United States overcame the test of the Great Depression. The United States and its allies defeated the evil embodied by the National Socialists (commonly referred to by their shorthand name, Nazis) of Germany and their Japanese and Italian allies. Finally, and more recently, the Bolshevik Socialists (Communists) have been relegated to their well deserved place on the ash heap of history.

The Nazis and Communists both were the opposite of Abraham Lincoln's "government of the people, by the people, for the people." Instead, their evil philosophies claimed that individuals existed to serve the government. You could say it was people of the government, by the government, for the government.

The reason that the ideas and ideals of the United States are so clearly prevailing is partly due to the quality of those ideas and ideals. Yet, without the sacrifices of the Great Generation, the outcome of what President John F. Kennedy called the "long twilight struggle, year in and year out . . . against tyranny" was not guaranteed. This is a story about character. It's about integrity, duty, and honor of the Great Generation. They made this the American Century.

In the Great Depression, sacrifice was a way of life. The generation growing up in that era of deprivation did not learn to whine about what they didn't have. They instead considered themselves lucky to have food, shelter, and clothing. As the children of the depression grew up, their character was molded by their parents. Their parents strived always to provide for the children. They sacrificed and went without for their children.

My late mother, Nancy Longwell Feeney, recalled her mother coming home late from work. My grandmother, Loretta Longwell Kagamaster, helped support her family during the depression by playing pianos at various commercial establishments. My mother recalled her mother, my grandmother, coming home late with bleeding fingers from playing the piano so long. She tried to hide the bleeding fingers from her daughter.

This type of sacrifice by their parents taught the Great Generation a strength of character and purpose that would later alter the world.

In World War Two, the Great Generation used their strength of character and purpose to stop the Nazis and their allies from taking over the world. At Midway, U.S. Navy, Marine, and Army Air Corps forces overcame great odds to turn back a Japanese invasion force and destroy four enemy aircraft carriers. At Iwo Jima, thousands of U.S. Marines sacrificed their lives to overcome a fortified enemy defense. As Secretary of the Navy James Forestal saw the raising of the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima's dominant Mount Suribachi, he said that "means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years!" In Normandy, those of the Great Generation fought bravely in all branches of the armed services to establish a beachhead and start the liberation of Europe.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once described Hitler as a "repository of . . . hatred" and vowed that all traces of him would be blasted from the face of Europe. Americans of the Great Generation fought, sacrificed, bled, and died to carry out Churchill's vow and similar promises of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Among others, the men of the 8th Air Force helped to smash the Nazis' nightmare war machine. Flying through a gauntlet of Nazi fighters and enemy shells, the bombers of the 8th Air Force went on air raids on the Schweinfurt ball bearing factory and other well defended targets. The men of the 8th Air Force took horrendous losses. At one stage early in the air war, the aviators were expected to go on 50 missions before being transferred. Yet, the chance of going on 50 missions without being killed, wounded, shot down, or captured was about 25%.

Consider how you would like a job where the odds were that you would be killed, wounded, shot down or taken as a prisoner of war.

On a more personal note, my father, Colonel Vincent G. Feeney, U.S.A.F. (retired), was one of the millions of Americans who went into harm's way to preserve the freedoms we all enjoy. He was on a troop ship commuting to his duty station in the Panama Canal when another U.S. ship in his convoy was torpedoed by a German submarine. The torpedoed ship was a tanker and its exploding fuel lite up the night. Troops and sailors on the ships of the convoy donned helmets and life jackets, waiting in case torpedoes next struck their ship. Destroyers in the convoy searched for the submarine, while the convoy split into different groups.

In Panama, my father worked in communications for a fighter squadron. He was also involved in search operations to locate the top secret Norton bombsights in crashed U.S. planes. Nazi agents couldn't be allowed to recover the bombsights. He was transferred to Italy. The Nazis greeted his arrival by dropping bombs on an ammo storage facility near his barracks. In Africa, he worked on maintaining communications links that extended across the continent.

My recently deceased business partner, Jim Stowell, was another who went in harm's way during World War Two. He flew a P-51 Mustang fighter from Iwo Jima to Japan on numerous missions toward the end of World War Two. He arrived on Iwo Jima shortly after quite a few pilots were killed in their barracks when some remaining Japanese troops come out of hiding and launched a ground attack. After Jim arrived, missions to Japan occurred almost everyday. The flights took a long time and the Mustang pilots could move very little in the planes. As a result, the pilots couldn't get out when the plane landed. Others had to pull them out of the plane and massage them to get their muscles working again. As Jim flew over Japan, people shot at him and his plane. If his plane went down in Japan due to enemy fire or mechanical failure, he faced almost certain death.

On the homefront women and men worked in factories. They provided the industrial might that produced the arsenal of weapons and tools that flowed to the troops at Iwo Jima, Midway, Normandy, and a thousand other places. People gave up their sugar, meat, etc. anything for the troops in harm's way. They sacrificed, they endured, and they prayed. My late Mother worked in a Veteran's Hospital in Battle Creek. Among the returning veterans with severe injuries treated there was a young officer named Bob Dole. His shoulder had been hit by a German shell just after he had pulled a wounded comrade into a foxhole.

Can anyone imagine how different the world would be if Hitler had prevailed? The reason he did not is the courage and sacrifice of those living and dead who refused to allow it to happen.

After World War Two ended, a Cold War developed between the Communists, led by the Soviet Union, and the democracies, led by the United States. In Korea and Vietnam, the Cold War had limited hot wars. In those conflicts, members of the Great Generation fought nobly and well as did some men and women from later generations. In Cuba, Berlin, and other places around the world, hotspots in the Cold War developed and a general war seemed possible, if not probable.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan said "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" at the Berlin Wall. A few years later the Berlin Wall was torn down by people who demanded to be free. The ideas of political and economic freedom had penetrated the wall. The wall could not survive those ideas. As the East Germans poked holes in the Berlin Wall and wrote graffiti on it, the peoples of the other Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union then saw that freedom was possible. The handwriting was literally and figuratively on the wall. Communism as a huge world force was doomed. In 1992, the Communists were ousted from power in the Soviet Union and the country disintegrated into different countries. Miraculously, the Communist empire was defeated without a world war.

The Great Generation, having served so well in World War Two, primarily provided a core of leadership throughout the Cold War. The character of a generation forged in the twin furnaces of the depression and World War Two had its metal tested again during the Cold War. The character of that generation safeguarded America. That character kept the United States from falling into the abyss of a nuclear war. The leadership, courage, and resolve of that character also kept the United States and the free world from falling under the domination of an evil empire - an empire which built walls around cities and nations to keep whole peoples locked in and to keep ideas locked out.

Imagine what the world would be like if we had fallen into the nuclear abyss. Imagine what the world would be like if Communism had prevailed in what John Kennedy referred to as the "twilight struggle against . . . tyranny." Now think about those, living and dead, who prevented both of those calamities.

The individuals of the Great Generation had their character tested. The generation collectively was tested by the depression, world war two and the Cold War. Like George Washington's troops in that cold winter at Valley Forge over two hundred years ago, the Great Generation endured unbearable hardships and overcame imrossible challenges. The generation didn't really have a choice.

The test of a person is whether the world is a better place because that person lived. The same test should apply to a generation. By any measure, the Great Generation made the world a better place. They are the reason that this is the American Century.

The years are growing short for the Great Generation. Memories of the fire, steel, and death raining down on Iwo Jima, Normandy and thousands of other places seem like a nightmare of long ago. The shells and fighters over Schweinfurt, torpedo and kamikaze attacks, and danger, death and destruction of a half century ago seem unreal. The Sun has risen and set thousands of times since then. Those who did not sacrifice their lives in World War Two or hotspots in the Cold War should know that their character has prevailed. Their character saw America through the Great Depression, World War Two, and the Cold War.

There is a debt that can never be repaid. It's impossible for a child to fully repay parents who provide the child with love and the ability to succeed in life. Likewise, there is nothing that can be given to the remaining members of that generation to repay them for their sacrifices in providing our freedoms and material well being. Respect has been earned in triplicate. It should be given, but it will never be enough. Thanking them for the sacrifice, blood, and toil that have given us a precious heritage of freedom and prosperity is a starting point. -----------

Above article copyright (c) 1996 Bill Feeney ( - delete the NOT to send email) Permission granted to copy and redistribute text for non-profit purposes (including posting on web pages, usenet, BBS, bulletin boards of on-line service providers) PROVIDED THIS COPYRIGHT NOTICE IS INCLUDED and provided the material is not sold or part of a book which is sold. Permission also granted for radio use provided the author is given credit as the author of the material and the above web address is given during the show. FLOODLIGHT FINDINGS FROM FEENEY and FLOODLIGHT FINDINGS are trademarks and/or service marks of Bill Feeney. Appeared in one or more of Wayne Mann's email magazines (ezines) - information available at - delete the NOT to send email.

Click to return to Main Armed Guard Page