As my brother and I visited with Uncle Jim this week, conversation turned to his military service during World War II. He was one of three brothers fighting overseas at the time, including my father. We flipped through some old war-time photos that had recently turned up and he very carefully studied those images from the past. When asked for specific recollections from the War, he wistfully looked away and would only quietly say "That was a very long time ago." The response was typical of many from his generation; they don't like to talk about it and instead let their actions and achievements speak for them.
I asked Uncle Jim about the large American flag that he has hanging on the wall in his room. He smiled and said that while this particular flag didn't have special significance, he wanted to have one there because "It is a symbol of our country's history". And then he saluted it.
Principled actions, sacrifice, quiet confidence, belief in something bigger than self. Those qualities exemplify why this unique group of individuals made such a mark on our world and shaped our present possibilities. We owe them a great deal, but they don't ask for anything from us. Our respect is the most significant honor that we can bestow upon them at this time in their lives.
If you still have someone from The Greatest Generation in your family, I encourage you to talk with them. If you don't already know someone from that era, I encourage you to seek one out. You'll come away with a fresh perspective and a vivid memory that is important to carry forward.
As our visit concluded, I stood and spontaneously saluted Uncle Jim. He saluted back.
"It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced."
~ Tom Brokaw