Carrying on the legacy of the Greatest Generation

  • Published
  • By Mr. Fred Rauch
  • 341st Missile Wing Antiterrorism Officer
This year, 2010, marks the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II, which by itself, is notable. The year 1945 was when free nations united to defeat the tyrannical states of Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. However, World War II was also a time of what is called America's Greatest Generation. Tom Brokow coined that phrase in his 1998 book "The Greatest Generation." In his book, he said that generation in U.S. history was the greatest any society has ever produced. He wrote, "These men and women fought and sacrificed because it was the right thing to do and not for fame or recognition."

This year marks their great achievement -- is the defeat of tyranny. However, most in that generation are now in the 80's and 90's, and we are rapidly losing them to history.

Some years ago, I was visiting a USO canteen on my return from Southwest Asia, I noted the entire USO staff was from the World War II generation and confirmed it in conversation with them. I was amazed at their sense of duty to our great nation and their even greater humility about their service. Even at that time, we were losing great numbers of World War II veterans every day. I wondered out loud as to the loss of this generation and asked who was going to step up and take their place?

My father piloted a light bomber during the war as well as served in the infantry. He was medically retired due to injuries he received in service to his country. He passed away 30 years ago and I still very clearly remember his dedication and patriotism to this country. I was a lieutenant when he passed away, but I never forgot the lessons he gave me around the dinner table as he talked about the men he served with during a desperate time. Later, when the Air Force adopted core values, I was able to put it all together: Integrity, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do. That is what my father and the Greatest Generation knew and it was the philosophy they lived by. There were no formal core values, no written credos. They knew what was at stake and they lived their lives by those values. They had grown up during the depression and learned many lessons from it. And, after the war, they returned home and built America into an economic superpower with a standard of living enviable throughout the world.
Today that generation is fading. To build on Gen. MacArthur's quote, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away..." Thus, America must depend on new generations of great Americans. That generation is here with us now wearing the Air Force uniform.

Today, just as during the prime years of the Greatest Generation, every person must live by the core values. Today, America faces many challenges in fighting terrorism on a global level, and deterring aggression where ever it may be. The mission of the 341st Missile Wing is just as important today as it was in my time during the Cold War. Furthermore, it is just as important the mission be done with the same vigor our fathers and grandfathers did when America needed them. The way the Airmen of the wing conduct themselves in service to their country today is no less important than the way the Greatest Generation did.

Sometimes, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of our mission here at Malmstrom. It can appear mundane and tedious at times, and we can't see clearly to what end we are conducting the business at hand. During my time on crew 30 years ago, our purpose was crystal clear. The Cold War was in full swing and we knew, without any doubt, we were providing the deterrent force needed to keep world stability.

Since the early 1960s, Malmstrom AFB has held a special place in history as being the "First Ace in the Hole" in providing the deterrent shield against a determined and well-known enemy. At that time, we knew we were upholding the legacy of the Greatest Generation in our service to our country. However, today that "enemy" is obscure and, seemingly not as potent or threatening to the survival of the United States. Nonetheless, what happens today in the missile field and on base is just as important today as it was then.

It is each Airman's responsibility today to ensure the security, safety and operational ability of our missile fleet. Each Airman must do his or her job to the best of their ability to ensure the viability of our ICBM force for years to come and deter those tyrannical aggressor nations that are sure to threaten the survival of our nation.

The generation of Airmen on duty today holds the legacy of the generations of patriots who protected and defended America over many generations, not just the Greatest Generation. But, for this year, the 65th anniversary of victory in World War II, we should all reflect on America's Greatest Generation and their contribution and legacy. As we sadly lose each one, it is the Airmen of today, who must carry on the legacy.