My father went to work for the US Army Corps of Engineers. We moved to a town that had been efficiently assembled on a river bluff overlooking the Missouri. Living there was a working-class dream, especially for children of the Depression. It was a time and a place bursting with the promise of just rewards for hard work.
When work on the Fort Randall Dam was completed, we moved downstream to Yankton, SD, and another Corps of Engineers project, Gavins Point Dam. With that move, the war receded evermore from our thoughts. We were able to get television signals for the first time, and there were two local radio stations, where I would find work as a teenager and college student.
As a child of the 1940s and ’50s, I had always thought I would serve in the military; indeed, at one point I thought it might be a career. By 1966 I had my own serious reservations about Vietnam, but I admired my friends and relatives who were in uniform. As the divisions in America grew deeper during the war years, I was personally buffeted by the turbulence generated by the veterans of World War II and the protesters, including their own children.
World War II, which had been the incubator of many of our lives, faded almost entirely from the national consciousness, even as veterans of that war continued to dominate almost every aspect of American life. As my own life and career advanced, I continued to focus on the present and the future without giving much thought to the past. Increasingly, America was a culture defined by the young, especially that great mass of baby boomers, the offspring of the World War II generation.
In 1984,1 went to Normandy to participate in an NBC documentary on D-Day, the Allied invasion of Europe. I was accompanied by veterans of that invasion and their wives. They were uniformly modest about their achievements four decades earlier, grateful to have survived when so many of their friends had not, and understandably emotional as they walked again on those windswept beaches that had been so murderous when they had first encountered them.
I returned to America with a renewed sense of all that I owed my parents and their generation. I began to write and lecture about those men and women and all they had been through. By the time of the 50th anniversary of D-Day, in 1994, I had decided what I thought they represented, no less than the greatest generation any society has ever produced.