Yesterday was Veterans Day, an important opportunity to show appreciation for the sacrifice and dedication of those willing to risk everything to protect our lives, freedom and liberty.
As a reporter covering the military and veterans beat, I’ve had a number of opportunities to interact with Tooele County veterans who have had tremendous experiences that many of us cannot comprehend.
From the touching surprise early homecoming of Utah National Guard Sgt. Todd Ross in June, to the opportunity for veterans of several different conflicts to take to the skies as part of the Ageless Aviation Dream Foundation, stories about the county’s veterans and active service members are among my favorite to cover.
While these experiences are unique and special in their own way, I am always especially honored to write about veterans of World War II, such as Francis Steele, who traveled with the Utah Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., in May.
I’m not alone in my deep reverence for the greatest generation, which is my grandparents’ generation. I was lucky enough to grow up close enough to my mother’s parents that I could spend time with them and hear their stories of a time decades before I was born.
My great-uncle, Socrates Nellis, was a World War II veteran but we never talked about his time in the war. Instead we’d talk about his real passions: baseball, hating the New York Yankees and Syracuse University basketball.
He did compile his memoirs from the European front, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was injured in combat and held as a prisoner of war by the Germans. Reading his recollection only reinforced my awe for the bravery and sacrifice he and others of his generation were able to display.
Being able to experience those firsthand accounts had a profound effect on me growing up. It instilled a deep respect for that generation and a better understanding of the way this country has experienced profound, seismic changes in their lifetimes.
The societal and technological changes in their lifetime alone are staggering. The major events that have changed their lives include and dwarf the experiences of the younger generations.
While the United States has been in foreign conflicts nearly my entire life, the nature of war and how it affects our day-to-day life is profoundly different. Wars today are fought in countries that are not only far away but incredibly foreign to the world of many Americans.
Even the enemy in today’s conflicts is fractured groups difficult to identify — we don’t fight nations but extremists and terrorists.
Due to the sacrifice of today’s soldiers, the conflict has had an unprecedentedly small impact on the home front. I know that I don’t pay the attention that these conflicts deserve and I imagine I spend more time following national and international news than most Americans.
World War II required citizens to drastically alter their day-to-day life just as the country was attempting to rebuild from the Great Depression. Times that were already difficult were only made more difficult as the nation geared up for war.
What made the greatest generation so great was they responded, despite the odds and sacrifice that was required. One singular purpose galvanized the nation in a way that hasn’t been replicated since.
My generation has not dealt with the same challenges that our grandparents did. Despite hurdles like the Great Recession, burgeoning student debt and other challenges, we have benefited from the sacrifice of those who came before.
We’ve become more fragmented as a country in an age where we connect less as a nation and more as individuals. Technology, social media and the security in our way of life has allowed us to continue the self-centered existences of our childhood far past their expiration date.
There are positives — we have the opportunity to focus on our social ills, foster our creativity and broaden our horizons and worldviews. I think it’s easy to fault past generations to be closed-minded when we don’t understand the restrictions that economics, technology and responsibility placed upon them.
If we have any hopes of honoring the great generation that long preceded us, it will be in having the stability to fix the economic problems in this country, exploring new frontiers and developing technology that saves lives and improves our world.
More importantly, however, we must reach out to those who came before us and record their history and lessons before they’ve all faded away. Our times are fleeting on this earth, but the repercussions can be felt in echoes throughout future generations.
So, with Veterans Day so fresh in our minds, remember to take time to learn from the last living members of the greatest generation — their triumphs and mistakes, sacrifice and resilience. In many ways, we are forever in their debt.