The Greatest Generation

Dated: 07/04/2016

Views: 1339

Having grown up on LBI, I know what the July 4th holiday means to those of us who live here – more cars, more crowds, longer lines, and of course, random fireworks at all hours. Yet, it’s funny how perspectives change as we grow older. Maybe it’s how our view of life becomes less myopic and more broad as we realize there’s more to the world than we first thought. I can remember when down the block was too far too venture, then over the bridge seemed a long distance, then college in New England, then travel in the Pacific. I went from traveling a street, to traveling a community, to leaving my continent. And then…. I came home, back to New Jersey and back to LBI.

This past week I got another lesson – one that has serve to enrich my understanding of the July 4th holiday – to our nation, to our way of life, and to ourselves. I am assisting my grand-uncle Al’s family with selling their house in Cedar Run on the mainland. It’s a tough time as my grandfather passed in April, and now his sister-in-law, needs to sell her home. As happens in large families, people congregate and share stories. One in particular stood out to me on this holiday as I stood in the background and listened to people whom Tom Brokaw referred to as “The Greatest Generation.” My grand-uncle Al, of German descent and serving in the United States Army 65th Infantry Division under Patton’s Third Army during World War II, found himself in the unfortunate position of launching an offensive in the early spring of 1945 into Germany. It was the last push across the collapsing Siegfried Line into the Rhineland to cripple the industrial heart supplying Hitler’s forces, and Uncle Al was closing in on his family’s hometown of Saarbrucken where his mother was born and his grandparents and cousins still lived. I had never pondered the stress and turmoil that must have existed in my German-American family during the Second World War as one generation fought for the United States and invaded homeland Germany where family still lived.

Uncle Al was severely wounded in March 1945, outside Saarbrucken, never making to his mother’s hometown. He spent the next nine months in the hospital and left the service in 1946 receiving the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, European Theater of Operations with one battle star, Army of Occupation – Germany, and several other citations.

I knew Uncle Al in the context of my grandfather’s older brother – two brothers to my Aunt Betty, but on this July 4th, this day we recognize our Independence, I find myself picturing a young man in uniform, much younger than me, away from his street, his community, and on another continent fighting to survive, conflicted by family he left behind and family in front of him.

I am here because of those that came, and sacrificed, before me. Rest in peace Uncle Al and Grampy. You are missed.

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