Greatest Generation

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jeff Walston
  • 307th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
The sun was bright, not a cloud in the sky on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2012. It was a beautiful day. The temperature was 75 degrees at 10 a.m., much warmer than expected. The drive to Oakwood, Texas, was shorter than I remembered as a child. Throughout the trip my dad would point out a landmark or where one used to be and reflect on a story in time that involved Uncle JW.

Memories of my childhood flooded back as we drove down the dirt trails made by tractors, not really suited for the car we were in. We trudged along passing bewildered cattle, deer and more cattle guards.

After several bumpy miles of green grass, goat weed and scattered trees, we rounded a curve and came upon an old country cemetery. My family has rested more than a hundred years in this cemetery.
During my childhood, we would spend parts of our summers out in this country where Uncle JW taught me things I still remember today; milking cows, plucking chickens, picking the garden and collecting eggs.

But, it was on that October morning, during a graveside service that we laid to rest Uncle JW, one of the greatest men I have ever known.

After the service, family members gathered at a family home. Milling about I noticed a certificate for a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. I read the certificates and found out they were awarded to Uncle JW for service in World War II. All these years I had thought he served in Korea. I didn't even know he had been in the service until after I was an adult. No one talked about it.

My father often talked about Uncle JW and the sacrifices he made for the family over the years. He has a million stories but only one about Uncle J's service to his country, and that one I heard on the day of his funeral.

It seems that one day my dad had asked Uncle JW why he only achieved the rank of Private 1st Class. Dad said Uncle JW was asked several times during the war if he wanted to be a sergeant, but the answer was always the same. "No. Once you make Sergeant you get shot. I'm happy right where I'm at."

As I look back on my own memories of Uncle JW, I wish I had have talked to him more over the years which will forever be my loss. Now, I will never have opportunity to get to know him better than I did.

I think Tom Brokaw was writing about Uncle JW when he said, "It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced (referencing WWII veterans.)" At a rate of almost 1,000 a day dying, it won't be long before they are gone, and all those facts, memories and untold stories will be lost forever.