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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

MY GREATEST GENERATION

They are all gone now, except the youngest, my Uncle Bobby.

Dad was in the Coast Guard, considered too old for active Navy duty. Uncle Roy was in the Navy, as was his brother Wally. Their youngest brother, Bobby, was a Marine pilot. He had begun flying at fourteen, using the money from the job my Dad got him at a drug store to pay for his flying lessons. Sneaking off to Palwaukee airport outside Chicago, where a sympathetic World War One veteran gave a young boy a chance to learn to soar with the eagles.

Wally and Roy served on aircraft carriers, with the hope they could watch out for their younger brother. But Bobby flew off fixed bases in the Pacific, flying the top line F4U Vought Corsair. What Wally and Roy wound up watching were Kamikaze pilots trying their damnedest to kill them. Uncle Roy had back problems the rest of his life from one of those pilots.

Dad went first, while I was still in High School. Uncle Wally was next, a few years after Dad. Uncle Roy held on until after I was married, and had transferred away from Chicago. But I went back, with my then small children, for his services. Two of my nephews blew taps at the cemetery. It was the first time I remember my retired career Marine Uncle Bobby crying. He is in North Carolina now, still playing his beloved golf, and still referring to my Aunt Helen as his bride.

Gone too is my oldest cousin, Bob. He landed at Utah Beach on D Day. Temporarily blinded by an artillery shell air burst, he returned to the front after only a few days of recovery. He lost a leg in France. His oldest son gave the eulogy. Until he spoke, most of the family never knew about the medals for valor Bob received. Like my other family members, they never talked much about the war.

I hear a lot of discussion about the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and the thermo-nuclear bomb dropped three days later on Nagasaki. It seems many historians, commentators, and pundits are still discussing the use of these weapons. Serious debates about the need for their employment, the moral implications, and the precedents set. Speculation, coupled with revisionist history, seem to make this an academic issue, open to many interpretations. However, to me, it is not academic. It is very personal.

You see, all of my family survived World War Two. Unlike 405,399 other American families, mine never received that dreaded visit from the Western Union man, bearing a telegram that started “We regret to inform you”. One limb lost, burns, scars and shed blood were all felt deeply, but at least they came back. But that could have been very different.

An invasion of Japan would have resulted in an estimated one Million American casualties, over a third of whom would have been killed. Based on the experience of Okinawa, up to twenty million more Japanese would have died. Would my Uncle Bobby, Uncle Roy and Uncle Wally have survived? Cousin Bob would have been here, as he had already been discharged with the loss of his leg. Dad too, would have survived, as he was never called to combat duty. But of the others, I understandably can’t say. But I can say that ending the war without an invasion of Japan insured that those who were still alive would remain so. Because the war ended when it did, I grew up with an Uncle Roy, Uncle Wally, and Uncle Bobby. And because the war ended when it did, 350,000 other American families welcomed back their sons, brothers, fathers and uncles. And twenty million Japanese survived to rebuild both their country, and their society.

Thank you, Harry Truman, for making the tough decision. Thank you, Harry Truman, for making the right decision.

Tom Glennon

BIO

Tom Glennon recently retired as a Manager with an international bank. A Chicago native, he retired at the location of his last assignment, in the Des Moines, Iowa area.

He is an award winning speaker for the Volunteer Oil Industry Communications Effort, an industry advocacy group, and writes essays and opinion pieces for a variety of on-line and print publications.

Tom has served on his County Republican Committee, as well as having served as the County Campaign Chair for Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). His volunteer work has covered a variety of community based efforts, including youth athletic organizations, Junior Achievement, Youth at Risk, and the Boy Scouts.

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