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By David Bachelor, PhD
Pastor, Pearsall 1st Methodist Church
The torch had already been passed, but the headlines mark the ending of an era: The Greatest Generation has left the stage. This week marked the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II. There were three stories making headlines that accentuated how this event now belongs to the ages.
The first story was in the Washington Post, “80th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor Brings End to Victim-identification Program.” For the last six years the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) has exhumed the unidentified remains of service members killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor and attempted to match them to DNA provided by their living descendants. The DPAA laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base outside Omaha, Nebraska has identified 388 of these remains. Lead DPAA forensic anthropologist Carrie B. LeGarde declared, “Not to say that identifications [couldn’t] still occur someday in the future. But our active effort will be over.”
The second headline was from USA Today: “Edward Shames, last of the surviving WWII officers who inspired HBO’s ‘Band of Brothers,’ dies at 99.” Mr. Shames was a member of Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. He jumped into Normandy on D-Day, fought in Operation Pegasus, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. The exploits of Easy Company were the theme of Stephen E. Ambrose’s 1992 “Band of Brothers,” and HBO’s 2001 miniseries. There are no longer any living officers from Easy Company.
The third story making headlines around the world was the passing of former U.S. Senator Bob Dole. The Kansas City Star announced his demise with the banner, “Kansas’ Bob Dole a GOP politician who understood compromise.” Robert Joseph Dole represented Kansas in the U.S. House of Representatives and served Kansas as a senator from 1969 to 1996. He also was a veteran of World War II who had been wounded in the last weeks of the war. His recovery from this injury and the concomitant life-long incapacity caused by the wound, were central to his narrative. In retirement, he was intimately involved in the Honor Flights Network, whose mission was to fly World War II veterans to see the new national World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. This Thursday Senator Dole will take his final trip to Washington to lie in state at the Capitol.
These events bring to mind a time mentioned in the Bible. Following the Exodus, the twelve tribes of Israel fought a series of wars to establish a Hebrew nation in the land God had promised Abraham. Eventually, Israel was established, and the land prospered. Then the Book of Judges records, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done for Israel” (Jdg 2:10). This was the beginning of a dark period for the nation. There would be periods of renaissance, but the people would never walk as close to God as they did during the generation that had seen God fight on behalf of Israel.
America has greatly prospered since World War Two. We are now at the stage when the Greatest Generation, that saw God help roll back the Nazis, the Fascists and the Empire of Japan, is passing away. The Boomers, and each subsequent American generation have not had the same experience of God’s deliverance. Let us hope that we will do better than the Israelites did when their “greatest generation” passed away. So far, the signs do not look promising.