Swickard: The no longer grateful nation

21 year old B-17 pilot Jesse Jacobs
© 2016 Michael Swickard, Ph.D.  New Mexico born World War II cartoonist Bill Mauldin died more than ten years ago. To some people he is of no use any longer, therefore he is forgotten. To those who were home or in combat during the second world war Bill Mauldin and his cartoon characters Willie and Joe were some of the most important people ever.
            That was long ago. It is not even taught to young people today. Being forgotten is happening not only to those who die but also those who get old. When I was young old people were revered.
            Today there seems a backlash against elderly citizens. Even when we talk of the “Greatest Generation,” those who fought in World War II, there is little acknowledgment by young people today.
            A few years ago at halftime during a New Mexico State University football game, former NMSU president Gerald Thomas, a WWII combat flyer, was honored on the field. At the time President Thomas was about ninety and was moving slowly. He made it to age ninety-five before his death.
            At this football game one student was impatient and hollered, “Get those old farts off the field so we can get back to the game.” Everyone around him, including me, tried to hiss him into silence. He protested, “I was not even alive during that time so I do not owe him anything.”
            We gave him an earful but he was never convinced. He asserted that if he was not alive in the 1940s he does not own any debt to these people who served in the military. He and many young people today show no gratitude for what has come before them. Apparently they were never taught these things.
            This last weekend was the 93rd birthday of my friend Colonel Jesse Jacob USAF retired. He flew B-17s in World War II and F-80 fighters in Korea. After that he had a long aviation career that would take several books to document. Unlike most of his fellow flyers in Europe and Korea, Jesse is still alive. He is one of my favorite people of all time.
            Cartoonist Bill Mauldin died in 2003 and was born 95 years ago near Alamogordo at Mountain Park. He enlisted in the Army in 1940 as a rifleman and gradually people realized that while a fine rifleman he was a fantastic cartoonist. What many people don’t realize is he was also a great writer.
            His 1946 book Back Home details how poorly combat troops were treated when they returned to our country after the end of the war. But that premise is rejected today because people just don’t want to believe it. The ink on my book was put there in 1946 by this Pulitzer Prize winner and no revisionist can change that.
            In our everyday life we see wrinkled old people and not the youngsters that they were. One of my grandfather’s friends fought in the Pacific. He had a tattoo that read, “Tojo is a dwarf.”
            When I first met him years ago I asked him what that meant. He said it meant that while in combat with the enemy from Japan, he was never going to surrender. Few men in the Pacific on either side did.
            My father was a combat photographer in WWII making landings in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Anzio. In the middle of the battles my father and his fellow photographers were documenting what was happening.
            Stephen Ambrose summed up, “Then I think about those who didn’t make it, especially all those junior officers and NCOs who got killed in such appalling number. What life was cut off… a builder, teacher, scholar, novelist or musician? I sometimes think the biggest price we pay for war is what might have been.”
            I salute those serving and who have served in our military and their families. But there is more. It seems that our nation has turned on the older generations who built and ran our country. There is a blowback against senior citizens by the young because the senior citizens are no longer as productive as they were in their prime.
            As a senior citizen I see this often and I am offended.



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