View Full Version : We Need Another "Greatest Generation"

03-24-04, 12:36 PM
We Need Another "Greatest Generation"

By Lieutenant General Dennis McCarthy,
U.S. Marine Corps
Proceedings, March 2004



Marine Reserve Sergeant Bradley Korthaus was killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Here, his family and friends mourn his passing at the Rock Island National Cemetery. Sergeant Korthaus, his family and neighbors, countless reservists of the other services, and millions of citizens without ties to the military can compose America's next "greatest generation."

From 1941 to 1945, citizens of the Quad Cities—four towns straddling the Illinois-Iowa border in the heartland of America—worked in war industries, bought war bonds, and rationed sugar. They sent their loved ones to fight around the world and solemnly buried their dead in the nearby Rock Island National Cemetery. For their extraordinary service, Tom Brokaw correctly labeled them as the "greatest generation." On 7 April 2003, I was honored to be in the Quad Cities with the family and friends of Sergeant Bradley "Cruiser" Korthaus, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, who were gathered at Our Lady of Victory Church to celebrate his life and render final honors. Sergeant Korthaus had died two weeks before in Operation Iraqi Freedom. By the time the motorcade to the cemetery began, the sleet was blowing sideways and the temperature had plummeted below freezing. Yet members of the community braved the weather on every block of the nearly ten-mile funeral route. Some held flags; others had signs; still others simply stood in silent tribute. The funeral of a world leader could not have been more moving.

For those people, the war on terrorism was no longer an abstract conflict. They fully understood the sacrifice Sergeant Korthaus and his family had made for them. In their faces I saw grief and sorrow—but I also saw resolve and caught a glimpse of the potential greatness of this generation of Americans.

During my two years as commander of the Marine Corps Reserve, I caught many such glimpses. I have seen the willingness of thousands of Marines and Sailors to leave their work and families for temporary service in uniform. They went to the front lines of combat and suffered the wounds and injuries that come with war. They served in sweltering and dusty ports, fly-infested training camps, and the relative obscurity of stateside bases. Despite the inherent hardships, I repeatedly encountered what might seem a contradiction: the unhappiest Marines were those who were not called to active duty. And I am convinced that countless members of the other armed services shared their disappointment.

I have seen the same sense of duty in the civilian employers of reservists and National Guardsmen. Consider: Bob Nardelli of Home Depot, who continued family health benefits and made up pay differences even though no law required him to do so; or the College of Wooster in Ohio, which helped mobilized students finish their courses and graduate in spite of physical absence; or key volunteers, such as Anji Consolini, who organized potluck dinners and picnics to bolster families while their service members were deployed. I have witnessed greatness in countless ordinary citizens—most with no direct connection to members of the armed forces.

President George W. Bush described the current conflict as a global war on terrorism, and world events confirm the accuracy of his words. In response, the United States has begun to mobilize. To meet this challenge on a scale comparable to World War II, we surely need another "greatest generation." Although media coverage has questioned our capacity for sacrifice and focused mainly on the hardships attendant to reserve service, the nation's citizen-soldiers, their families, and their neighbors will be critical to success. The reality of reserve utilization differs from the perceptions of the pundits. More than 300,000 of our National Guard and reserve personnel have been mobilized since 11 September 2001, which comes to about one fourth of the 1,200,000 citizen-soldiers currently on service rolls.

Moreover, all the guardsmen and reservists in uniform represent an even smaller fraction of the many million citizens searching for a way to contribute to the cause. I am not blind to the burdens the families of our reservists have endured. I truly believe, however, that the vast potential of the nation has not yet been realized

Sergeant Korthaus, his family and Quad City neighbors, Home Depot, the College of Wooster, and Anji Consolini have shown us the way. Their willingness to make sacrifices, big and small, sets a standard for today's Americans. All of us who rightly celebrated the members of the "greatest generation" of World War II now have the opportunity to pay them the most sincere tribute—by becoming a great generation ourselves.

Lieutenant General McCarthy is the commander of Marine Forces Reserve, headquartered in New Orleans, Louisiana.