The Greatest Generation?

Updated: March 16, 2013


By Jack Mandaville

“It would be redundant to say that I would trust my life to these men. Because I already have, in more ways than I can ever recount. I am alive today because of their quiet, unaffected heroism. Such valor epitomizes the conduct of Americans at war from the first days of our existence. That the boomer elites can canonize this sort of conduct in our fathers’ generation while ignoring it in our own is more than simple oversight. It is a conscious, continuing travesty.”

-Jim Webb, “Heroes of the Vietnam Generation”

In the wake of the tragic double-murder of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield, I found myself desperately sifting through numerous online news outlets in order to find answers. But no matter how momentous the heartbreaking incident was, I had to eventually take a step back and avoid the subject altogether. That level of negativity can wear down your sanity after a while.

That same day, I hopped on a different CNN.com article that was completely unrelated to the Kyle/Littlefield episode. It was about one US Navy and three US Army chaplains who helped evacuate sailors on the USS Dorchester after it was hit by a German torpedo in 1943—resulting in a heroic act that saved over two-hundred and thirty soldiers and sailors. All four chaplains eventually died along with six-hundred other brave Americans.

It sounds a bit depressing, but I assure you there was a feel-good element to it.

So what did I do next? One of the most idiotic things imaginable: I scrolled down to the comment section of the article.

I don’t know what compelled me to read the comments on this particular article (something I wisely refrained from in the aforementioned Kyle/Littlefield articles… strictly adhering to my “don’t be around shit-talkers unless you’re within punching distance” policy), but it happened… and this is what I saw:


Mother. Of. God. I couldn’t believe the colossal amount of asshatery I was witnessing.

This is the thing: it wasn’t the comment itself that enraged me. I’ve certainly seen worse things said on the internet. What pissed me off was the fact that this is something I’ve frequently been told in real life. The notion that the WWII generation (AKA, “The Greatest Generation”) was somehow more dignified, humble, and better-behaved than the current crop of Afghanistan/Iraq vets is, perhaps, one of the greatest fallacies being committed regarding our generation’s legacy. I’ve heard it from relatives, friends, professors, people on the left, people on the right, baby-boomers (most notably that pseudo-intellectual, Chris Matthews), etc. It’s a sentiment that’s patently idiotic.

Look, I understand I’m kind of preaching to the choir on this one, but I’m sick of people holding WWII vets in a holy light while simultaneously taking a steaming dump on all the following generations—including mine.

And I just want to say, before I proceed with this unsolicited diatribe, it’s not the WWII generation’s fault. They’re not the ones who built-up their legacy. It was their shitbag kids who spent their youth protesting the system and spitting on returning Vietnam vets, then turned around, donned a suit, became the establishment, and sold the fuck out from all the shit they preached in the sixties. It’s not that I in anyway think WWII vets are less than, I just don’t buy into the fabrication that they’re better than us.

Okay, let’s debunk some myths here, folks.

Falsehood #1: WWII vets were humble about their experiences and didn’t seek attention in the media.

I have one name for you: Audie Murphy.

Murphy is undoubtedly the most decorated soldier of WWII. The guy was a pure, unadulterated badass. This is undeniable. What he did to earn his Medal of Honor in Sicily is, arguably, one of the most heroic things in American history.

Let’s not forget that Murphy came home from Europe and, capitalizing on his post-war fame, co-authored a best-selling memoir about his experiences in the European Theatre, which was subsequently adapted into a film titled To Hell and Back. The protagonist of the movie was, of course, Audie Murphy and the actor who played him was… AUDIE FUCKIN’ MURPHY! Yep, he played himself.

If that doesn’t deflate any notions about the WWII generation’s concept of humility, I’ve got more.

Have you ever read James Bradley’s Flags of Our Fathers or seen the film adaptation directed by Clint Eastwood? The three surviving members of Iwo Jima’s second flag raising—John Bradley (the author’s father), Rene Gagnon, and Ira Hayes—weren’t just depicted on film by modern actors in Eastwood’s 2006 film. In fact, all three of them played themselves in the 1949 film Sands of Iwo Jima, starring John Wayne. Not only that, but three other Marines who were involved with the actual battle ended up playing themselves in the film—including David M. Shoup, a Medal of Honor recipient who later became Commandant of the Marine Corps.

These guys (The Greatest Generation) were in films, wrote books, gave/give interviews, ran for political office on their service record… all that jazz. I could go on and on, but I won’t because there are too many examples and I’m already on course to demolish the word limit RU Rob has set for me.

Falsehood #2: The WWII generation was upright, godly, and carried themselves in a mature manner.

funnyWWIIBefore I go into anything else, I just want to state that the types of people who say this kind of shit are the same ones who also say, “The forties and fifties were a simpler, better time in America.” And they’re absolutely right! The forties and fifties were a better time… if you were Protestant… and of Northwestern European ancestry (not including Irish-Americans)… and a man… and straight… and between the ages of 18 to 60… and someone who walked the line of societal norms. If you fell into all of those categories, shit was off the hizzle!

My point? A lot of Americans have a very selective view of how things are/were—including military history.

A big reason why people buy into this erroneous belief is because they base their perception of that generation off of their personal experiences. Well, the relationship you had with your father/grandfather is vastly different from the relationship he had with his military buddies. Trust me, I know. Most of the guys I served with are in their late-twenties/early-thirties and are upstanding fathers and husbands. That’s how their family knows them. I know them from their days in the Marine Corps, and I assure you they were extremely crass, dirty, and violent during that period of their life. That’s the nature of military service (in any nationality). It’s been like that since the beginning of organized warfare and it will never change.

Your father or grandfather did at least one of these things (if not all of them) while he served in Dubya-Dubya-Deuce—unless he was a Mormon:

· Got sloppy, can’t-remember-my-name drunk.

· Solicited a prostitute… and banged her brains out.

· Talked back to and/or questioned his superiors.

· Got into a fist fight over something ridiculous.

· Looked at pornography.

· Cursed like he had a severe case of Tourette syndrome.

… You get the point.

And if you have any doubt about the similarities between “The Greatest Generation” and the Iraq/Afghanistan click, I humbly submit to you an excerpt from the book, Brothers In Battle, Best Of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story… and it’s comin’ from none other than William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, himself:

“You kind of felt like combat was behind you for a while. Our next jump was supposed to be in the spring. So me and Johnny Martin, Burt Christenson, Joe Toye, Chuck Grant, and a couple of other sergeants went out and robbed about twenty cases of champagne. We threw a party in our barracks, got drunk as skunks, and trashed the joint. We ripped the bunks out of the floor, threw them out the windows, broke everything we could get our hands on. Lit things on fire. Just destroyed the place.”

Falsehood #3: WWII was a good war.

No, folks, it wasn’t. There was nothing good about over fifty-million civilian and military deaths.

This argument is, typically, the most common method of subtly disrespecting the Iraq/Afghanistan generation. It’s a backhanded way of linking the politics of the two conflicts with the people who fought them. But just like in WWII, the politics and the people who fought had little to do with each other—except, statistically speaking, both the politics and the conflict were at a much larger magnitude during the Second World War.

The Marine who survived a near miss on the sandy island of Iwo Jima is the exact same Marine who had a near miss in Fallujah. Bullets don’t discriminate with the politics of war. A bullet doesn’t care what generation you come from or what nationality you are. It causes the same terrifying feeling either way. The people in uniform are who matter. And the 21st century American war fighter has enthusiastically shown up to the game—only to have our service relegated to a secondary level of importance by an apathetic population.

This “good war” was a result of numerous diplomatic mishandlings and years of pent-up animosity between numerous nations. It wasn’t as simple as “Germany, Italy, and Japan bad… America good… we won war.” It was, in many ways, just as avoidable as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We were failed by our elders and went in to clean up their mess, just like our predecessors.

My grandfather was killed in WWII when his PB4Y-1 bomber barreled into the Pacific Ocean somewhere near Midway on December 19, 1944, just six days before Christmas. My father was only six months old.

I’ve heard quite a bit about him from family members—including a great-aunt (his sister) who cried every year, until she died two years ago, whenever Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” came on the radio. And I know, whether he wants to admit it or not, that my father has carried an emptiness about never knowing his father. As for me, he’s nothing more than a name. I know a little bit about him, but I’ll be honest: I have no real heartbreak over the tragedy. That shit happened almost forty years before I was born. He’s just another brave American out of thousands who lost their life in that war. Nothing more.

However, I do know a few people who lost their life in Iraq. I had relationships with these people either through friendship or mere acquaintance. Their faces, voices, and stories are ingrained in my head. One of them had a direct impact on my life.

Those grossly misinformed individuals—like the one who made that comment on the internet and the ones who have said it to my face—who continually perpetuate the notion that the lives of those who fought in WWII are more important than those who fought in the 21st century failed to discern between those who fight and the war they fight in. Like Senator Webb said, “It’s a conscious, continuing travesty.” You see, conflicts and the politics behind them will constantly change, but the people fighting have always been the same.




  1. Steve Satterly

    March 16, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Mr. Mandaville,
    I began this article a bit skeptical. As I read, I began to realize that you are right, and that I had been subconsciously maligning the genrations since WWII in the manner you described.

    I had an uncle awarded the Silver Star while in the Marines in Vietnam. My little brother was in numerous missions in SOCOM. My nephew served a tour in Helmund Province, A-stan. Their sacrifices were no greater and no less than my grandfather’s in WWII.

    The mark of a good writer is one who can challenge and enlighten his readers. You have done that.

    Well done brother!
    Steve Satterly, SSG (ret.)

  2. Dan

    March 16, 2013 at 11:03 am

    As one of the younger generation of recent veterans, I mostly agree with this. However, I think it’s worth considering what percentage of the current generation of Americans are veterans, compared to the much larger percentage during WWII. While the values of veterans has not changed, the percentage of the population that shares those values has gotten much smaller. While our generation has produced some great warriors, it still seems to me as if the majority of our generation suffers from a massive sense of entitlement.

    • Jack Mandaville

      March 16, 2013 at 2:37 pm

      I couldn’t agree with you more, Dan. The post was a knock on the misinformed comparisons between the two warrior generations, but the two generations as whole definitely have some differences.

  3. Mike

    March 16, 2013 at 11:17 am

    At first I almost didn’t read this. I am damn glad I did, I have never heard it broke down that way. Well said brother and Semper Fi.

    Former Marine, OIF vet

  4. Deb Boyce

    March 16, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Thank you, Jack Mandaville, for writing this excellent article and for your service to America. My condolences on your losses and sacrifice. Hooah!

  5. Rok Kam

    March 16, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Well, you got one sorry ass to change his mind about the WW2 brothers and sisters just by telling personnel anecdotes, The rest of us aren’t swayed so easily. Its what you progressives do best…….denagrate then rewrite history. Enough asshattery already!

    • Rob

      March 16, 2013 at 1:31 pm

      It’s an opinion piece. Jack never mocked or besmirched them, just provided a different view on things. Take the blinders off bro, otherwise our current generation of Warriors will be forgotten.

    • Mr. Twisted

      March 16, 2013 at 1:42 pm


      I would love to see the evidence leading you to accuse the writer of A) being a progressive, and B) rewriting history.

      I will wait quietly for your sure-to-be-eloquent response.

    • Ryan

      March 16, 2013 at 2:42 pm

      Seriously? I don’t see the progressive asshattery here. Trying reading a book not by Ambrose or Brokaw and drinking the “good old days coolaid”. Start by reading the “The World Within War” by Gerald F. Linder, so you can understand the social and psychological aspects of the World War Two generation and the way they waged war. Follow that up with “An Army At Dawn” so you can learn about the sheer incompetence of the American Army in North Africa while it learned to fight. Then read “On Killing” where Grossman lays out strong evidence that Soldiers in World War Two routinely failed to aim and fire their weapons at their enemies, whereas in Vietnam it was a whole different story.

      Thanks for the article Rob, as a OIF Vet and history buff, I really appreciated it!

  6. M. Schlitz

    March 16, 2013 at 11:44 am

    This is a great article with some very insightful comparisons. However “The Greatest Generation” wasn’t just about the Veterans themselves. It was also about how the Nation stood behind them. I don’t see that same kind of dedication now. Yes, we have over 800,000 Support the Troop non-profits and we see the yellow ribbons here and there, but do we really see the average American supporting our guys. With the current cut back of benefits, Veterans rights being questioned, and not to mention the high unemployment, homelessness, and suicide rates. I believe the current generation of Veterans are the “Greatest Fighting Force” ever, but the greatest generation, no. I’m proud of every generation of Veterans who have stepped up and I will continue to support them all.

    SFC (R) Mike Schlitz
    OIF Vet
    WIA 27FEB07

  7. D. Bjorn

    March 16, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    SFC Schlitz — if you look at how the Korean War vets were treated (and they, too, are part of that Greatest Generation), they came home the same war weary atmosphere we have now. And there were cutbacks after WWII on a greater scale then we see now. Part of that is because the guberment folks think both the current wars are over…

    And what’s on the doorstep? Korea….

    Go figure.

    • M. Schlitz

      March 16, 2013 at 12:56 pm

      I do agree about Korea. The Korean Vets have a special place in my heart after serving there in piece time twice. What a crap hole.

      • RU Rob

        March 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm

        Mike, That is why we have to collective stand up and make sure the “Veteran Voice” is heard. We may be the .45% but we have the potential to become even greater than that particular generation. The Rhino Den will continue to do so just as you do. You sir are one of the reasons that our generation will not be forgotten.

        • Mr. Twisted

          March 16, 2013 at 1:44 pm

          I’ll second that.

          • Jack Mandaville

            March 16, 2013 at 2:03 pm


  8. Scotty

    March 16, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    “The good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” Billy Joel, Keeping the Faith

  9. duncanidho

    March 16, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    provocative. The greatest generation however was not defined by just a war as the writer contrasts and compares, but the collective sacrifice of that society to come together and address several challenges, from the depression, thru the wars, thru the post war thru Korea; and us Baby Boomers? We failed to adhere to the example. We created a nation of “Hell I got mine, what’s your problem”, As for the current generation? Lets call you guys those “happy few”, you band of siblings, who get it. I am consistently impressed with the writings of those young vets who write from a logical, well thought position that challenges the status quo based on facts, not the talking point pile on demagog memo of the day. Now if we can just get more of you guys into congress.

  10. Jim Trickey

    March 16, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    I have never served. A medical condition prevented this. I had relitives wno served in the Great War and WWII. I was a preteem during the Korean but had close family friends who lost fathers and sons. I worked with a man who served ( Marine ) and was captured and spent a couple of years in a POW camp in China. When the Vietman War started I was unable to serve. Every time I visit the WALL in Washington I realize just how much I owe these men and women who did give it all. My Grandson (Marine) served in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are My Greatest Generation. Blessings to all Who serve.

  11. ET1(SS) Princess

    March 17, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    I just finished reading and realized I’m wearing my Secret Squirrel T. Mr. Mandaville, you have an ability with words that often leaves the average citizen wondering “wha..?” Sometimes half the battle itself can be just trying to convey your own opinion in a manner that doesn’t sound like you are a drunken, down-syndrome grizzly bear trying to order through the drive through at Taco Bell when it’s balls 30. A certain conversation I had with my step-father about coming weapons bans: “No one needs an AR-15 to hunt with.” You’re right Jim, it was not meant to hunt with. No matter how I try to explain it however, no one seems to understand my view on the matter.

    Anyways thank you so very much for your article and your words. It truly grabs my attention and widens my perspective.

    I also concur with SFC (R) Schlitz. Couldn’t agree more brothers!

    Long live the down-syndrome grizzly bears.

  12. Jon Wronski

    March 18, 2013 at 12:37 am

    As much as I agree with the above article, I have a slight disagreement with veterans being grouped by the wars that they have fought in. In my personal opinion, we need to get rid of this stigma of each generation of warriors being different and somehow better than each other. Every generation of American citizens has contributed to the safety and security of our nation. Is it truly fair to discount the service of those veterans who served during peacetime because they never deployed? I, personally, don’t think so and I will never refer to any veteran by what war they did or did not serve in. We need to realize that while we all may have served at different times, we are all brothers- and sisters-in-arms. Those of us who have served are all entitled to what I consider to be the greatest title of all time: Veteran.

    Jonathan Wronski

    SGT, USA (Ret)

  13. Elton

    March 18, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Not to look like a nitpicker but there is one big error in your article. Audie Murphy received his MoH for his actions in France in 1945. He was in the invasion of Sicily but received no recognition other than a promotion. His first award was a Bronze Star at Anzio. The problem with mistakes like this is that they are distractions to the message you are trying to convey in your article.

  14. Dwight Dyche

    March 19, 2013 at 9:44 am

    I compare this generation of warriors to the Founding Fathers, The Greatest Generation, they are Freedomn Fighters. Our enemies want you, me and everybody else that don’t think the way they do “DEAD”. My father flew 33 missions over Europe as a bombadier on a B-17. I was a Army dog handler in Viet Nam. I will never forget this generations warriors, God Bless all of you!!!

  15. Steve Hawkins

    March 19, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Having grown up during Vietnam and serving in OIF II Al Anbar in the desert I appreciate your article. Not taking away from WWII vets

    Korean & Cold War: Ignored
    Vietnam: Spit upon
    Beirut, Central America, Grenada and other conflicts that fit the USMC book “Small Wars Manual”: Most never heard of.

    As far as the NBC Crowd was Tom B. calling for the head of the young Marine who ensured an insurgent was not playing dead in Nov 04 while praising the generation that firebombed Dresden in 45 after the war was almost over? They write the praise books for their own benefit not the Vets WWII or otherwise.

  16. Troy

    March 19, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Great piece. This is an issue which has bothered me for quite some time for this reason. There are veterans of WWII who have not spent as much time in combat as our current warriors. I have friends who have spent over half of a 10 year period in either Iraq, Afghanistan, or other not as publicized but still dangerous places during our current war. I have nothing to base this on except that I know we saw ground combat commence in 1942 and end in 1945 during WWII. That is roughly 3 years if you put it under further scrutiny to the day. Many of these men were draftees. There are no draftees currently going on their 5th or 6th tour to Afghanistan. To return to places repeatedly where there are people who want to kill you because you have chosen to do it says something about the current generation. All generations of veterans are great. All had challenges unique to the time of their service which no one in their right mind would compare under the lens of who is greater than who. Draftees are not any less a veteran than a volunteer. I just wanted to highlight the choices being made currently against the lack of choice faced by some in earlier wars. My point is directed at those who use that phrase as a way to belittle the current generation of military service members, such as Mr. Decker.

  17. pst314

    March 19, 2013 at 10:41 am

    “Falsehood #3: WWII was a good war.”

    My only quibble with your essay: I think WWII is described as “the good war” only because it was fought against Nazis. It is described as such to contrast it with later wars–Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War–which were in liberal eyes not good because they were fought against communist enemies and your typical liberal has difficulty seeing communism as anything worse than over-enthusiastic in the service of a good cause. Similarly, support for Israel, Iraq I and II, Afghanistan and the “War on Terror” are seen by most lefties as motivated only by racism and oil because once again the left is almost completely incapable of recognizing (or admitting?) the fascistic, totalitarian, tyrannical and vicious nature of our enemies.

    However, if you have sources showing that WWII is described as “good” in other ways, I’d be happy to be enlightened.

    Semper Gratus.

  18. b0b64

    March 19, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    It was a lot easier to see who won in WWII. The carpet bombed entire cities leaving nothing but rubble. It was an obvious victory. Todays troops fight surgically and leave most of the non-combantants unharmed as well as their buildings. Makes it harder to determine the winner. If we like it or not, Veterans are judged by their record of wins and losses…

  19. jay

    March 19, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    Lets not forget we are a non-segregated, all volunteer force that was not fighting the traditional uniformed enemy. How about the media and social media magnifying glass? Maybe we are not the greatest generation but at the end of the day its not our call to say we are. Hug your kids and tell them about the men/women who served and died and let them make that decision.

  20. L.A. Davis

    May 29, 2013 at 9:52 am

    And although the article caveats that “…if you were Protestant… and of Northwestern European ancestry…”, more often than not reference to the “Greatest Generation” in words or pictures leaves out the accomplishments and sacrifice of African-Americans. Add to that that some of the same men touted as the “Greatest Generation” came home after the war and were the most virulent of racist and segregationist. Of my nine (9) uncles, 2 served in the Navy during WW II,1 died on the USS Leyte, 2 served in Korea, 2 served in Viet Nam, and 2 served during the beginning of the Cold Warm. My stepfather served in Thailand in the USAF, and my father was a signalman in the Army from 1953-1957. I am a veteran of Desert Storm, two of my first cousin as well and 1 of the Iraq War, and I have a cousin currently serving in Korea. Why do I catalogue this family history? Because it seems that more often than not the contribution and sacrifice of African-Americans are ignored if not downright denied.

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