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Youngsters look for heroes

They need to know

Youngsters look for heroes

     (The following article appeared in the Deerfield (IL) Review, Nov. 18, 1999.)

     I just received the Checkerboard, my 99th Infantry Division Association newspaper. This issue was 12 pages. On the last two pages were many letters to the editor containing these sentences:

     "I am a proud daughter of a member of the 99th Division."

     I am 46 and somewhat embarrassed to say that I never learned much about World War II."

     "Does anyone remember my father?"

     "I would like to know what my grandfather was like and the friends he had in the Army."

     "I would be interested in information regarding my father. Both so I can appreciate his contributions to his country and share this information with his grandson."

     "I never knew my uncle but I have read his letters home with interest and feel have I come to know him."

     "The image of my father at the age of 18 heading off to war with his 60-pound duffel bag is one that boggles my mind. When I was 18 my big adventure was to go to Cincinnati for a rock and roll festival."

     Each edition of our Division Association newspaper contains a growing number of similar letters. I can spot a trend for younger generations to seek out veterans and their stories in books, newspapers, magazines and movies. "Saving Private Ryan," "Citizen Soldiers," and "The Greatest Generation" are some examples.

     Why now? There are many reasons, but I think one of the reasons is a frantic search for heroes and heroines. Modern day heroes seem to be few and far between. We can't find heroes at the national political level. We can't find heroes among our present-day professional athletes. We can't even find heroes among our military commanders. And many of the men and women at national and regional who should be stand-up heroes have failed us.

     Where must the younger generations go to find heroes?

     A generation of American heroes and heroines came of age during the Great Depression and Second World War. This generation was united not only by common purpose but also by common values — duty, honor, economy, courage, service, love of family and country, and, above all, responsibility to oneself.

     These veterans have so many stories to tell, stories that have not be told because they didn't think what they were doing was that special, everyone else was doing it. And in practically every telling they will say, "I was not a hero but I fought with heroes."

     These are the men and women whose children and grandchildren are finally seeking out in their search for heroes. As one high school student writes in one of the letters to the editor: "This is an attempt to make a connection between two generations in order to understand the sacrifices of one on behalf of the other."

     That young man is looking for heroes and he's looking in the right place.

By Vernon Swanson,

Veteran of C Co/395th Infantry/99th Infantry Division.

Author of "Red Danube" and "Upfront with Charlie Company."