The Clock Is Ticking…..

by ALAN JORDANO February 9, 2013

I was like many other teenagers in my youth -- a little bit rebellious and very immature with that feeling of superiority that said that I was somehow smarter than my elders, who seemed to have antiquated thought processes about life and politics.   I remember listening to my father talk to family and friends about politics and life in general, thinking silently about how much I disagreed and how far out of touch they really were.  I distanced myself as much as possible from those discussions, yet I heard enough to help guide me later in life, even though I did not recognize it at the time.

I seem to remember reading somewhere that age brings with it a certain amount of wisdom born from maturity and experience.  I voted for the first time after I was married at the age of twenty-seven, and have voted in every election since.  Somehow it just suddenly seemed important. 

Issues that I rarely (if ever) thought about before -- taxes; local, state, and federal governments; foreign policy -- all started to matter.  

During my forties I began to take an interest in other things that I previously hadn't cared about.   My father was a World War II veteran, but the war was something Dad never spoke of and I had no incentive to ask him about it. Yet at this point in my life, I wanted to learn more.  I began to read news articles pertaining to major wartime anniversaries and to watch many of the documentaries that still air on some of the cable channels today.  I purchased videotapes and DVDs that chronicled the entire war and were said to be historically accurate.  I found that I was amazed by the courage and sacrifices of men and women from a time that seemed so distant.  Yes, I had read about WWII in grade and high school.  Yes, I had seen the evening news when it covered the anniversaries of events like Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and more.  I vaguely remember seeing a lot of coverage of those events in my youth, yet it hadn't fully sunk in.  I never really understood it before - but it seems that a seed had at least taken root.  

Unfortunately, as I entered my late forties and early fifties my father became somewhat frail.  He knew his time was limited.  Mom had passed away some ten years prior to this, and the need to review his important personal effects weighed heavily on him.  As we searched through documents together, my attention was drawn to his discharge papers which listed many of the places he had been.  "You were at Normandy?"  That was the question that got him talking.  I learned of his landing at Normandy.  I learned that he had fought in the hedgerows in France.  I learned that his patrol had helped to free Allied soldiers who had been captured earlier as they moved inland from Normandy.  I learned that his unit has been ordered to the Ardennes, but that they were delayed and thus missed being a part of the Battle of the Bulge. 

Perhaps that was the final lesson that my Father taught me: to learn from those who have age and experience on their side, and to ask questions because they may be too humble to volunteer information.

Much of my family is now deceased. I wonder what memories they held dear, and how much I could have learned from them.  They lived through times that were amazing as they progressed from the days of the horse and buggy, with no indoor plumbing, no electricity, and no telephones, to missions to the moon and beyond. They were challenged by the Great Depression and one or even two World Wars. They experienced some of the best that mankind has to offer, and some of the most horrific as well.

I was fortunate to be able to tap into a few small pieces of their experiences once I recognized the value of what they knew. Many of today's youth (as well as many too old to be called young) have never had that opportunity. They do not necessarily understand how evil people can be, and how precarious freedom and life itself can become. They know only a relative peace, plenty of food and water, I-Phones and computers -- a life without the true challenges of the past. To them places like North Korea and Iran are distant lands which surely cannot affect our lives and safety, probably much like those who thought little about Nazi Germany and Hitler's rise to power.  What is that quote...?

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Today's wars need not be instigated by a strong leader with a powerful coalition of countries.  Today's wars need not rely on invasion, nor fought in the forests of a foreign land.  They can be initiated by one rogue state without a single soldier leaving their borders.  Today's wars can be fought with the flip of a switch -- a single nuclear warhead detonated high above the United States would create a subsequent electromagnetic pulse which would not only change our lives forever, but could change the world order within seconds.  It would be the Pearl Harbor of our times, but at a much higher cost. 

We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes that led to the rise of Nazi Germany and the Axis powers.  One way of avoiding those mistakes is to tap into the memories of our Greatest Generation who remain.  They can provide a unique perspective on current events and the newer challenges and risks that exist in today's world; not to frighten us, but to help us understand that there are very real risks and threats, and there are things we can do to effect change and be prepared.  They saw the rise of evil many years ago. Are they seeing it again now?   How do they feel we should proceed?  We may not initially like the answers we hear, but their point of view -- born of courage, sacrifice, and blood -- must be considered.

We also must carry their legacy forward.  We need to try to accurately pass their stories on to new generations -- not to glorify war, but to ensure that future generations understand what we have so often heard: "Freedom is never free."   We owe them that and so much more.   

What of my father?  He passed away unexpectedly this past Thanksgiving eve.  He had made all of his funeral arrangements long ago, but he did not have them set in stone.  I was able to make one important change -- he was buried with the full military honors he deserved. 

The clock is ticking.  We lose many of those who saved the world from tyranny each and every day.  They have so much more to share with us.  Are we willing to listen?  Our future may depend on it.

Alan Jordano is a member of several volunteer emergency response teams serving Northwestern Pennsylvania.

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