Originally Published: June 3, 2004 7 a.m.
I wore them as he did, next to my flesh. I was, after all, born of his flesh. The World War II-era dog tags of Clinton S. Thomas with his serial number and blood type stamped on them look as they did then.
This metal hasn't tarnished. Neither will his reputation, nor that of every other member of "the greatest generation" that received its own memorial on May 29 in Washington.
His son sat in his memory with thousands of other surviving peers. Dad died in 1983, and so I proudly represented and honored him at the joyous and solemn ceremony.
In the midst of terror warnings, tens of thousands blanketed Washington's beautiful Mall on a perfect spring day and remembered that history can be a powerful teacher and a compelling example.
My dad and four of his five brothers served in World War II. All came back. But 484,000 Americans did not. Dad was the oldest of nine, and when he received his draft notice in 1943, a year after I was born, he was already 35 years old. A wife, child, career and age were not enough to earn a deferment in those days, but few asked for one because people considered it a necessity and an honor to defend this country, to rid the planet of Hitler and to make sure they not only avenged Pearl Harbor but also made people remember it and not allow anyone to repeat it.
The Saturday ceremony included much talk about duty and doing what was expected. Many of those who served rejected the word "hero." NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, whose book, "The Greatest Generation," popularized that phrase, noted that these men and women had come through the Great Depression when the war broke out.
"They learned to live without," said Brokaw. "They knew the value of a dollar." They were "good people doing the right thing. That's how a great nation is preserved."
Whether future generations remember and appreciate World War II and what it meant for liberty and justice in the world depends a lot on how our schools teach history. If they teach it the way students in a Montgomery County, Md., public school are learning it, I am not optimistic.
From a May 28 story in The Washington Post, we learned that Tiffany Charles got a B in history last year but is not sure what year World War II ended (it was 1945). She can't name a single general (Eisenhower, MacArthur, Bradley, Marshall), or one battle (D-Day, Guadalcanal, Corregidor, Bataan). Neither is she able to name the president of the United States at the time (Franklin D. Roosevelt). I did all of these from memory. We had a better history teacher when I was in a Montgomery County school.
What does young Tiffany know? Apparently World War II has gone through the filter of political correctness, because Tiffany can tell you about Japanese-Americans who were sent to internment camps. "We talked a lot about those concentration camps," she was quoted as saying. Concentration camps? The Nazis and Soviets used those. The Post interviewed national education experts, teachers and more than 100 public school students and concluded that Tiffany's limited knowledge of World War II is "typical of today's youths."
Is this what we're getting for record education spending: kids who know more about the few wrongs America has committed than they do the many rights? This girl and apparently many others like her in the monopolistic government schools aren't learning the truth inscribed on the granite at the entrance to the National World War II Memorial:
"Here in the presence of Washington and Lincoln, one the eighteenth century father and the other the nineteenth century preserver of our nation, we honor those twentieth century Americans who took up the struggle during the Second World War and made the sacrifices to perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us: a nation conceived in liberty and justice."
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who spoke at Saturday's event and who first proposed the memorial in Congress in 1987, called this "the most unselfish generation America has ever known." She is right.
Perhaps Tiffany Charles ought to pay a visit to the new memorial and see what they left out of her history class. My dad and his "band of brothers" have much to teach her.
E-mail Cal Thomas at www.calthomas.com