Tomorrow, December 7th, marks the 77th anniversary of the day America stood on the precipice of World War II, and a generation -- now referred to as The Greatest Generation, faced another moment of destiny.
Yesterday, we held a national day of mourning for former President George Herbert Walker Bush, who was our last president to have served in World War II. Characteristically of that generation, he enlisted on his eighteenth birthday.
Here is archival footage of twenty-year-old Lt. J.G. Bush being rescued after being shot down.
To keep faith with that Greatest Generation and the continuing gift of freedom they have left us, we need to remind ourselves of the reasons they had to give up their youth, in many cases, their lives, to a higher purpose.
Hollywood contributed a unique perspective and legacy of that era. We classic film buffs are familiar with the wartime dramas, the musicals, the patriotic messages, as well as the number of actors who left their careers to enter the military and the hundreds of others who supported the nation's war mission by entertaining troops, appearing at bond drives, and volunteering in many ways.
We've discussed in this previous post about the Hollywood Commandos or the FMPU which produced wartime training films. One of the most important projects made by this unit was director Frank Capra's Why We Fight series. This was meant to inform, inspire, and provide the necessary background to the purpose of why the service personnel were required to fight. Training them to use certain weapons, or how to act in certain situations was not the only important education they received in boot camp. The fight against fascism was as intellectual and emotional as it was tactical.
The first film in that series, Prelude to War is up at the top of this post. One hopes that in an era where fascism has found a foothold in our country, and young people know next to nothing about World War II, that an imperfect, decades-old training film, called "propaganda" today, is not so remote that it would not touch even the most stupid and cynical teenager posing for a class photo while giving the Nazi salute, or painting swastika graffiti, or draping a rope noose where it will be noticed.
Requiescat in pace, President Bush. Requiescat in pace, Greatest Generation.