June 17, 2001 -- Fathers Day
© 2001 MSNBC
June 17, 2001 -- "The Greatest Generation" -- the men and women of World War II -- displayed courage and sacrifice.
What parts of them live on in all of us? Tom Brokaw reports on their journey and the legacy they leave us.
WHEN I WROTE a book about the men and women of the World War II generation, what I called "The Greatest Generation,"
I didn't know how it would be received. Now that we know so much more about what the Greatest Generation did and
what they believe, maybe it is time to ask: What is it that they are leaving behind? What do they want us to remember?
A search is underway across the country, as Americans of Baby Boomer age -- and younger -- try to learn more about the
generation that produced them. They are the generation who fought and won the last great war, a war of great armies
in terrible combat, often face-to-face and hand-to-hand.
Their lives changed, and they came home and changed other lives, often for the better, but not always without conflict.
We are losing the veterans of World War II quickly now, almost 1,500 a day. It is a search for their legacy, as the
children and grandchildren discover what parts of the Greatest Generation live in them.
GERARD FLANNICK: SAVING OTHERS
"How many people aren't tied to World War II in some way or another?" asks Kathy Piatek. "Some place, somewhere there is a connection."
Kathy Piatek of Greendale, Wisconsin, first learned of her connection to World War II when she was 10 years old. Her mother surprised her with information a child could barely comprehend.
"My mother stopped her ironing and she came over to me and she said, 'Kathy you need to know that this man that I married is not your father. He is your stepfather,' says Kathy Piatek. She said, 'Your dad, your daddy was killed in the war.' And the conversation ended."
Kathy's mother kept photographs of her and her husband from when they were first married. And the whole world seemed to be before them at that time. After the war Kathy's mother couldn't bear to look at the pictures of the dashing young pilot who didn't make it home. But she kept the photos for Kathy.
In addition to the photos, two years ago Kathy learned that her family also had a roll of home movie film she'd never seen.
"My uncle Ben and my Aunt Irene called one day and said, ‘We have this movie of your parents' wedding,'" says Kathy. "Now this, of course too, is after my mother is gone. There wasn't anybody that could be hurt terribly. And when I saw that movie, it was the first time I saw this young man whose picture I had looked at all these years in action. You know, dancing with my mother, kissing my grandpa on his bald head, just acting really silly. And very, very happy. He appeared to be, and my mother too, such happiness."
After her mother's death, Kathy found a box of letters her father had written from overseas, and she began to read them over and over.
"How many people aren't tied to World War II in some way or another? Some place, somewhere there is a connection."
"‘Most of the boys keep up their religion better here than they did at home,'" Kathy reads from one letter. "‘Seems so much easier to live when you are at peace with God. Never once since I've been here have I been afraid of death and don't ever think I will be as long as I live.'"
It's hard to improve on the values her father expressed just in that one letter. "Oh, yes, it is," says Kathy. "I wish I had that kind of courage, that kind of honor."
The letters and pictures made Kathy Piatek want to know more about what her father was doing when he died. So she turned to someone who specializes in learning about the casualties of war -- a retired Army personnel administrator, Jack Forgy, who volunteered to look up the records of Kathy Piatek's father.
"I wanted to know everything that Colonel Forgy could find out for me -- his crew members, his war buddies, anything that he could turn up," say Kathy.
Jack Forgy says, "You just keep peeling the onion back, layer at a time, trying to find out more information. What kind of person am I, because of what kind of person he was."
Forgy has spent many hours at the National Archives and elsewhere researching the records of fallen soldiers. And what he has done for others began with his need to know more about his own father.
"I probably spend more time on World War II than I should," says Forgy. "My father would have been 100 years old year after next. That's a long time to be grieving. Yet, you know, it hurts just as much today as it did then, if not more so.
I was fortunate that I knew my father. I was 10 years old when he went overseas. And all I knew was that my father was killed in Normandy. So I just started digging. I just started digging about, you know, what happened to my Dad. So I opened up a page of a document. And there it was. It said at 12:30 White Six was hit. My father was White Six."
"And I realized that I could help other people," Forgy says. "Having been through the process, having been in the army, having worked in personnel management, personnel systems, I knew how things worked. So now I've done about 80 or 90 of them, these research projects. And it's just the same in every case. No matter how much you know, there's always a little bit more to know."
Colonel Forgy found the official reports on the death of Kathy Piatek's father -- Lieutenant GERARD R. Flannick. On February 23, 1945, Flannick was on a B-17 bombing raid on a rail yard in Bolzano, Italy. His plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Nine of the 10 crew members, including the pilot, bailed out. But co-pilot Jerry Flannick stayed with the plane. Jack Forgy discovered that eight of the crew members -- captured and sent to a German prison camp -- had survived the war, and some of them might still be alive.
"He gave me a listing of the men that he thought could possibly be those people that were on, the gentlemen that were on the airplane that day," says Kathy.
Kathy Piatek at first was reluctant to call surviving crewmates of her father's, afraid she might bring up for them awful memories of being shot down and captured. But Kathy's husband Ed encouraged her to take the chance. And the men she found on the telephone were eager to talk.
"We had so much to talk about," says Harold Smith. "For people who don't know each other. It was amazing to me."
Harold Smith, a New Yorker now retired in Lake Worth, Florida, knew during the war that Jerry Flannick had a daughter, and now, 56 years later, he was about to meet her.
"Getting off that airplane, the connection is almost immediate," says Kathy. "I felt I was touching my father. I felt as if I were touching my dad and my dad was touching me."
Kathy had hoped that Harold Smith could tell her more about her father's last day, and what Smith remembered promised to be crucial to Kathy's understanding of her dad. Smith, it turned out, thought of Kathy's father not merely as a fellow flier. He remembered him as a hero.
"This man, when the plane was hit, did what he did to save the lives of eight people," says Smith.
Harold Smith says Flannick and the pilot were flying the B-17 straight and level so Smith, the bombardier, could line up the target. Then, moments before "bombs away," a barrage of anti-aircraft fire ripped through the plane. The pilot and co-pilot struggled to hold their course to the target.
"After I released the bombs, I didn't know exactly what condition the plane was," says Smith. "I got on the intercom. I said, ‘Bombs away, how's the ship?' No answer. And I didn't even think twice. Never feeling I would want to jump, I jumped."
What Harold Smith says, and it's confirmed by other crew members, is that Jerry Flannick continued to fly the crippled plane until the rest of his crew could get out. But by then it was too late for him.
"He committed a selfless act," says Jack Forgy. "He could have jumped out right behind the pilot, and the heck with the rest of those guys. He stayed and stabilized the plane. That gave them an opportunity to get out. Yes, he's a hero."
Harold Smith says, "I definitely feel that I owe my life to this man. And I do feel that the seven others, whatever they've done in their lives, really started because Flannick gave them the opportunity."
Harold Smith retired after a long career as a department store executive. He stays busy today volunteering as a tutor at an elementary school.
"I see in these kids the most important thing I've ever done," says Smith. "Each one has learned from the experience. Even though he didn't go through the hardships of the Depression, even though they don't go through the war, they have evolved from people like myself who have gone through the war, who have passed on to them what they've learned from each experience."
Jack Forgy says, "In Flannick's case, I think the bombardier put it very well. He said, 'I'm alive today because of him. And I think I did good things with my life. And I know that he did good things with his life, and he did good things.' And that's part of the legacy of these guys."
Now that Kathy Piatek knows so much more about her father and what kind of a man he was, has it in any way affected the way she lives her life, even now?
"Oh, sure," says Kathy. "If he could have been the kind of human being that I now find out that he was, there isn't anything that I can't do. I am a Flannick, you know?"
She has to carry on the name and the legacy? "Exactly," she says. "Exactly. What a heart he had, what a soul he had, how loving he was. It has helped me tremendously. I, you know, believe that now every day of my life, I can try to be a better human being simply because of all I found out."
So she's living her life not just for herself anymore, but for her father as if he were still alive. "Exactly," she says. "I ask him every day and my mother, you know, am I doing the right thing? Help guide me in doing the right thing, you know, so that I can honor you, so that you are proud of me."
GEORGE TOMPKINS: IN THE LINE OF DUTY
George Tompkins Jr., like Kathy Piatek, was born during the war, and his father didn't make it home either. But, unlike Kathy Piatek, Tompkins, of Hampton, Virginia, has not been on a search to find out more about his father.
"I can't really add much to what I remember about my father, because obviously I never knew him," says Tompkins. "All I know is some pictures and some stories."
Martha Tiller met George Tompkins Sr. in college in New Orleans. He was the son of an Army general. She had been a debutante. Both were from socially prominent families.
"George was handsome," says Martha. "He was wonderful company. I think I loved him the first time I saw him."
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the United States went to war, George and Martha -- like so many other young couples at the time -- decided to get married right away -- before George enlisted and was chosen for the Army Air Corps.
"He was a night fighter pilot," says Martha. "He flew a Black Widow, which would have been just right up his alley. He loved it, he loved that airplane, and was thrilled to death to get to fly it. He went overseas when our son was three months old, and he was able to fly home on a transport or something for one night and saw the baby. And George said, 'How can anyone look at a baby like this and not believe in God?' He left the next day."
"It's amazing," says Martha. "What has it been -- over 50 years ago -- well over 50 years. I can cry today. Isn't that amazing?"
Lt. George Tompkins was killed in a car crash in England during an air raid blackout. He had been an exceptional fighter pilot, winning the Air Corps' highest medals, and for a time holding the record for shooting down the largest number of German buzz bombs.
"I never thought of my father as being a war hero, for some reason," says Tompkins. "Certainly my father gave his life for his country. But so did a lot of other people. My mother's life was obviously turned upside down, and she was very brave, and she made it through that and tried to provide a normal life for her kid -- being me."
Martha says, "I was so thankful I had him, I didn't know what to do. Oh, it was just wonderful, you know, I had that. At the same time, I thought, oh, for you to grow up and not know your wonderful father. George's life would have been totally different with his father. I still think about that."
Martha says George Jr. always had his father's love of sports cars and airplanes. And, like his father, George Jr. became a pilot. But he never fought a war. He's a corporate pilot, flying executives for a Virginia tobacco company.
"Maybe I could have done more," says Tompkins. "Maybe I could have made a better contribution to the world in general or something. I mean, there's all kinds of lofty goals that I don't have. World War II was, of course, the biggest single thing that happened in my mother's life. But it's really not something that I dwell on. And while it certainly has changed my life, it doesn't feel to me that it's been life-changing."
"People of that age have a certain awareness. I really don't know how to describe it. But they have an awareness of the seriousness of life, and I think we may be different in a couple of ways. I think we may not feel the sense of responsibility to country that an earlier generation did. I don't think we're as patriotic any more."
-- GEORGE TOMPKINS, JR.
Martha married again 10 years after the war, and was divorced a few years ago. Her life today centers around her country club in Richmond, Virginia. Here she can be with friends who also remember what was won and what was lost when they were young.
Martha says, "I want my grandchildren to know what this country was all about. And that they never forget. They know what was sacrificed for this country and how wonderful this country can be. Other people gave just as much. I'm not alone. So I can't be bitter. And I've got this wonderful son."
Tompkins says, "I think the greatest generation was probably the greatest generation because they had to be. We may miss the opportunity to, you know, be great, or to be heroic. But I don't miss it much."
JOHN HANCOCK: A NAVY HERO
When the World War II GIs came home, they returned to relationships long postponed -- and created one of the biggest baby booms in history.
"I was conceived as soon as Dad came home, just as soon as he came home," says David Hancock.
Hancock is one of four children of John Hancock. In addition to building a family after the war, John Hancock went on to success as a communications engineer and businessman. David is a truck driver and lives in Atlanta. His father is retired in Athens, Georgia. Father and son say they don't see each other much.
The people John Hancock goes to visit these days are often fellow Navy veterans. This reunion was in Charleston, South Carolina.
"You know, so there's another group of old veterans," says John. "But pretty soon they're going to be gone. And I think the people of this country owe them a debt, because you wouldn't be here, really. Those guys were running all over the world -- Hitler, and Mussolini and [the] Japanese."
David says, "They still do think that they saved the world, or that's what you always hear someone say, 'The Generation That Saved The World.' Actually nobody saved the world. Just one side won against another. You know, I've had people come up to me and say, 'Hey, if it weren't for me, you'd be speaking German right now.' You know?"
John says, "I think my generation saved the country. The greatest country in the world. And what's being lost is that people don't appreciate it."
David recalls, "He was a very strict father. Dad was very strict. Very difficult relationship with him. Because I couldn't, there was just, we didn't have any common ground. He used a lot of military experiences on us. Reveille, bam! Kick the door open, you know. And he would always, you know, he'd inspect our room, make sure our sheets were tight and everything on our bed. And he'd open up our drawers and make sure everything was done properly. All our tee shirts and everything were folded. And underwear and socks. We stood inspection actually."
The elder Hancock, like so many other World War II soldiers and sailors, grew up on a farm during the hard times of the 1930s. He had never been more than a few miles from his home in rural Georgia.
With few job prospects, Hancock enlisted in the Navy in October 1941 at age 17 -- along with some of his buddies from home, including a close friend, Clarence Hill.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor two months later, Hancock and his buddies were assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and sent into one of the crucial naval battles of the war against the Japanese in the Midway Islands.
John Hancock and thousands of other young sailors had to fight for their lives when the Yorktown was hit by Japanese dive bombers.
"You know, so there's another group of old veterans. But pretty soon they're going to be gone. And I think the people of this country owe them a debt, because you wouldn't be here, really. Those guys were running all over the world -- Hitler, and Mussolini and [the] Japanese."
-- JOHN HANCOCK
"This bomb hit by Number Two Elevator," says John. "And that shrapnel just wiped these fellows out. There's parts of bodies all over the place. And I looked over the side and Hill was decapitated. And I really didn't feel any fear for myself at the time, because the battle was over. But I'd lost all my good friends. I guess that's the only time I reverted, I guess the word is, to a young kid and I cried."
The U.S. Navy won the Battle of Midway, a decisive victory, a huge loss for the Japanese. But the Yorktown was sunk. More than 300 of her men died and 2,770 were rescued from the sea.
"The Battle of Midway and the sinking of the Yorktown -- that was giant," says David. "That was enormous for a kid. And I can see where it really did affect him the rest of his life."
John says, "When we came home from World War II, most of us wanted to forget it. We wanted to get on with our lives. We got an education thanks to the G.I. Bill. And I was able to, because of that, to get ahead in life. And, you know, there's the old pride coming back again, say, 'You know, I did it. I didn't have to take a handout.' But the G.I. Bill, we felt like we earned."
With his Navy training and his college degree paid for by the government, John Hancock got a good start as an engineer for AT&T. Then he built his own businesses -- renting airplanes and selling buses throughout Latin America.
His son David went to fight in Vietnam, but came back to a country far less eager to help returning veterans from that war. David worked for his father for a time, then pursued a variety of other jobs. And, like many other Baby Boomers, David has not had the financial drive or success of his father.
"My kids never could conceive of the idea that they could keep up with me and be as ambitious as I was," says John.
The youngest Hancock son, Steven, owns a small construction and mill-working business in Atlanta. He bought an old warehouse he hopes to convert to apartments. Steven says his father considers the plan risky. Steven believes that's because his father, like all of the other Americans who were in uniform during World War II, came of age during the Great Depression -- and never got over it. John Hancock agrees that it is his Depression experience that makes him want financial success for his sons.
"You try to motivate them to be more successful than you are so they don't have to deliver groceries for $2.50 a week," says John.
Steven says he's heard that story plenty of times.
"You know, I think we Depression types think of money as security," says John. "Hundreds and hundreds of people would come. Hobos we'd call them back then, and my dad would always make room for them to work in the fields, just for something to eat. And I used to think, man, I'm glad I don't have to go up and down the road. These people were hungry."
Says David: "I admit I'm more of a lazy person. Dad has always worked. When he wasn't at work, he was working at the house, painting it, cleaning up the yard and everything. And I learned early to despise hard work."
Steven says, "And I think that was because of that time period, you know freedom of not having to, you know, what, why, what is money in the 1960s and '70s, you know, kind of the hippie thing."
David continues, "Everybody was saying, well, there's going to come a time when we're not even going to need to all work. There will be certain who work because they want to and then you can work pursuing whatever you want to, like your art or something like that."
Did he buy into that? "Yes, I certainly did," says David.
Does his father have a hard time taking all that in? "My philosophy is, God instilled in every animal the greatest motivator no human could think of," says John. "It's called hunger."
David says, "I know how Dad did it and I know why, but being happy inside yourself is more important to me because I've seen a lot of people with a lot, a lot of land and a lot of money that aren't happy."
John says, "They'll come a time, maybe when the country will turn around and we will be back in the Depression. And those people who survive that are the people that are going to get up off their duff and get out and work at it."
John Hancock not only worries that the Depression could hit again, he says he still worries about his sons surviving after he's gone. But he will not underwrite their future.
"We don't intend to leave very much to our children, because we think, don't think that's so good," he says. "If my kids knew that they were going to have to continue to watch out for themselves, I think they would continue and work a little harder."
David Hancock's generation is getting to the age where they understand better how a Depression and war shaped almost every aspect of their parents' lives.
John Hancock's generation is getting to the age where they are more resigned to the fact that not all their children are going to adopt their values.
"When I think about leaving south Georgia and all the things I've done and seen, and places I worked, and the people I've known, and arrived at the point where I don't have to worry about where the next dollar's coming from, or the meal -- pretty fabulous, I think," says John. "We lived in a fabulous time. No regrets."
David says, "It took me a lot longer to find my place. I'm still looking. I've, I came back with all kinds of dreams that I was going to, you know, be big, bigger than Dad. And it seems like the years just went. And the dreams are still there. And I'm not going to say that some day I'm going to do something besides what I'm doing, because I still have my brain. But here I am 54, driving a truck."
JOHN STONE: A QUIET HERO
In this family business in Jacksonville, Florida, two brothers have taken over for their father. And now, as he passes 80 and they approach 50, the sons are learning that the father, like so many other veterans, had another life before the sons were born.
"Here's a guy who has a little shop," says Mark Stone. "He's literally known by thousands of people. But maybe they have no clue as to what his background is. And, you know, some do, but most don't."
Mark's father, John, says, "When I first got out of the business, I was over there bothering them, making, checking up on everything. After a while, they said, 'Get outta here, we don't need you. Get out if you don't have any good thing, good to say, get outta here. We don't want to talk to ya.' So I clapped and left. So I don't bother them. They have done very well with the business. I'm very pleased."
The passing of the torch in family businesses goes on every day. For the younger generation, they're inheriting not only customers and opportunity, but in some cases, they're getting lessons in perspective -- what really counts.
"I was all upset about not getting something, a job or something that I'd worked hard on," recalls Mark. "He said, 'You know, so what? I mean, you still, you know, you still got your house. You still got your kids, your family. You're coming back tomorrow. You know? It's not that important.' You know what I mean? So I think he had that, you know, from all the real tragedy that they'd seen, he had this different perspective about failure. In other words, it's not that big a deal. You know what I mean, compared to loss of life."
John Stone learned what was truly important to him more than a half century ago. This farm boy from Ohio was part of the First Marine Regiment sent in to take Okinawa. In April 1945, Okinawa was the last island the Allies had to capture before their planned invasion of the Japanese mainland.
The enemy was dug in, in trenches and caves. It was some of the worst fighting of the war. The commander of John Stone's company was killed and Stone was chosen to take over. Then his second-in-command was shot, and his best friend was killed. What happened next Stone remembers as if it were only yesterday.
"Stretcher bearers were taking men off the field," he says, "and I could smell the stench and the smoke. I felt so abandoned, so lonely. I just couldn't understand what it was all about. I mean, I just gave up. I said just, God, get shot or get killed or something, I just can't go on any longer. This is beyond me. All of a sudden, here comes a figure across the field. It's Father Lopez, our chaplain. And hecame right, he came up to me. He never said a word. I kneeled, and he gave me, he had broken a wafer into several bits, and gave me the communion. And he scooted away right away. And I sat back, and I said to myself, 'My God, what am I doing? I've abandoned all hope. There is hope.' And I said to myself, 'Well, just gird up your loins and, and get going.' And I did go forward. We did attack the next few times. And we finally took our objective. I became a better officer. And I think I did a better job, because I started getting my mind off of myself."
And when John Stone came home from the war, did it make him a better man? "Oh, yes, definitely," he says. "I became a lot more positive person, thankful."
"See, I didn't even realize that he had all this emotion inside him about the war and really didn't even discover it until we went to see him get the Purple Heart. That was when, you know, I saw a side of him that I hadn't seen ."
After he had helped capture Okinawa, he found, as company commander, he had a new responsibility. Although Marines back in the States informed the next of kin of those who had died in battle, it was the job of the company commander to answer letters from families who wanted more details.
John Stone answered dozens of letters and has kept them all these years. Recently he shared them with his family, and found that he himself now understands the letters better than when he first read them as a 24-year-old Marine.
"Dear Lieutenant Stone, just received your notes of my husband's death. Did you see him fall? Or do you know who, anyone who did? Was he killed in hand-to-hand fighting? And where was he hit? Did he get to say a thing, anything at all before he died? Above all, how much did he suffer? He was so proud to be in the Marines. And I just know he was one of the very best."
Mark Stone says, "Two things stood out in every letter that I read. They all wanted to know what their child was doing, you know, the days before, the moments before he was killed. And there was no like, you know, 'Why did this have to happen to my son?' Just the contrary was true. They were very supportive of the war effort. And, you know, there was no meanness towards my father. Just the opposite was true. It was always appreciative that he had been there for them. And that to me was incredible, that there wasn't more bitterness."
John recalls, "I was reading these letters and people were expressing to me sacrifice, love, patience. 'How are you doing? I hope you get out alright. We're praying for you.' And you see I was so desensitized at the time when I wrote them and got the answers, but years later after having my own family, my children, it just tore me up to read those letters again."
"Didn't anyone hear his last words? What were they, or was it too quick even for that?"
"Can you tell me anything at all, please? Where is he now buried? And just what kind of a service was he given when we are so grieved over him? His mother is dead."
"Of course, you've got to realize I knew these guys, too," says John. "Great Americans."
Mark says, "See, I didn't even realize that he had all this emotion inside him about the war and really didn't even discover it until we went to see him get the Purple Heart. That was when, you know, I saw a side of him that I hadn't seen before."
For his bravery in battle, John Stone was awarded in 1945 both the Silver Star and the Bronze Star, but he never pursued the Purple Heart he earned for being wounded. In later years, fellow veterans urged Stone to apply for the medal, and he finally received it in a ceremony in a Jacksonville gymnasium.
(Proclamation is read) "The President of the United States has awarded the Purple Heart to First Lieutenant John P. Stone, United States Marine Corps Reserve, for wounds received in action 8 June, 1945, on Okinawa."
"I am very happy to get this decoration in honor of my fellow Marines who died," he says. "So many of them gave up their lives, and every time I look at this I will be reminded of them."
"Looking in those young faces training to be Marines. And I'm trying to inspire them. And then I was remembering the ones that were killed. And I just broke down."
Mark says, "At that point, I realized just how meaningful and how the war had affected him. It was a rare show of emotion from my dad, but a very real one. And no, I'll never forget it. Yes, I think he was a real hero. And, you know, I'm glad he's my dad."
PASSING ON A LEGACY
More than 15,000 veterans came to the opening of the D-Day Museum in New Orleans. Perhaps an even greater number will attend the eventual dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Every time we think it was all too long ago, we learn new ways that war continues to shape us and we find the small, quiet stories of families only now beginning to understand the full reach of what happened to their parents and grandparents in those extraordinary times.
John Stone is happy that he began sharing the letters he received from families of men lost on Okinawa. He wants to be sure that the sentiments expressed are not forgotten.
"I didn't want to lose the letters," he says. "They had sort of become a part of me. I mean, I thought, well, maybe someday these letters will have some purpose."
Stone has given the letters to the Institute for World War II at Florida State University. The founder of the Institute, Dr. William Oldson, works with a team of student archivists to collect and catalogue personal photos, letters, and memorabilia donated by GIs and their families.
"We've had people coming in here pushing their oxygen tanks, carrying boxes of material," says Oldson. "They don't want their experiences forgotten. They're absolutely desperate that what they went through and what they think they learned from it be passed on to the next generation."
Melissa Williford says, "It's kind of weird, because when I read the letters I still picture elderly people writing back and forth. And I have to snap back into it, and say, No, these are people that are my age and younger."
"And I guess the urgency involved, just the urgency of, you know, is this gonna be my last letter that I'm writing to my, you know, my girl back home, or, is this, you know, will this letter get to him over in Europe? I think it's just that type of intensity and urgency that's very different."
John Stone says, "Every day, I pray for the dead and those who have died in the war. I actually make a mental note of that when I pray. Pray for those who've died in the war. The sad thing is, I think, that there are young lives snuffed out had a lot of living to do. That's the sad part."
Kathy Piatek's uncle recently gave her a flight jacket that belonged to her father, and GIs who knew Jerry Flannick continue to provide details that make Kathy proud. You can almost feel his presence in his flight jacket.
"Oh, I put it on to get his blessings," says Kathy Piatek
So the search is on. Kathy Piatek's family and many others -- daughters and sons in the next generations -- are discovering what parts of the greatest generation live on in them.
"I always wonder," says Melissa Williford. "You know, I see an older man or an older woman, and I'm like, 'Oh, I wonder if, you know, they were there or they were a part of it.' And then I realize that they were. In some way, shape or form, anyone over a certain age is going to remember that. And I think that's the way my outlook is changed. That everyone was impacted and everyone has a story."
"I try not to honk as much when they drive slow in front of me on the road. A little bit more respect involved in it. I don't see them as just that old person that, you know, is always in my way at the mall or, you know, on the road. And it's just definitely a new-found respect and, you know, understanding maybe."
In Memory of 1LT Gerard J. Flannick
KIA 16 February, 1944 in the Mediterranean
In Memory of LT COL Percy O'Dell Forgy
KIA 27 July, 1944 in Normandy, France