Saluting the Greatest Generation

Published 9:30 am Friday, December 23, 2011

by Jim Webb

Seventy years ago, on Dec. 7, our country was attacked at Pearl Harbor, bringing us into World War II, a war that had been ongoing in Europe for more than three years and in Asia in different forms for a much longer period.

This began a national effort that was historically unprecedented in its unity and in its vigor — in which the United States astounded the world in terms of its capacity to respond to this attack in many different fronts. Our economic production was staggering. By 1943, our production schedule included 125,000 aircraft, 75,000 tanks, 35,000 anti-aircraft guns, 10 million tons of merchant shipping. During the course of that war, the productive capacity of this country gave our Allied forces more than half of all of its armaments, including 86 percent of the armaments that were used in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

I express my thanks and my appreciation to the men and women of that generation who stepped forward and responded to the call of service in this period. During World War II, more than 16 million Americans stepped forward to serve our country. In that period, more than 400,000 of them died — including 291,557 who were killed in action — and another 670,846 were wounded in action.

Of those 16 million, today about 1.7 million World War II veterans remain alive. They are carrying the torch and the memory of this larger group that stepped forward and served and became known as “The Greatest Generation.”

Among those 16 million who served, nearly 8 million were able to take advantage of the World War II G.I. Bill. It was my honor to have introduced a similar G.I. Bill on my first day in the Senate in 2007. Within 16 months, our body and the other body had come together to agree on an educational package that would allow those who have served since 9/11 to have the same chance at a first

class future as those who served during World War II — a program that would pay their tuition, buy their books and give them a monthly stipend.

We should remember that for every dollar spent on the World War II G.I. Bill, our treasury received $7 in tax reimbursements because of the ability of the Greatest Generation to have successful careers and to contribute to our economy.

As one of many who are the next generation from the Great Generation, I would like to say how thankful I am for the service that they gave and for the example that they set when they returned from war. For many of us — for me — they were our parents; they were our mentors; they were our role models; they were our leaders as we ourselves matured into leaders.

They taught us how to love our country; they taught us how to value the notion of service. Their legacy is in every area of our society today. We honor them and we should resolve to continue in the traditions that were imbued in us by their sacrifices and the example they set when they returned from that most difficult war.

JIM WEBB, a Democrat, represents Virginia in the U.S. Senate. This column was adapted from remarks he made on the Senate floor on the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. His email address is