Several years ago I heard someone say that he didn’t consider the people who endured World War II as the “greatest generation,” but more like the “unluckiest generation.”
On this Veterans Day, that quote came back to me as I was reading a newspaper article about Phillip Cascio, a 98-year-old WWII veteran living in Greenville, Mississippi.
Cascio was 20 years old when he and two other young men survived the crash of a B-17 downed by German war planes in WWII. They were the only survivors of the 10-man crew. The three, who were closer to being teenagers than adults, spent 16 hours floating in a life raft as Germans continued to try and kill them. Eventually they ended up in a German prisoner of war camp for 3.5 years.
It’s been 78 years now, and Cascio’s memories of that time are haunting him still. He talks about his helplessness when he had to listen to a young man call out as the wrecked B-17 sucked his crew mate under the frigid, turbulent waters of the English Channel.
At 98, Cascio still hears the voices and deals with the flashes of horror that surrounded him during those years as a POW. At his age, there’s more time for thinking and remembering.
You won’t find Cascio spouting admiration for WWII world leaders during that period – any of them.
“I have no sympathy for people like Roosevelt, Churchill, Hitler, Stalin, I have no use for them, no use for their names. They’re the ones that took three and a half years of my life.” Cascio said in the article.
His words weren’t quite what I expected. I think the majority of us baby boomers view WWII with a rosy glow laced with big band music, romantic stories and great admiration for Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. But our perspective is in historical hindsight. We didn’t live it. We grew up looking back at photos of our parents, aunts and uncles and saw those beautiful, young, fresh faces of the era. Those images didn’t tell the real story.
The fact is that every “next” generation has a rosier view of past times. Maybe when veterans tell their stories it helps them with the pain and haunting memories — maybe not. But at least it becomes a shared reminder that warfare steals the lives of great generations yet to come – no matter whether we speak of WWII or the multitude of “undeclared” wars in places like Korea, Vietnam or Afghanistan.
War of any kind is always a generation’s unlucky event.
Here’s the link to Phillip Cascio’s story.