Book stresses tenacity of ‘greatest generation’

Book stresses tenacity of 'greatest generation' By Bob Karolevitz I just finished reading Tom Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation, and I felt a little burst of pride because it finally dawned on me that � by age and World War II service � I also qualify for that complimentary label.

I've got to admit that I've always thought there was something special about those who worked their way out of the drouth and depression just in time to put on a uniform or otherwise become a contributing part of America's last great cohesive effort. However, it was gratifying to have someone younger and nationally prominent acknowledge it and give it credence.

Tom sent me a copy of the book with a very generous autograph, thanking me for "help and inspiration." Apparently something I had written played at least a small part in the conceptual process. I didn't know it, of course, so Tom's kind words were unexpected and deeply appreciated.

While The Greatest Generation consists of interconnected essays of sacrifice and service about men and women from all parts of the country, I found numerous mentions of familiar South Dakotans threaded throughout the overall story.

There was, for instance, a fine tribute to Howard "Hod" Nielsen, who flew photographic missions in his unarmed P-38 over the hedgerows of Normandy. Hod, known today as "the dean of South Dakota sportswriters," gave me my first writing assignment when he was sports editor of the Yankton High School Woksape and I was an aspiring freshman reporter. At least that's the legend the two of us have mutually accepted.

I read of Tom's parents � Red and Jean Brokaw � who became our friends. I knew of the Brokaw Hotel in Bristol and of Jean's early years in Andover. The "greatest generation" also included Dr. Merritt Auld � father of Tom's wife Meredith � whose heroic exploits as a military surgeon in North Africa and Italy were seldom mentioned when he returned to civilian life as a family physician in his adopted hometown of Yankton.

I have never known Gov. Joe Foss, who was decorated with the Congressional Medal of Honor for shooting down 26 Japanese planes in the South Pacific � but I have written about him. On several occasions I have visited with Sen. George McGovern, who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross as the pilot of a B-24 bomber; and now and then my path has crossed with that of Al Neuharth from Alpena, maverick journalist and the founder of USA Today.

My bookshelf contains his Confessions of an S.O.B. with an autograph which reads: "To a real author from an aging aspiring one." It's flattering, of course, coming from the winner of a Bronze Star and the Combat Infantryman's Badge in World War II.

The names of Dan and Lois Gatchell, Vivian Harvey Auld (Meredith's mother) and Dr. Roland Huebner � plus the mention of Hod Nielsen's three other brothers, all servicemen � stirred a variety of memories. And before I moved home to South Dakota, I knew Ed Guthman, a Purple Heart infantry veteran, when he was a reporter for the Seattle Times. Tom gives him a separate essay all his own in the book.

Over and over The Greatest Generation stresses the values and tenacity of those who survived both the Dirty Thirties and World War II. Brokaw didn't gild the lily, though. He pointed out the flaws and the prejudices which were also a part of that uncommon age.

Not everyone will agree with Tom's basic thesis, but I do. After all, as a member of that "greatest generation," I'm biased!

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