Anchorman credits the ‘greatest generation’ for success of book he penned in its honor

Anchorman credits the 'greatest generation' for success of book he penned in its honor by M. Jill Sundstrom NBC Nightly News anchorman Tom Brokaw refuses to take all the credit for the success of his best-selling book, The Greatest Generation.

He calls the brisk book sales a tribute to the people who made the stories happen in The Greatest Generation.

Brokaw was in Vermillion April 16 for the World War II Conference hosted by the W.O. Farber Center for Civic Leadership.

Prior to his keynote speech, he signed an estimated 1,000 books for conference participants, fans, students and people who are the subject of his book, veterans from the World War II era.

�It has been almost an out-of-body experience,� Brokaw said of the book�s popularity. �It�s overwhelming. We thought it would be popular for its own generation, but 20-, 30- and 40-something people are buying it, too.

�It�s as if I�ve uncovered a national secret,� he continued. �We�ve all kind of known about this in the back of our minds, but when you put it down on paper, you realize these are the people who have lived next door to you. You realize all they did and went through and they never asked for anything. There�s a big appetite for that.�

Despite his success as an author, Brokaw says he will stick with his television news career.

�I�ve always written, but I always kept my day job,� he said.

Brokaw�s initial inspiration for The Greatest Generation came from his 1984 coverage of the 40th anniversary of D-Day, the massive and daring Allied invasion of Europe that marked the beginning of the end of Adolf Hitler�s Third Reich.

That spring, he traveled to the northwest of France, to Normandy, to prepare a documentary.

He was well-researched on the subject � the numbers of men, ships, airplanes, and other weapons involved; the tactical and strategic errors of the Germans; and the names of the Normandy villages that in the midst of battle provided critical support to the invaders.

What Brokaw was not prepared for was how this experience would affect him emotionally.

As he looked back on the trip to France to relive the battle scenes with veterans who survived the bloody landing day and the battles that followed, Brokaw remembered his traveling companions.

�There were two guys with me, one who had lost his legs, and I was helping him over the sand dunes on Omaha Beach,� Brokaw said. �I remember thinking, ?My God, can you imagine landing on this long, flat piece of beach with a clean line of fire from the Germans?��

As the veterans� memories continued, Brokaw discovered that both had been on the same landing craft.

�They had parallel memories,� he said. �When the gate dropped, their sergeant was shot through the head and their lieutenant was critically wounded. At that point, both of them knew what they were getting into.�

The men also shared their memories of a colonel called �The Old Man.�

�He was probably 34, 35 years old and in the middle of all this hell, he came down the beach, saying ?come on, boys. We�ll die if we stay here. We�ve got to keep moving.� He gave them the courage to get up and go on.

�I kept thinking ?what an experience.� Then you realize at the end of the day, if they survived, that they were going to fight not just one or two more days or a week or two more weeks, but for another year, every day, in weather much worse than this and hostile conditions. I couldn�t get it out of my mind,� Brokaw said.

As writing the book became more of a reality to Brokaw, he was also influenced by Joe Foss, one of the most prominent World War II heroes, and George McGovern, who had won the Distinguished Flying Cross.

�I was surrounded by those people as a young man,� Brokaw said. �But most of them you have to drag it out of them or learn by accident that they had been in the war and what they�d done, so that was one of the reasons I wanted to write a book about them.�

Brokaw, originally from Yankton, graduated from USD in 1964 with a bachelor of arts degree in political science. He later received an honorary doctorate from USD.

He began his journalism career in Omaha, NE, and Atlanta, GA, before joining NBC News in 1966.

Brokaw was the White House correspondent for NBC News during Watergate, and from 1976 to 1981 he anchored Today on NBC.

He�s been the sole anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News since 1983.

Still, the ties to South Dakota for Brokaw and his wife Meredith, also a Yankton native, remain strong.

�I think this is the life I was meant to have,� he said. �Meredith and I always say we feel like we�ve won the lottery. We have a great marriage, she�s successful in her business, we have great kids, we�ve seen the world. But we never forget where we came from.�

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