Saturday, June 5, 2004

OTTAWA DAILY TIMES: Tom Brokaw Continues Crusade for "Greatest Generation"

COLEVILLE SUR MER, FRANCE -- He's the face of countless documentaries and the NBC Nightly News, but Tom Brokaw's journalistic scope goes further than the television set.

"The 40th Anniversary of D-Day, I began to walk the beaches with members of the Big Red One who survived that day," Brokaw tells me on the set of the Nightly News -- on location at the American Military Cemetery in Normandy, France. "One went on to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. The other one lost both his legs in the war. They were so humble and they were so courageous... that was really the beginning with what I thought we owed this great generation."

That meeting with veterans in Normandy 20 years ago would translate into three different books, the most popular being the New York Times Bestseller "The Greatest Generation." He also drew some of the inspiration for the project from his own family.

"My first memories of life really are of the war," he says in a deep baritone voice that millions of Americans tune into each night. "We moved to an Army base. My father was drafted, but was sent back because he made the base run. Everybody around me was in uniform... going to the war, coming from the war."

The 60th anniversary commemorations for Brokaw began at the World War II Memorial Dedication in Washington, D.C., May 31. They continue with the 60th anniversary of D-Day commemorations throughout France. Each occasion is another opportunity for Brokaw to observe the two common traits among most of the veterans he talks to... humility and humbleness.

"They had difficult lives before the war," Brokaw explains, referencing the Great Depression.

"That really hammered this country in so many ways. They had to do without. They had to quit school to go to work.

And then they went through the war, and saw all that was sacrificed around them... their best friends who didn't make it back. When they came back from all that -- the depression and the war -- they were determined to put it behind them, and to work for their families, their communities, and their country."

When he steps down from the NBC Nightly News anchor desk after the 2004 Presidential election in November, Brokaw says he will still work on projects for NBC, many of which will focus on his "Greatest Generation."

"This is a fixed part of my life. I'm probably not going to write another book about World War II -- I've already wrote three of them now -- but I'm always amazed... every time I think I've heard all the stories, I hear four or five more good ones."

With World War II veterans passing on at a rate of about 1,000 per day, time is of the essence for Brokaw and other historians throughout the world to ensure that the stories of the "Greatest Generation" are recorded forever.

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