Veterans Day: Witnessing a New Greatest Generation

Obama calls today's soldiers equal to the greatest ever.

ByABC News
November 11, 2009, 6:03 PM

Nov. 11, 2009— -- For generations, Veterans Day was all about old men, and of course, the members of their generation who never got to be old men.

These days, it's a different story.

Tuesday night, as men and women of the 1st Cavalry returned from Iraq, the pictures were every bit as poignant as those black and white images of GIs coming home from wars past.

This week, President Obama invited a more explicit comparison between the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the great wars of the 20th century.

"This generation has more than proved itself the equal of those who've come before. We need to look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes," Obama said Tuesday at Fort Hood.

At Fort Hood, which, this week, endured a brutal shooting, the president's sentiment rings true.

"We don't need to look in the past for our heroism, we have all created our own name for the newer generation of the Army," said Spc. Jessica Duggan.

But what about the greatest generation?

"I feel, in many respects, that the men and women who, of their own free will, volunteered to serve in the military… are a magnificent extension of the greater generation," said Pat Foote, a retired Army brigadier general.

Members of the greatest generation, gathered at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, told us they have the highest regard for young men and women now serving in harm's way.

"You're serving, you're getting killed, war is hell," one observed.

There are differences, of course. "In World War II, we knew who the enemy was and we fought with them. Now they could be with their enemies during the day and not know it," said another World War II veteran.

And, they acknowledged, the home front has changed. World War II was shorter than the current conflicts, but far more costly, more than 400,000 Americans killed. It touched everyone's lives, demanding sacrifice.

"No one is being asked to sacrifice now," said military historian and World War II veteran Paul Fussell.

"We drive SUVs, go to the mall every Sunday, and unfortunately, many of the people just seem to not really understand what's going on," said Foote.

Instead, the burden falls even more heavily on those who volunteer to go. Nearly half the active duty troops being sent to Iraq have been sent back again. Ten percent of them have been deployed 3 or more times.

"It's not really a matter of lessening the service [of those] who've gone before us. We stand on their shoulders. We learn from them. Many of these soldiers have sacrificed a great deal," said Chaplain Mike Lembke at Fort Hood.