Op-Ed: Was There Anything Over There Worth Fighting For?

Martin L. Paulson, a World War II veteran, stands by the I Corps Honor Guard during an award ceremony in Westport, Wash., Aug. 30, 2013. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Miriam Espinoza Torres)
Martin L. Paulson, a World War II veteran, stands by the I Corps Honor Guard during an award ceremony in Westport, Wash., Aug. 30, 2013. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Miriam Espinoza Torres)

Marjorie Eastman received a Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge. She is also a 2017 National Independent Publisher Award winning author of The Frontline Generation: How We Served Post 9/11. This op-ed first appeared at OpLens.com.

If last week's headlines -- that should have solely focused on the astounding story of the Navajo Code Talkers -- didn't get you thinking about the Greatest Generation, then I hope today will. It is December 7th, the day our nation was thrust into a world war in 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. It truly was a day that lived in infamy because it changed the course of history -- and the people living during that time -- in more ways than we can ever fully comprehend.

I believe this is why we can't get enough of the movies and books that help tell that story. Yet there is no substitute for sitting with a person from that era. It can be life-changing, as it was for me on a Southwest Airlines flight to Washington, D.C. this past year. A World War II veteran sat next to me. Once he learned I had also served in the Army, like most veterans do, we talked the entire flight, swapping stories (with timeless, insider military humor) about his experiences in garrison to the Korean War and my time deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

About halfway through the flight, this gentleman leaned in a bit closer and said, "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?" Well, like you, I love it when strangers want to ask me a personal question. But, what do you say to a World War II veteran? Of course, you may ask me anything -- no problem, sir! His face turned serious and he then asked in a lower voice, "Was there anything over there worth fighting for?"

Over the past year since my book was published and I've been speaking across the country, I've had a lot of people try to ask me that question. He asked it perfectly. And I knew my answer immediately, which I attribute to the powerful bond we had already established from our conversation. I said, "Yes, sir. They were to my left and to my right."

His old eyes smiled at me as he nodded in agreement and said, "I know. I know."

No matter who or what you fight against, from Nazis to the Taliban, dictatorship or terrorism, every generation of service member learns this salient lesson. It has always been about who and what you fight for. By the way, this is regardless of why we are sent to fight and whether it's deemed a "good" war or "bad" war. Because what you realize once you've been on the front line is that it is not a place. It is us. It is the person to your left and to your right. My time with this World War II veteran on that flight to D.C. reaffirmed this truth.

I believe the next greatest generation is a frontline generation, which will be when our entire nation once again unflinchingly locks arms with those beside them -- even with Navajo Indians, Tuskegee Airmen, or first-generation Muslim interpreters! It will be a remarkable span of all ages and all walks of life who find a way to help -- who say, "count me in."

We need to look no further for evidence than the examples of those who had skin in the game post-9/11. For the past 16 years in which our nation has been entangled in the longest war in our history, a generational commitment has been carried by less than 1 percent of Americans -- literally parents and their children have been on the same forward operation bases in Mosul and Kabul.

Then consider the multiple deployments for any given individual; in reconnecting with my soldiers when my book released, I learned that many of them have done one, two, and sometimes three or more additional deployments since our Afghanistan tour.

I also learned -- which was no shock to me -- that they still look out for each other. And that includes everyone who was by their side. For instance, as soon as Hurricane Harvey pummeled Houston, I messaged one of my former team sergeants to see if he had checked in with Skip, his former translator that now lives there. I got the "Already on it, Ma'am. We already did -- he's alright." Of course they did.

Just as the veteran at a Texas conference told me her husband, also a combat veteran, regularly drives to Dallas to see his interpreter who is now here in the States, or the Special Forces sergeant who opened up a distillery in my hometown with his trusted Afghan linguist -- one's loyalty to those they served with is unshakable. It is also unmistakably American: shall we say "crown thy good with brotherhood," which is palpable in the story shared by veteran-owned Black Rifle Coffee founders, who reunited and now employ one of their Afghan Commando counterparts.

Fighting for those who were to your left and to your right will always be worth it, whether in combat or here at home.

On this anniversary of the day the Greatest Generation was born, I hope you are reminded that when something is worth fighting for, clearly, that's due to the fact it's sure as hell worth living for. Find your conviction. Live with purpose. And live for each other. It's worth it.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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