That’s the title of a song written by John Stewart. In it, he sings about the good old days when life was hard, people struggled together and love of country was universal. In it, he writes, “They were just a lot of people doin’ the best they could . . . and they did it pretty up and walkin’ good.”
This song came on my iPod as I was reading The Guns at Last Light by Rick Atkinson. It is the third volume of his trilogy of the United States’ combat in Europe during WWII. Again, it is about young men risking all in impossible situations, for love of country and each other.
The book does not describe a perfect government executing flawless battle plans. Rather it is a tale of self-serving and groping leadership, unimaginable waste and carnage in which individual soldiers act for the collective good of each other and the mission they believed to be more important than their own lives. And, yes, “they did it pretty up and walkin’ good.”
I am in awe of those young men who ran toward the machine-gun nests and into the falling artillery shells, fighting for generations yet unborn and principles that may not even have applied to them.
Consider the obstacles of racial prejudice the Tuskegee Airmen had to overcome, simply to be allowed the privilege of risking their lives for America. Or the Japanese Americans who left internment camps to fight and die for the country that mistreated them so miserably. Native Americans, too, left reservations to fight and die in the white-man’s war.
What remarkable people! Not just their physical courage and personal stamina, but their moral integrity and devotion to our “Mother Country”. They did not dwell on the shortcomings that were so apparent. They did not rail against the inconsistencies that surrounded them. They simply set aside their personal issues, accepted the responsibility of citizenship, and marched into battle.
Unlike my own generation, the Boomers, they also had little reason to feel privileged or indebted to the society they grew up in. That generation of heroes came out of the poverty of the Depression. Before the war, many had suffered want and watched the ruin of their families. There was no American Dream for them. It had been a nightmare that eventually required them to pass through hell to protect the homeland.
I struggle with all this when I hear people speak ill of our government. For it is our government and has been purchased for us at a tremendous price. No, I am not satisfied with it. Yes, Congress embarrasses me. Without a doubt, I feel we are being poorly served, but it is still our government and that is a remarkable thing. It has been purchased for us at a tremendous price.
How we will be measured by future generations when they look back and ask, “Did they do the best they could?”
One of the great lies of war is that soldiers die for their freedom. They don’t. They die for someone else’s freedom.
This is why I don’t join in with those who deride our government. It is the only one we have and, “Oh, mother country, I do love you.”
Aging in Place, we didn’t get the opportunity for free.