On Christmas Eve, we lost another member of what author and journalist Tom Brokaw anointed as “The Greatest Generation.”
They were the generation of men and women who won World War II. Dean Allen Funk lived to 98 and he was busy making a run at 100 when he passed peacefully a day before Christmas with loving family in attendance.
He spent 30 years working with Litton Systems and another half-dozen years at various aerospace companies. An honor guard from American Legion Riders and Patriot Guard Riders accompanied his services.
In an interview, Dean recalled that he grew up, one of six brothers, during the Great Depression. His mother worked to keep everyone sheltered and fed. He recalled assistance from the New Deal, receiving flour from the government and that he loved “the smell of fresh, baked bread.”
He was a Marine from 1942 to 1945 and served in the Pacific War — a pitiless slog from one rocky atoll to the next island until the end. His unit, an anti-aircraft outfit, was in the battles for Tarawa and near the end, for Okinawa.
He counted himself lucky his outfit was just far enough back of the infantry storming the beaches that he never had to fire his M-1 Garand rifle.
One of his brother Marines of the Pacific War, Palmer Andrews, 96, was trying to contact Funk’s family to learn what beaches they held in common. Andrews was one of the Marines under command of the legendary Lewis “Chesty” Puller, an icon of the Marine Corps for his bulldog leadership and four awards of the Navy Cross.
Dean and Palmer were among the thousands of Marines, GIs, fighting sailors and fliers in the last major battle of World War II, the fight for Okinawa, which was setting the ground for the invasion of Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped, ending World War II.
Both survived to long life, raising families and building rewarding careers. Both remind me of World War II veterans I have known, like my father. They were strong, gentle men, like Henry Ochsner of the 101st Airborne, who survived the siege at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge and then went on to participate in the capture of Hitler’s alpine redoubt, the “Eagle’s Nest.” We lost Henry in 2019 at the age of 96.
I am also reminded of John Humphrey, another Bulge veteran, of the 82nd Airborne Division, who passed a year earlier and of Adolph Martinez, 17th Airborne Division, captured during the Bulge and later escaped from his Nazi captors. So tough, he is still with us.
They were young when they fought for their lives and their buddies. As Marines and Army paratroopers, they were all volunteers. They weren’t political philosophers, just young men answering their country’s call and doing their duty as they understood it.
But the work that they did, alongside the buddies who never returned to home and family, was to defeat the darkest drives and reprehensible movements gathered under the banners of fascism, Nazism, totalitarian conquest and murder.
There are other totalitarians and murderers, but these were ascendant and these were the ones these veterans vanquished. As an earlier generation of Americans vanquished a rebellion that plunged the nation into civil war and held that fellow humans were property, fit only for enslavement because of the color of their skin.
I remember the legacy of my father’s Army assignment, the filmed evidence he edited for the Nazi war crimes trials at Nuremburg, the trials necessitated by the murder of six million Jews and a similar number of other prisoners of the Third Reich.
The mob that stormed our US Capitol a week ago marched under an array of affiliations and embodied degrees of support from misguided and misinformed idealism, to lethal extremism. Some veterans even joined. That this happened is worth a pause for profound reflection, less political than moral and spiritual.
I cannot speak for the honored dead, but I can only imagine their reaction to Americans breaking into our halls of government wearing T-shirts that proclaimed “civil war,” “Camp Auschwitz” and “6 Million Were Not Enough,” flying flags that glorified the Confederacy.
Those symbols, displayed as the Capitol was desecrated, are emblematic of the biggest wrong turn away from the never-ending struggle for authentic freedom and human dignity. No decent person would consider such action or activity patriotic.
Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker. An Army veteran who served as a paratrooper, he deployed to Iraq with local National Guard troops to cover the war for the Antelope Valley Press. He works at High Desert Medical Group on veterans and community health initiatives.