06 May Time is Running Out: What Have You Learned from the Greatest Generation?

I attended ESGR and Rotary events over the past few days where veterans and active duty military personnel were honored.  Both events were conducted with great dignity, and there were two very moving moments.

With 400 people in attendance at the ESGR event, Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr., Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recognized Jeff Falkel for selflessly contributing his unique bullet pens for every attendee in uniform.  Jeff received a standing ovation as the Admiral described how Jeff tragically lost his son in Afghanistan in 2005.  As a Gold Star Parent, Jeff has since devoted countless hours to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation and the Green Beret Foundation.  Jeff is an amazing person who places a high priority on mentoring many soldiers including my son.  I encourage you to read the book he wrote as a tribute to his son – The Making of OUR Warrior: How SSG Chris Falkel Became a Green Beret Warrior and Hero.

At the Rotary event, it was stirring to hear Joseph LaNier, II describe his youth in segregated Mississippi, and Navy service during World II in Iwo Jima and Okinawa.   Joe’s story is powerful, because his absolute candor helps us understand our historical blunders, and how as individuals we can overcome adversity to make a difference for our family, our community, our country and ourselves.  Steffan Tubbs is writing a book about Joe, and I would be willing to bet there is a great deal of mentoring taking place through that process!

Joe’s story reminded me of my dear friend George Callahan.  George was my boyhood neighbor who was a decorated combat veteran of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and was a former Army Special Forces soldier. He went through paratrooper and Special Forces training at the unprecedented age of 40.  Like Joe Lanier, George is soft-spoken, kind, and polite.  As his wife Trudy still says, “George is a complete gentleman.”

As my mentor, George was positive, optimistic, immensely inspiring, and completely encouraging as I prepared to enter the military many years ago.  One day before I left for boot camp, I eagerly asked my him for advice that would help me in my training. He said he had only two bits of advice: “Choose your friends carefully. You need to work with everyone, but not everyone has to be your friend.”  The other counsel offered was, “Take the bad times day by day. If it’s really bad, take it hour by hour. If it’s really, really bad, take it moment by moment.”  That advice has served me quite well over the years!

George has a daughter and no sons, so when I earned the Green Beret, I was honored to be presented with one of his cherished berets.  Luckily, my son has also been able to benefit from George’s mentoring, and he will be attending my son’s graduation from West Point in just a few weeks.  George retired as a Chief Warrant Officer, Four (CW4), and will likely be the first person to render a salute to my son when he is commissioned as a Second Lieutenant at Trophy Point.

Mentors are wise and trusted teachers, and there are some great ones out there.  The thing about mentors is that you have to be the one to initiate the relationship.  All you have to do is ask.  In fact, there are still some terrific mentors from the Greatest Generation now in their late 80’s and 90’s.  What have you done to meet them, and gain from their wisdom?  


  • Theresa Letman
    Posted at 11:47h, 08 May Reply

    Jan – thanks for asking this important question. I look forward to gaining more wisdom from the Greatest Generation — and from other amazing mentors, including you.

  • Jan Rutherford
    Posted at 07:31h, 15 May Reply

    Thanks, Theresa! Thankfully, many of their stories have been documented, but there is nothing like hearing them in person!

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