"I can tell you now one reason why I think you've been having hard luck. I saw it in your faces last night. I can see it there now. You've been looking at a lot of air lately, and you think you ought to have a rest. In short, you're sorry for yourselves. Now, I don't have a lot of patience with this 'What are we fighting for?' stuff. We're in a war--a shooting war. We've got to fight. And some of us have got to die. I'm not trying to tell you not to be afraid. Fear is normal. But stop worrying about it and about yourselves. Stop making plans. Forget about going home. Consider yourselves already dead. Once you accept that idea, it won't be so tough."
--General Frank Savage (Twelve O'Clock High)
Saw one of my favorite movies last nite, Twelve O'Clock High. The film is a story about the early days of strategic bombing in northern Europe during WWII. A 'hard luck' bomb group is failing, and a veteran general is sent in to turn things around. From where I sit, this is one of the best management movies ever made, particularly in the context of turnarounds.
The film is also a reminder of the utter waste of war in terms of human life. Bomb groups at that time sought to put up 21 planes per mission. Casualties were considered 'good' when 19 of 21 planes returned from a mission. Losses were frequently much worse. With the requirement being 25 completed missions before a bomber crew's tour was done, it should of little surprise that fear was high and morale was low when loss rates/mission were 10%+.
By the end of the war, the Eighth Air Force, which undertook most bomber and fighter plane missions for the United States in northern Europe, had realized more than 47,000 casualties, including 26,000 dead. Seems inordinately high until one realizes that casualties pile up quickly when each heavy bomber that went down carried a ten man crew with it.
Memorial Day finds me thinking about a particular subset of the Silent Generation--call it the Lost Generation of human potential.