As the nation, if not the Commander-in-Chief, observed the 75th anniversary of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, it became obvious that the “Greatest Generation,” will soon be no more.
Fewer and fewer members of that extraordinary group of men who were born during World War I, saw their parents struggle through the Depression and came of age in planes over Germany and the Pacific, on the cliffs of Normandy and along the Bataan Death March, are able to participate in the annual commemoration at the site of the attack that answered Winston Churchill’s prayers and thrust the U.S. into World War II.
One of them, Harold Estes, died at age 97, enlisted in 1934, serving 23 years before, during and after that war, retiring as a Master Chief Boatswains Mate and ending his days in what he called a “rest home” in Hawaii.
Before he died, however, Estes put pen to paper and wrote the new president, Barack Obama in 2009, a letter straight from the heart – and the gut, sparing the man he called “young man”none of the hard truths he felt Obama needed to hear and that he felt entitled by virtue of his age and service to tell him.
The letter was written just as Obama took off on his “apology” tour in the months after his inauguration, but as the president completes eight years in office, it sounds tragically timely as Estes almost predicted the direction the Obama years would take – disrespect for law enforcement and the military, obsession with race, and a lack of love for America.
“Dear President Obama,” the then-95-year-old veteran began, “One of the benefits of my age, perhaps the only one, is to speak my mind, blunt and direct even to the head man,” and then he did just that.
“I am amazed, angry and determined not to see my country die before I do but you seem hell bent not to grant me that wish. I can’t figure out what country you are the president of…”
Estes turned Obama’s own words on him, quoting, “America hasn’t lived up to her ideals,” and schooling the new president on American history 101.
He reminded Obama of the “11,000 farmers and shopkeepers who died for to win independence from the British” and the half-million men who died for the “ideal that no man should be a slave to another.”
The old sailor made it personal, too.
“I hope you didn’t mean the ideal 470,000 fathers, brothers, husbands, and a lot of fellahs I knew personally died for in WWII.”
Nor did Estes mince words.
“I don’t think you mean the ideal that says equality is better than discrimination. You know the one that a whole lot of white people understood when they helped to get you elected.”
And then, calling himself, “a very old geezer,” Estes had some hard advice for the president who was half his age.
“Shape up and start acting like an American.”
In 2009, Estes already had the measure of the man from the way he jumped at the chance to call Cambridge, Massachusetts police stupid and yet “lectured” Americans about not doing the same about the Ft. Hood shooter.
Estes saved the best for last, noting that while Obama “never served in the military and never had to defend your country with your life, you’re the Commander-in-Chief now, son. Do your job.”
Thank you for your 23 years of service and your fearless honesty.
Rest in Peace, Master Chief Estes.