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Larry King Live
Tom Brokaw Discusses `The Greatest Generation'Aired March 6, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, he wrote a runaway bestseller about the greatest generation, and the greatest generation wrote back. NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw is here for the full hour. He'll take your calls next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Tom Brokaw, of course, is anchor and managing editor of NBC nightly news. He's been a frequent guest on this program.
When his earlier book, "The Greatest Generation," came out, he guested right at its publication. It sold more than 2 million copies: was back again when the follow-up, "The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections" -- that was around Christmas; there you see its cover. It has remained on the bestseller list. Indeed, on many bestseller lists, both books remain.
How, Mr. Brokaw -- it's close to the forest through the trees to explain this -- but how do you explain this?
TOM BROKAW, AUTHOR, "THE GREATEST GENERATION SPEAKS": Well, I -- you know, Larry, I think it's -- I think you can explain it by reading the stories. I wrote this as a labor of love, and I can't really claim the credit. As I have described my role here, I'm the doorman. I simply opened the door and said, "This way, please," first in "The Greatest Generation," then "The Greatest Generation Speaks."
I think that there are three real factors, however. One is at the turn of the century we look back and there are very few events that have greater meaning in our lives than World War II. This would be a much different world if we had not prevailed during that time.
I think, two, the events in Washington in 1998 gave a lot of people a big appetite for more heroic values, if you will.
And finally, these people, who had not talked about those experiences -- first in the Depression and then in the world war -- were beginning to talk about what they had been through. And to their children, the baby boomers, and their grandchildren, this was an astonishing experience to know how much sacrifice they'd gone through when in the Depression kids dropped out of school to go to work not to buy video games or go to movies on Saturday but to put clothing on their own backs and food on their table. Then they went off to war and won it, came home, built their families, built their communities, gave us this great medium, great art, great science, medicine. Never complained, never whimpered. KING: But frankly, did you know you were tapping into that resource?
BROKAW: I really didn't, Larry. I -- and it goes on. Since "The Greatest Generation Speaks" has been published, I've gotten another 4,000 letters, many of them moving, from veterans and from their children and from people who wrote memoirs of their own experience during the war and from others. And I can't go anywhere in this country without people stopping me on airplanes or in sporting goods stores, as a man did recently in Montana, a rancher who was waiting for me to finish my shopping, and then he said: "I just have to tell you that a year ago at this time my father had gone legally blind and was in failing health. I bought your book and I read it to him between Christmas and New Year's. And he said, "It was the most meaningful father-son relationship we ever had. He told me stories I had no idea that he'd gone through."
"He was wounded after landing on D-Day, and he died on Father's Day," he said. "But because of your books, we had conversations we never would have had."
Well, we both stood there with tears in our eyes.
KING: We'll have you read some of the letters from the second book. The second book, Tom, almost wrote itself, right?
BROKAW: It did.
KING: I mean, you've got these letters coming in, and you've got the -- why not do another one?
BROKAW: It was fully unexpected, Larry. I wrote the first book. We were very pleased with the success of that. That is Random House and myself and NBC, which had a role in all of that as well.
KING: Because you did a TV special of that.
BROKAW: I did. And then the letters started coming in. And obviously, we triggered in the veterans a determination to tell their story and to share it with their children. Also it was plain that a lot of children went to their parents for the first time and said, tell me what it was like for you during the Depression and then the war.
And so by about March, I said to Kate Medina (ph), who's my editor at Random House, I think we have another book here, and I began writing it fast and furiously. And then I couldn't get a deadline, because every time I would say, "OK, this is the last letter," another great letter would come in.
The most recent example of that was Gregory Kirshner (ph) from Pennsylvania who described for me what had happened to him in the Battle of the Bulge. He was a medic. He was treating a friend of his who had lost a leg in a land mine explosion. It was dark and rainy. The man kept saying to him: "My God, what will happen to my wife? Who's going to take care of her? We're going to have a child. I'm very worried about her."
And he said, "For 50 years, I've been worried about that man's wife, because he died two days later." And we were able to find her, and we put the two of them together, and it's changed both of their lives as well. And I've now heard from Mr. Kirchner's doctor, who said: "I was his cardiologist. He was in failing health, but then you came along and printed this story and talked about it. And it's really picked up his spirits, and he's going to live a long time."
KING: The letters came from who?
BROKAW: From everyone: from veterans, from their children, from neighbors of veterans. It was a kind of connective tissue. I have never been through this in all my years as a professional journalist. I've never been through anything that was -- the only word I can use really, or only phrase I can use, is that it was the connective tissue of America, as if the country reached out and joined hands from coast to coast and from generation to generation, and began to share these stories around bars and dinner tables and on airplanes and in car commutes as well. And they found their way to me. And I was very pleased to be able to publish them.
I don't know what I'm going to do with all the letters that have come in since then.
KING: I will tell you that our lines are being flooded. We will get to calls in a while. Tom will also read some of these letters. We'll touch some other things political.
But the basis is this extraordinary book. And the one question obvious is, why haven't these veterans spoken to their children and spoken more about their experiences?
BROKAW: I think, talking to them, that it was just so painful for so many of them. You have to realize they were 18 and 19 and 20 years of age and their best friends were shot right beside them. Planes were blown out from under them or their ships were sunk. At home, for those who did not see combat, they had a -- their own kind of modesty. They didn't want to talk about their experiences because they knew other people were going through something that was more difficult.
And it was also a generation that was steeped in just getting the job done. I really do believe that their character was shaped by the Depression as much as it was by the war. And they learned to just take what they had day by day.
So when they got into the '50s and life began to be prosperous, and then in the turmoil of the '60s and they thought there was a kind of gap between their values and their children, they just simply closed up and they were grateful for whatever they had.
Finally, I think that they're beginning to tell the stories.
KING: And finally we're going to get a memorial for them.
BROKAW: Yes, the World War II memorial.
BROKAW: Yes, and I'm -- by the way, I'm -- a pretty good chunk of the profits from these two books are going to the World War II memorial and also to the D-Day museum that Steven Ambrose, who is the godfather of this generation...
BROKAW: ... is building down in New Orleans.
KING: That's great. I salute you.
Back with more of Tom Brokaw. We'll read some of these letters. Grab a hold of your emotions and hold them in check if you can. We'll be right back.
KING: Tom, before we ask you to read what might be a typical letter -- and we'll try to do two or three -- when you wrote the term "the greatest generation" there was some early criticism -- that's kind of a bold statement. That has tapered off. I guess most people are starting to say maybe you were right.
BROKAW: Well, it's become a kind of a part of the language. John McCain has been using that phrase in almost all of his speeches, talking about what we owe the World War II. And on the New Hampshire -- the night of the New Hampshire presidential primary all four candidates used the phrase in their speech.
My short answer is, Larry, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. I'm willing to defend it, because I've thought about it a lot. Arthur Schlesinger, who was in the first book and who is one of the pre-eminent historians of our age really, said, you know, the founding fathers had more brain power and more vision in that small group of people than any other generation. And what I have said about this generation is that I believe its greatness was in its collective strength.
The founding fathers really were the fathers, and they were all white. We still had slavery at that time. Women didn't have a role.
In the World War II generation, everyone had a role, and the African-Americans didn't give up even though they were the victims of extraordinary discrimination, really the most vicious kind. Japanese- Americans, who were sent to their own concentration camps in this country, at the end of the war returned to their homes and their businesses and their communities and made their lives as American citizens without the kind of bitterness that you would expect from other groups.
So I think collectively it is the greatest generation. It was not without its faults individually and collectively: too slow to recognize the cancer of racism in our country, too slow to recognize the place of women in society. There was, I think, progress along the way, and then we would fall back when something like Vietnam came along. This was the can-do generation, and they went in too blindly to Vietnam. And yet some of the most eloquent critics of Vietnam were people like Mark Hatfield and George McGovern, who were blue ribbon members of the greatest generation.
KING: Give me a typical letter, Tom.
BROKAW: Well, I have so many of them that it's hard to describe. I remember that when I began to write this book, Meredith was with me in Montana, and she said this simply can't be true. It came from a man by the name of Clarence Graham (ph). He's 80 years old. He lives out in Oregon. And he was captured when he was fighting on the Batan peninsula in the Philippines and he was sent to work in a condemned coal mine in Japan.
And he barely survived that experience. People were dying all around him. He came up one day, and there was an air-raid siren, and the Japanese went into their bunkers. And he then went into a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they had.
He said: "We went into the trenches and heard some planes but never saw them. And then they blew the `all clear.' But just as we were coming out I heard another plane, and I looked up and saw an opening in the clouds, and I saw a B-29. I thought: `Why don't they bomb? What are they joy riding for?' And then we saw a brilliant flash. There's no way to describe the brightness. You couldn't tell where the flash came from, just brilliant brightness. Then seconds later, there was a small tremor on the ground. You could feel the ground shaking. Then there was a strong wind that came from the west" -- which was the direction of Nagasaki. He was a witness to the atomic bomb.
And a few days later...
BROKAW: ... one of the Japanese prison guards came up to him and said, "We will be friends now." And Mr. Graham simply took himself over the fence of the prison compound; got on a bicycle -- still just in his loincloth -- rode it to a train station; got on a train until he went south and found occupational troops. And as he flew out of Japan, there was a double rainbow in the Sea of China -- the China Sea below him. And he said to the pilot, "Do you see that?" And the pilot said to him, "That must be just for you." Pretty remarkable story.
KING: The most amazing thing is the spontaneity of these letters.
BROKAW: Yes, it really is.
KING: I mean, people write books all the time and no one just writes letters and -- occasionally you get a letter. You know that.
BROKAW: Well, the lovely thing about this whole experience for me has been is that it's recalled really I think a lot of the values that we've all cherished as we've grown up and we've lost sight of them. My mother, for example, still writes me. She's always asking whether I've gotten a letter from her. And this is a generation that believes in putting things down on paper. And so the letters that I have received, often on floral stationery in very firm Homer penmanship or on yellow legal pads, there were just so many stories.
If I can just take a moment, there was another story...
BROKAW: ... that I think that you would get a kick out of, and that was a story sent to me by Rita Morasco (ph) of Pittsburgh. Her husband's father had been killed in Italy, and they made a pilgrimage to a small pilgrimage to a small village in Italy to see if they could find out where he had been shot. And they discovered a young man, who had been a young man during World War II who in fact had found his body and had erected a shrine.
So they say: "We return every year to that town, to the mountain. We all make the journey together with Valerio (ph), his wife and son, the priest, soldiers, and many townspeople. Advance notice of our coming is announced in the local newspaper so that the townspeople can plan their schedules to be with us. We meet at the base of the mountain; walk together upwards; celebrate mass at the foot of the cross..." -- that was erected for her late father-in-law -- "... talk about the war and what town residents remember or have heard from others about the time in 1945. And afterwards, for a day or two, we visit with the many new friends that we have made and family my husband has finally found for himself in Italy."
That is not an unusual pilgrimage for families who've lost someone in the war. They've gone back to the very place where their husband or their son or their brother or their boyfriend was killed. And they find very often in Europe and throughout the Pacific small markers where these people fell.
KING: Our guest is Tom Brokaw: two major bestsellers, "The Greatest Generation" and now "The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections." We'll be taking your phone calls. We'll be back with Tom right after this.
KING: Tom, is this generation very, very different from baby boomers and generation X? Is this apples and oranges?
BROKAW: Well, can I just share with you the thoughts of the late Senator John Chafee, who was a Marine in the South Pacific and became a Marine officer, because we had the last extensive interview with him before he died. And we asked him about that...
KING: Just died recently, right?
BROKAW: Yes, he did, before the first of the year, just before Christmas. And his son, Lincoln, now has taken his Senate seat. He said: "I'm not one who believes this country is going to pot or that people of my generation are of some grand status above all others. The people I work with here in Washington are for the most part from a younger generation. I'm 76, and the vast majority of the people I deal with are in their middle 50s and these people are terrific. They're just as good as our generation, and I truly believe that thrown into a similar situation they would do just as well."
That is a real common reaction when I ask members of the generation what they think about the generations that are coming up. And of course, they're talking about their own children and their grandchildren. They're in awe of their education level, how much money they're able to earn.
And I must say, Larry, as I go around the world we're all very grateful that there's not a world war they have to go fight or there's not a depression. But as I go around the world I find in places like Somalia or in South Africa and the refugee camps young Americans doing really heroic work: medical relief workers, or people who are in Mozambique right now.
Just on "Nightly News" tonight, we had young Americans who've gone in ahead of the organized military relief that is coming from the West to do something about the devastation in that country.
So I think that this -- these are great generations coming up. Just thank God they don't have the challenge this generation did.
KING: Where are you? Are you somewhere between the two?
BROKAW: I am. I'm kind of a notch baby, I suppose.
I was born in 1940, so my first memories are of the war. I lived on an Army base in southwestern South Dakota. And I remember young people going to war or coming home from war all around me, and women driving big trucks, and ammunition being stored and tested out on the sagebrush prairie. And my first conscious thought as a youngster was that we would always be at war, because that was the only world that I knew.
And then I became the beneficiary of the prosperity that followed the war. My family came from very working class roots in South Dakota. And they had to work very hard for whatever they'd gotten, because my parents came of age during the Depression. And the war just faded away for me until I went back to Normandy in 1984 and -- for the 40th anniversary, and realized how much we owe that generation and how much -- I was surrounded as a youngster by the people who obviously had fought in the war and made all those sacrifices.
KING: You were therefore not surprised about the success of "Saving Private Ryan"?
BROKAW: No, I was finishing up the first book, "The Greatest Generation," when I went to see "Saving Private Ryan." I had heard that Steven was making the film and that Tom Hanks was in it. And Meredith, my wife, whose father had a very difficult war -- served for five years. He was a front-line battalion surgeon and never ever said a word about it. She decided that this is an important film for her to see, even though she knew the first 20 minutes or so would be very difficult.
And we sat through it and we were stunned by what we were seeing, and of course, I knew at that time that that would also help awaken a lot of the memories and cause people to think about what had happened.
So I talked to Steven. We were both working on these projects independently, and we both agree that it's changed our lives.
I don't think I've ever done anything more important professionally. I mean, I've had -- I've been very fortunate in my career. But this is the most important thing I've ever done professionally.
KING: And Steven says the same thing. We'll be right back. As we go to break, here's a tape of Tom reflecting on earlier Tom. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROKAW (voice-over): Dad was the last of 10 children. He went to work full time as a child. If it was a machine, he could run it. If it broke, he could fix it.
He spent his later years building parks and recreational areas along the Missouri River. His hands were never still and always banged up. I kidded, he may one day bleed to death through his hands.
Mom and dad worked hard all their lives, saving their money, teaching their three boys by example about work and love.
(on camera): You never lost your sense of optimism, never lost your ability to get up in the morning and get through the day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh no. Oh no. Wouldn't that have been awful?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Politics aside, Tom, with the success of John McCain's book and his early success in this campaign, wherever it goes, would you say that we have this continuing Spielberg/Brokaw search for heroes?
BROKAW: Well, I think what there's a search for is kind of authenticity in American life. We are every day swept up in the kind of celebrification of America. Sometimes it's pretty tinny, that celebrification, as I describe it. And I think that people are longing constantly for the true values that got us to where we are and longing for authentic heroes and for people who seem not afraid to tell the truth, who come to them with candor and are not afraid to admit that they have made some mistakes in the past. So I think it's that as much as anything else.
And I do believe, as we look around, enjoying this unprecedented wave of prosperity -- there's never been anything like this in the history of mankind for one society to be this prosperous -- and to know that there's, relatively, that there's peace in the world, and that we have this new technology that is so empowering, the cybertechnology that links the world and you can retrieve information with just a keystroke, people are beginning to think: "What did we do to deserve this? And how do we earn our way for the future? What is it that we can be doing?" Because we find ourselves in such a -- such a fortunate time in our lives.
So I do think that there's a longing and a kind of a search, if you will, for authenticity in the lives of a lot of people.
KING: We'll be going to calls for Tom Brokaw. We'll also have him read another letter or two in the next half hour.
Concerning tomorrow, expect any surprises tomorrow, Tom?
BROKAW: Well, I think that what we've learned in this campaign is always to expect surprises. And my favorite theory of politics, which I've said kind of ad nauseam, including on this program, is that we have to always be prepared for what I call the "UFO factor": The unforeseen will occur.
But it does appear that given the amount of money and organization that you have to have, that George W. Bush on the Republican side is in a very advantageous position going into tomorrow. And it's pretty clear that Al Gore now has an opportunity to put Bill Bradley away, although Bradley says there will be some surprises tomorrow. That will be a big surprise to all of us, I think.
BROKAW: I do think that McCain will get enough delegates tomorrow that he will still be a force at the convention, which will make that experience in Philadelphia more interesting this summer.
KING: Can McCain win New York?
BROKAW: Sure, he can win New York. You win New York congressional district by congressional district. It does make it more difficult because this is still a machine-oriented state. I do think -- and I asked George Bush about this after New Hampshire -- that they've got to reform their primary rules in New York. It ought to be open. They can be just Republicans, but it ought not be the kind of draconian setup that it is that discourages people that don't play by Republican Party rules.
KING: What happened to Bill Bradley, in your opinion, Tom? He was making a big move. He had pulled even. He forced Gore to challenge him to debates, declared himself the underdog, and then gone. BROKAW: I think two things happened to him. One is that he made Al Gore a much better candidate. That was the first thing that happened to him. And secondly, he did not seem to have a second act. He talked about reform, and he talked about changing the political system, but he did not seem to have the personal passion nor did he seem to have an agenda that would take him through not just Iowa and New Hampshire but the primaries to come.
It's very complicated to run for president of the United States. I don't know a more difficult public job, including being president, than getting out there and exposing yourself.
One friend of mine once said it's like, "You want to be president of the United States? You have to be prepared to take a bath, strip naked at the busiest intersection in town at high noon every day and let everyone comment on your appearance."
KING: Well said. We're going to go to a break. We'll go to your calls. More from the book. And as we go to a break, here's a taste of Tom Brokaw moderating a Republican debate just last December. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROKAW: Tell me, we have time for -- what? -- one more question, one more answer?
Senator Hatch, why not have means-testing for Medicare? Why should someone who earns my kind of income, for example...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROKAW: May I -- may I futilely try to get control here for just a moment? We're -- we're going to get to you. You get a question coming up in a few moments. Then you could promise, Alan...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROKAW: You're going to eat up all the surpluses just with your tax cut. Are you willing to say tonight that if it gets to that point, you don't want to be in a position that your father was where he had to raise taxes and he promised he wouldn't?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Tom Brokaw. He says these books have constituted the greatest thing he's done in his life and has had the most impact on his life. They are "The Greatest Generation," which has sold more than 2 million copies and remains on the bestseller list, and its follow-up, "The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections" -- also still on the bestseller list.
Let's take some calls for Tom. We'll also get a few more letters too.
Washington, D.C., hello.
CALLER: Hello. During World War -- this is a question obviously for Tom.
KING: Go ahead.
CALLER: OK. During World War II, Edward R. Murrow relayed the soldiers' story to the United States via radio at the time they were happening. Now, you have relayed to us the soldiers' stories in their own words. Do you feel that Murrow did the soldiers justice?
BROKAW: I do. I think that the veteran -- the correspondents who were covering World War II did a remarkable job. Edward R. Murrow was best known, of course, for his reports when London was under siege, although he did also cover Americans in combat.
But Ernie Pyle and Walter Cronkite and Andy Rooney, who wrote for "Stars and Stripes," if you go back and read their accounts and their books, and Bill Maulden (ph), who wrote really some of the most eloquent passages about the war through his cartoons, I think that they accurately described, in fact, what was happening there, and they were often censored, and they didn't spare Americans knowing just how difficult and dirty this war was.
But at the same time, there was a great propaganda machine under way here to get everybody onboard for the war effort.
KING: And radio was our eyes and ears, was it not?
BROKAW: Yes, and it remains in many ways our most intimate medium. I mean, that's how I got the news when I was a youngster and I know you did as well, Larry, growing up. And it was those vivid descriptions that played to all of your senses and they came through those big upright cabinet radios that you would hear. So it was an important medium at that time, and people would religiously gather in the evening.
My wife remembers, because her father was overseas, the family would just stop whatever they were doing...
KING: You're right...
BROKAW: ... so they could hear the evening news.
KING: This is Gabriel Heater (ph) and there's good news tonight, or Murrow, this is London.
By the way, how do you think that war, with all we have now, if we had all this then?
BROKAW: Boy, it would be tricky. Well, it's a different kind of war for one thing, and it's -- it's impossible to know.
The new technology that we have now, you could've had small cameras at D-Day. On the other hand, the Germans, if they had the same technology, wouldn't have been caught as much by surprise as they were.
I have thought about it a lot. We demand, as we did during the Gulf War, that we have greater access to the troops, although it was generally worked out during the Gulf War between front-line commanders and the correspondents who were assigned to their units so that they could each give each other a little operating room. And it worked out reasonably well, although a lot was kept from us. And I think that the Pentagon still should be reviewing its policies for allowing correspondents to see what the action is all about.
KING: And you might have seen despots like Hitler on programs like ours.
BROKAW: Yes, I think that you would have. And I honestly think that that would have been better for the country to have a full idea of what he was all about.
People often say, who in the 20th century would you have liked to have interviewed? Well, Hitler is at the top I think of any journalist's list, because we'd like know what was going on in that dark and historically evil mind. And it would have been a way to allow the people in this country, who were isolationist, to know the true intent of somebody like Adolf Hitler.
KING: Are you worried about these media conglomerates, all of these mergers, the public impact, how the public feels, the media in general, where we stand today?
BROKAW: I do worry about it a little bit. I think the proof of the pudding, however, is always in the eating. And so far as we have such an open society in terms of we're all examining each other constantly -- I mean, CNN as part of Time Warner, which is about to become part of AOL. NBC is part of GE. Everyone is looking in on everyone else. And I think as long as there's enough sunshine that the public will make the best judgments about that.
But I -- I do worry that it will reduce opportunity and that pressure for great profits will be such that people will not take chances as they once did in this business and give something the opportunity to start up again.
I think it would be hard for our friend Ted Turner to start CNN again with the losses that he incurred for so long and the scrambling that he had to do to finance it, because in this environment you have to make it fast or you're out of business.
KING: Did you almost come aboard here?
BROKAW: Well, I certainly thought about it very hard. I was very flattered. It was very difficult for me personally in a lot of ways, because I have such a fondness for Ted and I admire so much of what CNN does.
On the other hand, I'm a child of NBC. That network has been exceptionally good to me. I'm very proud of the work we do on a daily and a nightly basis. And I'm surrounded by colleagues and friends there.
So I was in the enviable position of having a wonderful job offer from a place -- I knew that I could have been happy, but at the same time, as I told Ted, it was highly unlikely I was going to leave my family and my home where I had been very happy for a long, long time.
KING: You were White House correspondent. In fact, you were White House correspondent during Watergate?
KING: Do you have -- was that a plum job or was it overrated?
BROKAW; No, no. It was a great job then. I think it's overrated now when you're in the closing days of a presidency that is effectively a lame duck presidency.
We had one of the great constitutional crises of this country's history playing out before us every day. You went to work ever morning not knowing quite what to expect.
I remember Richard Nixon saying to the Southern governors -- I think we were in Nashville at the time -- "The worst is behind us."
And the following Monday or Tuesday I was summoned to Ron Ziegler's office in the mid-afternoon, and he was sipping a cup of coffee and trying to appear very calm and collected, and he said: "Well, there is a development. It turns out there is a gap in one of the tapes," he said. It was 18 1/2 minutes. And I said: "What? Didn't the president just tell us the worst is behind us?" He said, "Well, we're trying to get to the bottom of this." Indeed.
KING: As we go to a break now, when we come back, we'll have more letters and more phone calls and discuss more about this extraordinary, great generation, but here is young Tom Brokaw reporting on Watergate for NBC. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WATERGATE COVERAGE, AUGUST 8, 1974")
JOHN CHANCELLOR, NBC ANCHOR: We're going to switch to the White House and our correspondents Tom Brokaw and Tom Petty. Gentlemen?
BROKAW: It was a day of expectancy around the White House this morning as the president scheduled a meeting with Vice President Ford at 11 o'clock and then came word that the president had requested television time for tonight. That television time nearly upon us now. It seemed a confirmation that he had reached the decision that was breaking out all over Congress, that he had decided to resign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The book is "The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections." The guest is Tom Brokaw. The caller's from Toledo, Ohio. Hello.
CALLER: Hello, and thank you, gentlemen, for taking my call.
CALLER: My dad -- obviously, Mr. Brokaw, I respect what you've done so very much in these efforts toward the respect of these people. My dad was a physician in the war, and he presently has terminal cancer. In fact, today he was given the last rights.
One of his greatest frustrations and hurts has been that the elderly -- that made to feel that the elderly have been put out to dry without a care.
Have you heard any of the similar or same comments or sentiments from the elderly?
BROKAW: I've heard a lot about...
KING: Have you...
BROKAW: Yes, about the -- we've heard a lot, Larry, about the VA hospitals that are closing around the country. In fact, there's a class action lawsuit against that right now, organized in part by Bud Day, who is one of John McCain's prison cell mates, who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor later. And a number of these facilities have been closed, but at the same time, because of this renewed interest in World War II, I'm now told that some hospitals are getting additional money. What they're doing is putting the veterans on Medicare programs and sending them to other institutions. And at the same time, there is a real dilemma here. They're not able to always provide a military detail for a military funeral if a veteran dies, because they're dying at the rate of a thousand a day. That's 30,000 a month. And so American Legion posts and VFW posts around the country are stepping in to provide that.
Larry, I have one letter here I just thought that would be typical of how young these people were and how they behaved under the worst kind of stress. Shirley Goodwin (ph) of Jacksonville, Florida described her brother William Colgin (ph), who was a medic with the Marines. He was killed while under fire trying to save a man in Pililu (ph), which was one of the worst battles of the war, as you know, and he got the Navy Cross for that.
She said: "The whole family was affected by my brother's death, and my mother got real sick and almost gave up on living. After a talk with her brother, she realized she had eight other children to raise and she go got on with the task. Then she shared with me a letter that her brother had written home to mom and dad, and it was to be delivered to them only if something happened to him.
"He had a $10,000 life insurance policy. He said: `There is something I want you to do if you should have to collect. I want for you to buy a house out near the park. You can pay it off on the FHA plan. You can also send Edith to college when she gets old enough. Don't do like you let me do -- get by without studying. Make her study. P.S. Make Elwood (ph) save his money and try to get him to go to college. It really pays. Get him interested in aviation or television. That's what's really going to pay off in the future. I just hope Dolly (ph) doesn't ever have to give you this letter. Love to all.'"
And of course he was killed in battle, but that's the kind of letter those young men were writing home at that time.
KING: Do many of these veterans feel forgotten or not?
BROKAW: I think less so now. They're just not much given to complaining. And one of the joyous after-effects of writing both of these books is the number of reunions that have been instigated around the country. They're hearing from old Army buddies.
A woman I wrote about in the first book, Janet Norton Gonyay (ph), who lives in Minneapolis, had lost her husband in the battle at Arnon (ph) Bridge, and he got the Silver Star. Well, after the book came out, she heard from other members of the unit and people who had gone through jump school with him. And they are now fast friends, and she's going off to their reunions.
This has happened in a number of cases where people -- in fact, one man wrote to me saying that he had gotten a call from somebody who he thought had been killed in an air raid over Romania. So there's been a lot of that.
KING: You said a thousand a day are dying.
BROKAW: That's the mortality rate, and they don't like to hear that. In fact, just the other day I was talking with one member of this generation. He said, "I hate to have you say that, because I'm right in the middle of that generation."
Now, Bob Dole typically has made light of it. When he went on the "Today" program to talk about the World War II memorial, he said, "We have to get this money collected and get it built, because if we don't, pretty soon Strom Thurmond will be the only veteran from World War II surviving to stand there at the time of the dedication."
KING: Modesto, California for Tom Brokaw, hello.
CALLER: Yes, Tom, a big fan of yours.
BROKAW: Thank you.
CALLER: I was calling. I remember reading the poll numbers in the last election, and I was very curious to hear your take on this, because I have a lot of respect for your take. Eighty percent of the mainstream media ended up favoring Bill Clinton in the election. And you hear a lot about the media bias on radio and on television. Do you believe this media bias exists? BROKAW: Oh, I don't...
KING: The poll said they may have voted for Bill Clinton. That doesn't mean they're biased toward him.
Have you ever seen it, Tom, bias?
BROKAW: No. I think what's happened this time is that John McCain is getting very good press treatment, but then he's found a way into the hearts and minds of these reporters by inviting them on the bus and talking to them straight from the shoulder, admitting when he makes a big faux pas of some kind. And I think it has helped his candidacy. There's no question about that.
I think the -- after New Hampshire and then especially Michigan, the Bush campaign learned that it would have to make their candidate more accessible to reporters on a daily basis.
So reporters are like everyone else: They, you know, they kind of go with the ebb and flow of the personality of a candidate. But if you take John McCain's policies on the environment or on abortion or on military policy, it probably doesn't square with a lot of the reporters who have become very infatuated with him, just because he seems to be, again, one of these authentic people.
KING: Yet there are several who think this is some sort of vast conspiratorial plot on the part of the press to push McCain forward.
BROKAW: To keep the race going?
BROKAW: Sure. I think that one of the reasons he gets so much attention is that he is constantly available. And there are more reporters out there now, not just CNN and NBC, but all the other cable outlets that have to fill all during the day, like MSNBC and Fox News. Newspapers are filing for their different editions. Radio has to be on air all the time. John McCain is a constant running story, because if you go on the bus, he's going to say something and you're going to get on the air with him, whereas the Bush campaign was more tightly organized in terms of the access to the candidates.
Now to your larger question about are reporters biased, now I really don't think that they are. I think that most of us are registered, as I am, which is decline to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or as independents. I never have revealed who I've ever voted for. But I can tell, it crosses back and forth between party lines. And I think most people feel that way who are reporters.
You know, if one of us begins to really tilt the coverage toward one candidate, there are a hundred others behind us who will be pointing that out to you or you'll be able to go to another channel or another newspaper or another radio station, and find out the other side of the story.
KING: We'll be back with more of Tom Brokaw on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Tomorrow night, we'll be with you, of course, with complete election coverage and our analysis team headed by Bob Woodward. And we'll have the former United States Senator George Mitchell aboard as well. That's tomorrow night. We'll be right back with Brokaw after this.
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BROKAW: Would you give that shield to Taiwan, Senator McCain, and would you say to the Russians simultaneously, let's jump to START 3 and get it down to 1,000 nuclear warheads at the same time?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROKAW: Governor Bush, Bill Buckley, an old bleeding heart liberal...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROKAW: Senator Hatch, as I was saying, I'm in total control here, as you can tell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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BROKAW: We've got time, Governor.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'd love to talk about it.
BROKAW: And I know that it's so tempting.
BUSH: I was just warming up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Tom Brokaw. Bellingham, Washington, hello.
CALLER: Hi. I just wanted to know if Tom has given any thought to writing another book that might have emphasis on the folks who stayed in this country during the war. For instance, my dad tried to enlist in all four services but was 4-F because he's blind in one eye. My mom pumped gas. They have still got the old ration tickets from World War II. And I can remember them going through these mementos and showing them to me.
There were a whole bunch of folks who stayed here and held the home fires, and your first two books were primarily concentrating on veterans and their families. Have you thought about that? Maybe.
KING: Boy, is that...
BROKAW: Well, I have. I have. And in fact, the first book did have a number of people who stayed on the home front. Bob Dole always pointed out how important it was for the farmers to raise enough food, for example, to feed the troops who were abroad. And I had in the first book the story of a man who helped build the B-29. And he was kind of a genius at making the machine parts to put that plane together.
In this book, I heard from a number of people, "The Greatest Generation Speaks," about their own experiences at home during the war -- they didn't all necessarily obviously serve overseas -- and the reflections of their children. It was a time when, as Daniel Inouye said in the first book, it was the first time that he could remember when America as one raised its fist and said: "We are united. Whatever our color, wherever we come from, we know what the common objective is." And that was true of people who were saving rubber bands at home and going without -- without nylons and rationing sugar as well as the people fighting on the front lines.
KING: Although some apparently able-looking young men who were home were often ostracized, right?
BROKAW: They were, and that was always a difficult thing for them to explain. It was a time when a number of -- one man wrote to me about -- one woman, actually, the daughter of a man who enlisted when he was 34, because he simply couldn't stand the idea there was a war going on without him, even though he was older and had children at home. And he was killed in the closing days of the war, and she said, "Our family just never got over it."
KING: Is there another book possible, Tom, in this genre?
BROKAW: I think not for me, Larry.
KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) after the New Hampshire primary, we flew back together to...
BROKAW: Right, right.
KING: What was your next title?
BROKAW: Well, my line is -- I've been teased a lot by my friends, who are full-time writers and authors. And I said -- I guess I said it first to Garrison Keillor on "Prairie Home Companion," who was kidding me some. He said: "You're in television. You should be getting into my business." And I said, "Well, my next book will be `The Greatest Generation and Their Pets.'" It was a lighthearted remark, and I want everybody to take it in just that vain.
I actually could write another book given the letters that I've gotten. It seems unlikely. I do want to find a place, Larry, where all of these letters that I've received can be deposited in some form. And we're talking about that as well. There are some various institutions around the country where they can go.
And I also encourage schools and children and families to talk to members of that generation about what went on and try to record them if for no other reason for the family to read them. And...
BROKAW: ... that apparently is happening. Schools in Wenatchee, Washington and other places have assigned "The Greatest Generation" as a school project. And children go out, and if they don't have grandparents of their own, they find them in the community.
KING: Back with our remaining moments with Tom Brokaw. The book is "The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections." Don't go away.
KING: We're back with our remaining moments with Tom Brokaw. Tom, what do you think took so long for a World War II memorial?
BROKAW: I think that they were just so busy getting on with their lives, and they are inherently modest about it. And when Bob Dole and Fred Smith from FedEx began to organize the campaign, a number of people on Capitol Hill said to Senator Dole, look, we'll just appropriate the money. And he said: "No, that's not how our generation did it. We want to raise the money for ourselves and do it."
There is the Iwo Jima memorial obviously in Washington, D.C., and there are other places where you can celebrate the sacrifices. A lot of states -- Indiana particularly has an outstanding memorial to World War II. But there's never been one place in Washington where you can go.
And I think that the Vietnam wall had a lot to do with that, and then the Korean memorial. Now there's the wonderful Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial down there. And it's past due.
KING: By the way, have you noticed any difference in those who fought in the Pacific as opposed to the North Atlantic?
BROKAW: I think that the people who fought in the Pacific believe that they have not gotten an adequate amount of attention, and Steven Ambrose is writing about them, as he did with "The Band of Brothers" and "The Victors." He's going to go out to the Pacific now and write about them.
And also, it was -- they didn't have as many correspondents covering them out there as they did in Europe. So the European war did get more attention is what they believe.
And the stories are simply horrific. There is a wonderful new book that is coming out written by the son of one of the men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, and he's gone back to find about the lives of each of those men who have their hands on the flagstaff. And they had gone through some horrendous battles before they got to Iwo Jima. And a number of them were killed before they could get off that island.
KING: And the prisoners of war there had some incredible stories too, right?
BROKAW: Yes, it was pretty desperate. A lot of them have never really gotten past that, although there have been some exceptional reunions curiously enough.
One of the stories in this book is by -- was sent to me by a man by the name of Mr. Bilderback (ph), who was from Texas. He's a businessman in Texas. He was on Iwo Jima. He was given a letter from a dead Japanese soldier. He kept it for reasons he's not entirely clear about. He said he hated the Japanese at the time.
Later in life, his conscience got to him. He went on vacation to Hawaii, had the letter translated, realized it was a letter from the man's wife, got in touch with the Japanese widow. They have communicated. And it was the kind of letter that you would expect a wife to write to her husband about the clear skies at home and how much they missed him. And so there was a real healing, I think, of those wounds at that point.
KING: Tom, as always, thanks so much.
BROKAW: Thank you, Larry.
KING: See you along the trail.
BROKAW: I really appreciate it.
KING: Tom Brokaw, one of our favorite people.
BROKAW: Thank you very much.
KING: The book is "The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections," The earlier was "The Greatest Generation," which has already sold more than 2 million copies.
Thanks for joining us. I'm Larry King in Washington. CNN "NEWSSTAND" is next.
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