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Tom Brokaw Discusses 'An Album of Memories'

Aired May 23, 2001 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, he is one of the nation's top anchormen and a new poll just named him the most trusted newscaster in America. NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw joins us to talk about the headlines, and the greatest generations memories of service and sacrifice that made his two books such huge best sellers. He has a third! We'll take your calls -- and the name is Brokaw -- and it is next on LARRY KING LIVE.

I only know him a hundred years, but my teeth got caught in the tongues and I couldn't see what I was saying. Tom, I apologize for the wrong pronunciation, but I salute you...

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR/AUTHOR: No problem, I'm delighted to be here.

KING: ...on the publication of this extraordinary new book, Tom Brokaw, "An Album of Memories: Personal Histories From the Greatest Generation." Published by Random House. There you see its cover.

We've got lots to talk about. We will cover other things and then get right to the book and these incredible -- I will ask you one thing on the book before we begin. When you wrote the first -- "The Greatest Generation," I said, are you going to follow this up? And you said, with what? This is the definitive book. Now we've got generational books coming every year from Brokaw. Why?

BROKAW: Well, what happened, Larry, I didn't anticipate that there would be such a response to the first book, and the most touching and instructive letters really, began to pour into my office -- thousands of them -- more than 6,000 altogether, so there was a second book called, "The Greatest Generation Speaks."

I said that has to be the end of it. Then we got thousands more, and as a number of my friends said to me, if you don't print those letters in some form that people can have access to them, those stories will be lost forever. These people have entrusted their lives, their memories to you, you are a kind of a trustee.

So I decided I would do the third book, and I would give all my proceeds from this book to the World War II Memorial for the establishment of the Web site, in which people, can have reunions on the Web site, find out what happened to their outfits, what happened to their buddies, some of the events that maybe coming up about, oh, their Air Force units or their combat units or whatever. KING: That's a great -- great idea. And as we approach Memorial Day weekend, is that memorial going to get built?

BROKAW: It is I think, now that Congress has decided that it is going to get involved. Bob Dole had hoped that Congress would not have to get involved. He has said insistently that they have gone through all the proper procedures. There were some people obviously who didn't think that it ought to be there or that it ought to be that design. They took to it federal court.

Finally, the man who is in charge of the planning commission who called for a reopening of hearings said the other day, he hoped that Congress would get involved, and as you know, now, both the House and the Senate have passed by overwhelming numbers, a sense of Congress it ought to be built, just as it has been designed and approved and on that site. So I think it will be built.

KING: We'll get back to the book and to World War II in a couple minutes. The new survey out today rates Tom Brokaw the most trusted newscaster. Put together by Trade Association. 19.1 percent over Jennings 16.2, and Rather 14.6. Surprised?

BROKAW: No, Larry King is on that list as well. Listen...

KING: Was I on the list?

BROKAW: You are, actually, as a matter of fact -- you are on the top 10. I was very flattered obviously. It referred to Walter Cronkite who is always called the most trusted man in America. And, any time that you can be mentioned in the same breath with Walter Cronkite, it is obviously very gratifying, indeed.

I have enormous respect for both Peter and Dan, who are my colleagues, and competitors, and my friends in a way as well, and, I think that it is kind of heartening that American public has put up with us for so long, and still has a regard for us.

KING: Is it harder to stay number one than get to number one?

BROKAW: I think it probably is, because everyone is coming after you, and, now the universe is divided into so many parts, we are competing not just with each other but CNN, and with MSNBC, and with FOX News, local news, going two, three, four hours in some markets.

So, sure, it is tough, out there in that very crowded universe to become number one, and then to stay there and to find the right formulation, and to count on all those other parts of the network to help keep you number one. You know, local stations make a big difference in my life, the kind of lead-in they give to me. What comes after me? What Oprah does in the afternoon on all those ABC stations -- all of that has an effect.

KING: Tom, business buzz a little now, Barbara Walters has been moved out of Friday night into another night and they are not going to run the "20/20" magazine in December, there is a bunch of other -- do you have any thought on that? On your colleague, your former co-host on "Today"?

BROKAW: Yes, and a great friend. I was stunned. All that Barbara Walters has done for ABC, all that she's done for "20/20," no one in my business, or our business, I think, works harder than Barbara does, she made so much money for the Disney company and all the preceding owners of ABC.

And not to get a phone call and not to be consulted on that was pretty stunning. It probably is a cautionary tale for the rest of us who are in this end of the business.

KING: Is it troublesome to you -- or should be, I guess -- that all news seems to be diminishing in total audience? All news everywhere.

BROKAW: Well, it is because we are all dividing up the pie in so many different parts, Larry. The fact is still, during the winter months, on the three evening network programs, we've got close to 30 million people watching us in a given week. You have a very substantial audience, but you now have more competitors than you did before. So we are dividing up that news audience out there in many more ways.

I guess what's more troubling to me is that we are not getting the young people to plug into the daily news that they have other interests, now, they -- more than any time I can recall in my lifetime, I think young people occupy a separate culture, if you will. There is more of a schism between those who are the baby boomers and their children.

KING: Why do you think they are not watching?

BROKAW: I think that it doesn't address their needs, in many ways. They don't feel as inclined as we do to know what's going on in Washington, or in state government. Certainly, they have very little interest in international policy, they are much more consumed, understandably, with the dotcom economy and what's going to happen to that, with the new cybertechnology and what that gives to them.

They have their own specialty channels, like VH1, and MTV, AOL, a big factor for them, they've got a whole other universe that they turn to, get their news.

KING: Our guest is Tom Brokaw. His latest book is an "Album of Memories: Personal Histories From the Greatest Generation."

Amazingly enough, Tom Brokaw has become as well-known in author as he is an anchor, and that is no small potatoes! We will talk about some more items in the news, and a lot about this book, as we approach Memorial Day weekend don't go away.


KING: We are back with Tom Brokaw.

Tom, history could be made tomorrow if, as has been apparently presumed, James Jeffords of Vermont switches from Republican to independent. That would be the first time that a switch in control of the Senate meant without direct result of an election switched the power in the Senate. What -- this is a huge story.

BROKAW: It is a huge story. The tectonic plates of American politics will shift over the weekend. By Monday morning, if all this holds true, Tom Daschle will very likely be the next Senate majority leader. And that means that people like Joe Biden can be running the Judiciary Committee; Max Baucus, the Finance Committee. You could have Jeffords running the environmental policy; Appropriations, Robert Byrd.

So, there are some enormous changes that will occur in the United States Senate if in fact, as we expect that he will, that Senator Jeffords announces tomorrow that he is going to become an independent and organize -- that is the phrase they use -- with the Democrats.

Now, the Democrats are very confident he is going to keep his word to them. Some of the senator's Republican friends, Olympia Snowe from Maine and others, have a small glimmer of hope as to how they are describing it that he won't, but it's only about 5 percent. So, I think it is next to certain that he probably will go across.

KING: Senators have switched before, recently, of course, the switch in Colorado of the Democrat -- Mr. Campbell. But this, of course, is huge because it changes the power. What do you make of Jeffords?

BROKAW: Well, what -- what stuns me, I suppose, as much as anything, is that the White House didn't pick up any indications that he was as unhappy as he plainly is. They didn't invite him to the White House when a Vermont teacher was honored as Teacher Of The Year.

They were very unhappy when he decided he would vote against the tax cut, but they only had a 50-50 proposition up there. And George W. Bush -- he is doing very well by the way as the new president -- nonetheless, he had lost the popular vote, and it was as narrow an electoral victory as you could possibly have. So, he was operating on a real high wire, and you would think that his political operatives in the White House and on the Hill would be taking the temperature of every Republican senator, every morning, noon and evening.

KING: Buy anything to the rumors that Zell Miller in Georgia might go Democrat to Republican to balance it off?

BROKAW: No, he's knocked it down. He's got to go both ways now. He will stay a Democrat, he'll be in what will probably be the majority party, the same time he will be able to deal with Republicans, because they will want to keep him as much in their camp, if not by party affiliation at least ideologically.

But Georgia is still a Democratic state. Zell Miller has been not only the governor there, but has been a very powerful leader for a long time, as you know.

KING: I said "Zed" -- I meant Zell. Touching on other basis before we talk about this extraordinary book -- what do you make of -- of Mayor Rudy Giuliani letting his private life so in the past dear to him, become front page every day?

BROKAW: I guess I was surprised that he was lecturing the press about its -- what he felt was the undue attention that the press in this town has been paying to his private life. You have to remember that when Rudy Giuliani first ran for office, he had his wife Donna and his children very much a part of his campaign.

I remember going to Gracie Mansion, shortly after he was elected, and it was a big family dinner there. And that was a part of the popular makeup of Rudy Giuliani. So, then when he decided to leave Donna Hanover for another woman, and then he had the cancer crisis that he has gone through, it just seemed to me that his life changed more profoundly. I'm not going to try be a psychoanalyst here, but there may be some kind of a midlife crisis that he is going through.

He has been a great mayor, as you know. He probably could be mayor for several more terms, if he wanted to be. But this has become the nature, I think, of American politics, and I -- I worry about it a little bit. I think that we have become too fascinated with the personal lives of people who join us in public life.

All of us, at one time or another and in our public and in our professional lives, have made mistakes. We don't want to talk about them. We would rather be judged on the whole arc of our lives, but in this case, I'm afraid that the mayor walked right into this one.

KING: Do we have the right to know -- I give up the Jeb Bush example in which he was very angry -- do we have the right to know the private lives of publicly elected officials?

BROKAW: I'm not sure where that line is. I guess, for my own purposes, it is a line that is crossed only if it begins to affect their public duties, or in some way, is responsible for how they conduct themselves in office and how it damages the public welfare. Or if they are out-and-out hypocrites portraying themselves as family men or as wives, and in the case may be, and then there are carrying on, other kinds of affairs.

I think the big -- the big test for all of us, journalists, and public alike -- by the way, I think the public is ahead of journalists on this -- that we have to judge people in a much broader context: about the whole value of their lives, the whole arc of their lives, what they have done altogether, not just from the occasional mistake that they may have made, or the transgression they may have participated in.

KING: And what part do the collective "we" play in it? Is -- is Robert Blake's wife a big story? Or do we make it a big story?

BROKAW: I think we have made that one a big story, it is kind of a -- Robert Blake had not been heard from on television for a long, long time, almost 30 years as a television entertainer. This is a woman with, at best, a questionable background. Now, it doesn't mean that this murder ought not to be solved or that the police ought not pay attention to it. But I'm frankly stunned that it is getting as much day-to-day attention as it is. It is not nearly the magnitude say of the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

KING: What attention is NBC giving to that missing D.C. intern, Chandra Levy?

BROKAW: We did one story on it at the outset when her parents, who are well-known Californians, came back. And, when the police were simply befuddled by what was going on. The Congressman had been questioned by police at that point, so we did one story on it. We have done no more. We reflected absolutely the Congressman's assertion that he knew nothing about her disappearance, that he was very concerned about her welfare, that they had in fact had become friends, but nothing more than that.

KING: We will be right back with lots more with Tom Brokaw, and a discussion of this extraordinary book which is has gained him worldwide attention -- his interest in World War II. Don't go away.


KING: Tom, refresh our memories with the publication of this new book, "An Album of Memories," how did this first spark entered you that I'm going to write about World War II? What happened?

BROKAW: Well, just to go away back way, I was born in 1940, and my earliest memories are of life on an army base, so, I thought the war would always go on, everything around me was khaki green and young men going off to or coming home from war. Women driving big trucks, setting off explosions in southwestern South Dakota.

And the war quickly came to end. This country got on with other business -- the business of peace and prosperity, and we were very much a part of that. My parents were products of the Depression. We were able to buy a new car and think about sending their children to college. And I am one of the luckiest people in the world. I was able to go from South Dakota to the position that I have today.

And I was going to Normandy in 1984 for the 40th anniversary of D-Day, and we took some veterans over there with us. And I began walked the beaches with them. And almost from the first step I took onto those beaches with these men who landed there, my life had been change. I thought about how much we owe that generation, the raw courage and heroism that was required to win the war, to come from small towns and ranches and big cities, and Ivy League universities and join together.

And so I came back, and it really began to work on me. And I began to do more and more research, and I went to Pearl Harbor for the 50th anniversary of D-Day -- of Pearl Harbor.

Then by the time the 50th anniversary of D-Day came around in 1994, Tim Russert asked me on "Meet the Press," what I thought? And I said, of this generation which came of age, in the Great Depression, won the war, came home, built the country that we have today, never whined, never whimpered, I said, I think it's the greatest generation any society ever produced.

Steve Ambrose started slapping me on the back and said, that's a great phrase and if you don't use it, I will, more and more of my friends encouraged me to write it. And so I did.

But I want to say quickly here, Larry, that I am -- I consider myself a door man. I have opened a door to these remarkable stories, the real tribute belongs to the men and women who have shared their lives with me, either through their letters or in the first book, through the interviews that we did with them.

KING: We are going to read many of those letters and we'll take some phone calls. Tom will read, in fact -- he will read quite a few of them, and I will read one or two.

But the interest in that it is created in you, I mean are you -- you said you were surprised. Are you shocked now that a lot -- when you say "Tom Brokaw" on the street, people are just as likely to say World War II as they are NBC.

BROKAW: More likely, in some cases, I think. I can't go anywhere without people coming up to me every day, in one form or another either members of this generation or their children, or their grandchildren, and sometimes the most unlikely circumstances.

I was at the Florida State-Oklahoma game for the national championship earlier this year in Florida, was making my way around the stadium at halftime to go see a couple of my kids, and these young college students, one after another were stopping me and saying, Mr. Brokaw, I just love that book, "The Greatest Generation." It was all about my grandparents. And I went to talk to them about it.

And that is fairly remarkable for a generation that is often been described as uncaring about the past. So, I am encouraged by that.

KING: The readers were way beyond the veterans themselves. They are becoming a limited number, right? Many die every day.

BROKAW: They are. They don't like to admit -- I saw one of them today. And he said to me, I know, don't raise it with me, I know how fast we are dying. We are now up to about 1100 or 1200 a day because they are in the mortality zone. They are in their late 70s or early 80s.

Although I saw George Bush the senior today here in New York, he is 77-years-old on June 12th -- of course he was an 18-year-old Navy aviator -- he looks like he is 57. So it is a pretty tough group as well.

KING: We will be right back with more of Tom Brokaw to read some of these letters, take your phone calls, this is LARRY KING LIVE.

Tomorrow night, we'll take an extensive look at what could happen in the United States Senate tomorrow, based on the statements of Senator Jeffords tomorrow in his press conference from Vermont, which we'll see live right here on CNN. Don't go away.


KING: We are with Tom Brokaw. Without further adieu, give us an example of one of the letters you received.

BROKAW: I'm getting older, Larry, so I need a little help in the reading department with my glasses here. This is a man from Helena, Montana by the name of Richard Stafford, who said: "I joined the Navy in 1945 at 15, and was promptly kicked out for being too young. I joined again at 16, and was in for the duration. I sustained wounds on Omaha Beach that left me permanently disabled. Unlike a few I know, I was not embittered as a result. While I certainly would not want to repeat my experience in the war, and although I still think of friends who were lost, I'm grateful for the experience, and for the wonderful G.I. Bill that give me a Jesuit education."

Now, I have talked about him before, and that was his wife that you saw in the picture. I got this remarkable letter from her just this week. Shirley is her name. She said -- she remembers vividly the day they heard on radio that D-Day was under way.

She said: "I was 16 years old as a high school junior. My mother let me stay home that day. They said everything and they said nothing in those radio reports. Between reports, I nearly wore out the beads on my rosary, I said to the lord 'if he must be hurt, so be it. But just bring him back.' He came back, missing an eye, and with shrapnel in him."

But two years later, they were married. And then she goes on to say: "There were some infections in the eye socket, but the limp did not last long and the nightmares finally went away. He has seldom complained. Incredibly, the thing that bothered him the most was that he could no longer hit a curve ball."

I think it's a great story about somebody in Western America, and their only complaint was they could no longer hit the curve ball.

KING: Tom, why do you think this generation which kept to it itself so long, now writes letters?

BROKAW: I think in part because we have opened the door for them. We have encouraged them to do that. People of my generation, and baby boomers, and, their grandchildren, are going to them and they are now feeling secure in telling their stories. I think it was pretty tough for them during the 60s, for example, when we were going through a cultural revolution in this country.

I also think that they are at that stage in their lives when they are looking back and they are pretty proud of what they did. And they want people to know about that. They are coming to grips with their whole life, and then, the turn of the century had a big impact on us as well. As we look back over 20th century, we realize how much different this world would be, if it had not been for this generation going off to war.

KING: More letters and your phone calls will follow shortly.

To test your knowledge on tonight's guest, log on to our Web site at We will be back with more of Tom Brokaw and more of this extraordinary book. All of the proceeds of which will not go to Mr. Brokaw, but a great cause. We will reemphasize that as well. Don't go away.


KING: We're with noted author and anchor Tom Brokaw. We're going to show you some flashes of pictures from his latest book, "An Album of Memories: Personal Histories From the Greatest Generation." That generation of course, the men and women of World War II.

Tom, would you tell us again, we are going to include some phone calls, read some more letters, where the proceeds are going to go?

BROKAW: They are going to go to the World War II Memorial to establish a Web site so that buddies can find each other, so they can find out what happened to their outfits, a kind of a reunion Web site. I have also been donating leftover letters that we've gotten to a remarkable new World War II Institute at Florida State.

They have done a great job down there of organizing a lot of material, oral histories, letters, mementos of all kinds. So there is a real keen awareness in this country now of that time in our lives, and the importance of remembering it.

KING: We know about "Saving Private Ryan." Have you seen "Pearl Harbor"?

BROKAW: I have not seen "Pearl Harbor" yet. I did have a long talk with Ben Affleck. We did one of the Sunday supplement magazines for "USA Today, The Weekend," and he said that he knew very little about World War II until he got involved in "Pearl Harbor." Very thoughtful young man. We had an excellent dialogue.

He wanted to get his grandfather to the premier, but he didn't know whether he could because the memories were too painful for his grandfather, he said.

KING: You got another letter?

BROKAW: I do have another letter. This one, I think, typifies the time in so many ways. It is a man by the name of Morrie Robb (ph) who is now gone, unfortunately. He had enlisted in the air corps. His mother wrote to him and said: "That seems to be too dangerous assignment. You should you try to get transferred out."

He said, back to her in a letter: "It is not just desire to be among elite that makes me more anxious to graduate to be able to wear a pair of silver wings. It is more than that. It is because of the way dad brought me up. It is because of the love and respect I hold for dad that I will never voluntarily ask for a transfer. Today, honor means duty, to serve my country, and therefore, you, my mother, who has devoted her life to feeding dressing, training and loving me." Then he also dedicates the letter to his sister and to his wife to be. We very seldom hear those sentiments expressed in quite that same way again. But it was clear this young man felt a very strong sense of honor and duty to his family and to his country. He returned, became a successful businessman in the Philadelphia area.

KING: And passed away recently?

BROKAW: He did, yes. I heard from his son which has been very touching, Larry, to hear from the children and the grandchildren, and also from orphans in the war talking about how they went to find their fathers. Now, I always have to say parenthetically during these discussions, it the greatest generation in my judgment, but it wasn't perfect. It was too slow to recognize racial discrimination, gender discrimination. Certainly men who came back from the war, some of them became felons, or were abusive to their families.

But overall, just as I said at the beginning of the broadcast, I think we have to judge this generation by the big picture, the whole arc of their lives, and it is a remarkable, remarkable achievement that they have given us.

KING: Let's include a phone call for Tom Brokaw. Hamburg, New Jersey, hello.

CALLER: Hello.


CALLER: Good evening, Larry. Good evening, Mr. Brokaw.


BROKAW: How are you?

CALLER: My question -- I'm pretty good -- my question for Mr. Brokaw is: do you feel that today, that young Americans should serve in some capacity in the American military, should be required to serve?

BROKAW: I do think that the idea of mandatory national service is a good one. I think it does link us all together in common ground in some way. One of the things that happened during World War II is that we were no longer a country of individual fiefdoms. People from Kentucky served with people from Brooklyn, who served with people from California. And we got to know the whole fabric of American life.

The politicians will always say it is just prohibitively expensive to have mandatory national service, either militarily or in domestic service. Let me just say as well, that I find young people today, are very quick to volunteer for the teacher corps or for national service programs of one kind or another. So they are inclined to give back, we just don't have one national program for them to jump into.

KING: Eaton, Colorado for Tom Brokaw, author of "An Album of Memories: Personal Histories From the Greatest Generation" -- hello.

CALLER: I do have a question for Mr. Brokaw, but first I do want to thank you for the books you have written, especially for me with my father having served as a paratrooper in Philippines. But having died when I was 11, so I'm able to understand him better through your works. My question has to do with the present day military. Do you have any suggestions or thoughts on how our military in the 2004 election can better have the opportunity to vote?

BROKAW: Yes, I think that we...

KING: Yes, there were a lot of problems in the last one.

BROKAW: Yes, I do think we have to clean that up. I mean, I think that that is one of the many things that we have to clean up. My guess is that they will probably come up with something better than just these APO, mailing in your ballot at that time. They may be able to count them at Army bases overseas or wherever they happen to be on ships, at that time, and get them certified through some officer who is on the ships.

But that only added, it seems to me, to the tension between the two parties when we had these ballots arriving in Florida, sometimes not postmarked properly, and yet, everyone felt strongly that if they were serving their country they should be able to vote.

KING: Yes, Vancouver, hello.

CALLER: Hi. I have a question for Mr. Brokaw.

KING: Sure.

CALLER: I'm a huge fan. I've been a great fan for most of my life, anyway. Just wondering what would be perhaps the most difficult or the most challenging event you have had to cover.

BROKAW: Oh, gosh. I'm often asked that. I think just in recent memory, one of the most difficult events I had to cover was the Oklahoma City bombing. It's on my mind again because of the Timothy McVeigh situation. But I grew up in the heartland, not in Oklahoma, but I did have relatives there and knew a lot of people from Oklahoma.

And to go down there and to find this community which thought it had been insulated from that kind of terrorism, and had such strong feelings about the place of community and government in their lives and law-abiding citizens, to have a terrorist strike at the heart of that community and kill 169 people, including so many children, that was a very tough time for me. Any time I encounter ordinary people coming up against extraordinary circumstances, not of their own making, and paying a terrible penalty for it, that is what after all these years as a journalist, that's what still gets to me most of all.

KING: If McVeigh is executed on June 11, I'll tell you two positions of your contemporaries who appeared on this program. Dan Rather would rather not cover it. Peter Jennings said he probably would. Would you? BROKAW: Oh, we will cover it. I'm not sure that we need...

KING: Would you go there?

BROKAW: No, I'm not going to go to Terre Haute, no. I don't think so. I don't want to, in any capacity, add to what will, I'm afraid, become a kind of circus-like atmosphere. I hope that this country will think strongly about the act that will occur that day, and the mendacity of the actions of Timothy McVeigh. I think it is a time for national dialogue, if you will, about values and how one young man can go so completely awry.

I actually met him when he was in jail. And, it turns out that when he was serving in Iraq, I was with Norman Schwarzkopf covering him at Cephalon (ph) where they were dictating the terms of the surrender to the Iraqis and McVeigh told me that he had his picture taken with me as part of a security group there.

And when I met him, it was just inexplicable to me how this young man, who looked like he could have been a rising young assistant supermarket manager of some kind, could have completely flipped and gone off the edge. There's a very good book now called "An American Terrorist" by two Buffalo reporters.

KING: Yes, very good.

BROKAW: You get more of an insight into him as a result of that book. But there still are things that he is going to take to his grave that we don't understand, and I wish that we could.

KING: Would you televise the event, if allowed?

BROKAW: No, I wouldn't. I thought about this. It is a public act. And you can make the argument that the public should know the real meaning of an execution. I do think that the Justice Department has found itself in a delicate situation and will have that secure feed down to Oklahoma City. But there are any number of things that are not broadcast in America, and perhaps we are best off for it.

I can't believe I'm saying that, because I feel strongly about opening the Supreme Court, to television coverage and getting more sunshine in the most situations, but I worry that if we begin to do that kind of coverage, that it will quickly free wheel out of control in some fashion.

KING: We'll be back with more. Tom will read another letter. We'll take some more phone calls. I will read one later, too. Don't go away.


KING: The man the pollsters say is the most trusted man, Tom Brokaw is our guest. There you see the bombing of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 as we reflect on the horrors of World War II. Tom, you got another letter we can handle and then we'll take some more calls. BROKAW: Yes, I do. As a matter of fact, I have a letter from a man who was fighting in Philippines. It's a kind of unusual letter. He was involved in a terrible firefight. His lieutenant has said: "It would probably be a suicide mission and it turned out to be that. He was the only one who survived, then he said about two days later, one of the medics asked if I would volunteer to bag and tag the bodies. I agreed, and he said that several infantry would use shovels and put them in mattress covers. I directed the men to where the bodies lay in the street, and commenced taking their dog tags and marking each one of them carefully. We managed to get them all accounted for with correct tags. 'Bag and tag' is what they called it.

"After this happened," he said," I could no longer fire my rifle at the enemy because the whole thing to me was senseless." He said: "I went into the Army a naive schoolboy and came out feeling that the leaders should do all the fighting, while we and the enemy have a few beers, making friends, and watching the big shots do their things."

Pretty poignant letter, Larry.

KING: Boy. Atlanta, Georgia for Tom Brokaw, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Larry and Mr. Brokaw, I was interested in you -- just statement of saying that you did not support the showing of the execution of McVeigh and how you would support us carrying out justice and hiding our hand.

BROKAW: No, no, I didn't (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that.

CALLER: As being a stalwart of the First Amendment that is interesting, but my question is this here. With the FBI just now coming out, saying that there were numerous documents, thousands of pages, missing that the defense should have had in McVeigh, how does that threaten our foundation of freedom if he couldn't have gotten a fair trial if these documents were not available for him to prepare his defense?

BROKAW: Well, I -- first of all, let me correct you. I didn't say that he ought not to be executed. I didn't make a judgment about that. That is the sentence. What I said is I'm personally troubled by the idea of having it broadcast nationally and widely. And it's an interesting, I think, moral and professional argument that we'd have to get into.

In terms of the FBI, obviously there was a terrible, terrible foul-up on the part of the FBI in not turning over those documents. Thank God that the system worked, that those documents were discovered before the execution took place. Can you imagine the reaction in this country if they found out after the execution that the FBI had with held all of these documents?

Now people who have seen them from the FBI's side say there is nothing in these documents that is exculpatory, that would remove him from his guilt which he has freely acknowledged on many, many occasions. In fact, he has written letters to "The Houston Post" talking about what might happen to people who differed with his judgment about his guilt. So I don't think there is any question about his guilt. But we have to let the system work its way through and that is why John Ashcroft said we will postpone the execution, and it may be postponed again, we don't know.

KING: Well said. Chicago, hello.

CALLER: I think your book was magnificent.

BROKAW: Oh, thank you.

CALLER: And I want to thank you for that. I have read them all. But I have always felt that the South Pacific got somewhat forgotten. I landed in Melanie bay and ended in Inchon, and in reading the book I kept saying so many theaters got covered, but we seemed to get the least, yet Macarthur was just as important as the rest. Any explanation for all the letters you received?

KING: Has he got a point?

BROKAW: I can't disagree with you about that, and I think that Steven Ambrose probably would agree as well. They are opening at the D-day Museum in New Orleans on December 7 of this year, a whole Pacific wing. What happened is that there was such a an investment in Europe, and with the 8th, and the 15th Air Force and the Normandy innovation, North Africa, and the Italian campaigns, and a lot of the correspondents were over there and it was, in a sense, easier to cover, because they could get around more than they could in the island hopping campaigns, of the Pacific.

But that was a murderous war out there. I have talked to a couple of people, Larry, who landed at Normandy, and then went on to participate in the Iwo Jima invasion and to a man, they said that Iwo Jima was bloodier more murderous.

KING: We'll be back with more of Tom Brokaw, more letters as well, don't go away.


KING: More pictures from this extraordinary book in the Brokaw collection saluting the greatest generation. This dealing with letters. I'm going to read one that's pretty funny in a while, but Tom, another one from Mr. B.

BROKAW: Yes, I think it is important that we remember that it was not just the men and the women who were in the combat theaters, but there was so much going on here at home that was important to the war. Jane Branston (ph) wrote to me to say: "To honor the men and women who daily risked their lives often in deplorable conditions is most appropriate. Also in line for praise are the members of my generation who fought World War II stateside. They, too, own the glories, the griefs and the heartaches of that era. I don't mean to diminish the men and women who daily risked their lives in combat," she said, "but feel that it should be noted that it took a large national effort and a change in lifestyle to sustain our fighting forces abroad." That certainly is true. Women went to work on assembly lines. People gave up meat and sugar and rubber. They went to work in industries that they had never been involved in before. Farmers grew more food. It was one of the times in America, that Danny Inouye the senator from Hawaii, who just recently was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, said it was the last time he could remember when "we raised our fists as one," totally united.

KING: My father was an immigrant. Tried to enlist. He was just over 40, so he quit his job, and went to work in the a defense plant building ships in Carney, New Jersey. He would die a little before D- day.

BROKAW: Well those people were just as important as the folks on the front line or working in the hospitals and the quarter master corps, because the astonishing thing that this country did was convert itself overnight, into a warrior state, and we stopped making cars and started making tanks, and planes, and jeeps, and armaments of all kind.

KING: Highland, North Carolina, for Tom Brokaw, hello.

CALLER: Hello.


CALLER: Mr. Brokaw, was the greatest generation, as you define them, able to be great because the issues, say the depression, World War II, were more black and white issues, than say, issues in the 60s and 70s, of Vietnam? What was...

KING: Good question. Was it more clearly defined, Tom?

BROKAW: I think it was. And I think the depression really did form this generation in so many way. They learned the importance of working together, and they learned the meaning of sacrifice. So many of the men who enlisted or who were drafted said to me, it was not until they got into the service that they had their first square meal every day, and got their first new pair of boots.

And the threat from the West and the East was so overwhelming, and there were no college deferments, everybody was involved, by time the 60s rolled around, then we had such a deeply divided country on so many fronts, about the war in Vietnam, we were working our way through civil rights revolution that was going on here. So it was a different time. I don't think that this generation had a different genetic composition, but my argument has always been, that it did face great, great challenges and did not falter in the face of them.

KING: We will be back with our remaining moments, and I will do one of these letters from this brilliant book right after this.


KING: By the way, you can now log on to my Web site at, and the answer to King's Quiz will be revealed. If Tom will permit, I'm going to read an excerpt of a letter from Albert Berra (ph) sent to Brokaw by his proud widow. He was part of combat team that spearheaded the allied invasion of France.

The letter is to his wife from France, July 12, 1944. "Hello, honey, This makes the third time I have started this letter and always something comes up to interfere with its writing. We are on a new front I have just returned after a rather hectic night with Jerry. Sometime, when I can, I will write, or better yet, tell you about more that has happened both humorous and tragic, like the Colonel came over to me in the midst of heavy fire and said, 'Captain, how the hell do you load this rifle?'"

"Or like the time Kent and I were lying in a ditch, I was getting a light from Kent's cigarette when a shell landed so close, the concussion blew us a foot apart. Both of us got up unhurt. I really must go now, darling. Goodbye, Al."

BROKAW: Yes, it's amazing. Almost all of them talk about the great laughs that they had during the war, as hard as that is to believe, and that is part of what helped keep them going. I don't think it is captured any better anywhere than by Bill Mauldin and "Up Front." When I was a child I just pored through those cartoons of Joe and Willie, and he really did capture, I think, the spirit of the American G.I., and the great humor that they had to get through these extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

KING: Last call quickly, Eighty Four, Pennsylvania, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. Brokaw, I'm Dorothy. My dad is Gregory Kirschner (ph). I'm one of his 10 children and you were wonderful enough to include him in your second book and I think you know how much it means to our family.

BROKAW: Well, it does. It meant a lot to me to get that story. This is a man who lost a very good friend in the closing days of the Battle of Bulge and he often wondered what happened to the man's wife, and to the child that was about to be born. We were able to effect a reunion between Mrs. Jones and Mr. Kirschner, and I have heard from Mr. Kirschner's cardiologist even saying it, it helped him repair his health.

So, it's really one of the most touching stories I know.

KING: How nice of you to call. That was really wonderful. We have received some calls, Tom, and just quickly, are there letters from or about black service men?

BROKAW: There are, and I have a letter here from a woman who was one of the black nurses. And she talked about the god awful racial discrimination that went on during that time. But they did not give up on it, including the Tuskeegee Airmen, one of the most decorated combat units. As fighter pilots, came back, they sat in on an officers club because they were denied admission to it.

They were arrested and court-martialed and it wasn't until many years later that their record was expunged. Also, I want to just way very quickly, Hispanics Americans had an exceptional record during the war. I think they had the highest proportion of Congressional Medals of Honor to their population, and they have been exceedingly quiet about their role in the war. And so they deserve attention too.

It was a time when everybody came together, and many of them suffered terrible discrimination, but they didn't stop fighting and when they came home they didn't give up on the idea that they had a place in this country.

KING: Are you proud of the fact, Tom, that your fame as we all age a little, goes greater in this area than in media area?

BROKAW: I'm proud, and I can honestly say, Larry, that I'm humbled. That is -- I suppose, some people would say that is unusual admission for an anchorman. We don't fake modesty very well, but I'm genuinely humbled by all of this. It has been, I think the most important thing that I have ever done professionally. And I thought about my own life in a whole different way as a result of this.

KING: And now in every article I read about World War II your name is mentioned.

BROKAW: Well, they picked up the phrase "the greatest generation." The funny thing is, my wife, Meredith, and the editor at Random House both had reservations about that phrase, and I kept saying, no, I'm going to stay with it. Some people have challenged it. My answer is that is my story and I'm sticking to it.

KING: Thank you, Tom. As always, great seeing you. Continued good luck.

BROKAW: Larry, thank you so much. You have been real pal during all this and I really am very appreciative.

KING: It's a good man and a great reporter, Tom Brokaw. The book is "An Album of Memories: Personal Histories From the Greatest Generation" from Random House.

"CNN TONIGHT" is next. Tomorrow night the expected announcement of Senator Jeffords could upset the United States Senate. We'll cover it all tomorrow evening on LARRY KING LIVE. Thanks for joining us. For Tom Brokaw, the whole crew of CNN's staffers everywhere, good night.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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