Sunday, August 19, 2012

In the Shadow of Greatness

Around Town: Backstage at the book tour - LA Canada

When the young editors of “In the Shadow of Greatness” (Naval Institute Press 2012) asked me to help with their October California book tour, I was happy to help. 

I am one of 33 contributors to the book, a collection of first-hand accounts by and about Naval Academy Class of 2002, the first class to graduate after Sept. 11th.

Tom Brokaw likes the book. He wrote, “All Americans should read this book.”

“Wow!” I thought. “'All Americans'? Isn’t this a military book?”

But after I read the entire book, not just our chapter, I began to understand what Tom Brokaw meant.

The theme of the book is leadership, a quality which extends beyond the Naval Academy, past the personal stories and into their generation at large.

This generation, which includes the Classes of 2002 though 2012, has lived through 10 years of war. What happened on Sept. 11, 2001 was significant, but the moral choices made by this generation on Sept. 12, 13, 14 and thereafter have formed their characters.

Our section of the book, of course, was about our son, Andrew, who died of cancer while on active duty as a young Marine second lieutenant. See more at

Before I read the book, I believed that Andrew’s courage came from Plebe Summer at the Academy. Some of it did, but I now understand that the way he and his classmates faced September 11, the looming war, strengthened his character.

Whether civilian or military, this is our next greatest generation, because of the tearing down of the civil-military divide that has damaged my generation, the Vietnam generation.

The Class of 2002 is different from my generation because they make choices. Several of my contemporaries have pointed this out to me, including my friend, Elaine LaMarr. A 32-year-old generation can be pro-life and vote for Obama, or pro-choice and vote for Romney. They can be hawks on foreign policy and progressive on domestic issues. My generation likes to pigeon hole. The Class of 2002 rises above that. Prejudiced remarks are not the social norm for most of this generation. Sexual harassment on the job? Not accepted.

The Class of 2002 knows how to collaborate. Case in point: All profits from the book, “In the Shadow of Greatness,” will go to veterans and educational charities. What a great idea! By 2014, there will be two million civilians who are veterans of the recent wars.

The Class of 2002 has risen above bias and prejudice. Case in point: “In the Shadow of Greatness” describes the wonderful career of an openly gay Naval officer, Gary Ross. When he came out, after Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was revoked, Gary’s orientation did not matter. A shipmate is a shipmate.

This entire generation has a cultural value of courage. At the movie shootings in Aurora Colo., three of the deceased instinctively shielded their girlfriends from the bullets. Two of them, Alex Teves, 24, and Matt McQuinn, 27, were civilians. Jonathan Blunk, 26, was a Navy veteran.

Civilians. Military. It doesn’t matter. The Class of 2002 is the next “greatest generation.” We are lucky to have them around.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner

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