Journalist Tom Brokaw famously called the men and women who fought overseas in World War II and helped the war effort at home "the greatest generation."
Now, a new generation of American service men and women are stepping forward to again "write that blank check payable the United States of America" for an amount up to and including their lives, said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson.
A senior military adviser at the Pentagon, Nicholson said the Marines, sailors, airmen and soldiers who have served and are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq have become the nation's "new greatest generation."
"These wounded warriors, all they want to do is get back to duty," Nicholson said of injured troops he has visited at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. "We have active duty with missing limbs. We had our first double-amputee re-enlist. It's a humbling experience sitting in a hospital next to a wounded Marine who says, 'How is my unit doing?' and 'When can I get back?' I walk out of that hospital every time feeling like an underachiever."
The Toronto native and 1979 graduate of The Citadel in Charleston spoke to a crowd of nearly 400 gathered Friday at Shelter Cove Veterans Memorial Park for a Veterans Day observance hosted by the Military Veterans Coalition of Hilton Head Island and American Legion Post 185.
Nicholson led the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade during the 2009 surge into Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province. He was deployed to Iraq's Anbar province in 2004 and has the scars to prove it. In 2006, he was deployed to Fallujah and commanded the 5th Marine Regiment.
Nicholson told the story of Marine Lance Cpl. Chris Adlesperger, who was nominated for the Medal of Honor and posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.
Adlesperger was a rifleman in a four-man team clearing houses in Fallujah on Nov. 10, 2004. The team entered a house and faced heavy gunfire.
The team's point man was killed instantly, and another Marine and the platoon corpsman were injured.
With most of his platoon pinned down by insurgents, Adlesperger cleared a path to move injured comrades to a roof where they could receive medical attention, Nicholson said.
Adlesperger exposed himself to heavy enemy fire and established a series of firing positions, disregarding his wounds and exhaustion, Nicholson said.
"Chris could have taken off to get help, and no one would have thought less of him," he said. "It was 15 minutes, which must have been an eternity for him, before someone realized there was a problem. Help arrived to find 12 dead enemies in a courtyard Chris had taken care of."
Adlesperger was killed two weeks later by a sniper.
"We have guys like that serving in every branch of the military, and I'm honored to lead the men and women of the Marine Corps," Nicholson said. "You should be immensely proud of the men and women of our services. They reflect greatly on all of us."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead