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The past 2 weeks have been filled with nostalgia as memories of the World War II era have flooded the media. First, there was the dedication of the WWII memorial in Washington D.C., then the activities of Memorial Day, which also focused much attention on WWII, and finally the celebration of the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

The WWII memorial has been both praised and roundly criticized. Critics allege the design is flawed, the symbolism is wrong and that it should not have been placed on the Mall.

As a WWII vet, I find such fault finding as nothing more than sour grapes and I, for one, think it is terrific and feel a great sense of pride in it. Perhaps the most valid criticism is that it took too long60 years after the event. Many have held that WWII was the defining event of the 20th century, and to wait until 12 million vets had died before recognizing their achievement is hard to fathom. It certainly raises the questionwhy?

Perhaps the primary reason it took so long to create the memorial is that the veterans themselves did little or nothing to promote the idea. When WWII ended, such a project was not even a consideration for the typical vet. Uppermost in all our minds was the question of whether or not there would be a job for us in civilian life. The 25% unemployment rate and distress of the Depression of the 1930s were still lingering in our memory.

Reuniting with our families after being away 3 or 4 years or more was also a top priority. There was, in all of us, such an overwhelming desire to “catch up” or somehow make up for the hiatus that had disrupted our lives for so long. In short, the WWII vets returned, rolled up their sleeves and went to work to find security and build a better world.

In many respects, the accomplishments after WWII, as Tom Brokaw pointed out in his book “The Greatest Generation,” were as remarkable as winning the war. The Marshall Plan helped to rebuild Europe while we were creating the world’s strongest economy here at home. The GI Bill enabled millions to obtain the education and technical skills needed to raise the IQ of the nation, with vets being propelled into positions of leadership in all sectors of our society.

An important dimension to this growth experience was the faith and confidence we placed in our institutions. We embraced and supported them allreligious, governmental, social and commercial. Sad to say, that is not true today. Three generations later, many of our important institutions are languishing for lack of support. According to a study by the Barna Group, the percentage of “unchurched” in our country has grown from 21% to 34% since 1991. Many PTAs have been disbanded for lack of interest and other organizations cite difficulties in attracting qualified leadership and financial support.

Two years ago, I sat next to a scientist at a luncheon in Copenhagen and in our conversation he mentioned that at most of the scientific forums that he attended around the world, the U.S. usually was represented by an Asian-American. He asked me why this was so. I could only surmise that recent immigrants had the same “fire in belly” zeal that characterized WWII vets making their way back to civilian life in 1945.

Our business was no exception to this transition. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the ranks of insurance salespeople began to grow after having been decimated during the war years. The growth was accompanied by strong support of our institutions. L.U.T.C. was created in 1947 and the CLU movement also gained momentum. Membership in the National Association of Life Underwriters (now the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors) grew each year to record heights. Most of those providing leadership to the field organizations were WWII vetspeople like Marshall Wolper, a much decorated vet; Bob Forker, bomber pilot; and Bart Hodges, an infantry colonelwho have all left us. There were many more and they built the foundation upon which our business and its institutions flourished.

At the corporate level, the scenario was much the same. The late Bob Beck, a paratrooper vet, not only led Prudential to become at that time our largest insurer, but was a tireless volunteer worker for the then-American Council of Life Insurance. Daryl Eichoff, a B-26 bombardier, raised the level of interest in agent education not only at Metropolitan, but throughout our business. Fran Ferguson, a bomber pilot and CEO of Northwestern, and Jim Martin, also a vet of the Army Air Corps and CEO of MassMutual, both found time to support the ACLI while running their respective companies.

At one time, the ACLI represented 99% of the industry by some measurements. Today it represents 70% and there are some indications it may go lower. It would appear that there are some CEOs who believe they are big enough to “go it alone” and do not need organizational support. There are also agents who share those feelings and have withdrawn from field associations.

I would remind them all that the most basic premise of insurance is that you have to buy it when you don?t need it so that it will be there when you do. Our institutions are our insurance and they are superior to self-insurance. .


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 11, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.