Hooper has nothing against the generations that followed -- he has three children, two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren -- but he does worry about the toughness of the nation's spirit.
"The big difference between today's world and World War II time is the entire nation was at war economically. There were victory gardens, rationing. People today think they can buy an American flag, put it on an SUV and say, 'We're for the war.'
"People today don't understand suffering. Life has become softer and really over-civilized."
He stops and considers how this sounds. He smiles, refers to himself in the third person: "He says, as he drives an Acura TL, living the good life in New Jersey."
Maybe he's earned it. His generation paved the way for the boom times. And now the nation has the luxury of fighting wars on the margins of most people's lives.
Jean Klein, 78, says she will take personal blame for these soft, succeeding generations.
But first she gets up and dances some old-fashioned jazz dance steps with veteran Byron Logan. They don't know each other, but on the lawn members of the generation greet one another like members of an extended family. Sons and daughters walk up to strangers who were in their fathers' regiments and embrace. Combat buddies, 60 years older now, shed tears over friends they last saw broken and bloody on battlefields they will never forget.
Klein, from north of Denver, at 17 married Charles Franklin Kesey, who became a staff sergeant in the Army Air Forces, a nose gunner in B-24 bombers who was shot down and killed over Romania on June 11, 1944. A month later, their daughter, Charlene, was born.
Charlene Busby, now 60, was at the dedication, too, as was her son, Michael Pinkerton, 37. Altogether, the long-dead nose gunner has two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Nearly 300 World War II "orphans" attended the dedication, the children of servicemen killed in action. Their presence was at once a sign of how life can go on, but also how, for many other family trees, it ended there. "I gotta say thank you to my grandpa," said Pinkerton. "I wouldn't like speaking German. I like owning a firearm and all my rights. It wasn't a politician who gave me a right to free speech, it was a veteran."
Klein, who later married another high school chum -- Allen Klein, 79, Navy, also at the dedication -- says if the later generations are a little spoiled, it's the greatest generation's fault.
Her generation absorbed some hard lessons: "You appreciated life. Your learned how fragile it was. You grew up in a hurry. Everybody was patriotic."
The experiences made them want more for the next generations. "Because we had nothing, we wanted to give them everything. . . . We've ruined you. I'm a great grandmother and I ruined you.
"If I could I'd like to sit them all down and talk to them: 'Praise your country. Don't cuss. Don't protest. Hug a stranger.' "
With that, she hugged and danced with more strangers.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Jean Klein, 78, a war widow who lives north of Denver, dances with Byron Logan, 77, from Hickory, N.C. Logan, who served in the World War II Navy on the USS Murrelet, is a World War I enthusiast who is wearing an authentic uniform from that war. Many strangers of the WWII generation greeted one another like family.
(Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)