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On the road, an intriguing license plate


The other day, while I was driving back toward Baltimore on Interstate 70 near Frederick, a personalized Maryland license tag on a car ahead of us caught my eye: WEEK 49. We'd never seen that one before, and it provoked speculations and some quick calendar math in the front seat of our car.

Week 49?

I'm thinking early December.

I'm thinking three weeks back from the end of the year. Three weeks equals 21 days. December has 31 days. I subtract 21 from 31 and end up on Dec. 10. In my book, that makes Week 49 the one between Dec. 3 and 10.

What's the significance of that week?

Pearl Harbor.

My interpretation could be totally wrong -- the driver of the car might have had something else in mind -- but, the point is, Pearl Harbor was the first thing that came to me. The first and only thing, really. How many times have we heard that recording of Franklin Roosevelt's voice? "Yesterday -- December 7, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy ..." I know a lot of veterans of World War II have come to believe that, as the years go by, Americans forget their history, lose their appreciation of the complete horror of a world at war, don't take enough time to pay homage. If a single Pearl Harbor anniversary should pass quietly, without acknowledgment in the media, they feel slighted, even dishonored.

I wish they wouldn't.

As my brief encounter with that personalized license tag on I-70 might have proved, there is no way for any American adult to think of Dec. 7 without thinking of Pearl Harbor and the monsoon of history that poured from that black hole in the 20th-century calendar. Those who lived through it know it. Baby boomers learned about it from their parents and from history classes. You can get a good dose of World War II history off cable TV almost any week, not only Week 49.

But more than that, I've noticed -- and this is strictly a personal observation -- that, as we get older (and attend more funerals), baby boomers become more appreciative of what their parents lived through, and more aware of the need to be remembered, the importance of lessons being learned and passed from one generation to another. It's called growing up.

Boomers, the sons and daughters of men and women who lived through World War II and the Korean War, have long heard the criticism that we just can't match up, muscle for muscle and heart for heart, with those who survived the great storms of half a century ago. Bob Dole reflected some of this last summer when he derided the Clinton administration as a bunch of lightweights "who never grew up, never did anything real, never sacrificed, never suffered and never learned."

That was Dole's way of making one last appeal along the generational divide in his campaign to recover the White House from the baby boomer brats.

But let me drop the divisive politics and get back to what I set out to say.

What I've learned about growing up -- and I'm certainly no expert on the subject -- is that time forces everything. It forces you to grow up, to sacrifice (for the sake of our kids), to learn and to pass along what we learn to our kids. We learned more than Bob Dole thinks. We respect Bob Dole more than he thinks.

I know a lot of people my age -- all those baby boomer brats out there -- who speak with a kind of awe about what their parents went through: Moving, some of them, from the old country to America; living through the Depression; living through the war; building a rich foundation for the future that we're living now.

Indeed, we remember. Even in a flash from the fast pace of our lives -- driving at 70 mph on the interstate -- we remember.

Week 49.

Dec. 7.

We remember, and thereby honor, the sacrifices made and the lessons learned, summarized best by FDR in his fourth inaugural, in the winter of the last year of the war:

"We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations, far away. We have learned that we must live as men, and not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community."

Reward offered in beating

The case of Mike Donlan, the young man from South Baltimore who suffered a terrible beating on Russell Street a few weeks ago after he stopped to help another beating victim, has outraged a lot of readers of This Just In. And Donlan's account of what happened, published in this space 10 days ago, has prompted police to take another look at the matter. In addition, a Baltimore-based businessman, who wishes to remain anonymous, has made this columnist aware of his intentions to offer a reward of $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Donlan's assailants. More on that in Friday's column.

This Just In appears each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Got a comment or story? You can contact Dan Rodricks by voice mail at 332-6166, by electronic mail at TJIDAol.com, or through the World Wide Web at http: //www.sunspot.net.

Pub Date: 12/02/96

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