Sometimes, I wonder about my generation’s legacy.
What will we be remembered for?
What will be our place in history?
What will our great-grandchildren discuss about us in their classrooms?
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With all respects to my generation, from my view, we’ve had it darn easy compared to previous generations.
Tom Brokaw will not write a tribute book about us. I’ve read his famous book, “The Greatest Generation,” several times. I agree with Brokaw. They are The Greatest Generation.
Brokaw writes, “They came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America – men and women whose everyday lives of duty, honor, achievement and courage gave us the world we have today.”
What about my generation?
We’re the Easiest Generation.
We all know members of The Greatest Generation. They’re our parents, grandparents, uncles, neighbors, former teachers, retired co-workers, friends of our parents.
Sure, there are exceptions. Heroes among us. But generally, my generation doesn’t compare to the Greatest Generation.
I’m not being critical. I’ve said and wrote that I’m lucky because I grew up in the best era ever to grow up. We had our freedom, security, safety, choices, simplicity, affordability. Great music. Bad hair and clothes. No cell phones. No pressures in my little world.
This Veterans Day week, once again, I reflect on my life compared to the Greatest Generation’s. I have the same reflection whenever I go to a funeral of another Greatest Generation member. Friend. Family. Neighbors. We’re losing them too fast.
I remind myself that I’ve had it good, thanks to the Greatest Generation.
But I’m not in their league.
Greatest Generation men grew up fast. They were raised in the Depression. They started working young. Many helped their families with a few bucks each week.
My generation was not forced to grow up fast. My first official job came in high school. I was a counselor for the local YMCA camp. I kept my $35 a week and still bummed money off my parents for gas and fun. For me, responsibility at age 18 was just another word for later.
After high school, Greatest Generation men entered the Armed Forces. They were 18 or 19 years old, fresh from high school, when most had to leave home to serve their country for a couple of years or longer.
When I was 18 or 19, there was no mandatory military draft. It was a simple, carefree time. Dazed and confused. I was attending college, playing ball on weekends and hanging out at Friday’s East and Mississippi River Festivals.
Greatest Generation men came home from the military and rebuilt their lives and the country. They married and started large families while in their 20s.
Most Greatest Generation men worked for the same companies all their lives. My generation, and future generations, may never see, or feel, that kind of loyalty again.
Yes, we are the Easiest Generation. At age 56, I realize that was all part of the Greatest Generation’s great plan. They wanted their children — the next generation — to be children a little while longer because they were forced to grow up so fast.
I think about the Greatest Generation whenever I pick up the newspaper and flip to the obituaries. There’s an old man’s tribute, accompanied by his World War II military photo. He’s forever a soldier, in his mind and heart.
My late dad’s favorite photo of himself was when he was in the Navy, a sailor with a full head of wavy black hair, and a boyish, innocent grin. “Like a young Sinatra,” he’d say.
Like most members of the Greatest Generation, Dad never talked much to us about his Navy days. The closest he came to being overseas was San Diego. He had some fun, he said, but never provided details. He grew up a lot. He couldn’t wait to get out of his home in East St. Louis. He couldn’t wait to come home a few years later.
He came home, met and married mom, and moved on with his life, which included three sons, including me, his youngest.
Dad worked as a laborer for Shell Oil for more than 20 years. He hated his job. At around age 40, with three young boys, he quit his job and returned to college to be a pharmacist. That was his dream. Mom went back to work as a secretary to support us and pay his tuition. He was in his mid 40s when he graduated from St. Louis College of Pharmacy in 1967. We didn’t have much. But we had everything.
To me, that story exemplifies the spirit of the Greatest Generation in my life. As Brokaw wrote, “…men and women whose everyday lives of duty, honor, achievement and courage gave us the world we have today.”
The Greatest Generation gave us a great world to grow up in. I'm forever grateful. We can point fingers. Make excuses. We admire them. Honor them. But it’s just a shame my Easiest Generation didn’t watch, listen and learn from them better.