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November 11, 2010

My Greatest Generation Day

My generation, as tough as it is, will never touch those now in their 70s, 80s or 90s in class, character, or grace under pressure.

Real heroes. I'm not the most patriotic man around. And I don't seem to worship (or even highly respect) soldiers, sailors, firemen, police officers--in fact, on that last one alone, I think of most American cops I've met the same way other people might think of house plants, garage tools or decorative driveway rocks--or even guys with names like "Lenny" who jump off the 14th Street Bridge to rescue air crash survivors in the icy Potomac so a serving President can salute and embarrass them on national television.

Sometimes I just don't get it. I know, however, that many of us are capable of great physical courage (but, unfortunately, much less so of moral courage) at the right primal times. I'm not convinced that any of us--with the exception of professional combatants in jungles, deserts and fields over the centuries--should ever be celebrated for that alone. Think about it. Consider what mothers will do. Or read Stephen Crane. You'd be amazed what average people can do with their love, grit and simple adrenaline in a life-threatening pinch.

But I think hard about November 11th when it comes. Veterans' Day, for me, is not just about generations who served in the armed forces, in my family and other families, in the U.S. over the 240 years. It's about the American men and women born roughly between 1912 and 1932: the so-called Greatest Generation.

They are my parents (who barely made the "cut"), my parents' older friends, and the parents of other baby boomers like me. My models growing up in Washington, DC, Maryland, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio, they--and their own parents--steered us all through the Depression and World War II, and rebuilt the American economy, with grit, hard work and genuine class. They refused to be cowed or distracted by hard economic times, or by the enduring grief and nightmares of two appallingly bloody world wars--the last of which many still live with daily and in stoic silence.


Ironically, the WWII generation in particular spawned children who, like me, often rebelled against the very prosperity which had freed us to learn and brandish great ideas like weapons of war themselves. My generation's parents knew significant loss and sacrifice. It was "normal": real life as real life happens. It defined most of them. No, most were not dirt poor, or from families who lost children in battle. But there was very little whining, self-pity or blaming in the bad years. Compared to them--and even including the last 3 years of recession in America and in global markets--the vast majority of people in the workforce today, relatively-speaking, have it easy.

Folks now in their 70s, 80s and 90s made that happen. We owe them not only a great debt, but the duty to meet the current adversities with spirit, brains, resolve and Big Moxie--even in our lowest moments of 2010. I am trying. I think about the WWII generation for a few moments almost daily--and I've been doing that for the last five years or so. Personally, even if I am successful in every way I've dreamed possible, I don't think I will ever measure up. My generation, as tough as it is, will never touch it in class, character, or grace.

Posted by JD Hull at November 11, 2010 11:00 PM


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