Not long ago I attended the funeral of an old friend. As I sat through the service, an overwhelming sense of sadness overcame me. To be sure, I was sad for the family and their loss. But the sadness was much deeper, and for a while I couldn’t understand why. Finally it came to me. I was witnessing the last of a special breed of American.
They were children during the Great Depression. The hardship and deprivation they suffered are unbelievable in today’s world. Fortunes were lost, and everyday folks lost everything.
If that didn’t leave a lasting impression, their world changed again 73 years ago on Dec. 7, 1941. On that day another country dared to attack America on its own soil. American men willingly joined to fight this enemy. The women stayed home, operated the farms, kept the stores open, and built the war machine. They were the first “liberated” women, but they didn’t have the time or inclination to burn bras. They were too busy keeping things going at home.
After the Great Depression, they didn’t complain. Everyone had to do their part. Social security was a novelty. There was no Aid to Dependent Children, Medicaid or free school lunch. The only food stamps during the war were ration cards because of shortages created by military needs. People just sucked it up and hoped for better days.
When World War II ended, the men came home and quietly strived for a better life. The war hero didn’t make a big deal of it, mainly because he knew there were just as many unnoticed heroic acts by his neighbors. Maybe that is why the WWII Memorial was the last one built.
The goal was to get on with life after two cataclysmic events. They just wanted to start families, enter careers and have the government stay out of their way. They desired a good reputation and a better life for their kids. I would say for the most part they accomplished that. Not only that, they started the most entrepreneurial era of American history.
Just when things started to be normal again, along came the Korean War. Those too young for WWII suddenly found themselves in another conflict. Again, they went willingly for the ideal of the United States and what it had to offer. While not on the scale of the previous war, this one too had impacts. The two combined wars created the Baby Boomer generation and some of the best economic times the country has seen.
Today’s generations seem to search for relevance, the buzzword of today. They seem to do so with extended college degrees trying to find something meaningful in their lives. They seek importance through daily Facebook posts and freely distributing Selfies. They seek heroism through exploits with video games. They are losing out on the best of life from too much leisure, indulgence, & government assistance.
Not so with the generations of the 1930s through the 1950s. They knew they were relevant. They knew they had accomplished something important. Sadly, it seems that in working so hard to create the easy life of today for their children and grandchildren, some things were lost, downplayed or forgotten. Things like independence, love of and respect for our country, and the willingness to work for what you get.
I know that there were and are exceptions in. Critics are quick to point those out. There are always exceptions in each generation, and those are the people we rely on for our future. However, the macro-trends show this trend and it deserves attention.
Why did I choose this topic? Because Dec. 7, 1941, went by this year with only passing mentions in the media. Most Americans were oblivious to it. And that saddened me. That generation was the one I used for role models in my childhood and youth. Tested by hard times and tempered by two wars, they earned and deserve our respect, if not more.
My parents always said “respect your elders.” That wasn’t hard to do with these people. Their life ethic was easy to understand, as most uncomplicated things are. Work hard. Don’t take what isn’t yours. Treat your neighbor like you want to be treated. In short, as the FFA Creed says “Be honest and fair in the game of life.”
Here is wishing you have a Merry Christmas. May you be blessed with family and friends this holiday season.
Tom Riggins is an LVN columnist. He may be contacted at email@example.com.