Veteran Lt. Col. J.T. Cummins Jr., looks back on the Greatest Generation
This country has been experiencing a loss for some time. The Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw called them, is leaving us. And in their place is a vacuum or at least a space unfilled. It’s making us uneasy.
My parents, uncles, aunts and their friends of that generation had something in common with your parents or grandparents or for some readers’ great-grandparents. They were grownups.
They had lived through the Great Depression and World War II. Generalizations or stereotypes are almost always poor metaphors but you know what I mean. The men and women of that generation were strong without having to tell you they were strong. Their strength was the foundation on which those of us who followed built our lives. They supported us and the post-World War II world.
They took on challenges with grit and determination and without fanfare. They knew it was hard to overcome obstacles and accepted that risk, pain and loss is the price you pay when you do what no one else will. They saw suffering up close and personal but so had everyone else they knew. Telling everyone about their feelings wasn’t going to make things easier, so they just kept their mouths shut and did what they had to do. When they succeeded, they retained their reticence because they knew how easily success can be ripped from our grasp.
Grownup principles from a grownup generation.
They also knew the value of privacy and kept their personal lives away from the eyes of others. Some secrets can harm, but who among us would not appreciate knowing a little less about the sex lives of the rich and famous? Or some of our Facebook friends for that matter?
As my parents’ generation leaves us, I feel the absence of grownups at every level in our country. It doesn’t matter how old someone is or the job they have, too many of us are whiners, complainers, braggarts and show-offs. People like that have always been with us but we used to have grownups everywhere around us who reminded us by the example they set that such conduct was inappropriate and should be discouraged.
Why? Why not just let everyone give in to their worst, most childish instincts? A grownup might tell you it’s because it weakens you. It distracts you from what is important. A grownup knows we need to be strong and focus on what may come, for when it is upon us it may kill us if we are unprepared.
The common denominator of the Greatest Generation was the experience they shared with the vast majority of their countrymen and -women during the Great Depression and World War II. They survived as a nation united in the face of adversity on a scale we can hardly comprehend today. Those who lived through that time never forgot how hard the Depression was or how close we came to losing World War II. Deprivation, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears caused them to put away childish things and bonded them with their fellow Americans.
Those bonds have all but disappeared today. The generations since have too often been divided by uncommon experiences across a spectrum of adversity. Yet a terrible tragedy such as 9/11 can still bring Americans together as a nation and remind us, albeit too briefly, that what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.
We have a number of professions in this country that by their very nature require adult behavior: the military, police, firefighters, pilots, doctors, nurses, farmers, ranchers, and a few others. Childish behavior in these lines of work can lead to injury or death. These professions were once revered and their practitioners were role models for the rest of us. Knowing there are consequences for what we do can change our perspective pretty quickly. When the whole country was at risk, that was a lesson everyone learned.
I remain uneasy with the passing of the Greatest Generation but I continue to have great faith in this country and its people. No one told my parents’ generation they were “great” before they were. They just grew up when they had too. So can we.
–Reprinted with permission from Range Magazine