Before I can begin to contemplate answering this question, I would prefer to give you some backstory. I want you to understand that my view of the Greatest Generation is from firsthand experience, even though I am two generations removed from this beloved generation of Americans.
I was raised by my maternal Grandparents in a rural community more in the South than in the North, but not quite in the Midwest.
I was raised with their values. They were Great Depression era children. They were raised under some of the toughest circumstances that I could ever imagine. They were firm but fair. They were very conservative. They loved God, their Country, and each other.
My Grandfather was raised with 10 other brothers and sisters. He was the 10th of the 11. He had one younger brother and they were close in age and even closer in their life together.
Their Father died when my Grandfather was 10. It was very tragic in many ways because he was the only provider for their family. There weren’t all the alphabet-soup government agencies with outstretched hands to help a widow and her children like there are today.
My Grandfather told me many times that his family would have starved to death had they not be able to pick blackberries, an often painful task if there ever was one. They picked the blackberries, kept and preserved as much as they could, and then used the overflow to barter for the other essentials of life.
My Grandmother did not have it as difficult as her husband did growing up. She was the baby of seven. She has described her growing up as pleasant but not easy and better than my Grandfather’s. However, she too lost her Father at a younger age. He died from a massive heart attack after working in the fields on their sharecropper farm when she was a young teenager.
My Grandfather was able to finish high school, but my Grandmother was not given the opportunity to go beyond the eighth grade. She completed her GED the same year that my mother graduated from high school.
They were married only a few short weeks before my Grandfather reported to the induction station for the draft in January, 1944. He remembered that there were 27 young men from the area going through their physicals and such at the same time. At the end of the day, all 27 were inducted into the service. 24 were inducted into the United States Army and three were inducted into the United States Navy. My Grandfather was one of the three.
My Grandmother remained in their home community while my Grandfather served in the Navy. She worked in various odd jobs, most usually as a waitress. She lived with her mother for the duration of the wartime. Her sole purpose was to support my Grandfather, as well as her brothers that were all serving in the wartime service in some capacity. She, like so many women of the Greatest Generation, fought the war on the home front.
To me, this seems to be the key characteristic of the Greatest Generation. These men and women were fiercely loyal and patriotic. They were willing to do whatever it took to preserve the life that they had and to prepare for a brighter future. Keep in mind that the life most of America had at the time was desperate because of the Great Depression. The only hope in life that many held was to preserve freedom and democracy and help spread it to anyone else in the world that desired the same.
My Grandfather and his shipmates sailed from San Francisco under the Golden Gate Bridge into the Pacific en route to his assignment. To put the significance into perspective, the Golden Gate Bridge had only been open for just over six years when my Grandfather sailed beneath it. Many of us today cannot even fathom that the bridge was not always there.
His journey took him from California through Hawaii to the Marshall Islands. He went to work as the Storekeeper for supplies of the aviation crews and pilots stationed on the island. The assignment was actually on two islands that were only feet apart. When the tide was low enough they could walk from one island to the other without getting their feet wet. On other occasions, they needed a truck to cross from one to the other. By two feet or in a deuce and a half, the trek one way or another was necessary daily. They slept on one island and ate on the other. “Only in the Navy,” my Grandfather would fondly say.
My Grandmother continued to work diligently to prepare for their future together. They had less than month together as a married couple before he took off for boot camp. She worked in coffee shops and cleaned houses to make some money, saving most of it for when my Grandfather would return home from the war.
The small rural county where they were both born and raised was almost a purely agriculture-based economy. There were no wartime manufacturing jobs. My Grandmother could have moved off to the north and lived with family, but she stayed behind and took care of her mother and worked in the local venues to support herself and save for the future.
My Grandmother worked for the two and half years while he was gone to prepare for the day he would come home. (She still has the telegram letting her know that he was coming home in the cedar chest in her bedroom to this day.) She saved absolutely every penny she could of what she earned waiting tables. She saved everything that he sent home from his Navy paycheck. She had saved enough for them to be able to set up a home and begin a life together when he retured. They had been married for two and half years before they were able to live together. It was a tremendous sacrifice, but that was the word of their era and their generation.
The Greatest Generation understood what it meant to sacrifice. Most of them were born into a time of tremendous suffering and poverty through the great depression.
I mean really, think about it. My Grandparents were both under the age of 10 when the “Big Crash” came in 1929. Do you really think that they understood what was going on? I would say no. Most six or eight year olds don’t have a firm grasp on what is going on around the corner much less around the world. Certainly they felt it as things became even more difficult than they had been before.
They were raised in an agricultural community that required everyone to pitch in and lend a hand. Most families had more children so that they would have more help on the farms. My grandparent’s families were no different. They worked from the time they could remember. That never changed. (In fact my Grandmother is 93 years young and still works part-time two days each week.)
Sacrifice was so much more than being poor and suffering through a down economic trend in American History. The Greatest Generation sacrificed many of the necessities and almost all of the conveniences in life so that their fighting men could have the necessary tools that were needed to keep the fight “over there.”
Automobile manufacturers became war-machine builders. Factories designed for manufacturing sewing machines were used to build guns. Imagine today if you went to a manufacturer today and said, “could you please stop building what you designed your company, business plan, and factory to build so that you can support our troops?” Sure, there were government contracts, the corporations didn’t do it for free, but I don’t ever remember that form of patriotism in our modern era.
The Greatest Generation sacrificed their lives. There were over 420,000 Americans lost to WWII. Over 60 million worldwide across all nations died on the various fronts of conflict in the Great War.
I am not minimizing the loss of American lives since WWII in the various wars, conflicts, and skirmishes that have taken place for the American Servicemen and women. However, to say that the Greatest Generation did not suffer significant loss and sacrifice would be to speak very foolishly.
I am beginning to think that in many ways they sacrificed their futures and compromised the futures of their children and grandchildren to preserve freedom and democracy. What would the Greatest Generation think about America today?
The better question is what does the Greatest Generation think about America today?
The Greatest Generation
Although the majority of the Greatest Generation has passed on from this life, there are many who remain and can actively answer this question.
My Grandmother is 93½ years young. She is blessed to have her health and the ability to still live in the home that her and my Grandfather purchased in 1957. My family is the only one to ever inhabit this home. She is able to work two days each week, by choice not by necessity. She still regularly attends her church and other volunteer functions. She has a weekly appointment with her hairdresser. All the while, she is legally blind.
My Grandparents have seen so many things in their lives it is almost too numerous to imagine and certainly too long to list. Here are just a few, off the top of my head and in no particular order:
- Invention of the actual television, not the new designs, but the original
- Cable and satellite television programming sources
- Man set foot on the moon
- No less than ten Stock Market Crashes
- The computer, and all its subsequent evolutions
- The wide-spread use of the telephone (land-line version)
- The replacement of the telephone with the cellular phone
- The microwave oven
- Buying most all of your groceries rather than growing your own
- Integration of races and cultures
- Nationwide sports culture
- 24 hour television coverage
- Decline in practicing of religion
- Increase in political action
- Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War I, Gulf War II/War on Terrorism
- Rise and fall of the Twin Towers (though this is true for three generations)
- Rise and fall of Communism in Russia
As you can see by the list, the Greatest Generation has seen an unbelievable swing in the way life is lived in the 90+ years of their existence. It has been great for the Baby Boomers and my generation as well. However, going from no indoor plumbing to automatic flushing toilets is a giant leap in society, as far as I am concerned.
I asked my Grandmother after September 11, 2001which was worse in her opinion, Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, or the broader events of September 11, 2001?
After several moments of thought, she took a deep breath and told me that September 11th was worse to her. I asked “why?” and she responded, “Because, we watched it all on television. Pearl Harbor, we saw footage at the movie theater, but that was it. Then the war and the war efforts began, we did not have time to look back. With September 11th, we keep getting the replays over and over.”
I am not happy with state of our nation today. I do not for a minute think that the Greatest Generation is happy or excited about the America of today. I am not trying to speak for the entire Greatest Generation or put words in their mouths. I am simply stating my observations.
I do not think that even one member of the Greatest Generation, alive or gone on, regrets the sacrifice that it took to keep America the land of the free and the home of the brave. I do wonder what they think about the generations that followed them.
Onward and Upward
The men and women of the Greatest Generation came back from war. They fought the war on three fronts: the European Front, the Pacific Front, and the war on the Home front. I believe that as devastating and debilitating as the effects of this war were to them that they were able to move forward.
They moved forward without the “tell-all” books that could have made them wealthy. There were few if any movies that really depicted the difficult and dangerous life of an American GI. There certainly was little fanfare for the men and women who stayed home to drive the war machine.
The best part about all of this was that they seemed to really not want it any other way. The heroes did not want to be hailed as such. Many felt, as do the patriots of today, that they were not heroes. The heroes were those who did not make it home.
Speaking of patriots, the Greatest Generation were and are true patriots. They are not the self-proclaimed patriots of today, who guffaw about their rights guaranteed by the American Constitution, yet never have had to defend them other than through social media. The true patriots are and should be those who have fought to secure and maintain those freedoms that we all covet.
I still wonder though, are they embarrassed of the outcome? Are they ashamed of how the generations that followed have perverted the legacy they fought and some even died for? Do they resent the way America has gone?
“The true patriots are and should be those who have fought to secure and maintain those freedoms that we all covet.”
I am not referring to the technology or the expansion of a more inhabitable America. I am referring to the political and civil anarchy that is daily creeping over the cities and communities in which we live. Is the Greatest Generation proud of this outcome?
I again will refer to my 93½ year-old Grandmother for wisdom, advice, and perspective. No, proud is certainly not the word, but neither is the word embarrassed or ashamed. The word that comes to mind is disappointed.
They are frequently disappointed with how the society of America, that advanced more rapidly than many countries around the world with a much longer chronological history, has left the road to prosperity. Not just an economic prosperity, but also the prosperity of an entire civilization.
The American nation has prosperity of culture, which is as varied and vast as the geography of the nation.
Because of many of the rights guaranteed in the United States Constitution, there is prosperity of freedoms, unlike anywhere else in the world. Some of those we have taken too far, others we have squelched in the process.
We have experienced the prosperity of technology and business, yet there are still homeless and hungry people in America today. If we were to agree that some people just choose to be homeless, there are still too many living on the streets. In the most prosperous nation on Earth, to accept that nearly 47 million people go to bed hungry each night is preposterous!
I believe that the Greatest Generation, who knew what it meant to be hungry, who often knew what it meant to be homeless, who truly knew what it meant to sacrifice for the greater good of all mankind, would be disappointed in those of us from all of the generations that have followed.
I pray that we can change the ebb and flow into a raging tide of humanity and take care of the least of these not relying on the political machines to lead the way. Someday, hopefully, we can make the Greatest Generation proud and honored to have paved the way. Even far beyond them, I pray that we would honor God with our efforts.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
Those are just a few things that could generally describe Bergen Mease. However, more importantly he is a Believer in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. He is a patriot of the United States of America that comes from a US Navy family. He lives with his wife and children, whom they are raising with conservative leanings. He served as a law enforcement officer and more recently as a law enforcement and emergency services Chaplain. His mission is to write about topics that will make everyone think about how they treat others both personally and professionally.