Local view: As the Greatest Generation fades, we need to live up to its legacyOh, what we do to hold them, to stop the tick of the clock. We christen them, “the Greatest Generation.” We build new monuments to their decades-old courage. We record their memories. We do what we can to keep them in the present.
By: Ann Glumac, Duluth News Tribune
Oh, what we do to hold them, to stop the tick of the clock. We christen them, “the Greatest Generation.” We build new monuments to their decades-old courage. We record their memories. We do what we can to keep them in the present.
Still, we lose them. They slip from us, one by one, taking with them the stories of ordinary
heroes who have been our fathers and mothers, our uncles and aunts.
Most recently, we lost Medal of Honor recipient Mike
Colalillo, a relatively famous member of the Greatest Generation. He will not be the last.
This Greatest Generation didn’t recognize its greatness, didn’t seek the limelight and certainly didn’t share the details of its place in history. From Europe or the Pacific or the factory, its members returned to bungalows and replaced the business of war with the business of building families. Stories of war had no place around dinner tables where children sat, so they remained untold.
Until recently, when old men began doing what old men do, telling their stories — surprised anyone cared to hear them, surprised the heroism of ordinary people was of interest. We lucky ones who heard were not
But every day, we lose their stories. And we try to do as a nation what we cannot do as daughters and sons: We try to preserve the promise of what America can be, to honor the collective will that allowed us to endure World War II and to thrive afterward. As a nation, we struggle to keep alive the humanity and humility of our parents, even as we surrender them individually to the inexorable passage of time.
While they were called to service and sacrifice by global events we simply cannot appreciate, more than 50 years later we can appreciate the rightness of their service and sacrifice and the unambiguous call that united our nation.
We crave the duty and patriotism that allowed our parents to endure hardship at home and face death abroad. We look to this Greatest Generation to show us what it takes to find our place in the world. We envy their choices, horrific as they were, because they were black and white and not the shades of gray that seem to be ours.
Or is that our excuse, that our 21st-century world is so much more nuanced? Do we cling to them and their ideals because we like to think we, too, would sacrifice, that we would serve our country to protect our freedoms? Does that greatness also lie within us, in the right situation?
The end of World War II brought tremendous promise; though our parents didn’t trust the burgeoning economy, and we gently ridiculed them for it. We accepted their gift of prosperity as our birthright and the national security they provided as a given. We thrived on their
They were the founding mothers and fathers of an America that played a larger role on the world stage. And we gave them the responsibility for preserving our patriotism, our service to others and country and our obligation to sacrifice individual desires for the common good.
While our parents flew flags and pressed hands to hearts at Memorial Day parades, we were embarrassed by displays of patriotism beyond rock stars singing our anthem at sporting events. While our parents reused Ziploc bags and kept healthy savings accounts, we were drawn to disposables and disposable
No wonder we fear the collective impact of their loss. Their courage and integrity didn’t rely on the right situation, wasn’t discovered on battlefields and
wasn’t ignited by Pearl Harbor; it was woven throughout their lives. World War II was a backdrop; this Greatest Generation would have emerged with or without Hitler.
But what will we do with their legacy of service to country and community? Will we perpetuate our myth that they were unique? Will we resist following their footsteps because the path is a hard one?
Or will we acknowledge, finally, that it is our turn, that we have allowed this Greatest Generation to carry the banner of our nation’s patriotism and service long enough? Will we acknowledge, finally, that we have been reluctant to accept our responsibility to our country even while we have eagerly accepted its privileges?
We will not be the Greatest Generation. But we are its daughters and sons. And before we lose all of its members, we need to let them know we will not shrink from their legacy.
Ann Glumac of Duluth is a daughter of the Greatest Generation. A version of this commentary was published about 10 years ago in the Senior Reporter.