A LOVE LETTER TO THE GREATEST GENERATION
By Darlene Franklin
I am writing this on Memorial Day. Between now and the date this is published, we will also celebrate Flag Day and Independence Day. It makes me think of veterans who proudly served, those surviving members of the “greatest generation” who live by my side in the nursing home.
What was it like to win a war that had shown the worst of mankind, from the Holocaust to the only use of atomic bombs? How did they raise children while dealing with the fear that the rest of the world would catch up with atomic power and destroy life on the planet?
Did they wonder how their sacrifice led to a generation who rejected much of what they valued? When an American president was assassinated? When the country rioted in protest to the war in Vietnam? When a different president was impeached and left office?
Perhaps the Eighties felt like a return to greatness. Unless, like me, they were stuck in the oil-decimated economies of states like Oklahoma and Colorado, and saw their American dream gradually sliding away while their pride in their country never faded. (I’m a baby boomer, not a greatest gen, by the way.)
Fifty years past the war, interest surged. Grandkids asked for the old stories. Memories that had been buried in the business of life returned. Some memories slipped away altogether as those who’d live them aged.
For other vets, age has brought back the war years into the present. One gentleman, a man who must once have been tall and handsome but now is thin and hunched over in his wheelchair, rolls from room to room, always with the same question on his wrinkled lips. “Where do I report for duty?” or “Where’s the Army office?” Again and again, all day, he asks, “What am I supposed to be doing?”
The answer-”whatever you want”-doesn’t fulfill his sense of duty.
Other days his thoughts are with his wife. “Has anyone seen my Helen? How can I get to Amarillo?”
With the new millennium came a new threat on 9-11. How would they pass on their core values to their grandchildren’s grandchildren, as the psalmist asked. “So that a future generation-children yet to be born-might know. They were to rise and tell their children so that they might put their confidence in God and not forget God’s works, but keep His commands.” (Psalm 78:6-7, Holman Christian Standard Bible)
Whatever our age, family matters most. One nursing home friend loves to brag about her family: five children, plus a sixth, a doll she claims as a living baby. She counts them down to each grandchild, great-grandchild, and even those great-greats.
Others I don’t know as well are given grand birthday celebrations. What fun to watch dozens of family members celebrate their one common ancestor’s birthday.
I only have one son and he comes frequently with my precious grandkids. There’ll never be dozens of them. But if I go back in time to those holidays of my youth, aunts, uncles (all veterans) and cousins gathered for food and fellowship and a game of Clue or two. And my aunt’s chat about her latest book by Agatha Christie. Yes, I remember what large family celebrations feel like and how family traditions were passed down.
I never thought of my mother as a member of the “greatest generation,” but looking back on it, of course the children qualified. Children born during the hardship of the depression and growing up during a war became the adults who pushed America into world dominance in the fifties and sixties.
I didn’t pay enough attention to Mom’s stories about the war. She talked about collecting scrap metal, about getting a drink, popcorn, and an afternoon at the movies for ten cents. Her only brother, my Uncle Billy, left America early to join the Canadian air force. For some reason, she was the only one at home the day he left. He listened to the same record, over and over, until the time came to catch the bus. After America’s entry into the war, two of my aunts married soldiers. One marriage survived the test of time. The other fell apart.
Uncle Billy did return home, and I never heard anything about his time in the military, nor did I hear of my grandfather’s time during the first war. My father fought in Korea.
Why is there always a war? It makes me think of a verse in Judges that says, “These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience.)” (Judges 3:1-2, NIV)
Hmm, to test us?
At least one generation allowed war to bring out the best of us. Let’s pray the same for our children and grandchildren who continue to defend our country. For those of us who heard their stories first hand, let’s pass them on. Future generations have much to learn from the shoulders they stand on.