Monday, May 28, 2007

The Greatest Generation

This Memorial Day I want to take a minute to recognize “The Greatest Generation”. My parents (Marian and Eugene Stevenson) are part of the greatest generation. My father served in the Navy during World War II. I’ll write more about him in a minute. Tom Brokaw labeled them The Greatest Generation in his book by that title. It generally refers to the generation born in the United States between 1911 and 1924. My parents were born toward the end of this span. They are also referred to as the GI Generation because of their involvement in World War II and the again in the Korean War. They were raised as post depression babies. Many lived through World War I, World War II, The Korean War, Vietnam, Bay of Pigs, the Cold War, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and The Civil Right Movement. To them the War in Iraq is a cakewalk. Not that any war is to be minimized in its impact on the lives of the participants, both military and civilian. War is the last resort of civilized men. (I’m a-political so don’t rant at me.)

What made them “The Greatest Generation” was their commitment and self-sacrifice. They gave us the greatest economic boom the United States has seen in recent times (1950 – 1973). This has been noted as the Golden Era of Capitalism. They did it because they knew what it was like to be on the bottom fighting your way up. They knew the impact of dictatorships like Hitler and Mussolini and socialism in Russia and China. They put their early trust in government and community. They were the consummate team players. They rebuilt their vanquished foes after WWII. These good deeds would eventual come back to haunt them as Germany and Japan became industrial super powers taking many US jobs overseas. Through all of this they were the loyal backbone of this nation.

My Dad is a good example of this. He dropped out of high school to serve in the United States Navy during WWII. Much of his duty time was spend in the Japanese occupied Philippine Islands in a balsa minesweeper picking up fallen airman. As the Air Force flew raids on the Japanese, some would be shot down into the Pacific Ocean. The job of my dad’s crew was to hang out in the Philippine Island, pick up the fallen airman, and transport them to a waiting submarine. He talked about hiding out during the day in an inlet. Listening to the Japanese soldiers all around them. The Japanese were known for their cruel treatment of prisoners of war. At night they would head out to sea to pick up survivors. The amazing part of this story is that he did this in his teenage years, felt it was his duty, and has never felt the need to be repaid for the sacrifice. He didn’t feel it was a sacrifice. It was what Americans do for each other.

Living with this attitude of commitment and self-sacrifice, it is no wonder that his generation went on to such great heights. If our childhood was getting over the Great Depression and our adolescence was literally fighting for our life in enemy territory, what would be the risk in the business world? My father went on to earn a college degree in engineering without ever having finished high school. He was almost 80 when he first cashed in on the GI Bill. Up until then he didn’t feel the country owed him anything for his military service. Finally the cost of medication forced him to fill his prescription through the VA.

We are arguably the greatest nation on this globe. To wake up in the morning and know that today we don’t have to worry about the very basic elements like food, clothing, or shelter. Our standards are very high. My wife and I just watched “Blood Diamonds” which takes place in Sierra Leone. We both have problems realizing that others live their entire lives in this sort of a bloody and violent environment. There will always be people in need here and abroad. We should always be compassionate and help these people when possible. Because all in all we have it good. We owe all of this to the men and women who have served in our armed forces.

I can’t help but add this note: All that is left for Americans is the top two layers of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs; esteem and self-actualization. Because we have not had to suffer as other generations have, to gain and protect our freedoms we don’t fully appreciate what it is like to be without. We sit and whine rather than get up and do….

I would like to take this Memorial Day to thank “The Greatest Generation” and especially my parents. We owe what we have to their sacrifice and determination.

Thank you Mom and Dad

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