By Dr. Ralph Massullo
In modern times, we have labeled generations to describe the characteristics of the individuals born and raised to adulthood in those periods. I am a late baby boomer; my four children are millennials; my parents are members of what journalist Tom Brokaw described as the Greatest Generation. They were the generation that grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930s and served our country in World War II and the Korean Conflict. Most all of them are in their twilight years now and are leaving us at a rapid rate. In a brief time, they will have all passed on, leaving us with our memories.
I have been privileged to care for many of them over the years, and while they are honored by the moniker of Greatest Generation, it saddens them to think that if indeed they are the “greatest,” there will not be a better generation of people in the future. I believe if we truly want to honor them, we should ensure their legacy would inspire future generations.
So why are they the “greatest,” and what can we do today to be more like them? Well, they grew up in a very difficult period of our history. Poverty and unemployment were rampant during the 1930s, and there was little or no safety net provided by the government. Families and communities took care of each other. Hard work and self-sacrifice were not options, they were necessities. They learned at an early age to postpone gratification and be responsible for their actions. They had pride in what they did and in the country that they loved.
They valued education and being informed on what was happening in their community and their world. In those days, news and information wasn’t available at the click of a mouse or by touching a phone screen. They needed to read newspapers, go to theaters to watch newsreels, have discussions around the family dinner table and go to libraries to do research. But they wanted to be informed, so they sacrificed their time and energy because they realized if they didn’t know what was happening, they couldn’t be the citizens our country needed to survive in the world. Today, we have access to a universe of news and information at our fingertips and yet we are more ignorant of our world’s issues.
They exemplified the American spirit on which our country was founded, and when they were called to defend her, they did so willingly. In fact it is rumored that Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who masterminded the attack on Pearl Harbor, said, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.” Indeed, that is exactly what happened. Americans pulled together, worked and fought hard and literally saved the world. They were refined like metal in a fire; shaped and honed sharp. They were great.
We can see where we fall short today of that greatness. We don’t have the difficulties that they endured. Our lives are much easier, and yet instead of being more altruistic and productive with our gifts, we have become self-centered and often lazy. We “expect to get” instead of “hope to be able to provide.” We believe we are entitled to almost everything that they had to work, suffer and sometimes die to obtain. They trusted each other and told the truth, while we scheme to hide the truth to such a degree no one really knows what it is anymore. They believed in God and the principles on which our country was founded. We believe to be “politically correct” and “tolerant” we need to abandon the very foundations on which our country was built. If we continue on that current course, our great nation will change and the very spirit that bred that Greatest Generation will cease to exist. Benjamin Franklin was apocryphally asked outside of the Constitutional Convention what kind of government our Constitution produced, and he answered, “A republic, if we can keep it.” He also allegedly went on to say, “I also believe that without His (God’s) concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little partial local interests, our projects will be confounded and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a byword down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war or conquest.” We should think about what is happening in our world and heed Ben’s warning. America is unique and exceptional! It can be nothing less and be America.
So if you are able to speak with one of the Greatest Generation today, make that effort. Listen to them and ask them about their lives. Learn from their experiences and endeavor to carry on where they are leaving off. They would want nothing more than our country to be better tomorrow than it was yesterday. It will not be an easy task; achieving greatness is never easy. But we need to wake up now because America and our world need another Greatest Generation.
Dr. Ralph Massullo is a Citrus County dermatologist.