He never owned much more than the 1/2 acre corner lot his tiny brick house sat upon, but compared to his start in life, he died a very wealthy man.
At the age of 12, his mother died and at 16, he lied about his age and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps — 15 months later, a rifle took the place of the shovel in his strong arms and he and his friends back-packed through Europe, saving the world.
After the war, he shook hands with the guys he had become brothers with while serving in one of the most perilous human adventures in history, never to see them again.
That same year, he returned to the only town he had ever known as home and wasted no time building an entirely new world.
Despite being penniless, he convinced the town’s sweetheart to become his bride and a blurry black and white photo is all that remains of that most sacred day, despite the fact that the pair spent the next half-century raising a new generation of Americans: Americans who would never know what it meant to truly be hungry, Americans who would never know the uncertainty of humanity hanging in the balance, Americans who would never know just how good they had it compared to their parents — it simply wasn’t in his composition to speak about how good others had it compared to him, he would just sit quietly, in the corner of a lively living room, and watch as his grandchildren opened more presents in a single hour than he would see in his entire lifetime.
This fearless generation of men and women would go on to do truly unimaginable things: they would walk on the surface of the moon (something no other generation before or after had done), eradicate a countless number of diseases that had plagued humanity for thousands of years, build skyscrapers that would pierce the clouds, breakdown the ancient barriers that had treated an entire race of people as second-class citizens, and transform a backwards nation into the world’s sole superpower.
They were fearless, both as a collective force and as individuals. After work each evening, they would do things like build a house, overhaul the motor in the family’s car, and remain faithful to a single woman.
Their hands were strong as iron and their will and wit were seldom challenged, yet when the grandchildren arrived, they showcased an entirely different side; they were meek, loving and became shining examples of what humanity should be.
When it came time for sociologists to give this generation a name, their children stepped up and offered the most honorable title possible, “The Greatest Generation”.
Sadly, the men and women of this “greatest generation” are all but gone, today.
With their passing, we lose a lot more than a group of men who traveled by horseback to visit their sweetheart — their passing is a great travesty; with each death, we lose more wisdom than the largest of libraries could ever contain.
In their wake is a generation that, through no fault of anyone, has never known the level of peril that forged this greatest generation, and thus never been given an opportunity to obtain such a great treasure of wisdom and human experience. Indeed, every generation that has followed has came up wantonly short.
As we bid this greatest generation farewell, it is critical that we take the time to recognize the tremendous tragedy of their passing and before we lose another one – or all of them – savor every moment spent in the presence of greatness.
Here’s to you, grandpa. Thanks.
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