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Friday, 06 June 2008

Saving Us

By Brent Green of Boomers blog

In my basement, tucked behind boxes of camping gear, sits a drab olive container about the size of a shoebox, solid and substantial. My father once packed it with shotgun shells, and I recall a curious child peering over his shoulder many decades ago and ogling the dazzling red and yellow plastic tubes, full of black powder, full of power.

As he was moving into assisted-living care several years ago, he presented it to me without formality: a practical container, but more importantly, a metaphor. It is a World War II ammo box, an indelible remnant of a war I barely understand, nor have cared much about except as movie entertainment.

But a generation is dying, 32,200 stories every month. Understated eulogies to these men and women dot the nation’s obituary pages; they are departing inaudibly in their eighties and nineties.

This is everyday mortality, the end of their journey between the two eternities, preceding the first and following the last breath and yet, leaving with them is a society that once confronted the most difficult choices of freedom and survival. They fought and prevailed against in the Axis powers; countless made the ultimate sacrifice. Remaining survivors, now feeble with age, are passing with unassuming notice, many warehoused and forgotten in nursing homes — unwitting enablers of corporate profiteering.

For over half a century, the G. I. Generation guarded our nation’s moral compass. Younger generations cannot rival their collective patriotism, sacrifices or passion for democratic principles. Too few of us have grasped the severe price they paid for today’s prosperity and superpower status.

In Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg’s movie about the June 1944 invasion of France, Captain John Miller said to his reluctant squad member, “When was the last time you felt good about anything?”

How resonant. “Capt. Miller,” I whispered, “I haven’t felt good about the moral drift of our country for a long time.”

We are without anchor, and a generation that has delivered the privileges we take for granted would be correct to feel dismay: their legacy may soon be forgotten. I ponder if our frenetic society, sixty-three years hence, has become too self-absorbed to understand the implications as these stoic citizens now become an ancestral generation.

Our present path has become cluttered with entertainment and toys. Self-aggrandizement supersedes self-sacrifice. Inane television sitcoms and reality shows substitute for family story telling. Road rage rivals righteous indignation. Patriotism has become confused with waving the flag - as derision for dissent.

I saw a carbon copy of my father’s ammunition box appear as a prop during the Spielberg movie and thought about my dad and his private sacrifice, never discussed, as has been the custom of his generation. I envisioned this quiet collection of elderly men and women leaving behind an incomprehensible bushwhack through the twentieth century. I imagined all these old people plodding toward the dimming light of sunset and an unceremonious disappearance over the horizon.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Once again, the cupboard is nearly bare of stories. Time for any readers inclined to share yours to send them along.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

A final salute as they pass into history. liloldme

I am of the generation you write about and it is bittersweet to read your essay.

The horizon looms large for me so I have written my memoirs and included those stressful and frightening war days. The men returning from war certainly had post combat stress syndrome and one can only guess at the horrors they saw and endured.

Very few men who were in that war want to relive that time so their memories die with them. That is sad.

You theme here reminds me so much of the poem I posted today.

I had a cousin who was a POW in WWII, and he refused to talk about it until he was dying (in his late 70's).

I loved reading this as a tribute on D-Day. I too posted about this time in history today. My dad and my father-in-law were both there, and they never talked about it either. They didn't seem to realize it had been a sacrifice for them. It was a duty and responsibility which they were willing to carry out.

A war is never really over for those who fight in them. Personal stories like the one you tell of your fathers are bits of our country's past that aren't in the history books. Thanks for your sensitive and timeless tale.

Thank you all for your comments and sharing your thoughts about this passing of a generation. We still have time to learn their stories and record their thoughts. The greatest gift to myself was the day I interviewed my father on video.

Civil War historian, Shelby Foote, was asked if he would consider doing a documentary on WWII. He said his Civil War work consumed many years and at this stage of his life he wasn't going to study war no more.

The post war warriors fought for their personal peace. In the co-op they are finding it and it is finding them.

The ammo box seeds your soul. If not a throng, always a remnant to remember. Thanks for spreading some seeds here.

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