Friday, 06 June 2008
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.]