The Greatest Generation

I was at a major medical center the other day when a man came in accompanied by a nurse. He was elderly. He must have been 90 years old or more. He was wearing a white suit. He looked sharp. The nurse helped him along as he was unable to walk on his own. Almost immediately, a state trooper that happened to be there ran and grabbed a wheelchair to bring over to the old man. The old man thanked the trooper, and the trooper said to the old man, “It’s the least I can do, Major.”

Major?

As it turns out, the old man was a Major in the U.S. Army back during World War II. Apparently, everyone knew him. (The trooper was there as part of a security detail. It’s a rather large and prominent medical center.) It was as if the President of the United States himself has just walked in. Everyone came to the old man’s aid, and they wheeled him away to the emergency department. He had an oxygen tank with him, and I could hear him wheeze.

I spent the rest of the day doing some chart reviews, but I couldn’t stop thinking of the old man. He was part of what we call “The Greatest Generation”. When the world was truly in peril, they rose to the occasion. Men and women the world over went to war. Living in the United States, we have a US-centric view of that generation. We envision American men going to war and women staying home to build planes and what not. But there were plenty of men from Mexico and Central America that came to the US to work in the fields and other industries while the American men were away at war. Many also joined the US Army to go to war. Canadians also sent their men abroad. And what can we say about people in Europe, the Jews who resisted the Nazis as much as they could? The Russians who sent hundreds of thousands, even millions to die on the Eastern Front?

They all rose to the occasion, I thought. The rest of the day, I couldn’t help but wonder if my generation would be able to rise to the occasion if the world was in trouble again. Would we be willing to let go of our “toys” and comforts to go to some far away land for years at a time and fight a ruthless and vicious enemy? So many in my generation already have done this by going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that gives me some hope. Then again, I see all these teenagers, 20-somethings, and 30-somethings walking around like drones as they read or write on their phones. I see them angry on the metro because they can’t play their music loud. They log in and curse and become very angry online — in games and on discussion boards. Anyone and everyone or anything they don’t like is “gay”.

Would they rise to the occasion?

I don’t know. I really don’t know. I think it takes someone with an enormous sense of selflessness, someone who wants to give themselves to something bigger, to really rise and stand up to a world threat.

But, you know what? I’m a big optimist. I believe that people are generally good, and that we’ll come together to fight against something if that something is true evil. I certainly know my friends will.

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