To Me, It’s Appropriate to Say ‘Greatest Generation’ But Some Say ‘No’ — Part Two


My father Joseph Markley of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, easily fits into the category above. Born into a blue-collar home in 1919, he endured the Great Depression and served four years in the Army Air Corps during World War II. A staff sergeant, he was an electrician based in North Africa (Egypt). He and my mother had four children — three boys, and a girl.
In his hometown, my father was elected to the Model Cities urban renewal board but two years later, he died of a heart attack at age 53. He was one of 16 million Americans who served in the war. My dad would be happy to be part of the Greatest Generation. He was a proud member of the generation born between 1900 and 1927.
It was initially called the ‘GI Generation.’ But when TV journalist Tom Brokaw wrote a best-selling book in 1998 called ‘The Greatest Generation,’ that phrase supplanted the ‘GI’ one. Brokaw spotlighted the heroic wartime and post-war lives of the veterans.
“I agree that the WWII generation is remarkably special,” was a typical positive comment by a reader. “Their military training, the opportunity to go to college and their leadership experience prepared this generation for greatness. It seemed to me that book emphasized the extraordinary soldier who became very successful.” She was disappointed Brokaw did not write of those who had less-than-perfect lives.
Negative feedback was rare, but biting. “Interesting to me was the way the military machinery was sort of being invented on the spot by farm boys who were good with their hands,” another woman said. “There were definitely themes worth exploring but old Tom (Brokaw) didn’t want to stray too far from simply giving everybody props. To me, the ‘Greatest Generation’ is the Founding Fathers generation. Those were pretty amazing guys, and the proof is in the pudding.”
The Greatest Generation’s depth, work skills and public-spiritedness were seldom questioned by later generations. Baby Boomers such as myself were not well-understood or even much appreciated by other generations because of their activism and radicalism. I was fortunate because being born in 1956, I was age 17 in 1973 and did not participate in the craziness of the 1960s and early 1970s.
Millennials, those now between ages 22 to 36, have had their fair share of criticism. They were the first generation to be heavily into social media and informational technology. However, Dima Ghawi wrote in a Thrive Global publication of Millennials’ nine sturdy characteristics.
The first five are fully transparent, sharing everything; doing well with detailed instructions; desire to make an impact; commerce and conscience together; and value diversity. The rest of the characteristics are love technology; education is a highly expensive necessity; do not perform at their best in a traditional work environment; and finding solutions using technology.
According to Julia Kagan of Investopedia, as of last September, “The youngest members of the Greatest Generation, if using 1925 as the last year they were born, would be nearing their 100s. There are just under 100,000 centenarians living in the United States.” Research by the Washington Post shows that the final members of the Greatest Generation should die around the year 2046 if they can reach age 120 with advances in health care and improvements in life expectancy.
Samuel Goldman, in an article for The Week in September 2021, reported a research project at Virginia Tech ended up with a less-than-positive appraisal of the Greatest Generation. The initiative analyzed responses to surveys administered between 1940 and 1941 to hundreds of thousands of military personnel. Servicemen, as expected, complained about the food, lack of recreational opportunities and the military bureaucracy.
”Other reports are jarring by 21st century standards, “Goldman wrote. “The surveys found tense and sometimes embittered relations between northerners and southerners, blacks and whites. Contrary to pop culture depictions, many expressed ambivalence about the goals of the war and their willingness to face combat.”
The Greatest motif covers those who ‘kept the home fires burning’ such as relatives, first responders, munitions factory employees and other fine citizens. One of those was my Aunt Helen, who worked at a military plant during the war and who, like many others in her generation, lived to a grand old age — 85.
Aunt Helen echoed the rest of those from her era in often repeating the ideals they held. Helen was a ‘second mother’ to my sister who was long hospitalized for schizophrenia. Helen tell us at least twice a year to do three main things. Those were, don’t waste money, always work hard and don’t make waves. But for me, that third one was tough to comply with.
.Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has a master’s in education from AUM and a masters in history from Auburn University. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer since 2011. He writes on politics, education and books.


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