When I started in this profession, it was the late eighties and the people I was helping were just entering retirement. Of course, this makes sense, and I have continued to help assist people make the transition from work to retirement. What was unique about the group that I originally started with was that they were members of what is often referred to as, “The Greatest Generation.” This is also the title of a great book, which I thoroughly recommend by Tom Brokaw about what is arguably one of the greatest generations of people our country has known.
These are the people that you may see from time to time doddering around behind a walker or being wheeled into a restaurant in a wheelchair. By any stretch, there are old now; often frail, often confused and usually misunderstood. But these were also the men and women who dropped everything when their country called and answered the call in any way possible. If they could serve in the military, they were proud to do it. If they could help raise the children of those who were serving, they did not ask questions. They rationed food, they went without, they grew victory gardens to help feed themselves and others. They sacrificed their own wishes, hopes and dreams for the benefit of their community, their country, and the world. I believe they realized how high the stakes were and just did what needed to be done. In a word, they were selfless.
What an honor and privilege to have met so many of them and helped them at my (then) young age. I listened to some of their stories in awe and amazement. I could not wait to get home and tell Joan about the heroic people I met and how I was able to help them. One story I recall still has an impact on me some three decades later. It was a woman who was so poor, that she and her brother (just kids) were charged by their parents to walk up and down the railroad tracks collecting small pieces of coal that may have fallen off a rail car.
Another story was of a man who had been captured in the Pacific and starved half to death yet sitting in front of me was a healthy, vibrant man who was not lacking for food or anything material. He was cheerful and not bitter. He never bragged about his service; in fact, you had to pry it out of him.
Often it was only after attending the funeral of one of these members of the greatest generation that I was privileged to learn of their accomplishments in service. How is it that I never knew any of the things that I learned at the funeral?
Because, as I mentioned earlier these were selfless people who were members of one of the humblest generations as well. If social media existed back then, I am positive there would be no postings of what they had done. They just did it and moved on because that was what was expected of them. It is almost as if, collectively, they agreed they were not going to talk about what they saw, what they did, or how they sacrificed for the benefit of others.
Sadly, we are losing them at an extremely high rate and with each loss I feel nostalgic for their quiet greatness. I am saddened that their stories will leave with them. I am sorry that my children and others their age will never know them.
The next time you see a little old man or a little old lady shuffling around anywhere, please remember that at one time they were vibrant doers who helped create the opportunity for you and me to enjoy the lifestyle we currently have. Open the door for them, smile at them, and thank them.