In his 1998 book, Tom Brokaw coined this term for the people who grew up during the Depression and World War II. He called them “the greatest generation” not for the hardships they endured, but for what they achieved.
I’ve been privileged to know many members of this generation … a few of them WWII veterans. One of these is my friend Bob — an author, poet, linguist, musician, professor emeritus, and a veteran.
Esteban and I visited Bob on Memorial Day. He was clearly pleased and honored that he’d been invited to tour Minnesota’s Greatest Generation, a new exhibit at the Minnesota History Center. But he went on to wonder whether maybe history was overlooking people whose contributions weren’t so great.
I replied that perhaps history was being too kind, but that every generation needs heroes. As we once again face economic turmoil and the ever-present threat of war, it’s natural to look back at people who weathered terrible hardships, and to hold them up as an example. Their survival gives us hope.
I don’t know whether Brokaw’s coined term is hyperbolic — history seems to either gild or vilify — but I do know that the stories from those years are remarkable. Read them for yourself in Thomas Simmons’ The Forgotten Heroes of World War II.
And thank you, Bob, for enriching us with your stories. Sie sind ein Meister des Deutschen (und mit Haselnüßen)!