I had breakfast today with three members of what some have called the Greatest Generation. It was my father, Nathaniel, and his two longtime friends, Sandy and Philip. All three men are in their mid-eighties and I felt honored to join them at their regular Saturday morning ritual, dining at Rose and Chubbie’s, an old fashioned breakfast joint by the railroad tracks in the village of Hopewell NJ.
What does it take to be considered America’s greatest generation? To Tom Brokaw, who coined the phrase, it was that the men had gone to war when war was so much easier to define as the right thing to do. They had served the United States when we fought off twin tyrants, Hitler and Hirohito. But their service in the military wasn’t the only thing that made them great.
To me it comes down to what they’ve made of their lives, and how they are regarded by friends and family in the community. Philip is battling a degenerative brain disease, yet with the help of friends and a walker, never fails to show up and join his friends for breakfast. Sandy has problems remembering what he began saying, and sometimes he would remark at how frustrating that was, yet he would carry on, asking me questions about my travels and remaining totally engaged with me.
Philip is an architect. Sandy is a psychiatrist. My father is an editor. All three excelled in their fields, raised children, and hold open doors for women. They have all traveled abroad, and though two are democrats and one a republican, respect the other’s opinion and encourage discussion and civility. The qualities that they showed me are valuable and needed, yet they’re not taught, nor are they common in younger generations. When we lose the last man of this Greatest Generation, the world will be a poorer, less dignified place.