The Greatest Generation

Grandpop Patrick Quinn with his boys, shortly before the war, my dad, Frank, Joe and Jimmy.

Grandpop Patrick Quinn with his boys, shortly before the war, my dad, Frank, Joe and Jimmy.

When he attended the anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy, Tom Brokaw said of those decent Americans who grew up during The Depression and fought in World War II, “It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”

I agree wholeheartedly.

I have often wished I’d been a part of The Greatest Generation.  They learned resilience, not to mention how to waste not and want not, during the economic hardships of The Depression.  One of Dot Sellers, an older cousin’s, favorite sayings was:

“Use it up,

Wear it out,

Make it do,

Or do without!”

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, the boys enlisted in droves.  They wanted to serve.  It was even considered disgraceful if they didn’t, and boys not in uniform were literally frowned upon on the street.  My grandfather, Patrick Quinn of Elizabeth, New Jersey, got a special dispensation in order to enlist, even though he was 40 when war broke out.  He was sent to China with the Marine Corps.  His father, my great-grandfather, Patrick Quinn, Sr., used to sit on the front porch at 1010 Flora Street and shout out to men he saw in the neighborhood who weren’t in uniform, “What’s wrong with you that you’re not in the service like my son?  You’re a lot younger than he is and he’s over there!”

While he was over there, my grandmother, Claire Fitzpatrick Quinn, kept the home fires burning.  She raised her three boys, including my father, Frank, took care of my shouting great-grandfather, and even let a cousin live with them so that she could have an easier walk to her high school.  Grandma Claire is, perhaps, to be admired most of all.  She handled all that on her own.

My other grandmother, Margaret Ford Yoerger, was the Air Raid Warden for her block, also in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  There were times when a blackout condition would be called for when troops were moving from one area to another at night.  A German man used to keep the lights on at night, deliberately, for sabotage purposes.  My grandmother would have to climb several flights of stairs to go and tell that stupid Nazi sympathizer to turn out his damned lights.  She was equal to the task of taking him on.  “He should have been picked up by the authorities,” my mother said later, “the creep.”  Indeed!

Whenever I contrast these people to the generation that was growing up right before mine – the first half of the Baby Boomers – I feel like I missed out on something.  I grew up watching one protest after another on television during the 1960s, which were not a pleasant time but an irrational one.  People who claimed to be “non-violent” and “anti-war” would get on the news by burning down buildings, throwing rocks and screaming slogans.  They’d get so violent they’d have to be subdued, then pretend there was something “wrong” with their subduers, never facing that if they didn’t start trouble, no one else would have had to try to finish it.  To this day a lot of those people still contend they are “non-violent,” and it’s an astonishing statement.  I can recall seeing people burn stuff too – draft cards, their bras, the American flag.  I found it all but impossible to feel any sort of connection with these mindlessly juvenile people and still don’t.  No one had any pride in their country then, and from their actions, I doubt they had much pride in themselves, either.  If they had, they’d have behaved with a bit more dignity.

How amazing it must have been to live in a time of patriotism!  Maybe one day, as a country, we’ll get back to the proud place where we belong.





One thought on “The Greatest Generation

  1. The United States was factionalized prior to World War II, and isolationist, and those were not patriotic times. It’s easy today to look at kids with short attention spans and riots in Missouri and protests in NYC and see a country in decline. But our ancestors similarly thought the country was in decline in the 1930s, and that the young generation (soon to be the Greatest) was comprised of a bunch of fools. I think that it’s challenges that make greatness in individuals and nations. Were they the Greatest from 1941 to 1945? Yes. And why were they the Greatest? Because they had to be, just as down the road there will be a new Greatest Generation because they will have to be; they’ll have to rise up and overcome some magnificent challenge that may or may not even be visible to us today.


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