American Stories: The “Lucky Generation”

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With Independence Day occurring at a tumultuous time marked by a global pandemic and a national crisis over racial injustice, Climate gave local contributors carte blanche to write their perspectives on what makes America special. We will be publishing our contributors’ American Stories now through July 4. Keep an eye out for these unique and personal pieces.

Sometimes I feel like Willy Loman, the main character in Arthur Miller’s celebrated play “Death of a Salesman.” Loman worked hard all his life, but was ignored and unappreciated, leading to the famous line about “Attention must be paid.” I think it’s time attention be paid to me and millions of other members of the generation sandwiched between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.

Born in 1937, I missed the big historic moments of the 20th century – too young for World War II and too old for the sexual revolution. That’s okay. A lot of people got hurt in the sexual revolution. I was a mere child of seven when the war ended in August of 1945, but that shouldn’t distract from the fact that the war had a profound influence on my future.

Everywhere I looked I saw men in uniform. I regarded them as heroes, role models who had the courage and determination to defeat evil and save a way of life they thought was worth dying for but they hoped to live for.

The former GIs are passing away at an increasing rate. I expect when the final Taps sound there will be a good deal of rewriting of history by those who want to control the past and thus control the present and the future. There are already signs of this. In Tom Brokaw’s book, “Boom! Voices of the Sixties – Personal Reflections on the ‘60s and Today,” some members of that generation insisted they, and not the WWII veterans, were actually the “greatest.” They cited their fight for civil rights, gender equity, anti-war protests and sexual freedoms, as though they had dared to go where no one had gone before.

My generation, the one born during the Great Depression, had it made. We marched toward adulthood when America was, as Jimmy Cagney shouted from the burning tower in “White Heat,” on “top of the world.” The rest of the globe was in ruins. “Sound as a dollar” was not a simple cliché then. It was true. Along with “gas is cheap.” In addition, our comparatively small numbers benefitted from the large generation that followed. The Boomers needed doctors, teachers, police officers, firefighters and just about anyone else called on to minister to their needs. I had only two jobs during a 40-year career in which one paycheck was enough to support a family, and I consider myself a “Lucky Jim” indeed.

Jim Clifford worked at United Press International and the Associated Press during his journalism career and is the history columnist for Climate and the San Mateo Daily Journal.


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