On a Day of Elevens

November 11, 2011 – 11/11/11 – and then we can expand this to include the 11th second of the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day on the 11th month of the 11th year in the century. We also know that 11 is the lowest positive number with three syllables, but I have not knowingly encountered an 11-sided polygon (which happens to called a hendecagon or undecagon).

Today is much more important than a post about elevens, and important enough to forego my normal Friday feature of Opinions in the Shorts – today is Veteran’s Day.

As I looked ahead to this day earlier in the week, I was thinking about my dad, who passed away in September 2010. As an eighteen year old, he left high school early to join the army during WW II. Obviously, he was one of the younger soldiers. Being that he would have turned 85 in a few weeks serves as a reminder that the number of surviving WW II veterans is rapidly dwindling. Besides, 2011 is the year of the passing of the last surviving WW I veteran – Frank Buckles.

We baby boomers grew up in a time with that war fresh in the minds of many. Who knows how many movies, television shows, and documentaries we watched during our youth. We didn’t live that war – yet the effects of that time. We lived a good life because of the efforts of many – and led by those who Tom Brokow called The Greatest Generation.

Although a day will come when the last WW II veteran is no longer physically with us, we have memorials throughout the land that are designed as a reminder to the living.

On this Veteran’s Day, we celebrate all veterans who served in our armed forces at any time in any war and in time of peace, but a special tip of the hat to those WW II soldiers – those who fell in combat, those who have passed on, and those who still are alive.

A Weekend with the Greatest Generation

Although the election brought us history and plenty of political fodder, the election isn’t everything. As a matter of fact, Veteran’s Day could be the perfect day to step away pause and reflect. Heck, it may even give us insight for the challenges ahead.

Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation is composed of those growing up in the depression and fighting in World War II, Korea, and even Vietnam. This generation worked hard, served as business leaders during years when small town America had thriving downtowns, and led all levels of big industry and business. This generation created the baby boomers, and work hard to insure that they would have it better than them.

This generation knew how to be frugal because they lived it; then learned how to be prudent as their wealth accumulated. Imagine predicting to this generation about the day of $4 coffee and $1 bottled water.

On a weekend in September I got a chance to be with many from this generation. My dad was a soldier in World War II, and then re-enlisted in the 1950s. Although Korea had started, knowing the Italian language helped him get assigned to the Free Territory of Trieste. This particular weekend served as a reunion for the Blue Devils division that patrolled Trieste following WW II, thus essentially the beginning of the Cold War.

As their numbers dwindle and getting around becomes increasingly difficult, these proud men have yearly reunions. There’s no set program, just time for them to reacquaint, reminisce, and laugh. They came to St. Louis from allover the country; heck, even two came from England.

Interestingly, many of these men married Triestine women, so these ladies are also an integral part of the story of this time and place in history. I was captivated by the stories they share about growing up during the height of Fascism, encountering war, dealing with occupations by the Nazis, the Communists, and eventually the Allies. Their pride for their city was evident, as was their appreciation for freedom.

Since I was born in Trieste during this period, this served as a personal renewal of my roots. Even more so, it was a chance for me to more fully understand the impact of this generation. Their stories, personal bonds, and their ties to history bind their pride into one.

This group lived the depression. Some participated in world war that was truly about freedom while all of them lived the post-war cold war period. These are the people who built America with their hands and minds. These are the people that gave baby boomers like me the chance to have a better life than they.

We baby boomers got the education to advance. We baby boomers got the chance to experience many material things better than our parents. We got to experience freedoms for which they fought.

A better life? – I’m not so sure. Since life is shaped by the experiences one lives, there’s no way we experienced the magnitudes of their life. To fully experience where you are, you must know where you’ve been. But yes to a better life because we got a chance to experience of the benefits you preserved.

On this Veteran’s Day, thank you to all veterans for your time and sacrifices; but a special thank you to the Greatest Generation for significantly changing life for so many.