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Opinion: The Children of the Greatest Generation

28 October 2018  

We are the sons and daughters of the Greatest Generation.

We are the sons and daughters of the Greatest Generation. Our fathers were the soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, merchant marines or members of the workforce that defeated the unholy alliance of fascists, Nazis and the militaristic Japanese Empire. Our mothers were the WAVES, WACS, nurses, secretaries, stenos and supposedly non-combat transportation and training pilots. They were the Rosy the Riveters, the morale builders who made sandwiches and punch and danced with the troops at USO events. They kept the home fires burning by writing to their lovers and friends overseas. They collected scrap metal, tires, and other items when they were needed in support of that war effort. Our parents selflessly gave up a significant portion of their youth and innocence to keep our country free for themselves, their families and their descendants.

After the war they continued their endeavors by transforming the economy to peace time and confronting the expanding threat of communism in Korea and around the world. They repaired the social fabric of the healing nation by marrying and creating families. We baby boomers are the happy result of that particular activity.

Last weekend, I attended the 50th Reunion of the Class of 1968 from St. Bernard High School that is located in Westchester/Playa Del Rey section of Los Angeles. Since we were all born in or within a month or so of 1950, we were all baby boomers. We grew up in neighborhoods where most of the fathers were veterans and most of our mothers were housewives.

We lived in areas with lots of kids. Because we went to Catholic School, most of us had one or more siblings. Since we lived in the shadow of the Los Angeles International Airport, many of our parents worked in the Aerospace industry. Others were policemen, firemen, truck drivers, mechanics, accountants, insurance agents or other white collar or blue collar workers. Although we didn't know it at the time, our families occupied various levels of middle class.

With the abundance of kids around our own ages, we played games on the weekends and in the summer until one of our parents called us or the street lights came on. We drew hopscotch diagrams with chalk on the sidewalk, skipped rope and played handball against garage doors. We would raid our piggy banks for change every time we heard the Good Humor ice cream truck or the Helms Bakery van nearing our street. Red Rover and hide-and-go-seek gave way to touch football, over-the-line, and Wiffleball games as we got older.

We attached playing cards to our Schwinns so that the spokes would make our bikes sound like motorcycles. We would then ride to the cornfields or bean fields or Ballona Creek. Unfortunately those areas were later replaced by the San Diego Freeway. (I'm sure I wasn't the classmate who felt the nostalgic pang because those areas now live only in our collective memories.). Because of our proximity to beaches, most of us spent many a summer day in the sand and surf, progressing from body surfing to surf mats to surf boards. Bikinis, trunks, St. Christopher metals and hirachi tire tread sandals were almost mandatory beach ware.

As the Class of 1968 gathered, we discussed our high school and grammer school years. We toasted our classmates who have passed away. We reminisced about our lay teachers, nuns and priests who taught us. Some were effective teachers, others not so much. We remembered swats with paddles, detentions and other discipline. We exchanged stories of our scholastic and/or athletic exploits, or lack thereof. Unsanctioned extra curricular activities were referenced both as sources of great fun and examples of youthful indiscretion.

As we are all in our late 60's now, we have seen a lot of life. Maturity, I suppose, comes from experiencing joys and tragedies, accomplishments and disappointments, life and death. At this point in our lives, we have almost all undergone the joys and challenges of marriage and parenting and the heartbreak of the death of loved ones. We have seen the highs when we've met a career or life goal and the lows when we've come up short. Our chosen professions have given us a wide variety of perspectives on life, but I think most of us still have the values instilled in us by our parents and have passed them on to our children.

All in all, I would have to say that my classmates have done an exemplary job in providing for and raising their families, and in their chosen occupations. They have made this country, and their individual communities a better place to live. I am so happy to be a part of such a wonderful group of people. I would think that “the Greatest Generation” would agree with that assessment.

A special thanks has to go to Rich Cole and Lonnie Daily Hansen for their time and energy in putting this reunion together and for Father Michael Engh for saying Mass on Saturday afternoon.