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“Greatest Generation?” Who Knew…?

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With Pearl Harbor Day upon us (75th anniversary), Bruce Kent sent me a link to an Atlantic.com piece claiming, by inference, that we little munchkins from The Fifties were members of the “Greatest Generation”…!

Huh…!?

Like Bruce and probably everyone else in the class, I never considered myself a member of that special generation—the men and women who fought in World War II! It was our parents who fought the Great War. It was our dads who went off to fight on foreign soil. It was our moms who went with them as WAC and WAVE auxiliaries or who worked in munitions factories. Clearly it was the generation before us who so heroically fought and died to save the world from tyranny.

How could the authors of this piece come to such an errant (my opinion) conclusion…? Naming the generations (“Greatest Generation“), et. al., has no official standing with the U.S. Census Bureau (“We do not define the different generations,” according to a spokesperson), except for the “Baby Boomer” generation which began in 1946. Allied fighters returning home at war’s end served to “punctuate” traditional demographic growth by making a historic number of babies rather suddenly. The article goes on to name ensuing generations (“Generation X”, “Millennial”, etc.) up to the present time based on their research:

  • Greatest Generation 1906 – 1925 (“These are the people that fought and died in World War II for our freedom…”)
  • Baby Boomers 1946 – 1964 (“It began when the Greatest Generation got home and started having sex with everyone…”)
  • Generation ‘X’ 1965 – 1984 (Harvard U.)
  • Generation ‘Y’ mid-70s – mid-2000s (a “made-up” generation according to the article)
  • Millennials 1982 – 2004 (independent researchers)
  • No Name 2005 – 2024 (unnamed as yet)

To Bruce’s point, where the hell are we in this classification? Are we the “Forgotten” generation…? It wasn’t we who fought and died to make the world safe for democracy! At three years of age I was sucking my thumb, not a german bayonet! In other words every living U.S. citizen (and unborn till 2024) over the past 100 years is accounted for in this scheme except for us!

The reference to “Greatest Generation” is attributed to the title of a well-known historical work by Tom Brokaw—formerly an NBC news commentator. As mentioned, the Baby Boomer generation began when our soldiers returned from the war in 1946. And the remaining generations mentioned in the article come roughly in 20-year consecutive brackets until today.

This oversight in the article began tweaking my ulcer(s) to the point where I did a little research, myself (a hazard of having no life to speak of…). Have a look at wartime conscription by birth year:

Draft Eligibility Birth Years
Year Grandparents
Draft Eligible
1886-1905
Parents
Draft Eligible
1906-1925
Our Generation
Draft Eligible
1926-1945
Comments
1940 Born 1904-1905
(Age 35-36)
Born 1906-1919
(Age 21-34)
Selective Service eligibility by law (9/16/1940): 21 – 36
1941 Born 1905
(Age 36)
Born 1906-1920
(Age 21-35)
1942 Born 1905
(Age 37)
Born 1906-1924
(Age 18-36)
Amended eligibility range (11/11/1942): 18-37
1943 Born 1906-1925
(Age 18-37)
1944 Born 1907-1925
(Age 19-37)
Born 1926
(Age 18)
1945 Born 1908-1925
(Age 20-37)
Born 1926-1927
(Age 18-19)
V-E Day: 5/8/1945

You can readily see from the table what a disproportionately huge contribution our parents’ generation made to the World War II effort. And by comparison how small a total from our generation: 14 months of eligibility in 1944 and 1945 (18- and 19-year olds) compared to 56 months on our parents’ part.

In search of a proper name for our generation (1926 – 1945), we need to ask what was the defining historic event that took place during our lifetime. Was there any?

Sure there was. Discounting The Great Depression (which we had no part in causing and were late arrivals to the party, anyway), we are the Rock ‘n’ Roll generation, are we not? From Wikipedia.org:

While elements of rock and roll can be heard in blues records from the 1920s and in country records of the 1930s, the genre did not acquire its name until the 1950s…

Beyond simply a musical style, rock and roll, as seen in movies and on television, influenced lifestyles, fashion, attitudes, and language. In addition, rock and roll may have contributed to the civil rights movement because both African-American and white American teens enjoyed the music.

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Elvis

It was larger than a music genre. It spread to Europe and around the world. It became part of the Civil Rights movement. C’mon, people: it was a whole damn culture! And we helped create it…! :-)

So, Bruce, here’s how the past century (five generations) might be redefined. At least in my overworked cranium. Maybe yours, too:

  • Greatest Generation 1906 – 1925 (the vast majority of men and women in uniform during WW II)
  • Rock ‘n’ Roll Generation 1926 – 1945 (that’s us!)
  • Baby Boomers 1946 – 1965
  • Generation ‘X’ 1966 – 1985
  • Millennials 1986 – 2005

Any other suggestions…? Comments, please…

P.S. A couple of ex-classmates recalled in comments (see below) that we already have a name: the Silent Generation. Amen to that.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Anonymous December 11, 2016, 4:16 am

    Joani (Weiss) Davidson:

    Rod Serling [what to name our generation… :-].

    Westporter worth mentioning, who served, had scruples and was a decent human being.

    XOJ

    —–

    Cliff: You know this how…?

    —–

    I went to Antioch, as did he and his wife (No, I didn’t know him there, he is/was older generation, OUR forgotten one? not quite, I guess since he served in the war and was wounded,injured. I know something about him, his background, but you can Google …I know you know his TV dramas)

    Hope you are well. Heather wants to know if there’s going to be another reunion. I think most of those who mde it happen are no longer. What think you?

    XOJ

  • Linda Clifford December 11, 2016, 10:50 pm

    Yes, the graph in the Atlantic article plots you with “The Greatest Generation” while sucking your thumbs in your cribs.
    You should really send this to Atlantic “letters to editors!”
    Lin

  • Caddy Swanson January 15, 2017, 8:23 am

    I believe that we were known as the “silent generation. I remember that because I was seldom silent. Caddy Swanson, Snoqualmie WA

  • Don Freeman January 22, 2017, 8:57 pm

    Hi, Cliff and all. I thought I had posted this comment under the previous dispensation, but maybe it got chewed up in the transition. I always thought we were part of the Silent Generation — too young for Korea, too old (at least in my case — by three months!) for Vietnam. I don’t know where that title comes from. At least for people of my political persuasion (lefty Democrat), the next four years are going to be another Silent Generation.

  • Don Freeman March 6, 2017, 1:00 pm

    I thought I had commented on this before, but now can’t find the comment. I had always understood our generation to be known as The Silent Generation, folks who didn’t say much and conformed to the boring Zeitgeist of the Eisenhower years during which we came of age. When Mario Savio (he of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley) said “Never trust anyone over 30,” I was just over 30. That’s our story, I think.

  • cliff March 19, 2017, 7:20 pm

    “Silent Generation” works for me. Kinda’ like it.
    —Cliff

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