7 Lessons in Manliness From the Greatest Generation

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 30, 2009 · 114 comments

in A Man's Life, Lessons In Manliness


Every generation has its share of men who fully live the art of manliness. But there may never have been a generation when the ratio of honorable men to slackers was higher than the one born between 1914 and 1929. These were the men that grew up during the Great Depression. They’re the men who went off to fight in the Big One. And they’re the men who came home from that war and built the nations of the Western world into economic powerhouses. They knew the meaning of sacrifice, both in terms of material possessions and of real blood, sweat, and tears. They were humble men who never bragged about what they had done or been through. They were loyal, patriotic, and level-headed. They were our Greatest Generation.

Tom Brokaw gave them that name, and while it’s a bold claim, I wholly support it. They weren’t perfect by any means, of course, but as a whole they were a cut above the rest. One of the inspirations for Kate and I starting the Art of Manliness was our grandfathers. When I looked at them, and then at the men of today, the chasm of manliness seemed jarring. These are men cut from a different cloth of manliness; they simply don’t build them like that anymore. Their extraordinary manliness is not something you can scientifically measure. But you can sure feel it. And you can see it in old pictures. It seems every man back then was dashingly handsome; their manliness practically leaps off the page.

When I was taking a tour of the USS Slater in Albany last summer, Uncle Buzz and I were looking at the tiny, closet-sized kitchen where a couple of men prepared meals for hundreds of sailors as the ship rocked to and fro, and at the giant guns the men used to blast the enemy and knock planes from the sky. One tends to picture 30 year old guys doing that stuff; Tom Hanks and Co. always leap to mind. But a lot of them were just 18, fresh from the prom and varsity football.

In Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, he remembers his mother telling him the story of the day Gordon Larsen came into the post office where she worked. Larsen was typically a cheerful and popular member of their community, but that day he had stopped in to complain about the rowdiness of the teenagers the night before, which had been Halloween. Brokaw’s mother was surprised at his tone and asked him good naturedly, “Oh Gordon, what were you doing when you were seventeen?” Gordon looked at her squarely in the eye and said, “I was landing at Guadalcanal.” He then turned and left the post office. These were men who were surely mature beyond their years.

There’s a saying that each generation is most like their grandparent’s. And while we’re not there yet, I do see a lot of people these days who are dusting off the values of the Greatest Generation and embracing them once again. What were those values? Today I’d like to take an opportunity to enumerate a few of the Greatest Generation’s lessons in manliness, using some of my personal observations along with various stories and quotes taken from Brokaw’s book.

Lesson # 1: Take Personal Responsibility for Your Life

While today’s generation often shirks responsibility as too much work, the Greatest Generation relished the chance to step up to the plate and test their mettle. One son of a WWII Medal of Honor winner remembers of his dad and his peers, “For them, responsibility was their juice. They loved responsibility. They took it head-on, and anytime they could get a task and be responsible, that was what really got em’ going.”

And when the Greatest Generation accepted responsibility for something, they also accepted all the consequences of that decision, whether good or bad. They were not a generation of whiners or excuse makers. They took pride in personal accountability. In a time where individuals and businesses reach for a bailout or the easy fix of bankruptcy to make things right, stories like that of Wesley Ko inspire. Soon after the war, Ko started a printing business. After 35 years of working hard to transform it into a successful company, he decided to relocate his business from Philadelphia to upstate New York. Ko personally guaranteed the 1.3 million dollar loan needed to make the move. The transition did not go as expected, and Ko’s company faced several setbacks; after only a year, he was forced to go out of business. Ko said, “It was a big decision making time. I couldn’t retire. I hadn’t taken out Social Security. So at the age of seventy I had to go get a job and start paying back that million-dollar loan. I just didn’t feel comfortable with declaring bankruptcy. I just didn’t think it was the honorable thing to do, even though it would have been easier.”

Lesson #2: Be Frugal

If your grandparents are anything like mine, then their house is stuffed with doodads and boxes of stuff. They have a sort of pack rat mentality because they grew up in the Great Depression where the next canister of oats or pair of pants was not guaranteed. They learned to live on less and be grateful for the things they had, no matter how humble. It didn’t take a new Wii to brighten their Christmas morning; an orange at the bottom of a stocking was enough to knock their socks off.

This was not the generation that purchased Corvettes to soothe their mid-life crisis, nor the generation that equated success with the purchase of a McMansion. This was the generation that was thrilled to move into the small houses of Levittown, which at 750 square feet were as big as some people’s garages are today.

One of the mottos of the Greatest Generation was “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Of course, it’s hard to “make it do” if you don’t know how to fix it, and thus handiness was also central to this generation’s frugality.

Tom Brokaw remembers this about his own dad:

“My father, Red Brokaw, was a blue-ribbon member of that fix-it generation. My mother learned not to say aloud what she needed, say a new ironing board, because my father would immediately build her one. She liked to buy something from the store occasionally. When I was a young man in need of spending money I mentioned that I could mow many more lawns if I had a power mower. I had a snazzy new model from Sears Roebuck in mind. My father went to his workshop and built a mower using an old washing machine motor, welded pipes for handles, a hand-tooled blade, and discarded toy wagon wheels mounted on plywood platform. He painted it all black and it was a formidable machine. At first I was embarrassed, but then as it drew admirers I was proud of its homespun place in a store-bought world.”


Lesson #3: Be Humble

Typical of the Greatest Generation is the story of a son or daughter who finds a war medal stashed in the attic after their father passes, he having never told them about it. Even if their exploits had been brave and heroic, the Greatest Generation rarely talked about the war, both because of the difficulty in remembering such carnage, but also from the sense that they had simply been fulfilling their duty, and thus had no reason to brag.

Brokaw observes: “The World War II generation did what was expected of them. But they never talked about it. It was part of the Code. There’s no more telling metaphor than a guy in a football game who does what’s expected of him-makes an open-field tackle-then gets up and dances around. When Jerry Kramer threw the block that won the Ice Bowl in ’67, he just got up and walked off the field.”


Lesson #4: Love Loyally

The men of the Greatest Generation took their marriage vows seriously. Brokaw wrote, “It was the last generation in which, broadly speaking, marriage was a commitment and divorce was not an option. I can’t remember one of my parents’ friends who was divorced. In the communities where we lived it was treated as a minor scandal.” The numbers bear Brokaw’s anecdotal evidence out: of all the new marriages in 1940, 1 in 6 ended in divorce. By the late 1990′s, that number was 1 in 2.

This was a time where there was no hanging out or “hooking up.” Men asked women on real dates, and had serious intentions in doing so. When a particular gal caught a man’s heart, he proposed, and they got hitched. And they were married for the next 60 years.

Peggy and John Assenzio had the kind of commitment to marriage typical of the Greatest Generation. They were married right before John headed off to basic training. Peggy kept her husband constantly in her thoughts while he was away. “I never went to sleep until I wrote John a letter. I wrote every single day. I wouldn’t break the routine because I thought it would keep him safe.” When John got home, he and Peggy picked up right where they left off. John would sometimes have nightmares about the war, and Peggy was always there to comfort him. John said, “The war helped me to love Peggy more, if that’s possible. To appreciate her more.” Their commitment to each other was unshakeable. Peggy believed that young couples today, “don’t fight enough. It’s too easy to get a divorce. We’ve have our arguments, but we don’t give up. When my friends ask whether I ever considered divorce, I remind them of the old saying, ‘We’ve thought about killing each other, but divorce? Never.”

The cynical among us are apt to think that while the divorce rate was low, that simply means that more men were stuck in unhappy marriages. These days we’re quick to think that anyone who gets married in their early 20′s and is married for decades after that, is bound to be living a life of quiet desperation. Yet I’ve met a lot of Greatest Generation couples and almost all of them are and were quite happy together. They’re companions and best friends. What’s their secret? The answer can really be found in changing expectations. As Brokaw observes, “When they got married and began families it was not a matter of thinking, “Well, let’s see how this works out.” Some would argue that marriages were less happy because divorce wasn’t an option. But could it be that the opposite was true? That with the divorce option off the table the whole tenor of your marriage would change? Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t think there was an escape hatch, and you knew that whatever bumps in the road you hit, you had to work through them together.

Lesson #5: Work Hard

In war, these men had learned to focus on the objective at hand and not give up until that objective and the mission as a whole was accomplished. When they got home, they carried that focus over to the world of work. They didn’t fall into the fallacy that Mike Rowe has been busy denouncing, that you have to find “your passion” to be happy. They could find happiness in any job they did, because they weren’t just working for personal, self-fulfillment; they labored for a bigger purpose: to give their families the financial security they hadn’t enjoyed growing up.

As soon as they graduate college, many men today want the things it took our parents and grandparents 30 years to acquire. But the Greatest Generation knew that going into the debt was not the way to get the things you want. They understood that the good things in life must be earned by honest toil.

Lesson #6: Embrace Challenge

The Greatest Generation wasn’t the greatest despite the challenges they faced, but because of them. Today many men shirk challenge and difficult pursuits, believing that the easier life is, the happier they’ll be. But our grandfathers knew better. They knew that one cannot have the bitter without the sweet, and that true happiness comes from overcoming the kind of challenges that build character and refine the soul. The challenges they experienced made their joy all the more sweet because it was tinged with the gratitude of knowing how easily it could all have been taken away.


Image by iamthelorax

Lesson #7: Don’t Make Life So Damn Complicated

If there’s a common thread in these lessons, it’s having a common sense and a level-headed approach to life. In our day, when men are obsessing about finding themselves, their holy grail of a woman, and their “passion,” the Greatest Generation’s uncomplicated approach to life is refreshing. They didn’t go on a diet, they simply ate whole food; they didn’t exercise, they worked around the house; they didn’t obsess about their relationships, they just found a gal they loved and married her. They always looked sharp, but never fussed with fashion trends. They didn’t mull over which appliance better suited their personality and image, they just bought the machine that worked the best. They didn’t think about how to get things done, they just got em’ done. When Joe Foss, a celebrated and daring WWII pilot and then governor of South Dakota was asked if he missed his younger days, he said, “Oh no. I’m not a guy who missed anything from anywhere. I’ve always been a guy who just gets up and goes.” Instead of spending you time navel gazing your life away, just get up and go!

{ 112 comments… read them below or add one }

1 LB April 30, 2009 at 10:41 pm

My grandfather was the navigator on a dive bomber in the Pacific Theatre of WWII. My own problems today pale into insignificance when you consider his daily life consisted of accelerating towards the ground in a small metal box with a bunch of high explosives strapped to it.

2 Damien April 30, 2009 at 10:49 pm

Amen and amen. My grandfather embodies all of these qualities. And he’s just the man. He just is.

3 Chris May 1, 2009 at 12:34 am

Awesome post. We can learn a lot from these great men and apply their manly qualities to our own lives.

4 Andy May 1, 2009 at 2:26 am

Thanks for a great post. Valuable lessons, everyone can learn from and a great tribute to our fathers and grandfathers.

5 Bob May 1, 2009 at 3:04 am

I wish more people would realize what that generation had, inspire on it, learn from it. Instead people today chose to throw everything away, give up at work, minimum effort, give up on relationships the second the boat sways slightly.

We’re losing something really important as people, it will make us bland, boring, and useless if we continue doing what we do. Too much dreaming, just get up and get things done.

6 David May 1, 2009 at 3:29 am

Let’s not forget that we have a duty to pass these values on! Unless we communicate them to our sons and (heaven help me!) our grandsons, they will be weaker versions.

These are great virtues. But one good thing about being a modern dad is the ability to sit down with our kids and just share with them in ways that older guys were just far too reserved to do. Let’s not squander either the great values that marked the greatest generation nor the freedom that we have in this generation.

7 Trish Lewis May 1, 2009 at 4:09 am

It’s so true. My Dad was all that and much more. The love he showed my mother (and she to him) was an inspiration right to the end (see http://trishymouse.net/memorial.html and http://trishymouse.net/family/mom.html )

I miss him so much now that he has passed…

8 James Considine May 1, 2009 at 4:28 am

This is a quaint and highly romanticized view of these times, I’m afraid. How soon we forget that this was also the same generation that forced Japanese Americans into internment camps during WWII, lynched blacks in the south, denied equality to women, gays, etc.? Come on -seriously.

9 Tom May 1, 2009 at 4:32 am

B-24 Gunner, 10 Kids, Councilman, Founder of a half dozen Little League Organizations, Parents Clubs, Cub and Boy Scout Troops, sole provider, and a genuinely caring honest man leaving such a fantastic example.

I miss him every day, and I don’t think I’ll ever be one one-hundredth the man he was.


10 Robert May 1, 2009 at 4:53 am

Good read.

The marriage one is a bit of a hoax though. Back then there were lots of arranged marriages (yes, even in the US) partially because of tradition, but largely economic. This died off largely in the 50′s in the US, though being “introduced” (with the intention that you would _seriously_ consider getting married after a “date” or two) was still quite common.

No divorce wasn’t really much of an option. You either couldn’t afford it or didn’t want the financial stress of being single (read the depression part again if your not sure why that mentality would be in their minds) or it just wasn’t acceptable (your going to tell your parents they picked out the wrong person for you?).

Heck my grandparents still have brothers/sisters who really aren’t fond of their spouse, and practically live separate lives… but they are still married and live in the same house. Because anything else would be just outright wrong.

The other part of that is divorce isn’t talked about as much by the greatest generation. Some of their kids were adults by the time they learned a parent was in a prior marriage and had a kid (meaning they had a half-sibling).

11 Robert May 1, 2009 at 5:03 am

This is a great post. This past Wednesday I met my wife’s grandfather and 100+ other WWII veterans at the WWII memorial in DC. Words can not explain this experience. The most memorable quote from one vet to another- “can you believe they’ve done all this for us. US. We were just doing what we had to.”

12 Sim May 1, 2009 at 5:06 am

While I agree on the work hard and be humble, on the being inventive and plan wisely, this is a bit romanticized view on a generation that mustard gassed each other in the trenches – its true you had to obey orders, but a real man would have understood that what he is doing was wrong. Keep in mind that generation was still racist, still treated women as unequal and stood by as their children stumbled blindly into another Great War. Let’s try not to idolize the past, and see it as it truly was and learn from their mistakes. There is no greatest generation, cause all generations ultimately still repeated the same mistakes as their fathers.

13 Frito May 1, 2009 at 5:18 am

They just don’t make ‘em like that any more.

Here’s to trying.

14 Rex May 1, 2009 at 5:30 am

@Sim- If you read the article- the Greatest Generation was BORN in 1914. It was their parents generation (I don’t know if they have a label) that started WW1 (which is what I presume you meant by the mustard gas in trenches reference; trench warfare did not exist in WW2).
They are the children who stumbled into WW2, so blame their parents for this state of affairs, not them!
And so what if they were racist or anti womens’ rights? The whole world was like that back then, not just the US. Nobody’s perfect- this article only highlights the positive traits that we would do well to emulate.

15 D.Plainview May 1, 2009 at 5:44 am

I agree wholeheartedly with Sim. If you’re going to persist in looking back to the past for inspiration, take off the rose-colored glasses and try to see the whole picture. When you do, you’ll realize this generation we live in is not as bad as you make it out to be. We are stumbling through time, just as the “Greatest Generation” before us. The main difference is that we now have more options. The “freedom” they fought for (and that we continue to fight for) allows for many different lifestyles, some of which you may agree with, some of which you may not. That being said, I enjoy the website and do agree that these timeless virtues should be discussed and encouraged. Keep up the good work.

16 Eric May 1, 2009 at 5:51 am

Great article. I would venture to guess that articles about the virtues of hard work, loyalty and common sense are “preaching to the choir” here. Except to people like Sim who cannot comprehend the gist of the article and can only find things to cry about. God I hate people like him.

17 Julio Iglesias May 1, 2009 at 5:53 am

As usual, I agree with much of what is in this article. But also, be sure to separate, in some cases, nostalgia from facts – maybe men didn’t exercise and ate whatever they wanted as long as it wasn’t processed, but fact is, despite the very real obesity trend today, men and women today are living longer and more healthily because of new knowledge and habits about diet and exercise. And overall we have less time to work around the house and garden – living where the jobs are requires working the hours necesary to get the pay to support one’s family, one of the honorable ideals in the article (again, with which I agree). I love the site and articles, but always evaluate any claim objectively.

I also agree with Sim’s comments on racism and treatment of women.

18 Julio Iglesias May 1, 2009 at 5:58 am

Eric, take it easy on Sim. He or she was politely expressing a view and not attacking anyone. Your posting I believe goes against the gentlemanly ideals espoused on this site – of course you may disagree, but to do so respectfully is the truly manly way to do it. Let me ask that we all keep the discussion respectful. Many advances in this country have been made by honest and fair debate, honorable disgreement, and ultimate resolution.

19 Eric May 1, 2009 at 6:12 am

While it may have been wrong to single out Sim I still take offense to the notion that you cannot find virtue in the ideals of the past without also having to bring up the sins of the past.

20 Brett May 1, 2009 at 6:24 am

To all the “let’s be real” folks-

Yeah, the men from the Greatest Generation had their problems. But the point of this article wasn’t to air out their dirty laundry. It was to honor some values that they embodied and that we should try to emulate today.

I’ve read Howard Zinn and all those historians who have brought to light all the crappy stuff Americans did. It’s horrible and I’m glad we’ve progressed. Unfortunately, I think it has become trendy and hip today to focus on the negative aspects of history and ignore the positives our forebeaers did. Let’s not forget that these people laid the foundation for all the progress we’ve seen in America.

Yeah, racism was a big problem, but guess what? Some of the greatest civil rights leaders and activists came from this same generation. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks come to mind.

Same goes for women. Betty Friedan? Greatest Generation member.

Bottom line: every generation has their problems and I hope we learn from them. But to completely discredit the good this generation did because of their mistakes is intellectually dishonest and disrespectful.

21 Jeff Bates May 1, 2009 at 6:25 am

The picture of the Normandy invasion brings tears to my eyes and inspires me to be a better man. I think I’ll print it and keep it in plain sight so the next time I complain about an aching knee or a long day, I can shut my mouth and try to remember what real sacrifice is!

Brokaw’s book is a great read and I recommend it to anyone that feels like their life is just too hard.

Thanks Brett and Kate for this inspiring article!

22 Robert May 1, 2009 at 6:34 am

I agree with the gist of the article, concerning the core values that were observed back then. No, the world was never a perfect place then, nor is it today…there was plenty of injustice to go around, all over the world. My grandfather still observes these values, at 91 years young.

And I beg to differ on the opinions of James Considine and Sim, as to this generation being romanticized wrongly…we may have had Japanese Interment camps, but we didn’t have and an Auschwitz or a Dachau, which we could as easily had (except for the prevailing attitudes and morals that were learned by the Greatest Generation in their youth); they did what they thought was right for the time and for the security of the country, whilst living amid the uncertain fog of war. Women may not have had equal rights, but they had equal power and made equal contributions; don’t forget that 90 percent of the folks stayed home and contributed to the war effort via the homefront, not by combat arms (not to mention the fact that women back then were treated with more respect by MOST men, than what they are today…but, that’s another argument altogether)…just as the majority of southern Americans never lynched a man, or even owned a noose.

It’s an all-to-easy trap to fall into, that of labeling a whole generation as ‘bad’, based on the horrific actions and idealogy of a select few…one has to see the “bigger picture” of society here, when dealing with absolutes.

23 Austin May 1, 2009 at 6:39 am

I liked the story Mike Huckabee told at the Republican National Convention about the teacher that took away their students desks and told them they had to earn them back. After they tried and couldn’t come up with a way to do it, she had some veterans come in and carry the desks back in. And she told the class, something to the effect of “You can’t earn the desks-they’ve already been earned for you.”

I have such a debt of gratitude to the men (and women) of the Greatest Generation. Yes they were slow to pick up on things like equality, but all the progress and equality we enjoy today is built on the foundation they gave us. I wonder how equal rights would have gone if we had been living under fascist rule!

24 James Considine May 1, 2009 at 6:40 am

I’m not sure how providing some counter balance to the romanticized view of this generation is intellectually dishonest or painting an entire generation as “bad”.

In fact, the tone of this post has a tone of superiority of these folks and their values, and that today’s generation is somehow inferior.

It also suggests that these values are no longer alive and well in today’s younger people. That’s also just not true.

25 Brett May 1, 2009 at 6:43 am


I do think this generation was superior and I make no bones about it. But I also made it clear that there have been men in every generation who have been as good, and that includes this one.

26 Robert May 1, 2009 at 6:46 am

James…I understand the validity of your comments, it’s just that the idea of this article is to focus on the positives of manliness of that particular Generation…you know, looking for the ‘good’, amidst all the ‘bad’; otherwise, is could have been called “7 Lessons in Inhumanity, Injustice and The Moralistic Fallacy of the Greatest Generation.”

27 James Considine May 1, 2009 at 6:47 am

@Brett – that’s fine – and some of us disagree about said superiority.

28 Austin May 1, 2009 at 6:48 am

I think there’s no question that this Generation was the Greatest and definitely better than this one. The day after Pearl Harbor, men were lined up around the block to get into recruiting centers to revenge that great wrong committed against us. After 9/11 men were laying on the couch watching CNN and eating bon bons.

29 Greg Bond May 1, 2009 at 6:54 am

I do like the virtues that have been outlined but I think the biggest problem with focus on these positive values is that they are inherently a double-edged sword.
#1 Take Personal Responsibility for Your Life – I like this concept, I really do, and there would be more benefits to this than not if everyone adhered.
DES: If you were in a position of power then, you were even less accountable for your actions. Responsibility rest much more heavily on the have-nots.
#2 Be Frugal – wasn’t a virtue as much as it was a necessity. This was caused due to a significant lack of resources during the WWII era. If this was passed down, we would be limiting transactions, limiting transactions = devaluation of currency. Spending is what has gotten us where we are today. Except for in the WWII era, the gov’t was the one doing all the spending for us.
#3 Be humble – I just agree with this.
#4 Love loyally – You get the least wiggle room with this argument, unless you can prove statistically that people cheated less, abused less, and coped with less mental health issues, than this is for naught.
#5 Work hard – Agreement again
#6 Embrace challenge – the biggest challenges need a con consensus of people to agree and work together, sadly there just isn’t as much cooperation in general anymore. We certainly have become more polarized, in turn, crippling efforts to overcome really large challenges. In the same token, we are definitely looking to focus more on living life, which has its own benefits, than overcoming enormous obstacles.
#7 Don’t make life so damn complicated – def a matter of your perspective. Everyone looks back on past generations and thinks the same thing.

30 Edward Stedman May 1, 2009 at 6:55 am

Really great article. I fully support, agree with, and defend everything in this article.

To those who want to look at the negatives of “The Greatest Generation” (Robert, Sim, et al.), I don’t think anyone would sit here and say that generation did it perfectly. No generation has and no generation will.

Do I support or encourage racism? No! Of course I don’t. However (and I make this statement as a Proud Southerner), much of this country was already actively and passionately standing up for equal rights. Not only for African Americans, but for women as well. The worst accounts of racism were taking place in the South, where it had still been significantly less than 100 years since slavery was abolished. Again, I am not defending racism or the hate and ignorance of many generations, but change of action and thinking take time. I would even say that this this “Greatest Generation” was the starting strength of working towards national equality for all people, regardless of race and/or gender. And they were definitely the generation that got their children involved in making positive changes.

Does this mean that EVERY MAN was a man of noble character during this particular generation…HELL NO! Like I said earlier, there is never going to be a time and place (on this earth) where that is the case. However, I believe the point of this article (as is the point of most articles on this site) is that subsequent generations since the “Greatest Generation” have continually seen the scales starting to tip in the direction of men not really being “men.”

I know there are men and women who will argue and fight to the death to talk about “the new man” and metro-sexuality” and all that, but I don’t agree and I don’t support it. The “Greatest Generation” was not the only generation with great men. And the great men of the “Greatest Generation”, at least in this article, are referred to as American men. Well, there have been cultures of great men throughout history that I believe are also deserving of the title “The Greatest Generation.”

The truth is time changes everything. I honestly wish we didn’t have advanced technology or TVs, or at least no cable with 500+ channels. I often find myself wishing my days were reflective of the stories my Granddad (A GREAT MAN!!!) used to tell me of his youth, young adulthood and manhood. I try to live as simply as possible, but I often get excited about superficial and unimportant things, which honestly don’t add to my life, and much of it is just more crap and clutter. I bet you I’d have an extra $100,000 in savings if I could return all the stuff I bought that I didn’t need or wasted away.

Unfortunately we are becoming an ultra liberal, technology focused world. It makes me sad. Where are the days when we find a full days enjoyment from nature. Now it can require an hours drive or more just to get out to nature. Most people, young and old, can’t wake up run out their front doors and be in nature anymore. They are in suburbs, surrounded by strip malls, surrounded by whatever metropolitan they live outside of.

But I’ve gotten off the main topic of manliness. I’ve known 70 year old men (and probably some older than that) that have straight up put cocky, spray tan, loud mouth, muscle headed, BOYS (18-40 years old) in their place. I don’t care what cheap form of confidence BOYS are trying to pass as real manliness today, there is a serious epidemic of fakeness and falseness in our WORLD today. That is why the divorce rate is what it is, because men and women don’t know true and genuine manliness, or womanliness anymore. The roles are confused, if not straight up forgotten. It is really awkward when my wife and I are out with another couple and we see the opposite sex acting the roles should be acted the other. There is a difference between equality and dysfunction, and the gender-lines have been seriously blurred, and there seems to be a movement to erase them completely.

I hope sites and articles like this will motivate real men (and women) to start their own counter-revolution to all those who have been moving against people like us. I am a proponent on progress (like equal rights), but I don’t support change just for change sake…that is not progress.

31 Albert May 1, 2009 at 7:25 am

I appreciate the specific virtues of the “Greatest Generation” highlighted in this article. Generally speaking, theirs were courage and honor, commitment and self-restraint. I only wish they recognized the cultural and technological changes in the mid-20th century that combined with their parenting to form the, generally speaking, reprehensible, cynical, spoiled and stupid Baby Boomer generation.

To me, the failure to transmit what virtues and values they had to the next generation is the reason I cannot abide the characterization of Mr. Brokaw except in quotes. We’ll reap the consequences of the Baby Boomers’ foolish self-indulgence with interest for decades to come.

32 Charlie May 1, 2009 at 9:30 am

Damn. Just….. damn.

33 Kevin May 1, 2009 at 9:39 am

This is why I love this site. My grandfather unfortunately did not get to fight for the US. He was to busy hiding in the woods of Poland fighting for his life and watching his family lose theirs. I owe my very existence to the men you speak of. My grandfather emulated a lot of what you wrote and it has been passed down.
Despite loosing everything he had, watching his father, first wife, and brother get killed before him in three separate incidents, despite being able to only provide for my mother with the wages of a fur cutter, he never complained, he never blamed others for his misfortunes, and he never expected anyone to provide for him.
I live in a different time and do well enough for myself, but I have had to push through some muck and took the same gritty approach and it is because of my grandfather’s example.

34 Sam May 1, 2009 at 10:35 am

Awesome post Brett. I greatly admire my grandparents and their incredible strength of character (it shouldn’t be incredible, but it is). My grandpa started his life’s work when he was 23. Over 50 years later, at age 73, he is still going strong, still persevering in his Christian ministry. My grandma too has been faithful and consistent for the last 50 years, always looking for ways to help others and many times forgetting entirely about herself.

I see the pathetic whimpiness of many in my generation, and I see some of the same tendencies in myself. With God’s help, though, I want to be a different kind of man. I wan’t to be someone who exemplifies consistency, commitment, hard work, and all the virtues a true man possess. Thanks again.

35 Lee May 1, 2009 at 11:09 am

Great article – thanks for posting. In regards to my own grandfather, a veteran of the World War, I have but one word – Class.

He had class in his dress, his manner, his life.

If I had one wish, it would be to be half of the man he was.

36 Brucifer May 1, 2009 at 11:10 am

Although I agree with these core values being uplifted, the “Greatest Generation” hype has always been a bit much for me.

Robert stated, “but we didn’t have and an Auschwitz or a Dachau,” mirroring the myth that we were always the good guys in WWII. Nonsense! German, and especially Japanese prisoners we often shot point-blank when they tried to surrender.

Geneva Convention? After the war’s end, thousands of German prisoners were illegally administratively reclassified by us so that they could be utilized for forced labor or to illegally clear minefields. Thousands of German prisoners were deliberately starved-off in open field “camps” with no sanitation and no shelter. My own father guarded one of those camps, so don’t tell me it ain’t so. Many German prisoners were also blithely given over to our Soviet allies, us knowing that the Reds were just gonna march them down the road a mile or two and shoot them.

It is the sappy-happy myth that our side was all goodness-and-light in WWII that is clouding our current debate over the “torture” of terrorists.

The “Greatest Generation” indeed did some remarkable things. But being squeaky-clean in our treatment of our enemies was not one of them.

37 Rpbert May 1, 2009 at 11:25 am

Brucifer wrote:
Robert stated, “but we didn’t have and an Auschwitz or a Dachau,” mirroring the myth that we were always the good guys in WWII. Nonsense! German, and especially Japanese prisoners we often shot point-blank when they tried to surrender.

Isolated instances in an insane war, by scared and/or emotionally-incensed individuals, and NOT approved policy; remember, Sherman said, “War is hell”. We didn’t shoot or burn them by the millions, now did we? All in all, we WERE the good guys…read your history, man!

38 Titus Andronicus May 1, 2009 at 12:02 pm

While your summary is principally accurate and the juxtaposition with baby boomers and their children accurate, there are two caveats:

1) The average age of the WWII GI was notably higher than it is today—26 (22 for marines). There were much younger kids for sure, but a lot of these men were young professionals, not fresh out of high school.

2) There is one thing these guys failed at miserably, unfortunately, that nobody mentions: raising a family. They came home, had a lot of swell kids, and let them grow up and disown everything their parents had fought for. Those guys didn’t fight and die could be turned over to the mob of flag-burning, pot-smoking free-love hippies that their children grew up to be with the help of the Warren Court. You’ve got to lay some blame on the Ward Cleavers of the world for what the Beaver did in college and afterward—a kid who had been taught correctly wouldn’t have burnt his draft card in the 1960s and today be the kind of limp-wristed loser who makes things like this blog even necessary. For all that generation did, they sure messed that up but good; not sure how they did it, but they managed.

39 Brett May 1, 2009 at 2:39 pm


Thanks for sharing that about your grandfather. He sounds like an incredible man. While some of this article is focused on Americans, I really had in mind all the men from this generation. The men who survived the Holocaust in Poland, the men who stood up to Hitler’s regime in Germany, the men who battled it out in the skies over Britain. All around the world men rose to meet the challenges before them.

@Titus and Albert-

Your point about their failure to raise good kids is well-taken. I hadn’t thought much about that but it’s certainly true. The only thing I’d say in their defense is that after so much deprivation and suffering I imagine it would have been tempting to be indulgent with your children, and that Boomer’s failures came not just from bad parenting but from a confluence of social and economic factors out of any parent’s control. But again, you make a solid point.

40 Edgar May 1, 2009 at 3:26 pm

In general, I agree that many, perhaps even most, of the men of the Greatest Generation were good, decent, hard-working men as you described.

However. (clears throat) This was also the generation that produced people who worked (and, in some cases, are still working) to destroy our country. I’ll highlight some of the worst.

LBJ (born 1908, but close enough) gave us his socialist “Great” Society, which created generations of unwed mothers dependent on welfare, and their children who went on to lives of crime.

Ted Kennedy (born 1932, but close enough) has continuously betrayed the country in his leftism and undying championing of illegal aliens and others who are inherently unable and/or unwilling to assimilate to our culture.

Add to this Hall of Shame all the politicians who supported their policies, and remember that as bad as the Worst Generation (aka the Me Generation or the Baby Boomers) has been, none of them were able to vote for the nation-destroying policies that these two (and others of their ilk) imposed on us.

41 steve May 1, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Sorry. After my experience with the anti-male, anti-father family court system, I won’t be teaching my sons any of this BS. Why should I teach them to serve this nation and American Women when the only thing those two entities do is spit in the face and disrespect men?

The old rules of male slavery no longer apply.

Government, Women, & Society DON’T CARE ABOUT MEN. You’re on your own.
That’s what I’ll be teaching my boys.

42 Brad May 1, 2009 at 3:48 pm

They weren’t better people. They are simply products of their circumstances. Under similar circumstances we would rise to the occasion. In many ways, we have life much more difficult than these men.

And in regards to burning draft cards, that may very well have been the right thing to do. Vietnam was a waste.

It’s sad that people need a war in order to show their greatness. How about becoming the greatest generation through peace. Yeah, I’m dreaming.

43 Generation Y May 1, 2009 at 4:24 pm

As a member of Generation Y(I think that’s my generation although I could be off…I was born in ’81 so is that Generation-something-else?) I definitely agree that the virtues of our grandfathers and fathers are worth preserving. But I would add that it’s not possible to compare generations and say one is better than the other, except in rare circumstances.

Each generation contributes its own positives and negatives to the collective history of the world and our nation. It’s absolutely fair to point out the bad with the good because it all goes into creating the world as we know it today. Our grandfathers and grandmothers put the country on their back and got it out of the Depression, won World War II and worked for a world where their grandchildren would hopefully never have to make the same sacrifices they did. Nobody is perfect and comparing the best of one generation to the imperfect of another is incorrect.

That being said, certain characteristics of past generations should be preserved, and I think that was the point of the article/post. I only wish we could get away fro comparing generations that have little in common with respect to the world they inhabit or inhabited. Our grandfathers went to war and many made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us; remembering that is paramount. But they lived in a very different world than their grandfathers, many of who fought in the Civil War or arrived afterward from other parts of the world as brand new Americans, and helped rebuild the country. And they both lived in a very different world than we do today. I’m grateful for the work, grit and sacrifice made by all past generations that have come before me because they helped make my life better in so many ways. Would I be willing to sign up to go fight a war on par with World War II, Vietnam, the Civil War, both Gulf Wars, Afghanistan or the Revolutionary War (ignoring the presence of a draft and conscription during some of those wars)? I’d like to think so, but that’s not a choice that I have had to make in my own life in the same way my ancestors did because of what they did for me and for all of us. Some of us still make that choice and my gratefulness is no less great for men and women my age who volunteer to defend us when nobody is saying they have to.

I don’t know if my entire generation will have to make that sort of choice in our lifetimes, and I disagree that that means we won’t be as great as past generations. The young generations of today are just as flawed as others, but we also have the potential to do great things while preserving the qualities of manliness passed down to us by our fathers and grandfathers. In addition to Generation X and Y members who serve with honor in our armed forces, we have the chance to cure cancer, destroy AIDS, bring food and health care to millions here and abroad, bring peace to parts of the world that desperately need it, see men walk on the surface of another planet, preserve and repair our environment, etc etc etc. I have high hopes for my generation and if we can preserve those virtues common in the best men of every generation, I think we’ll be on the road to making them proud.

44 Generation X May 1, 2009 at 5:29 pm

Thank you Generation Y for speaking up for us post baby-boomers. I part of generation X, and I feel very ill prepared for life. My grandfather never went to war, but worked his fathers farm in the midwest through the great depression and he would often tell me stories of days when he wasn’t sure if the family was going to make it, but he never quit. He passed the never quit mentality on to my dad who ended up being a professional worker to the extent that he never made time to teach me much of anything that can help me in life now. Of course I always had what I needed except a quick kick in the pants. It’s taken me to the age of 35 to become what my grandfather already was at 15 but I say better late than never.

Generation Y, I believe with all the problems our forefathers have failed to solve and the ones that they created, if we don’t step up to the plate and become the next “greatest generation”, we may become the “last generation”.

45 Anne May 1, 2009 at 5:49 pm

We women have to be manly now, too, and all these guidelines apply to us as well. As a woman abandoned by her husband, I’ve had to do all these things and raise children by myself, which required thrift, fortitude, a lack of self-pity, etc. And I’ve had to pass these values to my children.

46 LB May 1, 2009 at 5:57 pm

In reply to the person why mentioned that most of the ‘Great Men’ mentioned in this article are American, well, of course? The author of the article is American, it is only natural. I am Australian of British descent, and if I wrote a similar article it would have more Australian and British examples, because that is what I know more about.

47 CurrentGen May 1, 2009 at 6:29 pm

I find it very sickening and upsetting that what was considered the greatest generation (40s) was able to produce the worst generation (50s/60s) of children.
All of that bad assery that our boys let Japan and Germany have a taste of should have been given to my parents generation. Obviously it wasn’t.

48 Jacob Duchaine May 1, 2009 at 7:31 pm

OMG! How dare you imply that our generation isn’t the greatest on ever? We’re just as good as them, even if we by and large haven’t done most of the worthwhile things they have! We’re great just the way we are, why should we have to do anything admirable to be considered great? That’s sexist!

(jk, someone seriously criticized an article of mine in this general fashion recently though. It was rather shocking.)

Great article. We can learn a lot from that generation.

49 Anne May 2, 2009 at 8:58 am

I would suggest you look to yourself, and not your generation.

50 MestizoMav May 2, 2009 at 9:27 am

No generation is perfect and one can easily find fault, but this generation did more good and was a beacon for greatness and sacrifice for the betterment of future generations. My grandparents and parents unfortunately experienced the brutality of the Japanese in the Philippines and it was only through the sacrifice and courage of this generation that saved countless lives of my countrymen.

Thank you Brett! I love your posts.

51 Bruce Williamson May 2, 2009 at 10:04 am

I agree 100%. They did what they had to do. They showed us how to do with what we had too. I remember my father making a weed whacker out of an old vacuum cleaner motor and one of my guitar strings! Don’t laugh it worked! It whacked everything weeds, flowers, shins anything that got near it. We repaired things that broke before we would buy another. He once patched a hole in an engine block when the engine threw a connecting rod! If I asked one of my nephews how to fix something on their car, their answer would be to take it to the mechanic.

They passed a lot of the knowledge on to us. People ask me “How do you know so much about home repairs?” I reply “because we couldn’t afford to pay someone to fix it. So we did it ourselves.” I learned from all of my uncles, my father and grandfathers. From them I learned electricity, plumbing, carpentry, masonry and gardening(for food). When I visited my widow aunt I fixed her ceiling fan. She thanked me. I said “Don’t thank me thank Uncle Vernon. It’s his skills that he taught me that let me do this. They’ve come full circle back to you.”

They all fought in WWII. One uncle was lost so I never knew him. Like the article stated none of them spoke about the war. My father never even received his medals. I asked him why and he replied “What for?” I left it at that.

So, the article really rings ture form my experience with the Greatest Genereation.

Bruce Williamson
Phila., PA

52 Bruce Truog May 3, 2009 at 6:36 am

While I don’t want to take away from the heroism of the men who waded ashore on D-Day or at in the Pacific, I do want to comment on the fact that these were not the leaders of their day. The leaders of the day were from the generation that fought in WWI. Patton and Eisenhower were not from the “Greatest Generation”. I do not argue that we tend to mimic our grandfather’s. At the danger of being accused of sour grapes, is it the Boomer Generation’s fault that their leaders, “The Greatest Generation” would not commit to victory in Korea, Cuba and Viet Nam? I contend that each generation, including the current one holding the wall against terrorists rises up to beat back the forces of evil to the extent that the leader generation allows it succeed. I think the “Greatest Generation” let us down when it came their turn to lead. We may have peaked as a society when the leaders from WWII passed the baton.

53 Ben May 3, 2009 at 4:50 pm

This is an amazing blog post. My grandfather, who in the absence of my father, was the main male influence in my life growing up lined right up to this standard.

When he was a senior in high school, he had the chance to go to college on a hockey scholarship, but his father got sick from working with the nasty chemicals involved in plating in the late ’20′s, so instead of looking to his own happiness, he quit school & went to work to support his mother & father. After working for a grocer for a number of years, he took a job with the gas company & at about the same time was drafted into the Navy. He & my grandmother had already been married for a few years & my grandfather was one of the oldest men in basic. He was stationed on a PT boat off California & then at Treasure Island. While he didn’t see combat (thankfully), that ‘complete the mission’ mentality stayed with him. He came back from the Navy & went back to work with the gas company where her stayed for over 40 years, had two daughters, & made an excellent life for not only his wife & children, but myself, his grandson, as well.

When my father left my mother, she tried to make it on her own, but at one point, it got to the point where she opened her cupboard & found nothing in there for us to eat. She swallowed her pride & moved back with my grandparents who took both of us in without question; they watched me so my mother could work & get back on her feet. Even after my mother remarried, I spent the greater portion of my time with my grandparents. My grandfather got me into hockey at an early age & made time to take me to all my practices & games,as well as manage the team.

He wasn’t perfect, but he did what needed to be done & didn’t sweat the circumstances. I don’t think I would be the man I am today without his influence & his example. I found this article & this blog randomly, but I got to say kudos to the writers & keep up the good work. Men today need to be reminded of what being a man is all about, especially in a society where men have been conditioned to be useless layabouts who only exist by the mercy of their wives. Their children ridicule them & society laughs at them, but there was a time when we were much better than that; & that time could come again if only we, as men, learned to follow examples like the men discussed in this article.

I glanced by a response as I was scrolling down to add my own remarks from a man who stated he would not teach his sons these values because of his own horrible experience at the mercy of the legal system which he correctly stated is in the hands of the anti-male (now) majority. For my own part as the father of two boys, I will be teaching them the realities of this world, but also giving them an ideal to strive for. We may be the products of our environment, but no matter what is thrown in our path & whatever is heaped on our backs to put us down, we always have a choice. The men in this article were faced with a similar choice. They could have whined that the draft was unfair, which it was, & when they came back that the rebuilding of industry & the economic system was too great a challenge, which it was; but they made a different choice, they said ‘times are tough, but we’re tougher’, & then they went out & proved it. I think if more of us made this choice, our society & in fact, the stated of the entire world would be much different than it is now.

That’s my two cents, I figured I’d spend them.

54 Dane Kingrey May 3, 2009 at 8:42 pm

I’m confused. You start by referring to the greatest generation as that between 1914 and 1929, however your examples are all of men around WWII (early 1940′s, 20 years later). Which is the greatest generation? the first one or one 2 generations later?

55 Brett May 3, 2009 at 8:53 pm

The Greatest Generation was born between 1914-1929-making them the right age to go fight in WWII and so on.

56 chris May 6, 2009 at 8:52 pm

This is a great article and I have found it to be inspiring to me in numerous ways. I actually looked at my life and was embarrassed. I now want to make some changes in my life. Also i would like to point something out that in the first lesson you said “One son of a WWII Medal of Honor winner”. I just want you to know that you do not win the Medal of Honor in any way shape or fashion, you are awarded the Medal of Honor. :)

57 Meredith May 8, 2009 at 10:53 am


58 Matt May 8, 2009 at 7:40 pm

I don’t know who wrote this, but really, are you telling men that because they are not in times of suffering that they are not good people? Yes, they fought hard, but there were also the tools of that generation that screwed the general populous – british colonels at Gallipoli as an example.

As for the majority of this article, I’m glad you’ve told us what you think a man should be. I would vouch that most people reading this (as Anne said) would hope that women would live by these mor/al codes as well. This therefore doesn’t tell us how to be a man at all then, does it? Simply how to be a christian person in our society.

By the way, in part 7, if we all just got up and went, where exactly do you think we’d be? Directionless, and without moral integrity I would say. You actually contradict yourself in another post (Living a Life of Integrity) by saying the very Nike ‘just do it.’ It is this exact mindset that resulted in the millions of deaths in World War II. If german men thought about what Hitler was doing, as opposed to ‘just doing it’ we may have seen an earlier end to the bloodshed.

My guess – five negative at least.

59 John C May 12, 2009 at 8:23 am

Many great virtues displayed from the generation of our grandfathers, and many critics who want to take this in different directions.

Truth is, they were a hard working, fiscally conservative and loyal to their marriages. These folks who put posts about not being able to tell the difference, maybe they shold check the newspaper. 25 yr anniversaries are getting a lot harder to find, let alone 50′s. The values and ethics of that generation are definitely not being actively promoted in our society today.

My grandparents were tremendous people and embodied these principles, I am a better man for learning from them what I don’t see in society today. My children are fortunate to be handed some of the lessons I learned from the lives of my grandparents. I hope to be 1/2 the man my grandfather was. Manly, loyal, hard working, ethical, a leader in his church and well respected in his community.

Time to Man up fellas. We need to pick up the torch despite what society today promotes!

60 Kalevi May 14, 2009 at 10:41 am

I can’t really relate to some of the points here. Societies have always duped men into blind acceptance of their twisted values by rewarding them with a heightened sense of manliness. Men go to war thinking it is their responsibility but they are in fact being irresponsible for surrendering their ability to think to their superiors. I would like to remind you that we also have much to learn from the hippie generation. Those men had the guts to say “No, sir!” and stand firm behind their conviction.

61 PVT FUBAR May 16, 2009 at 5:37 am

Fantastic article. I have forwarded it to the other men in my unit. i cant agree with this more. We need to get back to these ideals. Morals in america are falling apart. This article is about the ideals which were the embodiment of the greatest generation. Yes, there was racism an cheauvanismn (sp?) but that is not what this is about. This is about the values we need to embrace again. Everyone please stop griping about the negatives here. In the years since we have made great strides in getting rid of them. there is still much work to do but we can still get rid of the bad and start to embrace the points listed above in the article. this will make us all better people. God bless everyone from this era. I try to follow their examples the best i can but i know i will never be 1/100th the man that these men were.

62 TomK May 17, 2009 at 8:59 am

Let’s all remember that there was thousands upon thousands of regular men and women in each generations that had and held these same ideas/beliefs/values, and more, but are not held up to the light as this few leaders…

Everyday working people with home grown values that passed from father & mother to son & daughter, are the ones that have built this country. Sadly alot of them are not doing it anymore and so these values, ideas, traditions, etc are fading away as government increases it’s presence in everyday life…

63 Perry May 23, 2009 at 9:53 am

Wonderful story which was obviously not written for the eyes of bleeding heart liberals which were few and far between in the subject time period. I was a child during the great war and remember vividly of the sacrifices every American citizen gladly made for the love of his country. America haters were on the other side of the oceans, then. I would trade today’s America for the America of the greatest generation in a heartbeat.

64 Jan Boyle June 4, 2009 at 3:23 pm

I am offended by the term “greatest generation”. That leaves no room for any other generation to aspire to “greatness”. These men and women were often drafted into service and (as my father always said) had to do their “duty” whether they agreed with the government or not. He was not proud of what he had done – he never did talk about it but not out of pride and selflessness but out of shame.
The many veterans that have served since “the big one” have every right to the honor that seems to be only bestowed upon one generation.
It proves that we – especially journalists – must be very careful in the words we choose. They are powerful and can send a messages to many generations to come that they will never be “good enough”.

65 Dan June 17, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Most humbling moment of my life. I was returning from my first tour in Afghanistan I was 19. As we got off the plane there was a string of Vietnam and WWII Veterans standing in a line saluting. You have never seen so many professional tough guys with tears in their eyes. The pride we felt that these men felt it fitting to salute us was palpable. Never have I been so proud yet so humble. The WWII vets were mostly smaller and frail now and yet I knew that each of them were twice the man I would ever be.

66 Matt July 16, 2009 at 10:47 am

I completly agree with most of the points. These were great men and i have had the honour of meeting a few. There are three such men at my golf club when i was younger and i would happily go out and join them for a round on a quite afternoon. Many would avoid them as they saw them as old and slow but the stories they told would captivate my imagination and i believe help mould me into the man i am today.

67 Joe July 28, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Read this through the archives today, and have to say it may be the single most impressive blog post I have read. I have a spot in my heart for members of this “Greatest Generation”, especially my grandparents, who helped form my character and morals. These people were, without question, made of different stuff, and I couldn’t agree more with just about every point you made. As far as the questionable “criticisms” that this post brought to you, they had to be expected from “commenters” who probably need a kick in the ass. Don’t ever let that disuade you from writing what you deem to be the truth. More than enough readers, myself included, will be backing you up….

68 Donna Mulholland August 12, 2009 at 8:05 pm


I have to say that I have found ONE man born in 1950 who is up to the standards but he belongs to someone else and is OFF LIMITS! Wish they had cloning perfected. My brother would have been one of these but he gave his life in 1969 for our country.

My Father is one of these honorable men! He and my Mother met on a blind date – he kept the stirer from the drink from that night – it’s in a frame on the wall in his den – it was Mom’s birthday – I think she was 22. Dad was in the Marine Corps – he saw the horrors of war in Japan and Korea. He was away from our family for some long periods of time serving in the Corps. Mom had us say our prayers on our knees each and every night and when he came home we were THERE to meet him.

They made a pact that if one of them had a serious illness that caused them to need help 24/7 then the one would tend to the other – no nursing homes was the bottom line. Mom had a series of strokes that, eventually, landed her in bed with her left side paralyized. They celebrated their 60th anniversary together in the home where I am presently residing. Unfortunately, upon doctor’s orders, with pain in his heart and tears running down his face, he had to tell Mom that she was going to have to go into a convalescent hospital because he had to have back surgery. He didn’t tell her but it was from taking care of her that his back was in very bad shape. He was no longer ABLE to take care of his sweetheart but that didn’t mean he didn’t see her. He spent every waking hour by her side. When he had congestive heart failure and was in the emergency room he got a phone and called my mother’s room to tell her that he wasn’t well and wouldn’t be able to come visit her but he called her every single day.

They just don’t make them like this anymore … with the exception of a very few. I’ve been blessed to know one of my generation and I call him my “brother from another mother” – he was my brother’s best friend during their time in Vietnam. God Bless the REAL men!!!

69 Dan August 24, 2009 at 2:09 pm

I’m glad to see that heart-felt detractions are allowed on this site. This may seem harsh but I have to bring it back to earth. I wasn’t there during the depression or the “Great War” as if all others that men died in were “Second Class Wars”. Being swept into a war isn’t what makes men great. A war can bring out the best or the worst in men and WWII did both. But since on this site we seem intent on putting the WWII generation on a pedestal for all other generations to feel inferior to, please allow my two cents of balanced perspective.

Surely every generation has it’s own seed of greatness planted by the previous generation. I suppose the same could be said for seeds of failure. Regardless of who gets credit or blame for a generation’s deeds, each generation manages to fail their own generation as well as it’s progeny in some ways. The so called Greatest Generation may be seen as such (by themselves mostly) because they fought a well defined and supposedly crucial war and were raised amid the rubble of the Great Depression, one of the failures of THEIR parents who also fought a terrible but well defined and supposedly crucial war.

The WWII generation was trained by early deprivation to become focused on objectives and conquering obstacles. They also gained a natural talent for compulsive SWOT analysis driven by fear of the T (Threats). I suppose who could blame them. But who they became as adults (and I assume we’re mostly talking about men here) are not only the most objective-focused and materially affluent generation in history, they are also the most self-congratulatory, arrogant, and relationally inept generation in history even if it can be said that they don’t brag much about their war battles. Is that all that matters. Most of my generation of boomers were brought up with a different kind of deprivation with a much deeper scaring impact than hungry stomachs or long walks to school.

Here’s a clue. Men of the greatest generation don’t as a rule, have relationships. They possess and rule over people they admittedly do care about or who are important to their objectives. They just don’t know how to be vulnerable and transparent enough to inspire relational trust and they tend to blame the resentments they provoke on weakness or ingratitude.

And as for WWII, lets also be clear. The greatest generation were the ones who pulled the triggers and died bravely. That’s what the new memorial should be about even if it is a bit out of proportion, in my view, with other war memorials in terms of demand for attention. But in a very significant way that war didn’t belong to them. It was their fathers who saw WWII as crucial, entered it, strategised it, commanded it and guided it to victory. I’m sorry but it was for Viet Nam that the greatest generation fulfilled those roles (except for the victory part). Not exactly a badge of honor. And my generation who died in Viet Nam did so for nothing but war profits. The cynicism and resentment this added to an already resentful boomer generation made us, to our shame, a sell out generation to personal peace and affluence. We became the thing we hated during the Viet Nam era and did little to build on the good of our fathers or erase the bad. Among the few things we boomers have a little more of than our fathers is perhaps better understanding of technology (whoop-te-doo), and the pity and affection of our children.

So to those who need to ignore some of the truth in order to find heroes, I’m sorry you feel so inferior to those guys. Thank God for the special ability they have of coming through in a crisis and their example of loyalty to some principles and also to those they love. They do have that over us boomers I’m sat do say. But don’t blindly worship them as superior to your particular generation. They’re definitely not. The present young generation has so much more to offer the world than the WWII generation and certainly more than my fellow boomers. I’m hopeful they’ll be able to restore what the founders of our union of States dreamed of and do it in a way that inspires their children without alienating them. The current young generation has far more potential to develop genuine adult humility and strong relationships based on equal respect and trust. It may still be rare but not as rare as in my generation or in the WWII generation where it’s all but non-existent. Let’s have a more balanced perspective when we look for praiseworthiness in others. Like the Bible says, examine all things and keep what is worthy.

70 k2000k August 26, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Look, its been well established that the Greatest Generation did many great things, fight WWII, land a man on the moon, lead the nation during cold war, and that there are also numerous skeletons in the closet. Honestly, it is missing the point to debate those two items. What needs to be taken from this article is that men, real men, even flawed men, will do things that need to be done and when they have to do it. None of the men who fought in WWII wanted to be there, they had to be there, but rather than complain about their misfortune they trudged on. These instances in courage aren’t limited to one generation, it happens all the time. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan. It doesn’t have to be in a war where we see courage, the civil rights movement, or even in the United States, the Iranian election protesters. Any man worth emulating posses a few key traits, courage, diligence, integrity, and honor. Ultimately all I know is that I already have lived a longer live than my grandmothers brother, who lies in the Philippines.

71 sparkyf1 September 18, 2009 at 6:48 pm

the BEST advice I have ever read!

72 John Wayne October 13, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Great website. Some of you liberal bloggers need to get a hanky and get on with your life. We love you, but you need to stiffen the spine a little. The men who returned from WWII probably were a little hardened in some ways… but they had to be to survive. We owe them a life debt.

73 Nate Davis October 15, 2009 at 10:37 pm

Very good advice , It seemed , while reading , that you knew my grandpa . He did not fight in the war , but he was born in 27 . He was my best friend until he passed in 1993 . I still miss him so much . I was 20 years old when he passed , and I wish almost daily that I could spend a few minutes picking his brain , now that I am in my mid 30′s . He had so much to teach me , and I paid attention , but now realize how valuable all of those lessons were . I place a high value on the time spent with grandpa , and now that I am trying to live my life as he did , I realize what a real man he was . One of the greatest compliments I have ever recieved , is my grandmother calling and telling me that grandpa would be proud of the man I have turned into . Although I am not half the man he was , I have something to strive for . I think this resonates with many of you . Those of you writing that you have doubts about the greatest generation , I dont think know , anyone from the greatest generation , or you would’nt be writing those negative things . I just want to get up , and go . What else matters ?

74 concernedcitizen October 16, 2009 at 1:22 pm

I just want to write and say that in these times we are hearing more about the scandal and hypocrisies of our current generation, there are no doubt good men and women out there, but that is not the focus of today’s society. When we focus on the contrasting values of what was important then compared to now, I feel that we will see where the discrepancies lie. Family, emotional happiness, loyalty, a higher importance than one’s self, respect, honor, these are all things that we lack in our society today. Granted, these are different times but those values need to be applied to our current situation. Also, the choices that we face on a daily basis and the freedoms we are experiencing as citizens of the United States of America are due to the men of the Greatest Generation’s loyalty and diligence as citizens of the United States, as loving and honest family men, courageous and willing human beings. I agree wholeheartedly with this article and I feel that a lot of our generation could learn from these men, not necessarily live their lives in the exact same way, but look at their values and apply that to their life. This was not to say that our generation is full of low lives, this was to show that the focus of our generation and our current economic environment has shifted and needs to be redefined and refocused.

75 John K. December 15, 2009 at 1:57 pm

This is a great article. The greatest generation truly had wisdom that could only be achieved by manning up to big challenges like Hitler and the Great Depression.

76 Stephen January 27, 2010 at 9:56 am

#69: Dan, I found your comment to be a lot more insightful than the post! There are a lot of cliches that fly around when it comes to the so-called Greatest Generation, but in truth they were no better or worse than any generation, including the Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Gen-Ys. Every generation has its strengths and weaknesses, but to fawn over the strength of one generation and gloss over its weaknesses while admonishing the rest for failing to live up to said strengths is disingenuous. You nailed it when you talked about the distance in the relationships between Greatest Generation men and their families. My father was a boomer and my grandfather was a war hero, and I can say that my grandfather’s personality flaws shaped my father into an alcoholic and exacted a terrible toll on my life as well. The book The Great Santini describes this dynamic very well — no one could ever live up to the arrogant expectations of many Greatest Generation men after the fighting ended, and they needed to control everyone around them as a psychological response to the Depression they grew up in and the war they had to fight as 20-somethings. It’s not their fault, but let’s not go around putting them on a pedestal as though they were a “better” generation than today’s men. Whatever shortcomings you find with today’s generation, there’s a pretty good chance they were developed by their parents, in turn as a response to their grandparents. Every generation influences the next; the question with the greatest generation that is never asked is, why was their influence on subsequent generations so negative?

77 ray March 4, 2010 at 11:22 am

The generation wasn’t born great, the situations the came upon them made them become great. The sacrifices they made made them great. The amount of effort they put into keeping this country running and free from terror. Many of the men of that generation didn’t make it to the age of 25. That’s not their fault, the government put them into a war that no one wanted. They accepted the fact that they would most likely die. All to keep the rights we have today. Read the book “The Greatest Generation” by Tom Brokaw.

78 ray March 5, 2010 at 4:10 pm

The generations following the Greatest Generation can’t even hold a candle to them. The only generation that comes close are the ones that fought in the Vietnam War.

79 ray March 5, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I do not agree with “Dan” at all. You don’t hear war veterans of WWII bragging about how they saw their best friend get blown up on the same day 20,000 others died, or about killing 50 people. You walk into any senior citizens center and ask the men in there, who here fought in WWII? at least 1 out of every ten will raise their hand and i’m DAMN sure they’re not proud of killing or watching people get killed. They’re proud of defending this country so “Dan” up there can have the free comments that he throws out unknowingly.

80 husky March 10, 2010 at 12:02 pm

This is very true

81 Tracy March 16, 2010 at 5:54 pm

This is a magnificent piece of information. I am a 42 year old female who has always dreamed of having what my grandparents had. They loved oneanother wholey and purely and never argued, “(well at least not in front of the children). I met a couple today who reminded me of my grandparents. They were 85 years old and have been married for 59 years. I asked them what their secret was and the gentleman, efriam, replied that he was just lucky to have found his wife. They both looked to still be so much in love. I felt myself glowing just listening to their story. What is wrong with our generation?

82 john March 22, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Ambush by Tim O’Brien

When she was nine, my daughter Kathleen asked if I had ever killed anyone. She knew about the war; she knew I’d been a soldier. “You keep writing war stories,” she said, “so I guess you must’ve killed somebody.” It was a difficult moment, but I did what seemed right, which was to say, “Of course not,” and then to taker her onto my lap and hold her for a while. Someday, I hope, she’ll ask again. But here I want to pretend she’s a grown-up. I want to tell her exactly what happened, or what I remember happening, and then I want to say to her that as a little girl she was absolutely right. This is why I keep writing war stories:
He was a short, slender young man of about twenty. I was afraid of him – afraid of something – and as he passed me on the trail I threw a grenade that exploded at his feet and killed him.
Or to go back:
Shortly after midnight we moved into the ambush site outside My Khe. The whole platoon was there, spread out in the dense brush along the trail, and for five hours nothing at all happened. We were working in two-man teams – one man on guard while the other slept, switching off every two hours – and I remember it was still dark when Kiowa shook me awake for the final watch. The night was foggy and hot. For the first few moments I felt lost, not sure about directions, groping for my helmet and weapon. I reached out and found three grenades and lined them up in front of me; the pins had already been straightened for quick throwing. And then for maybe half an hour I kneeled there and waited. Very gradually, in tiny slivers, dawn began to break through the fog; and from my position in the brush I could see ten or fifteen meters up the trail. The mosquitoes were fierce. I remember slapping them, wondering if I should wake up Kiowa and ask for some repellent, then thinking it was a bad idea, then looking up and seeing the young man come out of the fog. He wore black clothing and rubber sandals and a gray ammunition belt. His shoulders were slightly stooped, his head cocked to the side as if listening for something. He seemed at ease. He carried his weapon in one hand, muzzle down, moving without any hurry up the center of the trail. There was no sound at all – none that I can remember. In a way, it seemed, he was part of the morning fog, or my own imagination, but there was also the reality of what was happening in my stomach. I had already pulled the pin on a grenade. I had come up to a crouch. It was entirely automatic. I did not hate the young man; I did not see him as the enemy; I did not ponder issues of morality or politics or military duty. I crouched and kept my head low. I tried to swallow whatever was rising from my stomach, which tasted like lemonade, something fruity and sour. I was terrified. There were no thoughts about killing. The grenade was to make him go away – just evaporate – and I leaned back and felt my mind go empty and then felt it fill up again. I had already thrown the grenade before telling myself to throw it. The brush was thick and I had to lob it high, not aiming, and I remember the grenade seeming to freeze above me for an instant, as if a camera had clicked, and I remember ducking down and holding my breath and seeing little wisps of fog rise from the earth. The grenade bounced once and rolled across the trail. I did not hear it, but there must’ve been a sound, because the young man dropped his weapon and began to run, just two or three quick steps, then he hesitated, swiveling to his right, and he glanced down at the grenade and tried to cover his head but never did. It occurred to me then that he was about to die. I wanted to warn him. The grenade mad a popping noise – not soft but not loud either – not what I’d expected – and there was a puff of dust and smoke – a small white puff – and the young man seemed to jerk upward as if pulled by invisible wires. He fell on his back. His rubber sandals had been blown off. There was no wind. He lay at the center of the trail, his right leg bent beneath him, his one eye shut, his other eye a huge star-shaped hole.
It was not a matter of live or die. There was no real peril. Almost certainly the young man would have passed by. And it will always be that way.
Later, I remember, Kiowa tried to tell me that the man would’ve died anyway. He told me that it was a good kill, that I was a soldier and this was a war, that I should shape up and stop staring and ask myself what the dead man would’ve done if things were reversed.
None of it mattered. The words seemed far too complicated. All I could do was gape at the fact of the young man’s body.
Even now I haven’t finished sorting it out. Sometimes I forgive myself, other times I don’t. In the ordinary hours of life I try not to dwell on it, but now and then, when I’m reading a newspaper or just sitting alone in a room, I’ll look up and see the young man coming out of the morning fog. I’ll watch him walk toward me, his shoulders slightly stooped, his head cocked to the side, and he’ll pass within a few yards of me and suddenly smile at some secret thought and then continue up the trail to where it bends back into the fog.

83 Hugh March 22, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I love it. Don’t make life so damn complicated. I think it should be a manliness core value

84 kevin March 23, 2010 at 12:23 am

Once again people want to nit pick things to death . All Brett is trying to say is that generation as a whole was a better one. They worked harder didn’t whine and complain, thought about familey first ,and did what they had to . Were there bad apples in the bunch. Damn right there was . You had women beaters ,drunks, rapist,child molesters, serial killers you name it just like now , But overall that was the exception to the rule . He’s talking about the overall mind set , Not a few bad kooks you have in any generation. Now days you turn on your computer and all you see is ” Kates new hair do or Lindsey go’s shopping ” .Do you think that generation would have giving a crap about that garbage . No , because they were taking care of business .

85 Judy April 13, 2010 at 9:00 pm

My husband passed on Monday. He was 87 years old, very strong until a few months ago.

He was a Marine in the 5th Division who landed on Iwo Jima

He was the most kind, brave, loyal, hard-working, dedicated man I have ever met. I loved him dearly and will miss him forever.

He loved the Marines he fought with and respected them forever. He seldom discussed his combat except when prodded.

He lost his hearing there at age 19. He said they were fed steak and eggs on board ship a few hours before their landing so he knew they were in for trouble. He had just turned 19 on board ship, February 17. They landed on the 19th.

He said 1/2 of his men were killed there and that it was frightening but he just kept doing what he had to do. He was proud to have served his country.

If here today, he would say “Semper Fi” to all. He truly was the epitome of the “Greatest Generation.”

The world was a better place with him in it.

86 Japman May 10, 2010 at 1:07 am

Not gonna lie, it’s ironic to me that a post about “love loyally” includes ads to “cougardating” and “date rich women now”.. haha.. conflicting messages a bit!

87 Uncle Chauncey May 10, 2010 at 8:19 pm

“Japman”? If any Greatest Generation men were still around, they’d have you killed! Or at least thrown in a forced-labor internment camp. But, hey, they’re the “greatest” (you wanna talk irony)…

88 Sam Shadman May 13, 2010 at 3:24 am

There certainly is a quality men possessed from that era and these 7 principles seem to sum it up. Because everyone of them remind me of my dad. Born in 1921, he served in the USMC during WWII and the Korean Conflict. He was very patriotic, didn’t care for draft dodgers or the communist that tried to get into the American worker unions after the wars. He worked his whole life and was married to my mom for over 50 years. I wish I was as manly as he was. But you know what?…I can see him… in my son!

89 John June 24, 2010 at 1:14 pm

My grandfather was one of the men you describe…although he never carried a weapon or even left his home town during WWII. He worked 70-80 hours a week in the steel mills of Pittsburgh during the war. He never bragged or complained, he just did what needed to be done. And when he passed away in 2003 at the age of 93, he had been married to the same woman for 68 years.

90 Jim June 30, 2010 at 4:13 am

I’ve read garbage before but this really takes the cake. I guess it all started with that fool Brokaw. Oh how lucky we mortals be that in the year 1940 born into this world was a man who could survey 4 million years of human evolution and over 200 thousand generations and was able to pick the one and only Greatest Generation. The fact that you people actually believe this crap is beyond me. I’ve known a lot of people from that generation and there wasn’t anything special about them. As a matter of fact I liked the WW 1 generation better. So does this manly title also apply to my friend’s father, who in a nightly drunken rage would beat his wife and kids mercilessly? Yes, he was a member of your glorious Great Ass Generation. Or perhaps the manly title should go to the two big goons who punched my friend in the face because he had long hair and a beard. He was alone in a diner, all 140 pounds of him, when he was asked to name a great American with long hair and a beard? He said George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. He named two, so the mentally inferior goons having no come back punched him out. There is good and bad in all generations, there is no such thing as a Greatest Generation. That’s like saying there is a greatest race, greatest religion, greatest nationality and so on. It’s a form of bigotry and like all bigotry it will lead to hatred, in this case generational hatred.

91 Howard Manes July 18, 2010 at 10:30 am

Nobody should be giving this current generation any credit. They
have email, cell phones, instant communication with their families.
This country has been at this war almost ten years now with no result.

92 anthony August 9, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Awesome its about time I’m so sick of lily livered men these days
Miss my Dad
I try to be like my Dad but that perfection can’t be learned you must be born with it .

93 Alisha October 17, 2012 at 10:28 am

I’m 25 and I often wonder where all the good men have gone. My grandfather never served on WWII but be came of age on the tail of this generation. It saddens me that so many young men are not at the level that these men were. We wonder what is wrong with our society, but we discourage masculinity for a cheapened version mixed with lots of femininity. I just hope that feminism hasn’t destroyed all the manliness in the world.

94 Andrew November 1, 2012 at 7:48 am

For you naysayers, do you really want to know why a vast majority consider them the Greatest Generation? Because they are. The is no shadow of a doubt about it. Being in the service myself I’ve had the honor and privilege to meet, work with, and spend time with many of our WW2 vets and their families. They are some of the most amazing human beings I have ever met. They are all their qualities mentioned above and more. Much more! They did their duty for their country, facing almost incomprehensible odds while halfway around the world not knowing if they would make it back to touch American soil to hold their families again. We owe them everything we have today, whether you realize it or not.

As for the racism and sexism also mentioned. Yeah, their was plenty of that, unfortunately, but before you completely discredit the entire Greatest Generation let me throw a few tidbits your way. Ever hear of Rosie the Riveter (representing the all of the women who stepped up to work the factories and mills etc. while the men were overseas) and the Tuskegee Airmen? They were steps in the right direction, which is saying something. As for the Japanese American internment camps, it’s real easy to Monday morning quarterback 70 years later, but people were scared after Pearl Harbor. It’s very unfortunate, of course, but what would you do in a situation like that?

And for those siding with the “greatness” of todays generation, have any of you met the average 16 to 32 year old walk around today. They’re a joke. A tragic joke. They care more about the Kardashians than what’s going on in their country. It’s more important to see who wins American Idol than get involved in their community. I’m ashamed to say I’m a part of it sometimes. And that’s why I look up to the men and women, whether black or white of our greatest generation

In conclusion, we personally owe a great deal to each and everyone who did there part, whether overseas or at the home front. With all of my heart, God bless, Godspeed, and thank you!

95 Edmond December 14, 2012 at 12:05 am

Well, no generation is perfect. What I would categorize this generation is how they worked to make this country better. my grandfather was a Korean War vet and he was from the same time, pretty much. I don’t know, these guys had a grit about them that is incredible. Once he was out of the Army, he returned to civilian life, worked on the railroad as a track laborer. I guess he would be considered the silent generation? Well, I dont know, there isn’t much difference, these men had a toughness about them we don’t see today.

96 CQSteve January 5, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Loved it. An uncle of mine died a couple of years ago. It was when reading his obituary that I found out he received 2 x Distinguished Flying Crosses during WWII. His sons didn’t know about it either (his wife did, but respected his wishes not to tell people about it).

97 James Fell February 2, 2013 at 10:37 am

I think I’m good at most of these, except for #3 about being humble. Saying that I’m good at the other six proves I suck at #3.

98 Sully99 February 5, 2013 at 4:23 pm

This was a good generation although as a Canadian I tend to think outside the continental aspect.
Is the author(s) also saying that it was Europe’s greatest generation, Germany’s, Russia’s, Japan’s?
Most generations find that their music, their sports, their intelligence is 2nd to none. I’m sure the veterans of the Great War would consider their generation to be as significant.
Don’t get me wrong as my father who was in WW11 as a bomber with the RCAF in the European Theatre was a man such as you depict here.
The thing is most men & women of course seem to rise to the occasion in most generations.
There always seems to be great good and great evils in any generation.
Of course the greatest generation are the baby boomers because the Beatles were the greatest band of all time!!

99 Anonymous February 6, 2013 at 10:31 am

Amazing article.
However on further introspection, I would agree, as some have briefly mentioned here, that the truly greatest generation were not those who fought during WW2 but those who fought during WW1.

I say this especially as a European.
You think people who grew up after WW1 had it bad? The generation before had it even worse.

Oh and about the comments about WW2 good side. I won’t comment on this much because its an issue that is so ingrained in American national pride (hence the term “greatest generation” which is misleading), but my great grandfather fought the Bolscheviks in the Wehrmacht, and he was certainly a hero to me and a good man (certainly no mass killer), although to him he thought he was probably half the man than his father who fought in WW1.

I agree with alot of the few comments that say you should not see this generation in an over-idealized way. I think contrary to WW1 generation, lots of these guys were just “pulled” by events.

Even in the German Army, I know WW1 vets seriously looked down on WW2 youngsters (with their long hair and so on).

You have to remember that before the great depression, consumerism was fully going on. This is a generation that basically lived in excess and then fell into the depression, fought in the most stupid war ever (most hateful and degraded, most irrational war, contrary to WW1 which was fought with more “respect” to the opponent).

Anyway if there is one point I agree with: I personally think I am 1/4 the man these guys were, even if they were 1/2 the ones than their fathers.

Examples for us all in any case.

100 Abhinandan M K March 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm

It looks like we, the people in india are halfway through the un-manliness…
I personally find it disturbing when the kids/teens are so keen to emulate what the “Friends” character’s play out.. Expletives have become second nature and having “fun” has become drinking and binging.
And divorce rates are going up…. I heard one story where the couple had a divorce because the husband complained the coffee was not good!
Yea of course we have very un-manly behaviour of dowry harassment….. but what you have written set my alarm bells ringing

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