First Words — 30 October 2020
Looking for a greatest generation in our own

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

Two weeks before coronavirus shut down Saturday Night Live, guest host John Mulaney stood before America and worried about our dads.

“What’s going on with them?” he said. “Why do none of our baby boomer dads have friends?”

He waited for the laughs, then offered a couple of theories. “One: They forgot” to make friends during their lifetimes, he said, to laughs again. “Two: they want to be alone. I’m not a dad, but I observed one. He would go into a room and he’d read about World War II.”

It’s as if, “all of our dads are cramming for some World War II quiz show – and I can’t wait to watch it,” he said. “We’re just going to change channels and see our dads win a $900,000 prize on Normandy trivia.”

I knew right away he couldn’t be talking about me, as I put down my copy of The Guns at Last Night – the War in Western Europe 1944-1945 to listen. No, no.


I may be a dad. And a baby boomer. I might even read the occasional book on World War II. But I’d just that week given my copy of The Battle of Arnhem to my friend Rob to read.

So, see, I have friends. Who also happen to be baby boomers. And, OK, like to read about World War II.

Yeah, probably alone.

So, what quiz have we all been cramming for, in our pages of The Guns at Last Light and Band of Brothers and All the Light We Cannot See and … on and on and on? Platoons, battalions, brigades of books about the noble causes of World War II we get for Father’s Day more often than ties.

I can’t speak for all baby boomer dads – because, as previously noted, I have friends – but I’m guessing we’re reading them because we like the clarity of those conflicts. Not because we grew up watching The Great Escape or The Guns of Navarone or even Hogan’s Heroes, and we’re bivouacked with nostalgia. (Even though, OK boomers, those were some pretty awesome movies and TV shows!)

No, we read them because there were clear good guys, and clear bad guys, in those conflicts. (They even wore uniforms so you could tell the difference between, say, a Colonel Klink and a Colonel Hogan.) There was no moral ambiguity, no gray area, no downside to the liberation of a continent of oppressed people.

And as we read them, especially around Veterans Day, we secretly wonder if we would have been brave enough to join them.

“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade,” Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said to his troops just before D-Day, June 6, 1944. “In company with our brave Allies, [you will bring about the elimination of] tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”

Together, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said the same day, we’ll “conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies [and lead us to] a peace that will let all of men live in freedom.”

Who could read these words – even alone in our rooms – and not be inspired? Who wouldn’t want to go out on a crusade to liberate the world from oppression?

“I thought, I want to join, too,” 91-year-old World War II veteran Clara Leinhauser Hagarty told the Miami Herald in 2015, “and do my part to help.”

And who wouldn’t wonder if we’d be brave enough to step out of a landing craft on those heavily defended beaches of occupied France. Or into the cockpit of a Spitfire over desperate Britain. Or into a Sherman tank against the last blitzkrieg at the Battle of the Bulge.

Or fall in behind Beverly Johnson, subject of our cover story, in her near 50-year-long fight against the forces of racism, sexism and exclusion, “I just want to do my part,” she says.

We like to think that we would have joined that fight, too. That we would have seen the clarity of those conflicts, like the others.

That we would know the fight against oppression is our fight, too.



PHOTO: Omaha beach, Normandy, by C. Tatiana.

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