‘GI Generation’ doesn’t like being invisible

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 24, 2004

Commentary by Bill Brown

I belong to a generation that you rarely hear about.

Sandwiched between the GI generation – the one Tom Brokaw labeled the Greatest Generation – and the large, and often self-absorbed, Baby Boom generation, we are the so-called “Silent Generation.” Like the middle child in a family, we are ignored while the older and younger kids get all the oohs and aahs. The 2000 census counted 616,279 of us in Alabama.

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We don’t disagree with the accolades showered on the GI Generation, and we have to recognize the economic and cultural clout that size gives to the Boomers. But we don’t like being invisible.

Born between 1925 and 1942, the older of us were children during the Great Depression, and the younger of us formed our first memories during World War II. If either of those major events made an impression upon us, it was mainly because of their effect on our parents.

We were solid – some would say stolid – citizens who could only look on with a combination of dismay and envy when the Boomers began rewriting the rules that we had

grown up with.

Perhaps we’ve been overshadowed because there were only 49 million of us, the second smallest generation of the 20th century.

In contrast, the GI Generation, clamed 63 million. The Baby Boomers justified their label with a staggering 79 million.

Perhaps we’ve been ignored because we didn’t make waves. Whoever labeled us the “Silent Generation” – several are given credit – hit the mark. We tended to be cautious. Some of that may have been a legacy from our parents, but the tenor of the times didn’t encourage sticking your neck out.

While many of us were in grade school, nuclear war seemed to be a real possibility. We were the kids who were taught to duck under our desks and cover our heads in the event of an attack. That made an impression. Our generation saw that a career could be ruined if there was even a hint that a person wasn’t a 100 percent reliable, true blue American. And a handful of powerful people decided what a true American was.

If silence was not golden, it was at least safe.

Even as adolescents, we were the mildest of rebels. We drank and drove fast but in retrospect, most of us were pretty tame.

Our generation went to school, got married, had families and took jobs that we expected to keep for life. Going home to live with the folks after college or turning down a job just because it wasn’t perfect didn’t cross our minds. We didn’t spend more than we made, and we believed that hard work and loyalty counted for something.

We were taught that life had rules, and we believed it. Perhaps that’s why members of the Silent Generation were the real heart of the Civil Rights Movement. The rules we were taught reflected the American ideal of liberty and justice for all. When it was apparent that the rules we’d been taught were being violated, the Silent Generation set out to put it right. In that regard, the movement wasn’t so much a revolution as an attempt to enforce the rules.

In many ways, our small generation was a bridge. We missed out on the heroics of the GI generation, and on the social revolution wrought by the generation that followed.

But we built the economy that gave security to both the older generation and the younger one.

And, somewhere along the way, we wondered whether we’d missed something. Like the Pirate in the Jimmy Buffet song, many of us concluded that we were over 40 victims of fate.

But we are still here, still kicking.

Sixty percent or so of us have reached retirement age, and many of the rest of us are taking the opportunity to retire early. We are not content simply to sit on the porch but are striking out in new directions, traveling down some of the paths we didn’t take earlier.

Perhaps we’re revisiting the adolescence that we hurried through the first time around.

Life spans are increasing, and you may hear from us yet.

Bill Brown is a retired journalist. He can be contacted at 377 Quail Hollow Drive, Dadeville AL 36853 or by e-mail williambrown1@charter.net