The ‘Greatest’ Celebrations
Give our veterans the memorials they deserve

We said farewell to another member of our Greatest Generation the other day. Jim was 86, a man for whom character was more than a catchphrase. He lived a long and full life, a life built on duty and service, and it’s sad to see him go. It’s not so unusual, though; members of Jim’s generation are dying at the rate of 1,000 per day now, slowly fading from view, but hopefully, never from memory.

It’s up to all of us to make sure that doesn’t happen. We need to help tell their stories, stories like Jim’s.

Jim was one of the greatest examples of our Greatest Generation. His father was a conductor on the C&O Railroad, and after going to high school through the 10th grade, Jim dropped out and answered President Roosevelt’s call to service, joining the Civilian Conservation Corps.

When the darkening skies of World War II thundered upon our shores, Jim answered his country’s call once again, joining the U.S. Army Air Corps, and trained to become a tail-gunner on the “Flying Fortress,” the B-17 bomber. Over the next two years, Jim flew more than two dozen dangerous missions all across Europe, from France to Norway to Germany.

On his very last mission, his plane was shot down on the return trip, and crash-landed into the English Channel. Half of the crew perished; Jim was one of the lucky ones, and only lost the hearing in one ear. He was reported as Killed In Action, which made for quite a surprise when he got back to the base!

When the decorated Staff Sergeant was discharged, he did what so many of his comrades did: he returned home, got married, and began raising three fine children, who made him very proud. He was a great provider for his family, as well, and helped build office furniture for a booming workforce. Jim walked to work every day, for his entire 40-year career at the company.

Loyalty, duty, sacrifice.

No generation before or since has epitomized those values more, or embraced tradition as a lifestyle more than they did. Jim’s generation quietly did what needed to be done, never asking for reward, only for respect. So now, as their time with us comes to an end, how do we memorialize them? While they may want something simple, something modest, they deserve so much more.

They deserve to have their stories told, and remembered, and preserved for the generations to come, to learn from their hard work and sacrifice. Their lives deserve to be celebrated.

What are you doing to celebrate them?

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Don Shell is a staff writer for Life Story Network®, a Portage, Michigan-based multimedia company serving 15 independently-owned funeral homes in the Midwest. For more information, visit http://www.lifestorynet.com/, or email Don at donshell@lifestorynet.com. 

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