remembering a real crisis

I talked with a man today, an 80+ year old man. I asked him if there was anything I can get him while this Coronavirus scare was gripping America.

He simply smiled, looked away and said:

"Let me tell you what I need! I need to believe, at some point, this country my generation fought for... I need to believe this nation we handed safely to our children and their children...I need to know this generation will quit being a bunch of sissies...that they respect what they've been given...that they've earned what others sacrificed for."

I wasn't sure where the conversation was going or if it was going anywhere at all. So, I sat there, quietly listening.

"You know, I was a little boy during WWII. Those were scary days. We didn't know if we were going to be speaking English, German or Japanese at the end of the war. There was no certainty, no guarantees like Americans enjoy today.

No home went without sacrifice or loss. Every house, up and down every street, had someone in harm's way. Maybe their daddy was a soldier, maybe their son was a sailor, maybe it was an uncle. Sometimes it was the whole damn family...fathers, sons, uncles...more than 10% of the population was in uniform. Every home had that small flag in the window with the red, silver or gold stars, signifying the members of that family that were serving. Many of those stars were in gold... a son or sons never coming home.

Having someone, you love, sent off to war...it wasn't less frightening than it is today. It was scary as Hell. If anything, it was more frightening. We didn't have battle front news. We didn't have email or cellphones. You sent them away and you hoped...you prayed. You may not hear from them for months, if ever. Sometimes a mother was getting her son's letters the same day dad was comforting her over their child's death.

We sacrificed. You couldn't buy things. Everything was rationed.You had your little ration book with the tear-out coupons. We were only allowed so much milk and butter per month, only so much bread, toilet paper, gas. Everybody grew their own food. Every home had a "Victory Garden." We couldn't buy a car. Detroit was building tanks. EVERYTHING was restricted for the war effort. What you weren't using, what you didn't need, things you now throw away, they were saved and sorted for the war effort. Our generation was the original recyclers. We balled string, stacked and wrapped newspapers and rolled up the foil from gum wrappers. The junkman came by in his horse-drawn wagon. Toys? The little cardboard cutouts of tanks, and trucks, and jeeps on the back of the Cheerios box.

We had viruses back then...serious viruses. Things like tuberculosis, polio, scarlet fever, and such. It was nothing to walk to school and pass a house or two that was quarantined. I remember the purple sign nailed to the front of our house "QUARANTINE." We didn't shut down our schools. We didn't shut down our cities. We carried on, without masks, without hand sanitizer and do you know what? We persevered. We overcame. We didn't attack our president, we came together. We rallied around the flag for the war. Thick or thin, we were in it to win, and we would lose more boys in an hour of combat than we lose in entire wars today."

He slowly looked away again. Maybe I saw a small tear in the corner of his eye. Then he continued:

"Most of today's kids don't know sacrifice. They think a sacrifice is not having coverage on their phone while they freely drive across the country. Most of today's kids are selfish, spoiled and self-involved. In my generation, we looked out for our elders. We helped out with single moms who's husbands were either at war or dead from war. Today's kids rush the store, buying everything they can...no concern for anyone but themselves. It's shameful the way many Americans behave these days. None of them deserve the sacrifices their granddads made.

So, no I don't need anything. I appreciate your offer but, I know I've been through worse things than this virus, but maybe I should be asking you, what can I do to help you? Do you have enough beer to get through this, enough steak? Will you be able to survive with 213 channels on your TV?"

I smiled, fighting back a tear of my own...now humbled by a man in his 80's. All I could do was thank him for the history lesson, leave my number for emergency and leave with my ego firmly tucked in my rear.

I talked to a man today. A real man. An American man from an era long gone and forgotten. We will never understand the sacrifices. We will never fully earn their sacrifices, but we should work harder to learn about them..learn from them...to respect them... and ourselves.