Welcome to the Big Picture Podcast. I’m Joel Fieri and this podcast seeks to begin and hopefully sustain a conversation about current trends, ideas and issues in the Church and greater society. And it’s time again on the podcast to check in with the our friend “Late ‘Boomer” to see how he’s doing in his efforts to clean up the societal mess created by his generation, the Baby Boomers.
Now when talking about the Baby Boomers, you really can’t get around eventually talking about our parents, the so-called Greatest Generation, or if you like, the WW2 Generation, which I actually prefer.
I’m actually kind of ambivalent about my parent’s generation.
I’m not so sure they were the greatest generation, but I will give them this – they were the generation that did the greatest thing…ever!
As we get further and further away from the Great Depression and WW2, we naturally lose sight of just what horrible and monumental events they were in human history. Which is really a shame, because had our parents not survived the Depression and then fought that God-awful war, our world would be a completely different and unimaginably dark place right now.
There certainly wouldn’t be computers or iPods for you to be hearing this podcast, I’ll put it that way.
I think I’ll try to put the WW2 Generation in perspective by reflecting in the two people from that crowd I knew best, my Mom and Dad. It’d be hard to find two better representatives, for sure.
First off, my Mother was raised on a farm in rural Ohio. Her teenage years were spent on that farm during the depression. Imagine dirt farming and scraping for survival from dawn to dusk, then huddling together as a family at night for warmth, with only the prospect of getting up again at dawn to start all over. That was her life.
The only break she got was going to school, which she loved. I’d have loved my school years too if my only other option was freezing and starving on a farm, but I digress.
So Mom studied, then graduated high school at 16 and left the farm ASAP. She went to beauty school, then studied to be a lab technician and soon became one of the very first career women. Not bad for a gal in the 1930s and 40’s, eh?
Then there’s my Dad. An Italian kid born into the world of Chicago in the 1920’s. The son of a gangster, he grew up fighting for everything he had, and kept fighting until his dying day. We all think that’s pretty cool history now -Al Capone vs. Bugs Moran, the Untouchables, Tommy guns…way cool. But it wasn’t so cool if you were right in the middle of it like my Dad was. But being the tough little SOB he was, he managed to survive and through it all to graduate from a vocational school and start working as a machinist.
Then came Pearl Harbor, and the world changed completely.
Dad went off to the Pacific on a destroyer, which eventually was sunk by Kamikazes. He barely survived, got a Purple Heart stuck to his chest and was sent home.
Mom spent the war continuing to work as a single woman, holding down various jobs on the home front. The only thing my Mom ever said about that war was what a dark and frightening time it really was, filled with uncertainty about the fate of the world and punctuated by the non-stop horror of hearing about one friend or relative after another that wasn’t coming home. Ever. There was no romance or nostalgia for the war with her.
But then, by the greatest human effort and struggle of all time, they won the war. They did it. They accomplished the greatest feat ever.
They saved the world.
So what do you do for an encore after saving the world? Well, Dad recovered and started a restaurant in Chicago, where one day a pretty young lab technician walked in, and by some miracle he eventually talked her into marrying him, and they set off on a life journey together. They eventually squirted out four children, myself being the last.
Now the reason I bring this all up is that the unbelievable life experiences of my parents generation became the backdrop of how they raised my generation, the Baby Boomers.
See, it’s just the natural inclination of parents to do all they can to make sure their children don’t have the same struggles they had growing up, and so it was with our parents. The over-riding goal of the parents of the Baby Boomers was to make sure their children had none of the hard life experiences they had.
The only problem with that is that life experiences, especially when we’re young, shape our character and values.
The famous ‘generation gap’ between the Boomers and our parents can be summed up this way: Our parents wanted to provide us everything they didn’t have and to shield us from the disadvantages and hardships that shaped their generation.
Throw drugs, rock ‘n roll, television and some really nasty campus radicals into the mix, and they couldn’t understand what was happening with us, and why we didn’t share their character and their values.
It seems obvious now, but for a generation so flush with accomplishment and optimism for the future, a tough, seemingly un-beatable people, it had to have been inconceivable that their children would actually grow to reject their values and sow the seeds of their society’s downfall.
The very society that they paid the ultimate price to save.
The thought of America going from Times Square and ‘The Kiss’, all the way to the muddy slop of Woodstock and the horror of Kent State, wouldn’t even have occurred to a science fiction writer at the time.
But it happened.
So that’s why I’m ambivalent about ‘The Greatest Generation’. Yeah, they did a unbelievably great thing, but they pretty much whiffed on instilling their values and character in their children (too many of us, anyways).
But really, what else could they do?
When you think about it, it was really a catch-22 for them. Maybe that’s the best generational tag for our parents, the ‘Catch-22 Generation’.
Or so says the Late ’Boomer, who, despite it all, is thankful that he was blessed with parents of such incredible strength and character, and who’s doing what he can to preserve their legacy.
As an added note, if you’d like to hear my father’s WW2 story, you can simply click here to listen straight from the horse’s mouth . I think you’ll enjoy hearing it.
In closing, it’s time for the Great Cloud Of Witnesses, and if you’ve been listening, it’s the segment of our podcast where we meet and hear the stories of those who have given, and some who are still giving, their lives by faith in the promises of God, and of whom the world was and is not worthy (if you don’t know that reference, please check out Hebrews chapter 11-12 in your Bible). Today’s witness is Louis Zamperini:
Many people thought Louis Zamperini would not live long beyond his formative years, and on many occasions, they were almost right. As a child of immigrants, Zamperini was often in trouble with the authorities, until a police officer suggested that Louis use his fleet feet for sport instead of mischief.
By the end of High School, Louis had become a world-class runner, and qualified to run on the 1936 Olympic team. At the Olympic Games in Berlin, he was America’s top finisher in the 5000 meters, covering the final lap in an astounding 56 seconds.
Many claimed Zamperini would have broken the four-minute mile had he not elected to retire from the sport and join the U.S. Air Corps as a bombardier in the South Pacific during World War II.
On a routine reconnaissance run, his aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He and another crewmember survived in a life raft for 47 days, drifting 2000 miles, into Japanese controlled waters where he was rescued.
But his rescuers were also his torturers, as the Japanese put Louis into a series of prison camps. One particular guard wanted to make an example of the eternally optimistic Olympic runner, and for two years, the guard tried to break Louis’ spirit with verbal and physical cruelty.
Louis outlasted the guard, and when the war ended, he returned home to a hero’s welcome. He partied with celebrities and married a debutante, but his life was spinning out of control due to a lack of direction. It was a chance meeting with the young evangelist, Billy Graham that changed his life for good.
He gave his life to God and decided to become a missionary to Japan, preaching the gospel of forgiveness to the very guards who had tormented him during the war.
Upon his return to the States, Louis created the Victory Boys Camp for wayward youth, where he taught other juvenile delinquents the skills needed to succeed in life.
In 1998, the Olympic Winter Games were held in Nagano, Japan, just outside the town where Louis had been held captive. The people of Nagano asked him to carry the Olympic flame as part of the torch relay.
While there, Louis sought out his tormentor, the Bird, in order to share God’s forgiveness with him. But the Bird declined.
If you want to read the rest of Louis’s story, read the book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.
So in Louis Zamperini we see not only the strength of the WW2 Generation, we also see the power of God’s forgiveness to change a life. And for that I nominate Louis Zamperini, who is still with us, to the Great Cloud Of Witnesses, of whom the world is not worthy.
Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this week’s Big Picture Podcast, please go to my web site at gobigpicture.net and also check out our other podcasts and points of view on the E-Squared Media network at e2medianetwork.com.
Wherever you go, leave a few comments and tell your friends, and even you pastor about us. See you next time on the Big Picture podcast. Be blessed!