by Tom Brokaw

Random House, 1998. 390 pages. $24.95

Reviewed by Byron D. Varner, U.S. Navy (Retired).

NBC News Anchor Tom Brokaw's inspiring book, The Greatest Generation, is one which Americans of all ages should read. He has traveled around the nation to interview and tell the stories of individual citizen heroes and heroines who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II, and went on to build modern America. They were a generation united by a common purpose, as well as the common values of duty, honor, economy, courage, service, love of family and country, and above all, responsibility for oneself.

The impetus for this superb work had its roots in France, during the author's NBC coverage of the 40th Anniversary D-Day. He writes:

“There, I underwent a life-changing experience. As I walked the beaches with American veterans who had returned for this anniversary, men in their sixties and seventies, and listened to their stories, I was deeply moved and profoundly grateful for all they had done.

“Ten years later, I returned to Normandy for the 50th anniversary of the invasion, and by then I had come to understand what this generation of Americans meant to history. It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.

“They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. They succeeded on every front. They won the war, they saved the world. They came home to joyous and short-lived celebrations and immediately began the task of rebuilding their lives and the world they wanted.

“They married in record numbers and gave birth to another distinct generation, the Baby Boomers. A grateful nation made it possible for more of them to attend college than any society had ever educated, anywhere. They gave the world new science, literature, art, industry, and economic strength unparalleled in the long curve of history.

“As they now reach the twilight of their adventuresome and productive lives, they remain, for the most part, exceptionally modest. They have so many stories to tell, stories that in many cases they have never told before, because in a deep sense they didn't think what they were doing was that special, because everyone else was doing it, too.

“This book, I hope, will in some small way pay tribute to those men and women who have given us the lives we have today — an American family portrait album of the greatest generation.”

The Greatest Generation is a wonderful tribute in a very large way!

You will become absorbed by these compelling accounts of men and women of all color, race and creed, in various branches of military and civilian life. Some have become famous, but most are ordinary people with extraordinary accomplishments. It is funny, tragic, dramatic and poignant. Some are success stories, overcoming great odds and accomplishing things beyond the wildest dreams. And you will be better, having shared the experience.

I first learned of the book when my son gave me a copy to read during the long flights of a recent trip. Inside the cover he had written this inscription: “To Dad — with gratitude for your part in the greatest generation and what it means to me.”

That statement alone is reason enough for Baby Boomers and their own children to read and discover what it was like living in those vastly different times, what role their parents and grandparents played, and why they think the way they do. This understanding could be a positive step toward erasing any “generation gap” that may exist in the family.

The book, of course, is a “must read” for members of that “greatest generation” who cherish the memories of those times of their lives!