Convergence of the Ages: Veterans, teens find their common ground

November 12, 2003 | By Sophia Maines

Hilary Johnson, a senior at the Academy for the Arts, Science & Technology, was born in 1986, raised on sweet cereal such as Apple Jacks, and encouraged by her parents to do well in school. If she makes excellent marks, her parents have promised to buy her a car.

Dorothy Smith was born in 1921 and raised on a Pennsylvania farm with few luxuries and many chores. She felt fortunate that she could go to school at a time when many children could not.

Despite the decades between them, these women might have more in common than they think.

Academy students will find out this semester, when they read Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” in a schoolwide project launched Tuesday to coincide with Veterans Day.

The academy invited Smith and others of that generation to read excerpts from the 390-page book to the Millennial students.

“I want you to read that book because it tells about the trials and tribulations that we went through during the Depres-sion,” William “Bill” Strickland told the audience, his shiny black shoes settled on the rests of his wheelchair.

Strickland, an Army veteran, served in World War II, the Korean conflict and Vietnam.

Smith, Strickland and fellow veterans Lyndon R. Lewis and Wilson Whitaker came of age during the Great Depression and joined the World War II effort.

“They sacrificed more than we would in their place,” senior Rebecca Stork said.

In contrast, the youth of the Millennial Generation has been raised with remote-controlled television, video games and the Internet. They watched the collapse of the World Trade Center towers and the Iraq War.

The veterans received standing ovations for their stories of sacrifice and the sense of duty felt by their generation.

“The war came along and took all the boys,” said Smith, who served in the Army Nurse Corps from 1944–46. “I can’t express to you the feeling at losing the young men of that generation.”

As an Army nurse, Smith traveled to Scotland, England, France and Belgium caring for sick, wounded, and frostbitten soldiers.

“I felt it was my duty,” said Smith, who was in her early 20s when she served.

Academy senior Victoria Livinski said her generation was educated differently from the civic-minded veterans.

“We don’t have much respect for elders,” she said of people her age.

However, a generation will “tend to fill the void left behind by the generation dying away,” said Neil Howe, a Virginia author and historian considered a national expert on generations and historical cycles. And Millennials and the Greatest Generation do have common traits, he said.

Millennials, born since 1982, has a sense of civic responsibility, teamwork and collective optimism that is similar to that of people in the Greatest Generation, he said.

Millennial members generally are long-term planners, Howe said. They are the ones to take the PSAT and set goals for the future. And their parents have protected them more than their preceding generation, Generation X, which came after the post-World War II baby boomers.

The Greatest Generation received support from the community, government and public policies. They saw the advent of the Boy Scouts in 1910, the Girl Scouts in 1912 and Prohibition, which took effect in 1920. Later, the GI Bill was another support, Howe said, providing money for veterans to attend college.

Some students said Tuesday that the effect of current events on their lives is smaller than what the elder generation experienced.

“I kind of feel like they went through a whole lot that we haven’t experienced,” Johnson said.