A Salute For The Generation That Passed The Torch

Posted: November 19, 1992

WASHINGTON — This year my parents shocked me by turning 70.

The tremor I felt, though, was small compared to the one a few years ago when my uncle retired, closing forever the doors of the corner shoe store started in 1909 by my grandfather.

The loss of such a permanent fixture of those years of my youth was no less of a jolt than if, well, the Berlin Wall had suddenly disappeared.

And now, among these signposts, many passing by too quickly these days to be read, is the election of Bill Clinton. It is official: We baby boomers are in charge.

While we've been waiting for this since George McGovern, maybe even Gene McCarthy, there is an uneasiness that has nothing to do with the new president's character or his tax policy. Rather, it is like an unsettling confirmation that we can no longer move back in with Mom and Dad if things get difficult.

Whatever one's emotions about President Bush's performance and the stinging rebuke by the voters, there is a certain poignancy in realizing that we have seen the last World War II-era president. We would do well to ponder that generation now leaving the stage.

It came of age during the Great Depression, a time which seems to have as much meaning to my generation as the Great Flood.

My father, like so many others, seldom talks of his World War II years. When his troop ship brought him back in 1946, the world had been conquered by him and his kind, in a magnitude not seen since the Roman Empire. But whatever the excesses of Pax Americana, there was to be no plunder, no servitude. No one's boot was kept on the chest of Japan and Germany.

Those Americans showed the world a feet-up-on-the-table directness and an easy swagger of action - "American-style," it was called.

Every spring my parents and their friends still go out to the cemetery for the Memorial Day ceremony. In their words it's for the boys. And the gals. And the generations before them.

When I was growing up, I did not like to go because the ritual seemed corny and my absence would be a way of making some long-forgotten statement.

Now, though, I do not go for a more selfish reason.

I cannot bear to hear, as the old legionnaire plays "Taps," the increasing quaver of the tones.

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