March 19, 2024

The Greatest Generation and Skills Lost

Most Americans have lost the hardscrabble survival skills of those who came of age in the 1920s and 1930s.

In 1998, NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw wrote the best-selling book The Greatest Generation, which celebrated the lives of those roughly 63 million Americans born between 1901 and 1924. They came of age during the hardships of The Great Depression, and many, having endured those years, were thrust directly into World War II and even greater hardships.

Brokaw recognized this generation as “A generation of towering achievement and modest demeanor.”

This perfectly describes my father, who was born in 1921. He survived The Great Depression and was a combatant in World War II, serving as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne during the D-Day Normandy campaign.

He never talked much about his experiences during the war, but his heroic service at The Battle of the Douve Bridge and “Purple Heart Lane” near Carenton and the Sainte-Mère-Église highway in France is noted by both the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart that reside with his medals and campaign ribbons.

The Greatest Generation was a “can do” generation. The skill sets that many were imbued with growing up carried them through some of the darkest days of American history.

The thing is, the Depression had been hard for most Americans. As such, many who grew up during the 1930s were fortunate to have the skills required for farming and livestock management, as well as the ability to fix most anything that broke with whatever materials were on hand. This served them well in those bleak decades.

Many of the fortunate who were in temperate agricultural zones not affected by the Dust Bowl knew how to harness a mule, cast their eyes through the ears of the mule, and keep eyes on the end of the furrow in order to plow straight. They brought in the crops and kept their families and many more fed. They hunted and fished. They made their own sausage and smoked meat and bartered with others for flour and sorghum syrup and other sundry items.

This was my father’s family life from the time he was 10 years old.

Thus, when America was thrust into war, it was initially a slight bit easier on the frontline country boys than it was for the city dwellers who had been standing in soup lines. The country boys knew how to improvise, adapt, overcome, and take care of themselves and their brothers at arms. They were used to being outdoors in all types of weather and knew their way around firearms and stalking their prey. As Hank Williams Jr. sang in 1981, “A Country Boy Can Survive.”

The skill set of that generation was, in a way, a tale of two different trajectories.

The city boys were grateful that the military offered three squares a day and was willing to teach them the deadly survival skills they would need. It certainly beat the soup lines of the 1930s and limited employment opportunities. It gave a man a sense of worth, dignity, and purpose. They, of course, brought their own experience of the mean streets with them, which stood them in good stead.

The country boys, for the most part, just wanted to fight. This was certainly the case with my father.

He was a talented All-City and All-State athlete in football, basketball, and baseball. He earned a full-ride football scholarship to Washington & Lee University, where he continued to distinguish himself. Once there, his life took a far different path than where he started. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he resigned his scholarship the next week, joined the Army, and ultimately became one of the famed 101st Airborne shock troops.

There is no reliable record that contrasts the success of city boys versus country boys as they developed into soldiers. There are only anecdotal accounts heard from my father and other Greatest Generation veterans. Chuck Yeager, one of the great fighter Aces of the war, himself a West Virginia country boy, credited his aerial shooting kills in his P-51D Mustang to his fundamental understanding of “forward lead,” which he learned hunting with a shotgun in his youth.

Of course, in the case of the 101st, by the time of Operation Market Garden and The Battle of the Bulge, it was hard to distinguish the country boys from the city boys. All had been tempered by hardship, and what skills some didn’t start with had been hard learned. They had truly become a Band of Brothers. This fundamentally held true in all service branches.

Most Americans have lost the hardscrabble survival skills of those who came of age in the 1920s and 1930s. Perhaps they are no longer essential for survival, but don’t count on it.

I’m back in the stomping ground of my childhood for a bit and heading to Tellico Plains, Tennessee, with an old friend — and the most capable country boy I have ever known. He always said I was welcome at his fire any time, and no greater compliment could be paid to one of my generation. Some of us have retained those Greatest Generation skills and have passed them down.

Thank God for every one of those who have gone before that we might have peace today, especially the country boys.

Recalling again the words of Hank Williams Jr.: “I live back in the woods you see, My woman and the kids and the dogs and me, I got a shotgun, a rifle and a four-wheel drive, And a country boy can survive, Country folks can survive.”

Who We Are

The Patriot Post is a highly acclaimed weekday digest of news analysis, policy and opinion written from the heartland — as opposed to the MSM’s ubiquitous Beltway echo chambers — for grassroots leaders nationwide. More

What We Offer

On the Web

We provide solid conservative perspective on the most important issues, including analysis, opinion columns, headline summaries, memes, cartoons and much more.

Via Email

Choose our full-length Digest or our quick-reading Snapshot for a summary of important news. We also offer Cartoons & Memes on Monday and Alexander’s column on Wednesday.

Our Mission

The Patriot Post is steadfast in our mission to extend the endowment of Liberty to the next generation by advocating for individual rights and responsibilities, supporting the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and promoting free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values. We are a rock-solid conservative touchstone for the expanding ranks of grassroots Americans Patriots from all walks of life. Our mission and operation budgets are not financed by any political or special interest groups, and to protect our editorial integrity, we accept no advertising. We are sustained solely by you. Please support The Patriot Fund today!

The Patriot Post and Patriot Foundation Trust, in keeping with our Military Mission of Service to our uniformed service members and veterans, are proud to support and promote the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, both the Honoring the Sacrifice and Warrior Freedom Service Dogs aiding wounded veterans, the National Veterans Entrepreneurship Program, the Folds of Honor outreach, and Officer Christian Fellowship, the Air University Foundation, and Naval War College Foundation, and the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. "Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one's life for his friends." (John 15:13)


“Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!” —George Washington

Please join us in prayer for our nation — that righteous leaders would rise and prevail and we would be united as Americans. Pray also for the protection of our Military Patriots, Veterans, First Responders, and their families. Please lift up your Patriot team and our mission to support and defend our Republic's Founding Principle of Liberty, that the fires of freedom would be ignited in the hearts and minds of our countrymen.

The Patriot Post is protected speech, as enumerated in the First Amendment and enforced by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, in accordance with the endowed and unalienable Rights of All Mankind.

Copyright © 2024 The Patriot Post. All Rights Reserved.

The Patriot Post does not support Internet Explorer. We recommend installing the latest version of Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome.