Finley: Why we won't see another Greatest Generation

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
This Feb. 14, 1942 photo provided by the U.S. National Archives shows the five Sullivan brothers on board USS Juneau (CL-52) at the time of her commissioning ceremonies at the New York Navy Yard. The brothers who were all killed in the World War II sinking of the USS Juneau on Nov. 13, 1942. From left to right: Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George Sullivan. Wreckage from the USS Juneau, a Navy ship sunk by the Japanese 76 years ago, has been found in the South Pacific.

I've attended a spate of funerals recently for World War II veterans. It makes sense — the youngest of these amazing warriors are approaching their mid-90s, and they're going fast.

This one was for my neighbor's father, Jack McClellan, who joined the Air Force as an 18-year-old in 1944 and flew 35 missions in the Pacific Theater. The Detroiter was a gunner on a B-29 bomber, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service.

As I looked at his medals and the fading photographs of his plane and crew, I was struck again by what an incredible thing this Greatest Generation did. Young men, many still in their teens, eagerly left their homes to join the worldwide fight for freedom, risking their lives, and too often sacrificing them.

Everyday Americans became heroes. Those of seemingly ordinary stock charged bravely into the smoke and fire, driven by honor and duty.

And then they put down their weapons and came home to go back to work in fields, factories and offices, picking up a life that must have seemed mundane compared to their adrenaline-fueled war days. 

My reflections at this visitation brought me to the recent criminal case involving wealthy parents who allegedly paid bribes to get their children into elite colleges. The indictments triggered reporting about Snowplow Parents, who try to clear away all obstacles to their children's success and happiness.

They go to the extreme to assure their kids are never disappointed, hurt or challenged. And it's not just happening in rich families. A New York Times/Morning Consult Poll finds today's parents are killing their children's coping skills with love. The key results:

  • 76 percent of parents remind their college-aged offspring of the deadlines they need to meet, including for course work. Seventy-four percent make their doctor's and other appointments for them. A few — 15 percent — even phone their children to wake them up in the morning.
  • 22 percent of parents help them study for college tests; 11 percent write their college essays,16 percent fill out their job applications. 
  • 12 percent give them $500 a month or more for rent and expenses, even after they're working and on their own.

I wonder how kids being raised with so few survival skills would respond if their nation ever called on them to make the sacrifices that were asked of their great-grandparents?

The Greatest Generation was largely shaped by the hardships and deprivations of the Great Depression. When they grew up, overcoming adversity was an essential life skill.

For the most part, once they got old enough to work they were on their own; their parents had little to offer other than the instillation of character and values. Because they learned the lesson of self-reliance so well, they were perfectly suited to defend democracy.

I've read speculation that today's kids express such a high regard for socialism because they're used to being taken care of, to having someone else solve their problems and make their decisions. 

But their helplessness isn't their fault. They're made of the same ingredients as their ancestors. The blame lies with how we're raising them.

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.